Terry Pratchett: Talking to Other Monkeys
Terence David John Pratchett was born April 28, 1948 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, UK. His first story, ‘‘The Hades Business’’, appeared in his high school magazine when he was 13, and was reprinted in Science-Fantasy two years later (1963). He left school to become a journalist, worked for various newspapers for several years, followed by eight years as a press officer in the nuclear power industry (1980-87), while writing and publishing novels in his spare time. He became a full-time writer in 1987.
Pratchett’s first novel was YA humorous fantasy The Carpet People (1971; revised edition 2013), followed by satirical SF novels The Dark Side of the Sun (1976) and Strata (1981), before launching into his humorous Discworld series with The Colour of Magic (1983). Originally intended as an ‘‘antidote’’ to the bad fantasy so widespread in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Discworld has run for 40 volumes so far, including several for young adults, notably the Tiffany Aching sub-series that began with The Wee Free Men (2003). Pyramids (1989) won the British Fantasy Award, Night Watch (2002) won the Prometheus Award, A Hat Full of Sky (2004) won the Mythopoeic Award, Making Money (2007) won a Locus Award and was a Nebula Award finalist, and I Shall Wear Midnight (2010) won an Andre Norton Award.
Discworld is a huge phenomenon, with its own dedicated conventions, and spin-offs that include games, guides, diaries, cookbooks, quiz books, cartoons, and TV movies. The books make prominent bestseller lists in the UK and the US, and have won major literary awards: The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001) received the 2002 Carnegie Medal and was shortlisted for the 2002 Guardian Children’s Book Prize. The next title in the series is the forthcoming Raising Steam.
His other non-Discworld books include satirical fantasy Good Omens (1990, with Neil Gaiman); two humorous young adult SF/F trilogies: Bromeliad or Book of the Nomes (1989-90) and the Johnny Maxwell series (1992-96); and standalone YA novels Nation (2007) and Dodger (2012), the latter set in a fantastic version of Victorian London.
Pratchett was made an officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 1998 in honor of his services to literature, and has received seven honorary doctorates from British Universities and is Professor Emeritus of Trinity College Dublin. He lives in Wiltshire with his wife Lyn (married 1968). They have one daughter, Rhianna, a journalist and video game and comics writer, who is working on developing some of her father’s works for television.
In 2007 Pratchett was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, specifically Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA).
‘‘I just love steam engines. Even here in Britain, if a steam train goes through the countryside, it never spoils the countryside! Oh, there’s all the stuff it’s chuffing out, but we nod that off. The old fashioned railways, the steam engines, they lived and they breathed. Indeed, the whole thing about Raising Steam is that you have the prototype, shall we say, Iron Girder, and she comes alive. There’s a scene where a thief gets in to sabotage her and a bit of his skull is later seen embedded in the roof. He’d inappropriately touched Iron Girder. How’s that for bad manners? There are also a couple of blacksmiths, and they have a go at making their own steam engine. They don’t really understand how to do it, but Mister Simnel the engineer has worked on the prototypes and knows how to do it properly. Both of the blacksmiths die in the steam, and it’s the pink mist all over again. That’s what live steam is all about. It slices through metal sometimes and strips flesh from the bone. You must have read your Mark Twain? Down the Mississippi is about that, the little old boilers. When they blew up it was incredibly nasty. Bits of people everywhere, well, if you could ever find them.”
‘‘I want to do another Tiffany Aching novel, too. Have you heard of Steeleye Span? They’re an English folk group, and they’re putting quite a lot of Tiffany Aching in an album inspired by Wintersmith. When you see her again she’ll be a bit older than she was in the last novel, of course, because I can do that sort of thing, but I think she’s going to have different problems from now on. I write these days in what I call ‘carpet squares.’ I do a bit, noodle around, see what it looks like. I’ve got carpet squares all over the place! I know there’s a story in there somewhere. I’ve got most of it in my head, but I don’t know what the ending is, although I think she’s going to tell me what it is when I’m good and ready. Like Commander Vimes, Tiffany writes her own dialogue. Well, not actually writes it, because if I believed that I’d be in the nuthouse, but you know what I mean.”
“I want to live in a world where I go into the office and I say, ‘Put up the piece I was doing yesterday and get me Dave on the phone.’ And the computer would say, ‘Yes, Terry, I’m giving you the last thing you wrote yesterday and I believe you mean Dave Busby because he’s the Dave you most often speak to.’ Regrettably the technology hasn’t got me there yet, but at least when I walk through the office door the computer starts up and Word is already there on the screen, waiting for me to start talking. It’s not difficult to do. We are monkeys, so talking to other monkeys comes naturally. Some people say there’s no charm in dictation. To hell with that, it’s down there on the page. You can write a whole lot and the beauty of the process is that it’s so so easy to repair and rework if you don’t like it.
‘‘We haven’t talked about my Alzheimer’s. It doesn’t bother me at all. I mean, I have it. But a lot of better writers than me, born around the time I was born, are now lost. Do you remember David Gemmell? He died of cancer from far, far too much smoking. In fact, there was one time when I was doing a gig in Australia, and he was doing one in New Zealand, and we eventually met in the outback somewhere. We were wandering around, and he told me he was going to die, and he was going to die because he’d been smoking too much. I said, ‘Bloody well, Dave, don’t smoke, for Heaven’s sake, man!’ He said, ‘I can’t not it. I can’t stop smoking.’
‘‘I was told that PCA, the rare form of Alzheimer’s that I suffer from, has been called the Rolls Royce of the disease. I didn’t want to go to meet other sufferers, but eventually I gave in, and it was fun, because we could all have a laugh at our predicament. We could laugh at the silly little things that no one else would dare find funny. Last time I was at a gathering I was telling them about Talking Point and how I’ve kept working. One of the guys is a retired surgeon, and the day he found out he had PCA, he just said, ‘No, I can’t do this anymore.’ He saw the writing on the wall immediately. I felt very sorry for him.
‘‘But I’ve got Terry Pratchett’s PCA. You see, it appears that each PCA is subtly different. Mine seems to be very good at leaving me alone to use the computer to write. I remember when Douglas Adams died, I was in America. I thought, ‘He was so young!’ There have been so many lost. To worry about having PCA is silly… sooner or later something will get you in the end. I am just grateful that I can keep going and with the help of Rob, my assistant of many years, everything seems pretty normal.”
‘‘The whole thing with the dignity in dying issue is that everyone dies, and no one wants to die nastily. Somehow being able to die when at time of your choosing separates a human from an animal. In Oregon, for example, I understand people can be given a magic potion, and can use it in their own home when they feel the time is right. The interesting thing, very interesting to me, is that they have the stuff to hand. It’s in the cupboard, but a very significant number of them die without ever using it, although they had the means to do it. Every day they found a reason to be alive. In Britain we’ve had people with locked-in syndrome, very nasty, very cruel, meaning their whole world is entirely in their heads. They want to die, but the authorities won’t let them. We’ve seen some very nasty scenes. One gentleman went on a hunger strike, taking control of his life in the only way he could. Hunger can be a very nasty way to die. If someone is compos mentis – and that’s quite easy to find out – and you know it’s what they want, and they’ve made their peace with their God and their family, then let them die if they want. It’s their life, so it’s their death.”