Thanks to Katherine Kimberley. If it wasn't for her I would never had known Terry Pratchett.
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I feel that there's an important turning point between The light fantastic and Equal Rites, even I dare to say that the Discworld series begins in this third volume. I mean, it is not a parody of the "sword and sorcery" genre and is more reflexive about social issues and cultural misconceptions than the previous two. Also, you quit all the characters of these two books and begin with newer ones, even when it would have been easier to go on with sure winners like Rincewind or Cohen.
As a matter of fact I think you're right, but I'd say it was Mort
where the change really took place. I wrote Sourcery
next simply because I knew fans wanted to see more Rincewind books, and I got quite depressed when it stayed in the best-seller lists for three months.
Was it hard (hard for you while writing, hard for you to convince your publishers) to leave behind the "old" characters?
None of it was hard. It would have been a lot harder to continue with the adventures of Rincewind. I don't have to convince my publisher of anything. It was really just the natural change in my style. After Light Fantastic
I was writing up a storm, and my style began to change.
Why did you decide to make this change of characters and point of view?
There was no decision. It was simply a matter of evolution. And, I suppose, the realisation that you can't build a career entirely on parody.
When you created Granny Weatherwax, did you foresee that she would star in several later books or you never expected to write another story with her?
I didn't know what would happen. You suffer from the delusion that I plan things!
Just a curiosity: In The light... appears a wizard named Galder Weatherwax. Is he related to Esme or is just a coincidence? And if he is, is she proud or ashamed of having a wizard as a relative?
Oh dear, you were doing so well and now come a fanboy question :-)
They're distantly related; it'd mentioned somewhere in a later book.
Discworld Witches are not the typical fantasy fiction witches, they are neither powerful superhuman sorceress nor evil old ladies but "normal" women with certain magical habilities that they use only if it is strictly necessary, that they have a social status in their communities thanks to their Witchiness. Discworld Wizards are more typical but still they act more like "bureaucrats of magic" than Merlin or Gandalf-like characters. Why did you take these uncommon approachs to the magical crafters? Do you have any relationship with Realworld esoteric groups like Hedgewitches, Wiccans? What do you think of them or the New Age movements?
These approaches might be uncommon but they are firmly rooted in observation and common sense. The key issue facing anyone writing about magic (for adults) is: how do you make sure it's not used? The ability to change the world with a word is far more dangerous than nuclear power. So both my wizards and my witches live in situations where the possession
of magical power in far more important that its use (which tends to be the case with nuclear weaponry, too.) The witches largely busy themselves as healers, midwives and spiritual defenders of their territory, while most of the wizards live in an academic society where inter-departmental warfare is far more enjoyable than magic. In a sense, both groups are post-modern magic users - they know how dangerous the stuff can be and will do practically anything to avoid having to use it.
In a nutshell, no author can let magic run wild. Where anything is possible, you have no plot.
I know quite a few people involved in (broadly speaking) esoteric groups, but the portrayal of my magic users (or non-users) is largely based on a lot of reading over 40 years and a good deal of observation, especially in the case of the witches.
I am very surprised how you manage to introduce critics to western notions about other cultures disguised as jokes (from the forest of Skund meaning "Your Finger You Fool" to the conversation in Jingo between Lord Rust to General Ashal about the Make-Things-Bigger device). It is a constant in your books and it seems that you have a particular interest in anthropology and sociology. Am I right? What authors did you read? Do you know if this Westerncentrism bashing you make had effects in your readers?
I take a particular interest in many things -- books by my desk at the moment are on poisons, snuff-making and deep sea exploration. I read a lot (but, these days, very little fiction, because non-fiction is usually more interesting.)
I would say that the 'Westerncentrism bashing' is quite mild. If we know anything about the history of science, for example, then we know that the Arabic world was responsible for many of the early advancements. This is not news. But it is the role of fantasy to remind us, whenever possible, that the way you look at the world is not the only way there can be.
In Witches Abroad and Thief of Time you write about the nature of stories in a way that it is obvious you have thought a lot about this topic. Would you like to tell us your ideas about storytelling?
I'm currently involved, with a couple of scientists, on a book on this very subject. In short, stories made us human. We are the only animal that tells stories; it is our gift for narrative rather than our intelligence that is our defining feature. Stories propelled us forward; they gave us models of the universe, maps for the future and a way of passing on wisdom to our children. They have shaped us. We live in a story that we made up, we apply narrative shapes wherever possible, and we expect the universe to have a plot.
The Librarian is, perhaps, the most famous example of a "lucky hit", something that was just a joke but grew to the point to become an important member of the cast. When did you discover the hidden possibilities this character had? What other lucky hits do you think you had? And unlucky hits (that is, ideas and characters that seemed cool in the first time but not now, but you have to carry on with them to don't contradict all your previous books)?
I don't think there are many unlucky hits, given the breadth of the series. The Librarian was certainly a moment's decision that turned out to be very rewarding. So was Nanny Ogg. Part of the skill of writing is to know your subconscious has handed you a winner.
The Discworld books can be classified in four branches (Witches books, Death books, Watch books and Rincewind books), but there are one book, Pyramids (and maybe Small Gods, but since I didn't read it I'm not sure), that is a stand-alone book, without continuation nor influence on the others (unlike Small Gods, that does influence in the Watch books in the person of Constable Visit), although it seemed to have potential for follow-ups. Is there any reason for this?
I'd prefer to say that all the books influence the ones written later, if only by the texture of the world (and there are links between Small Gods
, by the way.) I just write the books, using the characters I deem suitable for that title. I don't think in terms of 'branches'. Besides, you'd have some difficulty placing Thief of Time
and The Truth
Since I read just only two of the later Discworld books (Jingo & The Fifth Elephant) maybe I'll commit some mistakes here, so forgive me if I do, but, as far as I researched, there seems to be a "change" in the Discworld saga from Jingo on: the stories become more socially/politically involved and the plots don't rely in previous stories/books/authors (like, let's say, Wyrd Sisters and Shakespeare; Witches Abroad and Cinderella; Guards, Guards! and Sigfrid myth). I know that this change wasn't planned (you don't plan, you told me) but, analysing it from your today's perspective, Do you think that there was a reason for this change in Discworld's plots?
I agree with your analysis. I think I felt I'd gone as far as I could go in the classical fantasy mould , and so I looked for ways to 'evolve' and take the readers with me. It seems to have worked, too.
How are your writing habits?
I write more or less all the time, even when I'm not at a desk. By that I mean that there is always part of my brain that is, well, active as the writer. Physically, I have no touchstones or special requirements -- I can write on a train.
What stages must a Discworld go through till you feel it is ready to publish?
I must have been banging my head against a screen for six months. When you use a w/p then 'stages' and 'drafts' become meaningless terms. I'm rewriting earlier parts of the MS while continuing the narrative at the other end of the document. There are always two of three full passes in the last month of so of writing, though.
When I asked about the stages a Discworld novel must go through I also meant the stages previous to the first letter being typed. It is not "Hey, where do you get those cool ideas?" but its smarter brother: "What are your sources of inspiration"?
Also, it implied (or I wished it implied): A Discworld novel is published every six months or so. How long does it take you to write a Discworld novel? Six months? More? Do you write the novels one at a time or several at once?
There is a constant process that goes on. Notes are being made all the time. But it is almost impossible to describe, especially since 'writing a novel in six months' ignores the fact that it might have been thought about for three years and written by an author who had to be alive for 50 years before they got the necessary insight. I cannot really answer the question about inspiration; it comes from all sources, in tiny amounts, over a long time. And then, somewhere in my mind, it is assembled. I always get nervy of the question; I could swear that, these days, people think there's a secret Web site where inspiration can be downloaded. It can't be. Like luck, you have to work at it.
Is there something you have written that now you regret? Why?
Yes. The Colour of Magic
and The Light Fantastic
. I ought to have started with Equal Rites
, because I was a better writer by then.
As the Dicworld series progressed, you moved away from writing fantasy stories in the hardcore sense, the books evolved towards, let's say, a satire of (our) daily existence with the only "particularity" that the inhabitants of this world are fantastic creatures. I know there is a reason for you to abandon the field of 100% pure fantasy (I read it somewhere). Would you please tell it?
I don't think there was any one reason. But what is '100% pure fantasy'? Do you mean the guy with the sword, the mystic runes, the wizard's tower and all the usual recycled Tolkien stuff? You can't take that very far. Evil is not very interesting when it lives in a tower 3,000 miles away.
I'd say that what I write now is no more nor less 'fantastic' than, say, The Colour of Magic
. Fantasy isn't a matter of scenery, it's a matter of approach. It's treating everything in the world as thought it were rare and strange.
Also, the idea of a fantasy world that is experiencing a technological boom is very interesting. I mean, most (if not all) fantasy novels are set up in a sort of Ancient or Middle Ages and you seem to be shaking this preconception. I take your word that you don't plan things, so I won't ask you if this was planned. I guess that the "modern" airs in Discworld are a product of your dislike of this preconception that fantasy stories should be in "Ye Olde Tymes". Correct me if I'm wrong.
What I try to suggest in the books is that technology is not the only marker. People in Ankh-Morpork think in quite modern ways (which are generally old ways in disguise in any case.) You're right, though... I do dislike the old 'belike, he will wax wroth' style of fantasy, set in some strange Dark Ages with no thought-out history, infrastructure or development.
Do you have an explanation why fantasy stories should be Ancient/Middle Aged?
Because the period is easy. You don't have to think much.
What fantasy books you like and dislike?
I read very little fantasy (that is, heroic fantasy
these days; I strongly dislike the ones that sketch out some sub-JRRT scenario and then do it by the numbers. In truth, there's not so much of this now, and it is done more intelligently than it used to be, but back in the early 80s you couldn't move for the stuff. It degraded the good things that were being done.
Another evolution your novels experienced is in its humour, from light to dark. I feel that this evolution is something that every humour author who doesn't want to be "just funny" experiences, that ends getting his/her/its writing more and more cryptic, twisted and ironic. My idea is that as an author works "seriously" in humour begins (conciously or unconsciously) to care less to get the laugh of the crowd and care more to get the smile of the inteligent individual, but, well, is my idea and this is your interview so make a commentary (if you wish) of this idea, tell yours, explain what is "tragic relief", your use of cultural references and anything else you want to say about humour.
Humour doesn't like being talked about. But I think the best laughs have a shadow. I have to add that I don't shake 'cultural references' out of some container onto the plot. Writing, in order to be understood, is
In one article I found while researching about you, the author praised you a lot but, curiously, said about your novels that "They are not High Art or even (probably) Literature. Just fun." I don't want you to discuss with this guy but with the notion that humour, fantasy and sci-fi novels are not High Art or Literature, while other genre books (like Crime) are more accepted as "serious" writing.
I doubt if crime is taken that seriously, but since the genre has such strong links with what is regarded as 'real life' it is carried along in the mainstream. as for the rest, I'm not going to come out with some learned stuff; after considerable thinking over the years, I'm come to the conclusion that some people are simply shits.
Aside from Discworld, you have two series of children books. I read that you are very fond of your Johnny Maxwell books, if I understood well you think they are "you at your best". What differences (if any) are between the adult-Pratchett and the children-Pratchett?
Very little. It's down to subject matter and approach. Johnny's though processes are very close to mine.
And what about The amazing Maurice and his educated rodents?
I came up with a plot which looked like one for children, and then thought that it would be fun to write a children's book set in Discworld. It's as simple as that. Will it have a lot of adult readers who'll enjoy it and see the various levels of meaning? Yes. And so will a lot of the kids, too.
Why child and juvenile literature seems to be, with the exception of few authors, becoming dumber and blander everyday? Should we become paranoid or there's another simpler explanation?
Cautious publishers, commercial pressure to find 'the next X' when in fact people should be looking for 'the new Y', people who think writing for children is easy, the influence of TV, political correctness...but there is still good stuff being done.
You say you dont like the Alice books? Why?
Because they are pernicious, unfunny and stink of creepy Victorian humour; there's something about them that makes me want to wash my brain. I think it's dreadful that such rubbish stays in print by sheer momentum when so many better books written since then have not done so.
I won't ask you about Harry Potter.
I didn't want to be so obvious. Anyway, since it seems you want to be asked about Harry Potter, I ask: What do you think about these books? How do they compare to your Johnny Maxwell books?
I think they are fairly derivative. But so is most fantasy, including Discworld - that's how genres work. It's never occurred to me to compare them to the Johnny Maxwell
books, which are wildly different, I'd have said. To answer the question behind the question, I'd say that the existence of the Harry Potter books have had no effect on me other than raise my sales somewhat, as the kids graduate to something a little stronger!
You also wrote a book with Neil Gaiman. I found that in almost every interview you are asked about this book and its possible translation to cinema, so I won't ask you about "Good Omens" either. But I let you the freedom to tell everything you want about this book if you feel like to.
Everything we've got to say we've said a hundred times, I think!
Long time ago you did a comic (Warlock Hall). Would you like to tell me what was it about? Did you did also the drawings or just the words?
It wasn't a comic. It was a cartoon strip in a short-live periodical, developed by me as a favour to my agent, who ran the thing. It was a satire of psychic researchers.
Also, your last book is a graphic novel (not a comic but close) and you worked in many other projects with the artist of this book, Paul Kidby, to the extent that his drawings are the "official" depictions of your characters (sort of).
Hey, hey, hey. The Last Hero
certain is NOT a graphic novel. 'Graphic novel' is used to mean 'a big comic, but without 'Pow!' balloons and with dark shadows and agonizingly introspective characters, trying to look cool.' It's been completely devalued over the years -- it's noticeable that Neil, who did such a lot to create the genre, is now moving into novels and screenplays. Comics have all the drawbacks of books "and" movies, which are not outweighed by the advantages.
If The Last Hero isnt a graphic novel, how do you describe it?
An illustrated novel. There's over 40,000 words of text.
I found that your
official site in Internet is at www.turtlesalltheway.com,
which is "under construction". Is it something you are working right now or
is an abandoned project? If it is going to be functional some day, what will
people find there? (Don't tell me "turtles all the way", please)
I'm not sure. Seriously, I can never find the time to get it going. It can't have passed with notice that I write a lot of books!
It is said that your next book won't be a Discworld book. Is this right? Can you give a hint of what is it going to be about?
I don't know who is saying that. It's a Discworld book, and I've done 60,000 words of it.
I dont know either. As a matter of fact, when I wrote the question I was sure it was you, since I had read it an alt-tab of time before in an interview. Also, I swear that The Last Hero was described somewhere as a graphic novel. Weirdly enough, after your reply I looked for these two references but I couldnt find them nowhere. Anyway, in the interview Therese Littleton did for Amazon you said you were working in a book based in Arthurian legends, although the one pulling the sword was a female. So, what happened to this book? Are you still working on it? Will it be a Discworld book or will it be set in its "proper" scenary?
I can't be held responsible for myths. It's true, though, about the Arthurian one, but that won't see the light of day for a while.
I won't ask you "Which is your favourite character?", I don't want to be so obvious (and so boring). What I ask you is: Which are your favourite kind of characters and why?
Screwed-up people, like Granny and Vimes. That makes the insides of their heads interesting places.
The Patrician is not what one can call "a nice guy". Anyway, he is a charming character and maybe one of the "reader's top-choices". Would you like to make a commentary about this appeal?
Tall cool guys in black get all the fun:-)
I suposse that you must be very frequently asked to mix characters from one subseries with another (i.e.: Vimes meets Granny Weatherwax), but, as far as I know, you never did this. Am I right? I imagine your reasons (and your answer) but: Why did you never mixed the subseries?
Susan met Nanny Ogg on Thief of Time
, but generally I don't allow mingling in case I end up with a book that reads like the bloody Super Heroes League of America.
Would you like to tell something about your first books (The Carpet People, The Dark Side of the Sun and Strata)? What is your opinion of them now?
Like all books, they were the best I could do at the time.
In Strata appears a discworld. I know that you will send me to read this novel to find the answer to this question but I ask it anyway: What differences are between this discworld and Discworld?
Same basic idea, but treated in an sf way in one book and a fantasy way in the series.
Strata is a parody of Larry Niven's Ringworld, right? If so, is it a parody from the homage or the dislike side? Why did you parody Ringworld.
Because I enjoyed it!
And why you didnt continue parodying Science Fiction?
Because there are only 24 hours in a day, and sooner or later parody is hollow.
You said in another interview that "It worries me that the science fiction-fantasy genre has no credibility". Do you have an explanation why it has no credibility?
In the UK, at least, its because of snobbery and the perception that it is read by uncool people.
Do you think - as I do - that Star Trek (and in some extent Star Wars) helped to this lack of credibility in SF, banalizing a genre that, with authors like Ballard or Dick, was transcending its boundaries of "aliens, robots & rockets"?
Absolutely. Anything can be resolved by reversing the polarity of the positronic flow. But that is letting the critics off the hook. Sure, there is fairly mindless sf and fantasy out there, just as there is every other genre, but if critics are going to dismiss the whole thing on the basis of this then they are not doing their job. And they don't do their job, in fact. It is very, very rare to see a new fantasy or sf book reviewed in a UK national newspaper.
I think that maybe Role Playing Games did the same damage to fantasy? What do you think?
I'm less sure about that. Certainly the same heroic fantasy tropes get reheated again and again. But what does most damage to fantasy is that it's called fantasy -- in English that word has a whole heap of negative connotations.
Sexual connotations, right?
No. It has connotations of useless daydreaming and mindless escapism
Is there, in English, a distintion between "fantasy" and "fantastic", being this latter genre about the metaphysical unreal (while the former is about the mytical unreal)?
English is not a precision language, and that distinction is blurred.
In that interview you also said: "But if P. D. James writes something that is clearly science fiction its not called science fiction and its not on the science fiction shelves." Did you read the P. D. James SF novel (The children of men)? What do you think about it? And about other books of this author?
I read it. I preferred Greybeard
, by Brian Aldiss - a book it certainly resembled.
You said that werewolves are a very 21st century monster? Why?
I don't recognise the context of this. What I do say is that both vampires and werewolves, whatever their 'real' history, now exist largely as creations of Hollywood.
You also said that "Discworld is kind of post-fantasy fantasy. " Would you like to explain what do you mean with this?
Against, this needs context. But in short Discworld takes the classic fantasy world and allows it to grow up. A lot of its problems are civic, political or social. It doesn't need Dark Lords in distance towers - there's quite enough evil in the next street.
This was something I couldnt believe it was true, till I read it carefully I thought it was some kind of irony of yours: That you had to change your publishers in Germany because they inserted a soup advertising in the middle of a novel (and I was complaining about the lousy spanish translations!).
That at least is true. They did not understand that its insulting to any writer, but particularly galling to sf writers (in the old days of the pulp mags you got ads all over the place, and to expect genre authors to be accept that sort of thing again is like asking a black guy to be a shoeshine boy.)
And (maybe this is rather outdated) you also have "not satisfying" U.S. editions. They even wanted to translate you to their english! Do you have an idea why they treat your books so bad outside the UK?
Things have changed enormously in the USA over the past few years; the books sell well, get edited properly and on the whole are doing very well. We've actually got to the point where I have some say in textual changes, too.
What do you think of translation in general?
I don't comment. I don't know any foreign language well enough to be able to translate!
As far as I know, all the main events in the Discworld books happen in the same timeline. Did you ever thought of writing something set in Discworld but in other era (past or future)?
Can you be a little bit more explicit?
No, lest I give to much away. Suffice it to say that one of the next Discworld books will be set largely in the past.
How is your participation in Discworld "side-books" (GURPS, The Discworld Science, Nanny Oggs cookbook, etc.)? And in other Discworld by-products (comics, cartoons, plays, etc.)?
The plays are straight adaptations and I'm not involved. And I had only a light editorial control over the GURPS
stuff. Apart from that, I write most of the words, and Stephen does the research. I suspect my involvement in the 'written' spin-off is much higher that is normally expected.
Let's talk personal: What musical genres and performers do you like? And what do you dislike?
Hate rap, because it is dumb. Fairly eclectic, otherwise.
What books and authors do you like? And dislike?
As I said earlier, I probably read fewer than two fiction books a year now. In non-fiction, I'll read anything that seems interesting, and I have a wide definition of the word.
I found that your favourites authors are George McDonald Fraser, Carl Hiaasen, Donald Westlake, Joseph Wambaugh and Tom Robbins. How did they influenced you, as a reader and as a writer?
Those authors are certainly favourites; I enjoy them because they are craftsmen, but if they have influenced me its only because it's always a good idea to read the work of craftsmen - you pick up subtle skills, maybe.
Carl Hiaasen is the author you mention most. Why?
Because I've really enjoyed his stuff.
And what about movies?
I dislike 'sweet' American movies like, say, 'Sleepless in Seattle', and costume dramas. Most 'native' movies produced in the UK are rubbish, depending on grants and lottery money -- the few good ones get hyped because the rest are so unviewable. I like a touch of weird in my movies, so ones enjoyed recently are The Story of 1900, The Dish, Galaxy Quest and Moulin Rouge.
Pets? Hobbies? Vices?
Five cats, seven tortoises, no hobbies (lots of interests) plenty of vices.
In some place I read you were a journalist till the first time you saw a corpse. Would you like to tell about this experience?
Huh? That's the opposite of the truth; on the first day
I was a journalist I saw a corpse for the first time. It was the body of a drowned man that the fire brigade had just pulled out of a well. It interested me and then I was sick.
"Terry Pratchett does for fantasy what Douglas Adams did for science fiction". Is this true? Do you feel you do for fantasy what DNA did for sci-fi? How do you feel with the obvious comparision with this author?
Douglas Adams very carefully did not claim to be a science fiction writer; I wish he had done so. He wrote a very funny book using the tropes of sf as material, but I don't think he progressed the genre or brought it many new readers.
I am a fantasy writer. I may have fun with it, and I may dislike a lot of what is written by others, and I may be taking things in strange directions, but a fantasy writer is what I am.
Another description of you: "Think J.R.R. Tolkien with a sharper, more satiric edge". Again, is this true? Are you a "funny Tolkien"?
No. Like the line you quoted above, this is another critic/blurb one-line. Tolkien was Tolkien and I'm me; talking about authors in terms of other authors is temporarily useful to the sales department but ultimately futile.
How do you feel about the description of you and your books the critics make (and the publishers extract for blurbs)?
I don't have a lot of trouble with them. I did not rely on critics in order to build my readership and now, good or bad, what they say really does not have much of an effect.