|Interview by Gavin J. Grant|
British author Terry Pratchett's latest novel, Thief of Time, is the 26th book in his fabulously funny and bestselling Discworld series will be published in the U.S.A. and UK this month. After an early career in journalism he became the press officer at a nuclear power plant, all the time writing on the side. His first novel, The Carpet People [audio book], was published in 1971. Besides the Discworld series he has written seven books for children, two science fiction novels, and collaborated with Neil Gaiman on the hilarious and apocalyptic Good Omens. He was named an Officer of the British Empire "for services to literature" in the Queen's Birthday Honours of 1998 -- next time you're in the UK check out any bookshop and you'll see why, there are shelves devoted just to his novels. Since we still don't have a UK office, we chatted with Terry by email.
BookSense.com: There are 26 books in the Discworld series, yet they still sparkle with humor and energy. How do you do it?
Terry Pratchett: Sheer terror, mate, sheer terror.
Which one is your favorite?
Always the last book -- although I have a long-term affection for Men at Arms.
Your latest novel, Thief of Time, seems to be about second chances. Is this the beginning of the Alternate History of the Discworld?
You have to be careful with that stuff. It plays havoc with plots. Thief of Time was special.
The Discworld novels seem to happen consecutively (although Thief of Time shoots holes through that!). Are you tempted to go back and write interstitial novels?
They don't have to be consecutive within the series, only within the 'themes' (the witches, the Watch, etc.) I have one or two plans, but they're going to have to wait their turn. The next Discworld novel will be a Watch novel, though, otherwise Lady Sybil [who was pregnant at the end of the previous Discworld novel, The Truth] will have the longest pregnancy known to science.
Can you do okidoki or any other martial art from Thief of Time?
I know snafu...
Are you going to publish the Sayings of Mrs. Cosmopilite? (Do you like the way I easily avoid all the deep philosophical stuff?)
That is deep philosophical stuff...
Your readers in the U.S.A. are happier now that your books are coming out at the same time here as in the UK. Do you think your publisher will be able to keep it up?
Search me. Ask them. There's no reason why they shouldn't and the new crew seems to be working hard. I have to tell you that simultaneous publication makes it all a lot harder for me; two independent editing processes going on at the same time!
Why can't the same book be published in the U.S.A. and UK?
I don't know. That's just how things are. Obviously there are minor -- very minor -- changes in language, and both editors see the manuscript in a different way.
Are there differences in what the editor's do?
There are differences, but these are generally right down at the copyediting level. In my experience U.S. copy editors think Webster is God. I think he's just some guy, and his rules can't always apply in
narrative fiction. There's generally a few genteel scuffles with both lots of editors, and occasionally I'll go to the mat, but blood is seldom drawn.
Why are the U.S. covers of your books so different from the U.K. covers?
Because they appear to work. I can't argue with the numbers. Various cover types have been tried and failed in the U.S. over the years. Now, it might be that new style covers just happened to coincide with a sudden breakthrough, and given that HarperCollins did suddenly get behind the books and push this might be true to an extent. Whatever the reason, my sales started to build seriously around two years ago and are accelerating. Five years ago I'd never have expected to get a sniff at even the lower reaches of the New York Times list, that's for sure.
There's an argument that there are a lot of fantasy fans out there that don't like overt fantasy covers. I'm not getting involved in it, but it is an argument.
Do you know if your books for younger readers are going to be published over here?
I suspect that this is going to be the case, but there's nothing in writing yet.
Are you looking forward to your latest U.S. Tour?
Er...yes. For a given value of 'yes'. Touring, however good it is, and however much fun, is exhausting. And the U.S. tour is sandwiched between two halves of the UK tour.
Are there any places you look forward to visiting (or avoiding) in the U.S.A.?
I always look forward to a bowl or two of clam chowder at Jack's in Seattle. There are no dreaded venues, but let's see what this tour brings:-)
Are there any significant differences (besides nationality!) in your UK and U.S. audiences?
Not a great deal. I think the UK audience is a little older overall, but that's just because I've been bigger [here] for longer.
After Harry Potter, do you think general readers will be willing to give more good fantasy a chance?
Well, Harry Potter sure hasn't done my sales any harm. that's for sure. I think Harry Potter means more publishers will publish fantasy (at least, for children) but, on the whole, the answer is no. Arguably, the success of Harry Potter will mean that fantasy is seen as appropriate only for children, and that adult readers are somehow dopey. Certainly you'll find that state of mind is prevalent in the UK media.
What is it about the Discworld books that you don't write them in chapters?
Life doesn't happen in chapters -- at least, not regular ones. Nor do movies. Homer didn't write in chapters. I can see what their purpose is in children's books ("I'll read to the end of the chapter, and then you must go to sleep") but I'm blessed if I know what function they serve in books for adults.
Will Granny Weatherwax ever receive the Discworld equivalent of an OBE?
Lancre does have a very small honours system, but I don't think witches go in for that style of thing.
Are you ever tempted to write under a pseudonym and see what would happen -- to your writing and the reception the book would get?
No. I'm probably too arrogant for that.
Do you have any more news on whether Terry Gilliam is going to film the novel you wrote with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens?
Deliberately, no. We're just letting things happen, or not happen. Best way.
Is there anyone else you'd like to collaborate with?
No. I collaborate as readily as a cat. Good Omens was a lucky accident -- right person, right subject, right time.
What are you reading?
Primal Fear, by William Diehl; Strange and Secret Peoples, by Carole G. Silver; and a bunch of books about Leonardo da Vinci.
When are you going to write that novel about the nuclear power industry?
Others have beaten me to it!
Author photo by Robin Matthews.