My Interview with Terry Pratchett

Many years ago, while being a book reviewer for a national paper, I was given the opportunity to interview one of my favorite authors. Sir Pratchett. And I found it recently, so for anyone who is interested ...

Prolific English writer Terry Pratchett had his 27th book in 10 years released last month. Increasingly, Austaliana figures in his best-selling science-fantasy series Discworld which is also the setting for a computer game. MARK LINGANE talked to him in London.

TERRY PRATCHETT is seemingly unstoppable. His previous 16 books about the Discworld sold eight million copies and established him as one of the most popular authors in Western countries around the world apart from America.

Number 17, Interesting Times (Jacaranda Wiley, $29.95), was published last month. It sees the original character, Rincewind the Wizard (failed), caught in yet another war. The oldest and inscrutable empire is in turmoil, brought about by the revolutionary treatise What I did on My Holidays. Workers are uniting, with nothing to lose but their buffaloes. Warlords are struggling for power and war is spreading through the ancient cities and it's up to Rincewind to save the day.

It is expected to increase his audience and introduce them to colourful characters such as Death, the Librarian and CMOT (Cut My Own Throat) Dibbler - some of whom have also now been captured on a computer game. But even with his increasing popularity there are rumours that he might be stopping the series.

Pratchett is vague about what makes his books so popular.

"You can read them when you and 10 years old, then come back when you are 14 and there is a different story," he says. "That may be the secret of success."

But like many successful people, he doesn't care to analyse his success.

"Never ask the man on the tightrope how he keeps his balance. I just do it," he says.

"When people ask how long it takes to write a book, I say you only have to be alive for 45 years then it takes about four months to write."

His books parody many aspects of our own lives and history covering topics from religion to gender equality, death, folklore, rock and roll, death and Shakespeare (which has plenty of death).

In fact, the better your general knowledge - and in some cases specialised knowledge - the more you get out of his books. Pratchett has been to Australia (represented in the books by a country called XXXX) many times and has briefly incorporated it in his previous books.

"In my new book I actually manage to get Rincewind the Wizard on the continent of Four Ex ready for a possible future Discworld adventure set on that big red hot continent.

"I've come down to Australia quite a lot, four times in the past five years, and I really love the place. In fact we are coming over for a holiday again this winter and it really is my second favourite place to be."

So will we see kangaroos, barbecues and other popularised aspects of Australia in the forthcoming books?

"I think I'm just about sophisticated enough not to have wizards with corks around their hats...but don't hold your breath."

He quotes Wind in the Willows, history (because it was the same as fantasy) and violence (received from teachers) as the influences in creating the wacky story writing style. While he gives credit to past authors, new ones in other fields are now celebrating his work.

As a tribute to his great compendium and the magical appeal of Discworld, a computer game, due out later this month, has been created by Sony Psygnosis, one of the UK's leading software houses.

The game creators included a big Australian content, to an extent where Pratchett says he had to edit kangaroos out of the game's plot.

"I have to say, maybe because of the large Australian input (laughs), there is a level of subtlety in there. It's about the same level of subtlety as the tactical nuclear weapons.

"There are some subtle gags but there aren't that many from the books. It is rather more like the very early Discworld books, the ones withRincewind in. There is a large amount of conversation and there are a fair amount of puns and gags and irony and things."

Pratchett doesn't worry about the game version losing anything or being different from his prized Discworld books.

"It's not a book. In a book an author can do all kinds of verbal tricks that you can't do on a screen no matter how well you do it. It's a different game and has to obey different rules from the book. This is why I have been careful not to get too closely involved.

"I think I've got involved to the level of my expertise and not beyond that because the last thing any competent games designer wants is a book author wandering around, peering over his shoulder and saying 'Don't do it like that.'

"I take the game seriously, as one should do if you are going to put a decent project on the market. I hope it will enhance the books generally. But I think my job is to write the books and that is what I will continue to do. I don't think it (the game) is going to spoil the books.

"My experience here, where we have just done Mort (the fourth in the series) as a graphic novel, is that while people may have their own ideas quite firmly fixed about what characters look like they are very interested to see what someone else thinks they look like."

On forthcoming material he is fairly secretive. He hints at another novel with operatic overtones and then a children's book. Or he might simply come and see what is happening on the continent of XXXX where he knows he will always get a warm welcome.

"Some of the queues at the signings are longer that the ones in the UK. I met someone who had traveled 950km to be there.

"I know that it's not that far there - you (in Australia) travel 950km to go to the lavatory - but I was dead impressed."

But as prolific as he is, there will be a time when the Discworld will have no more to offer. Some say that it might be sooner than later but Pratchett is quick to set the record straight.

"I'm slowing down on Discworld, I'm not stopping and have been doing two a year for quite a long time."

But in the event that he does stop will he ever hand over the reins to another author under a licence agreement as he has with the computer game?

"Not in a million years. Absolutely not in any way, shape or form. Not even if they offered me money.

"It is unusual for me to say anything as definite as that."

He lived with the Discworld for over 10 years and it is very much a part of his very own life and style.

"No matter how good other writers were, it wouldn't be mine. I'm not interested in franchising Discworld."