inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #0 of 282: Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 11 Jul 01 09:50
    
 When I first asked our next guest for some biographical information so
 that I could write an introduction, one of the things he mentioned was
 that he has sold more than 25,000,000 books.  But he didn't mention the
 titles.  Confident that I could sum them up in a brief paragraph, I went
 to amazon.com and did a search for Terry Pratchett.  That search resulted
 in 227 hits.  
 
 Terry Pratchett is, officially, the UK's best-selling living novelist, at
 least -- he hastens to say - for adults.  His last 22 books all got to #1
 in hardback, paperback, or, usually, both.  He has even, after a shaky
 start in the US, made it to the lower slopes of the New York Times
 best-seller list.
 
 Yet Terry Pratchett, who has sales of over 25,000,000 books, is an avowed
 fantasy author and won't accept any more "literary" description, despite
 the fact that Booker Prize-winning author A. S. Byatt said about him,
 "Pratchett's inventiveness and wisdom make him more important than J K
 Rowling or Philip Pullman."
 
 Thief of Time is the 26th book in his Discworld fantasy series.  The
 plot doesn't lend itself to a short description. Let's just say that one
 of the main characters is the *Fifth* Horseman of the Apocalypse, who
 left before they became famous...
 
 Leading the discussion is Susan McCarthy, a longtime Well member, who
 writes about science and the environment, and writes humor.  She's a
 contributing editor at Salon, and the co-author, with Jeffrey Moussaieff
 Masson, of When Elephants Weep.  She's been anthologized in Best American
 Science Writing 2000 and the forthcoming Mirth of a Nation (Volume II).  
 She doesn't have all Terry Pratchett's books yet, but she is working on
 it, and would be closer to her goal if her ancestors and descendants
 didn't keep taking them.
 
 Please join me in welcoming Terry and Susan to inkwell.vue!
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #1 of 282: Terry Pratchett (tpratchett) Wed 11 Jul 01 10:41
    
FX:(sound of match being struck)  Hello?  
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #2 of 282: With catlike tread (sumac) Wed 11 Jul 01 11:21
    
(Lights go up to reveal crowd of people in festive hats.)

Hello!  Terry, I'm just delighted that you're doing this with us.

My first question is related to a previous and current inkwell.vue
guest, Neil Gaiman.  I hear that he credits you with a little help
with a plot problem in American Gods.  What was *that* all about?
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #3 of 282: Terry Pratchett (tpratchett) Wed 11 Jul 01 11:32
    
We were in Sweden on a train going from Stockholm to Gothenburg for
the Book Fair and feeling very relaxed about everything.  And Neil said
he knew he'd got this problem looming up in the book, and had thought
the development of the plot would generate a solution and it hadn't. 
He told me what it was, and I said oh,that's not a problem, that's an
opportunity, all you have to do is...and gave him one short sentence. 
And he said 'of course!'  It wasn't a leap of genius on my part.  The
answer lay in the way he'd explained the problem. He'd simply got too
close to it all.  

It happens to us all.  You've been banging your head against a plot
for ages, and you just can't take that big step back to look at it with
a fresh eye.  You tend to overcomplicate, because you know the
existing text by heart, when what's really needed is simplification.

We occasionally got into that position with Good Omens.  We were
re-writing and re-writing some scenes, and we had to stop because, hey,
we were trying to make them extra-funny for the sake of these two guys
who already knew every word of the book and were in danger of becoming
bored. Too much over-refining like that, especially with humour, can
spoil it for the reader who is coming to it cold. 
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #4 of 282: With catlike tread (sumac) Wed 11 Jul 01 11:53
    
Why not keep one eye closed while working, so it stays fresh -- wait,
an eye patch?

Here in the USA we used to have to wait agonizing lengths of time
to get your books.  My spouse & younger child went to the UK
several years ago and earned my undying gratitude by bringing back
four or five Discworld books not then available here.  If they did
that now, I would already have the books.  And have read them.  How
did this progress come about?
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #5 of 282: Terry Pratchett (tpratchett) Wed 11 Jul 01 13:20
    
Oh, because of a whole number of things, I think.  It'd be true to say
that in the late 80s/early 90s the books were not being, er, promoted
very much (not typical English understatement there...)And the US
editions were always late and, eventually, out of sequence. 
Nevertheless, the readership did grow -- even if a lot of it was
importing UK editions.

Then three or four years ago the publishers finally noticed this and
started puttting an act together, and then there was the takeover at HC
and I ended up with a new editor and a new publicist who were allowed
to get on with their jobs.  We even managed to get simultaneous US/UK
publication.  And there *was* a readership out there, and suddenly they
had US editions, and it was like reaching some magical event horizon. 
Suddenly, when I did my tour in 2000, there were all these big queues.
 It is working out pretty well, but we've got a lot of ground to make
up.

Even so, I was shocked last year when I did a literary dinner for the
Cleveland Plain Dealer.  I'd said yes only because my hero, Donald
Westlake, was also a speaker.  And I signed rather more books than he
did, which was disgusting.  If Americans knew what a treasure they have
in Don, they'd flock to Mt. Rushmore and carve an extra head.
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #6 of 282: With catlike tread (sumac) Wed 11 Jul 01 13:36
    
There's plenty of room there.  Westlake's on the list, but the thing
has been stuck in committee forever.

Would you say a little about the changing style of Discworld over
time?  Is it becoming darker and deeper?
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #7 of 282: Terry Pratchett (tpratchett) Wed 11 Jul 01 13:53
    
That's the general opinion, I think.  The Fifth Elephant wasn't a
barrel of laughs, because when a man is being chased naked through the
snowy woods by werewolves there's only a limited number of gag
opportunities per page. I think I struck a decent balance with Thief of
Time, but a lot of the humour arose from the nature of the plot and
the characters.  I'm less inclined, these days, to *aim* for a gag, but
it's fun discovering them along the way.

Certainly if I'd stuck to writing Rincewind-and-his-Luggage stories, I
wouldn't have mananged 26 books.  Not 26 good ones, anyway.  And I'd
probably have gone mad:-)
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #8 of 282: With catlike tread (sumac) Wed 11 Jul 01 14:39
    
In a way you're writing several different Discworld series, aren't
you?  One about the Ankh-Morpork City Guard, one about the witches
of Lancre, one about Unseen University...

What of the rumored Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents?  Is
that to be a "Young Adult" Discworld book?  Does it take place in
Ankh-Morpork?
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #9 of 282: Terry Pratchett (tpratchett) Wed 11 Jul 01 15:13
    
There's maybe four or five'series' within DW, but I don't think in
those terms. I mean, I don't think 'oh, time to do a Witches book'.  It
doesn't work like that.  Each 'series' has a different tone of voice,
which is refreshing for me and one major reason why I haven't got tired
of DW.

'Maurice' is a strange book.  It will be marketed as a YA book *but
also* as a DW book.  This won't be a problem in the UK, where they
pretty much put all my stuff on one shelf whoever it's theoretically
for, but it will be...interesting to see how it works in the US.  I
wasn't planning to try to sell it here, but Anne Hoppe at HC read it
and ambushed me on the last tour and said she loved it and wanted to
buy it.

'Maurice' cost me blood!  It was going to be a light little book about
a cat who runs a Pied Piper scam, and sudden it went mythic on me and
became, yes, very, very dark.  And they I had to deal with two editors
and two copy editors, all of whom got very interested and involved. It
has been a lot of work, but I'm pleased with it. 

Nevertheless, it's a DW book. It's set on DW, in Uberwald, it has a DW
'feel' to it, and one well-known anthropomorphic personification and
-- since this book is mostly about rats -- one musomorphic
personification have walk-on roles.

I'm planning another YA DW book, THE WEE FREE MEN.  It's hard, though,
to explain why they *are* YA.  I'm never quite sure of the difference,
except that I know which kind I'm writing.  'Maurice' has got death,
cannibalism, poisoning, traps, cages anmd general terror in it, which I
suppose makes it prime YA material...
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #10 of 282: Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 11 Jul 01 18:40
    

For any of you reading along on the Web, if you have any questions or
comments for Terry Pratchett, please e-mail them to inkwell-hosts@well.com
and we will be happy to post them here for Terry to respond to.
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #11 of 282: With catlike tread (sumac) Wed 11 Jul 01 23:51
    

>It's hard, though, to explain they they *are* YA.

Absence of hedgehog songs?


You mentioned that you're writing two books at once -- is the
Amazing Maurice one of these?
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #12 of 282: Terry Pratchett (tpratchett) Thu 12 Jul 01 02:09
    
>Absense of hedgehog songs

You could be right.  It's a matter of spin rather that content,
though.  Take the rats.  They talk about breeding -- breeding is
something that rats do a lot of (but rather less in Maurice because the
female rats are now demanding intelligent husbands) and they talk
about it in Rat.  They swear in Rat, too, which is a rrlt good language
for tcht swearing in...

The two books at the same time business is probaby going to follow me
around, but it's not difficult if you don't blink.  I'm working on the
narrative for 'The Science of Discworld: The Globe', which is a lot of
fun, at the same times as the next DW novel, which is also a lot of
fun.  And in some strange way, although the stories are wildly
different, they are sparking off one another.  In fact I'll probably
finish the TSOD piece in a month or so, but by then the next book will
be well advanced.

I know I shouldn't write so much.  But when I've finished a book the
choice is: find something else to do, or tidy your desk.  And I don't
know how to tidy my desk.
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #13 of 282: With catlike tread (sumac) Thu 12 Jul 01 09:43
    
(Anyone who suggests things that Terry can do other than write
another book will be severely dealt with.)
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #14 of 282: Terry Pratchett (tpratchett) Thu 12 Jul 01 09:49
    
You meant there *are* other things?
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #15 of 282: With catlike tread (sumac) Thu 12 Jul 01 10:28
    
No, no there aren't.
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #16 of 282: With catlike tread (sumac) Thu 12 Jul 01 10:29
    

Quick, I want 60,000 words on the Great A'Tuin.
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #17 of 282: With catlike tread (sumac) Thu 12 Jul 01 10:35
    
Terry, how much of a problem has consistency been?  I'm guessing
that when you started writing Discworld stories you didn't know
you'd be spending so much time there, as it were, and perhaps
created events & rules that were a problem later.  I've read that
Ursula Leguin regrets having invented the ansible in an early
story, for example.
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #18 of 282: Terry Pratchett (tpratchett) Thu 12 Jul 01 10:50
    
>Quick, I want 60,000 words on the Great A'Tuin.

I get stuff like that all the time.  I've written two articles this
week already.  Oddly enough, when the books are going well, I somehow
find time to write other things...
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #19 of 282: With catlike tread (sumac) Thu 12 Jul 01 10:51
    
We here at Astrochelonian Quarterly might be able to offer you a
cover if you can get it to us by Tuesday.
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #20 of 282: Terry Pratchett (tpratchett) Thu 12 Jul 01 10:58
    
There are some inconsistencies, and if I'd known how it would all have
panned out, I'd had planned it differently.  And there are one or two
temporal problems which mean that the DW timeline is slightly
pretzel-shaped. I think most readers don't notice, and most who do
don't mind -- some parts of Thief of Time were written for the other
ones!  There are fans who'll look at the street map of Ankh-Morpork,
and time a conversation that two characters are having as they walk
through the city, and then write me a letter saying 'that conversation
couldn't have taken more than five minutes and it's a good fifteen
minutes walk!'  

And then I have to explain that one of the characters stopped off to
buy some cigarettes, and the other one had to take a leak, but somehow
I hadn't thought it moved the plot along to mention this...

Most of the inconsistencies are due to the fact that the books are now
being written by a better writer.
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #21 of 282: Terry Pratchett (tpratchett) Thu 12 Jul 01 11:01
    
>We here at Astrochelonian Quarterly might be able to offer you a
>cover if you can get it to us by Tuesday.

How long?  How much?  Congratulations, Astrochelonian Quarterly, for
being one publication not asking me to write an appreciation of The
Lord of the Rings timed to be run when the movie is out...:-)
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #22 of 282: With catlike tread (sumac) Thu 12 Jul 01 11:11
    
We here at Astrochelonian Quarterly pay in handsomely bound copies
of Astrochelonian Quarterly -- back issues too! -- this is your
chance to get the complete set.  We thought 4,000 words would be
nice, and we were hoping you could mention the original *Gamera*
as a kind of preview of the pending remake of the classic tale of
the whirling atomic prehistoric giant turtle who was shot to the
moon.
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #23 of 282: With catlike tread (sumac) Thu 12 Jul 01 11:13
    
So what might you have done differently if you had known where
you were headed with Discworld?
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #24 of 282: Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Fri 13 Jul 01 13:02
    

   I loaned copies of _Witches Abroad_ and _Lords And Ladies_ to some
wiccan (neo-pagan) friends and have seen neither since.  I wonder about
these, and about some of the other DW books, did you write them partly
to skewer certain preconceptions amongst certain crowds?  They definitely
work for that purpose.....

  When will we hear/see more of Rincewind and the Luggage?   (I haven't
seen _Thief_ yet, so.....)
  
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #25 of 282: Terry Pratchett (tpratchett) Fri 13 Jul 01 14:24
    
>So what might you have done differently if you had known where
>you were headed with Discworld?

Written better books, I suspect.  You know the old joke about the
100-year-old man:'If I'd neve known I'd live this long I'd have taken
better care of myself'.  

But in truth a lot of stuff has evolved at the series developed.  No
one could have planned it right at the start.
  

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