The L-Space Web: Interviews

The Quest for the Holy Anorak
Interview with Terry Pratchett on Melbourne's Radio 3RRR program "Zero G" 4 July 1994

Presenters - Robert Jan and Paula Ruzek

[transcribed by Steve Boyd]

[irrelevant stuff deleted]

Rob: The Observers Book of British Writers list Terry Pratchett as a Buckinghamshire mammal with more books than legs. Mr Pratchett has a singular viewpoint that the world is disc shaped and rests upon the backs of a quartet of wombats standing on a giant turtle of the non-mutant-ninja type. Apart from these established scientific facts ...

Paula: Robert!! That's not very helpful. Now where's that PR guff. Sorry Terry, just hang on a tick. Terry Pratchett is in Australia to promote the paperback releases of his novels Johnny and the Dead, and Lords and Ladies, and the hardcover release of his 101'st volume in the Discworld series Soul Music. Terry its great to have you on the show today.

TP: Ho ho ho ho ho, hello.

Paula: um, within the framework of the discworld you've plugged into all sorts of themes, like police procedures, the film industry, music, uh I hear that your next book's already in the sort of beta testing stage, what can we look forward to there?

TP: Aah, (pause) I really thought I'd like to have a a look at civilisation and what makes it work, so the next book is called Interesting Times, and it's set on the counterweight continent of the discworld, and it's kind of all the Chinese Japanese empire stuff that you can remember, with a little bit of discworld thrown in.

Rob: Are we going to see what, the terracotta warriers on the discworld?

TP: You'll have to read it won't you! I'm not going to give things away. Anything I say will go round the world at the speed of light (just like this!).

Rob: That's writerese for yes there are going to be terracotta warriers in there, great! great!

Paula: Um, the discworld is spinnig off a lot of merchandise ist seems, you've got a map and some big comics (that's Australian for Graphic Novels), audio tapes, video tapes, china collectables..

TP: I don't entirely agree actually, the things like the comics and the map and the tape are genuinely articles in their own right the things that people actually want. I think merchandise means sort of towel body splash and tee-shirt, and I'm fairly kind of uneasy about that sort of thing.

Paula: So we're not going to see that sort of stuff?

TP: I like the models that Clarecraft in England do, I don't think you've seen them down here because the freight charges and GST and everything else make them sort of, you know they may as well be made out of gold...

Paula: Yeah

TP: ...but they're just producing a little, um, sort of pewter type role playing game minatures which will find their way over here fairly soon.

Paula: I believe there's also a companion book that's not far away?

TP: Right, we're doing that, its going to come out, I have to be careful, its going to come out about August, uh god knows when it gets down here, as long as it take the steam packets to do it.

Rob: Well actually we do have clippers, clipper ships that come out here. Your merchandise will be packed in tea bales ..

TP: They'll be used as ballast more like. Um it's a kind of spoof, its' kind of, well I'm pretty certain most of my readers are probably familar with Burrs(?) Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and it's kind of the Burrs Dictionary of Phrase and Fable about Discworld, all the characters, lots of cod(?) stuff that I put in. It's just a fun thing, people wanted us to do it so we did it.

Rob: Is it going to have, um, there are people who have to know where everything is, it's a tradition in ...

TP: They're called anal retentives.

Rob: Exactly, so these people will really want to know where all of the anal canals are..

TP: It's quite, uh, I suppose they couldn't find them, even with both hands?

Rob: Even in the dark.

Paula: I think there'd be a problem making an atlas of the Discworld simply because you keep inventing new continents.

TP: No, no actually that's not true, um in the same way that the atlas, the The Streets of Ankh-Morpork, the main city, actually worked and actually became real, and there were no contradictions in it, um I'm quite certain that Stephen Briggs who's actually doing a lot of the work mapping what's been going on in my head, which is what really is the case. I would say the Discworld is actually mappable, uh, very very odd, I'v never drawn it but I have a pretty good idea what it looks like, or rather what it would look like if it existed, cause I have to be quite clear here, my job is to make you think it exists. If I think it exists I'm a candidate for the, for for the white waistcoat with the optional long sleves.

Paula: But there must be times you get kind of lost in the whole world of it, even when you're writing.

TP: Welll yes, this all seems to me to be a bit of a trick question. You get lost in it to the extent that you're working hard at it and doing the best you can, and you're living with it on a daily basis and it's like a kind of fire in the head, but the moment I actually, err, it's like the old Hollywood convention you know, couples were never allowed to be on the bed, there always had to be one foot on the ground, you remember, but I have to keep that one foot on the ground and if that one foot goes off the ground thats it, I erm, something snaps.

Paula: Well you must at least have fun writing..

TP: Tremendous...

Paula: ...and playing with it..

TP: ...tremendous, I'm only ashamed that they pay me such horrendously large summs of money for doing it.

Paula: I don't think I'd be ashamed of that at all.

Rob: Although I'd really love to pursue the very topic of examining the anal retentives are going to do when they find out about the incontinents in the atlas

TP: I LIKE THAT, the Incontinents...

Rob: The incontinental drift...

TP: We might, yes, god I reckon I can, if.., give me a minute to work on that and I think we can come up with something..

Rob: Incontinental ballistic missiles..

TP: The dark Icontinent, yeah

Rob: Um, what is the Holy Anorak anyway?

TP: Oh, the difficulty with this sort of thing is is you have to keep going back, and going back, and going back, ummmm there's something called Internet, you know the world wide cybernetic super.. super information highway along which I cruise in something approaching a Sinclair C5 if you ever saw them in this part of the world, and there is something I suppose you could call a kind of floating Discworld fan club on there, umm which rightly or wrongly sees it as its duty to explain the jokes to the Americans, ah, which is being a bit cruel actually. Ah, the ummmm, and there was one American, some months ago, umm a newbie I think, just started up, and she, I'm pretty certain it was a she, actually said in cold blood that that, there's always arguments on the Internet about what words mean (undecipherable) at the drop of a hat some, someone will say, it's full of people who, at the drop of a hat, will argue about the meaning of a phrase like "at the drop of a hat", and erm this person declared that the anorak was the, was the religiuos symbol of the, ah of the ancient Egyptians, and I said, and I thought as soon as I read this YES yes that was true, and I can just imagine it the great Nerdic period which has been lost to history because all their pyramids fell down, um, and I liked it so much. There's a great, um have you heard, have you got the term down here Necronerds? These are the girls with the long white hair and the guys with the heavy eye makeup. They all wear the Anhk, um and they're all very cool and laid-back, and and I thought this is it, the Holy Anorak must be brought in to counter this. I got a friend at Clarecraft to design one, umm and in fact I saw the master copy just before I left, and it is the Anhk wearing a little anorak with the toggles and the fur on the collar and everything. Everyones saying ME ME I want one too. It's for all those closet nerds out there, I like nerds, I've got a lot of time for nerds.

Rob: We used to have a nest of those Necronerds in the Melbourne underground and Neil Gaimen saw them once when he was over here and he described them sort of vapid things that hang from the ceiling, and you could hear the whisper of wings in the background...

TP: Thats very ungratefull of him, most of them read his comics, ha ha ha..

Rob: ...the State government took some action and they rolled a canister of CN20 into the ..

TP: No daylight, daylight would work. Actually it's quite fun, I like, I always like the ones who are 18 stone and were designed to be quite jolly but they kind of .. and.. there's a certain.. don't get me wrong, I kind of care for these people, in the same way that, that I rather like nerds. Nerds get things done, nerds care about things, nerds know how to make the VCR work, umm and its', it's now, um unfortunately, you know we kind of get the American message that it's smart to be dumb and it's smart to be cool...

Rob: Like Bart Simpson

TP: Yeah, and it's not smart to be keen on anything, to show enthusiasm, to actually know anything at all, and a culture that actually seriously believes this for any langth of time is heading for destruction. At least it's, it's not going to get it's TV recorded on time.

Rob: Another thing about Terry's books is that there is a slightly irreverent attitude to royalty, uh it just treats royalty as ordinary people who'd much rather be off somewhere building combine harvesters, and thats fairly relevant to today's scene after the horrible news we've had about Prince Charles in the recent week, so

(stuff deleted because it was not about TP)

Paula: We're in the studio with Terry Pratchett today and we're going to start talking about his new novel, well just come out in paperback, Johnny and the Dead. Now JATD Terry is marketed as a young persons book, yet it's just as appealing to adults, um and thats often the case with a lot of your writing. What is it about your writing that enables your books to be enjoyed by all age groups, from cradle to grave and beyond.

TP: Natural genius I expect. (in a very modest tone)

Paula: Ah,ah,ah I assumed that. Is there any -Other- secrets you put into it?

TP: I don't know, I (pause) I get asked this question all the time...

Paula: Ge I thought we came up with a good question.

TP: And the only answer I can give is that I do'nt know. It's up to clever peope like you who have been to university and thing to come up with the answer. Never ask the man on a tightrope how he's keeping his balance. I mean I say that because you don't keep your balance by thinking about it, you keep your balance because all of the variuos muscles and things are doing their job. I do'nt know what causes that, and maybe glad it happens. I can come up with all kind of half baked post-facto reasoning but when it actually comes down to the writing I just do it in the best way it seems to be done.

Rob: Genre literature's got a long established tradition of humour, and often your work most reminds me of P.G.Woodhouse and T.H White, and maybe a litle bit of Shakesphere thrown in, uh, have you been influence by these great dead writers?

TP: Well you can't go through the British, and I expect the Australian, education system without coming across Shakesphere. I read a lot of T.H.White, erm I read a lot of Woodhouse, I read a lot of absoloutly everything, I mean thats the whole key thing. And kids write to me and say "I want to be a writer if I leave school and how do I do it?" . I say well the first thing, first of all get a life, which is kind of fairly important, um and some of them neglect this fairly elementary, erm requirement. I read a load of stuff when I was a kid. I read everything I could get my hands on, and I suppose you could say that if you really fill yourself up sooner or later you start to overflow and you become a writer.

Paula: It's been wonderfull having you in the studio today Terry, thanks very much for coming in.

TP: It's been great.

Rob: Thanks a lot Terry.

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