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Blink Magazine interview


The funniest fantasy author alive. The best selling fiction author in Britain today. The man with three t's in his last name. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for...

[Terry Pratchett by Lou Rocco Centrella]

Article reprinted from Blink magazine, used with permission by Lou Rocco Centrella, email louroccocentrella@hotmail.com.

Ho-hum literature, sort of charming, kind of soothing and stuffed with clutter are not the proper words to describe a Terry Pratchett novel. Instead, think along the lines of bitingly witty, magnificently entertaining, sarcastically thought-provoking, brain-tuggingly amusing and a big wad of fun. (And technically, a "wad" is fairly large)

Writer of humorous fantasy novels, Terry Pratchett, born in 1948, hails from the United Kingdom. Which Pratchett reminded me, is wet.

At age fifteen he had his first story published in Science Fantasy. At twenty-three his first book, The Carpet People, was published. He writes stories for children as well as other literature. But by far his most fame stems from his Discworld series, which totals 24 novels.

Let me tell you about the Disc. See, there is this Disc that lies on the back of four massive elephants who are balancing themselves on the back of a ten thousand mile long sea turtle (called Great A'Tuin). And this turtle is wandering aimlessly through the universe. The inhabitants of the Disc lead their lives, just like you and me. Only here on Earth we don't have mathematically intelligent camels, swamp dragons, dwarfish giants, time traveling orangutan librarians and creepy witches. Well, at least not that many.

The Disc is divided up into many parts, just as a pizza is. The four main bits include Klatch (sort of like Africa), The Counterweight Continent (similar to a China/Japan), Xxxx (this place is currently lost even though long ago it was found) and The unnamed which is the largest continent and has the well populated city of Ankh-Morpork. Ankh-Morpork is in many of the novels and is a filthy city. Pratchett said in one novel, "Poets have tried to describe Ankh-Morpork. They have failed. Perhaps it's the sheer zestful vitality of the place, or maybe it's just that a city with a million inhabitants and no sewers is rather robust for poets, who prefer daffodils and no wonder."

The Discworld novels have five main themes. If you randomly grab one from a shelf in Barnes and Noble, it will most likely be about guards (Ankh-Morpork's city watch), witches (Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and others), Death, Rincewind and his luggage (who is an incompetent wizard that can't seem to stay out of trouble) or the Unseen University faculty (a nutty group of magicians with a profound academic disposition). Everyone has their favorites.

I was a bit worried about interviewing Terry Pratchett. This was a man who is proclaimed as the funniest fantasy author alive and the best selling fiction author in Britain today. Maybe he'd be cocky and egotistical?

But I bit my tongue and sent the electronic message. And I was happy I did. You'd think someone who has sold over fourteen million novels and has had his works translated into 26 languages wouldn't have time to talk to a poor college student trapped in the corn pits of Iowa. Turns out, Terry Pratchett has no problem chatting with fans, if he can spare the time that is. If he isn't working on a his newest novel, helping on a new video game based on his works or responding to fan mail, he's trying to spend time with his wife. And if at all possible, find a life.

On the back cover of Carpe Jugulum, Pratchett's 24th novel in the Discworld series, reads:

"Terry Pratchett is fifty and lives behind a keyboard in Wiltshire, where he answers letters in a desperate attempt to find time to write. He used to grow carnivorous plants, but now they've taken over the greenhouse and he avoids going in. He feels it may be time to get a life, since apparently they're terribly useful."

I decided to ask a few question to fans of the Discworld novels and find out what they like about Pratchett. The players:
1) Jeremy Pokela, student at University of Minnesota-Duluth and a fan of long standing.
2) Thomas Kula, student at Drake University and a new reader of Pratchett.
3) And Terry Pratchett. He's the guy writing the books, remember?

Who is your favorite character and why?

Pokela: Carrot, the dwarven would be king, city guard night watchman. Why? Because he understands that in a stupid world, when everyone else has given up and all looks hopeless, with insurmountable odds facing you, and with no prayer of ever approaching victory, you still have to do your job. Even if it means arresting large, angry, magical dragons who don't like you.

How do you come up with characters? Like the members of the Unseen University, Rincewind, Carrot, Mort or others...

Pratchett: Characters are easy. You meet them every day. A good memory is all you need... plus a little skilled observation.

How did you get into his novels? Why do you keep reading them?

Kula: I was bored at home and in a Barnes and Noble with $20 burning a hole in my pocket. I keep reading them because the first one seemed pretty good.

Pokela: I own 14 Terry Pratchett novels, I have read them all plus I have read one that I do not own, which adds up to 15 (you can trust that answer because I have taken Calc 2). I keep reading them because they are the Bomb-Diggity. Or in other words because they're funny as hell. I got into them by being a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club. They sent me one (Pyramids) and I hated it, I put it down, stopped reading it entirely. Then they sent me another Pratchett novel (Guards! Guards!) and I was going to send it back, but I was bored one day and picked it up to read and I discovered the glory of Pratchett.

It's difficult to compare Pratchett's works to other novelists, but there some similarities. His general wit and writing style remind readers to that of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, Grant-Naylor's Red Dwarf, Piers Anthony's assorted fantasy humor novels and Robert Rankin's Armageddon: The Musical series. All bizarre British humor. And all worth reading. I decided to ask Pokela and Kula their thoughts.

Why do you like Terry Pratchett's novels? How does he compare to other humor writers?

Pokela: Terry Pratchett is funny (funniest fantasy author, you could argue that Piers Anthony is funnier, but he relies too much on puns and all his books end up being the same, Terry Pratchett is different every time) and at the same time he raises interesting ideas. Pratchett is one of the two best writers of comedic fiction I have ever read (the other being Daniel Pinkwater). His novels aren't pretentious like Douglas Adams' (who overuses his comedic bits and who hasn't had a real funny idea since maybe the second book in the Hitchhiker series) novels tend to be. Most importantly however, a Terry Pratchett novel is like a good back rub. It's deeply satisfying on a fundamental level and it leaves you wanting more.

Kula: Pratchett is in many ways like Douglas Adams'- off-beat, eclectic humor. Usually dry humor, usually intelligent humor, that is what I like about his books. I like books with a lot of references in them (to other literature, to pop culture, etc.) Pratchett seems to have that. Besides, he is British, so his humor is just superior.

And now, I just had to ask the inevitable question.

If you, Piers Anthony and Douglas Adams' got into a pie eating competition, who do you think would win? And why?

Pratchett: Me. I like pie.

Who are your idols?

Pratchett: I don't have any idols; I respect many writers. I've always written fantasy because, yes, fantasy and sf [science fiction] got me reading. They're good like that. But the important thing is to read them as part of a balanced reading diet!

What will the future of the Discworld be? Will you continue to turn out the books until your dying breath?

Pratchett: Gawd, I hope not. But I am not planning to write the official Last Discworld Book.

Do you have any advice for young writers today?

Pratchett: Yes, but no on ever listens, or they get positively annoyed-like when I say that they should read a great deal, of everything, and remember that spelling, punctuation and grammar are not things that just happen to other people.

Can you quickly give me an idea of how a typical day is for you? For example: wake, work on novel, feed cat, answer inane e-mail about what your day is like...

Pratchett: Yep, that's about it, except that the cat gets fed earlier.

You have three T's in your last name. What do you have to say about this?

Pratchett: The third one took some achieving.

If you had one sentence to sum up the meaning of life, what would that sentence be?

Pratchett: Always remember you may be wrong.

Lastly, what do you think of Iowa? Besides the fact there is a lot of corn and pigs here.

Pratchett: It is quite possible that there is nowhere in the universe more beautiful that Iowa. Niniveh and Tyre bow down with shame.

Any final thoughts? Shameless praise is fine.

Kula: Terry Pratchett makes me want to put bright pink machine parts in a three-sided laundry basket. And you can quote me on this.

Pokela: Terry Pratchett is Smiggity Smiggity Smack! He puts the Bomb in Bomb-Diggity. And he puts others to shame with his Puckness.

For more information about Pratchett look at these websites:

Clarecraft (http://www.clarecraft.co.uk) offers crafted replicas of characters in Pratchett's novels. Some of the discontinued figurines value up to $1,000.

The L-Space Web http://www.lspace.org is a webpage that is extremely full of Pratchett goodness. There are articles, novel summaries, games, photos and other enticing Pratchett links.

Titles from Colin Smythe Ltd. http://www.colinsmythe.co.uk/ is the home page of Pratchett's agent and first publisher, Colin Smythe, which also features a biography and details of Pratchett's published books and stories.

If you're a fan of fantasy and humor novels, you ought to give Pratchett a try. When asked where a beginner should start, Colin Smythe, Pratchett's agent said, "Either start at the beginning with The Colour of Magic or possibly Wyrd Sisters, Mort, or Guards! Guards!. Earlier novels, (except The Light Fantastic as it's a direct sequel to The Colour of Magic) don't need a knowledge of the contents of other volumes, but it does help with the later ones to have some knowledge of earlier story lines."

This fall Pratchett's 25th Discworld novel, The Fifth Elephant, will be released in England and Carpe Jugulum will come to the United States. Those interested in reading his novels can seriously start anywhere, but here is a short description of his Discworld novels Mort and Guards! Guards!:

Guards! Guards!: Samuel Vimes is captain of the night watch in the filthy city of Ankh-Morpork. Under the direction of Vimes is Carrot, a six-foot tall dwarf who is a loyal law abider. He will not rest until all crime is gone- even if it means arresting every soul in the city and a mean tempered dragon. The night watch isn't prepared to handle a dragon. Bars are more their style. The city gets a bit hot when a magical dragon shows up raking fiery death. Well, OK, not fiery death, but melting some stuff that really shouldn't have been melted.

Mort: Sometimes even Death needs a vacation. Passing souls to the next world and keeping perfect written records on everyone to ever walk the Discworld is no easy job. To put it simply, it starts to make you a little crazy. So Death hires Mort, the apprentice, to help. This leaves Death to try his hands at other lines of work, like preparing meat at a local rib house. Mort meets a princess and falls in love. However, Mort quickly finds that romance and his new job do not mix well. Mort tries to complete his tasks without messing too greatly with the fabric of space and time. That's just something you leave alone.

© 1999 Lou Rocco Centrella

originally published in Blink magazine, 1999


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