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Crescent Blues!
Terry Pratchett: Carpe Discworld


By Stephen J. Metherell-Smith and Donna Andrews. Used with permission from

[Crescent Blues]

If you're already addicted to reading Terry Pratchett's hilarious Discworld novels, you've probably skipped this introduction entirely in your haste to reach the master's words. We at Crescent Blues take a dim view of this callous disregard for our editorial brilliance and thus take pleasure in revealing to those loyal souls who continued reading (both of you) that during the balance of this introduction, we will reveal the Meaning of Life.  

And the secret is [insert trumpet fanfare here]: the new Terry Pratchett book, Carpe Jugulum, will arrive in bookstores this month. At least in the U.S. Over in England, where they manage these things better, the book appeared in November 1998. Come to think of it, those ingrates who skipped the introduction probably know this already. Well, never mind. Carpe Jugulum purports to be Pratchett's 23rd Discworld novel. We must take this statistic on faith, since the only staff member who might know for certain (he conducted the interview) promptly scampered off to England to be closer to The Source. To which we can only say he'd jolly well better be scaring up Pratchett No. 24 for his friends back here in the States if he ever wants to come back. 

Crescent Blues: Your work is enormously popular, not only with the general public but also with other writers, (and heaven knows they're an impossible lot to please). But do you ever have dark, paranoid thoughts that your audience might eventually die off? How good is the outlook for books, particularly books like yours that require a reasonably alert and well-educated reader to appreciate the witty wordplay and other good bits? 

Terry Pratchett: As far as I can tell from experience with mail and on signing tours, there is a fair proportion of younger people among my readership. In fact, I reckon that readers have always been a minority. It's just that until the last couple of decades the others haven't had such high profile hobbies, being confined in the old days to street football and torturing small domestic animals. Certainly the frontlist readership increases with every book, and my backlist sales in the U.K. are pretty big. So... no, I don't worry overmuch. In any case, I am 51, and the books have already made me a lot of money... 

Crescent Blues: Does this mean your children's books are having the intended addictive effect? With this in mind, how do you plan to top Johnny and the Dead and Johnny and the Bomb? 

Terry Pratchett: I don't know. I've never planned ahead. I hear an item on the news, or read something in an old history book -- and there's a story. 

Crescent Blues: What historical facts or news items have caught your eye and inspired you recently? Now that you're on the Internet yourself 

Terry Pratchett: ... er... for last seven years... 

Crescent Blues: More than enough time to stray into technology issues. Do you see the echo of current technology issues, including Y2K, affecting Discworlders? 

Terry Pratchett: Sheesh, here we go. This is like the question they kept on asking on AFP: "When R we gonna C the Net on DW?" Computers and faxes and telephones are just things -- you use them to make life better and more interesting. You don't have to evangelize them. It's all just stuff. 

That being said, the beginning of Discworld's hesitant step in the information age starts in The Fifth Elephant

I'm not proposing to do a Y2K story -- I think we're going to be swamped with them. 

Crescent Blues: The Fifth Elephant? This is quite a drastic revision in Discworld cosmogony. Would you share a little with our readers as to what effects this might have on Discworld? 

Terry Pratchett: Nope. The title can mean all sorts of things. After all, the Discword has had four elephants all through the series. It's unlikely that a fifth has suddenly turned up. Legends, folk memories and ancient sayings, however, are a different matter. 

Crescent Blues: Perhaps you might expand on the topic of Discworld's legends, folk memories and ancient sayings. Which aspect of Discworld myths would you like to discuss? 

Terry Pratchett: None, really. I just put them in the books. Anyway, what kind of question is that? One of those short ones that hopes for a thousand-word answer, that's what. 

Crescent Blues: [Interviewer hangs his head in shame.] Shucks, guess I was really hoping you'd tell us more about The Fifth Elephant. 

Terry Pratchett: What's a book "about?" On one level I could say The Fifth Elephant is about a crime; it's about dwarfs; it's about international diplomacy; it's about how integrity makes poor body armor. It's mainly about what happens when cultures meet and screw one another up. 

Crescent Blues: I know you've had lots of interest in people wanting to make movies about Discworld and such 

Terry Pratchett: Yeah, but they never had any money. 

Crescent Blues: Is there a book which you personally feel is custom made for a movie script, one that when you wrote it you felt, "Yes this could be a movie!" 

Terry Pratchett: Mort. Simple plot, easy to grasp even by mall rats. 

Crescent Blues: You've obviously never met the mall rats over here. Given that you never plan ahead for your novels, are you surprised at how diverse and multi-booked the Discworld series has become?  

Terry Pratchett: Too right! But it seems a natural evolution. 

Crescent Blues: Do you have any vague notion or aim to where the Discworld series is heading?  

Terry Pratchett: Where some strands are going, yes. It's the difference between knowing the future of one person and the future of the planet. 

Crescent Blues: Would you like to write a straight non-humorous novel but feel "trapped" in your comedic style?  

Terry Pratchett: No. It's me. What you see is what you get. I vary it, though -- a lot of Carpe Jugulum and The Fifth Elephant are not funny and not meant to be. 

Crescent Blues: You've already had several Discworld games produced for the PC. Have you ever considered producing an online interactive game over the Internet? Or, as some fantasy writers do, producing a role playing board or card game? 

Terry Pratchett: I worked with Phil Masters of the Gurps: Discworld book. [Editor's note: Gurps: Discworld is a gamer's companion to Discworld currently available only in the United Kingdom.] Beyond that... look, where does it stop? I'm one guy. I want to spend my time writing. Some things won't happen because there is no time, and because I don't see the need for all this. Beyond a certain point, you're taking advantage of the fans. Sure, I've even been asked for Discworld wallpaper, but I don't let things happen until I'm sure there is a copper-bottomed demand -- and even then I have to like the idea as well. 

Crescent Blues: How do you know when an idea does have a copper-bottomed demand?  

Terry Pratchett: Gut feeling, really. I read the mail, listen to fans. I don't let things happen until I know its something the readers want (or at least feel sure that they'd want it if they knew about it. [Smiles.] 

Crescent Blues: Could you tell us about some of the most rancid ideas you've rejected? 

Terry Pratchett: None were particularly rancid. I'm not interested in Discworld trading cards or plastic figures, because they'd take the magic away. 

Crescent Blues: Do you have any novels/stories that you wrote before you were first published and would never dream of revealing to your fans because you feel they are dreadful?  

Terry Pratchett: Not really. Pretty much everything I've written got published. 

Crescent Blues: Was everything written in your famous comic style or were there any experiments? 

Terry Pratchett: There are a handful of short stories I wrote in my teens, which are in about every style you can imagine! 

Crescent Blues: Some of your Discworld books are obvious parodies or satires of other works, e.g. Macbeth, Phantom of the Opera. What would you say are the differences between writing this sort of novel and one that isn't based on something else? 

Terry Pratchett: There aren't many "full" parodies as such. There's some Macbeth in Wyrd Sisters, and some Midsummer Night's Dream in Lords and Ladies, but in both books they're mixed up with other things as well. I look upon the parody structure as a vehicle for other things. 

The only book squarely based on something else was Maskerade, which was based not just on the book AND the musical AND the movie but also on people's perceptions of them. It wasn't hard to do -- it's not a very complex plot. But none of the books is a parody in the sense that, say, Bored of the Rings was a parody of The Lord of the Rings. I prefer the term "resonance." [Smiles] Put Discworld people in, say, a movie-making setting and they'll resonate with every Hollywood cliché that ever was. 

Crescent Blues: The way Discworld resonates with cliches is a major factor in the humor of your novels. One of the funniest plays on cliches I remember was, I believe, in an earlier novel -- The Colour of Magic or The Light Fantastic. It's where Rincewind and Twoflower meet a gnome, and there is a discussion of Twoflower's perception of what a gnome should look like (bright red and blue clothing, etc., with white beards) and the survivability factor of something that small which so obviously stands out from its forest surroundings. Do you ever worry that you might run out of clichés and ideas that you can work your humor on?

Terry Pratchett: Shit, no. Mind you, it depends what you call a cliché. Part of being human is to have a headful of received opinions, out-of-date information, half-digested and completely unconsidered factoids and a whole bunch of other stuff which we use instead of thinking. That's my happy hunting ground. 

In any case, there's got to be more to a book than that. But a lot of Discworld humor -- in fact the basis of Discworld humour -- is not "wacky thinking" but entirely logical thinking. All the picture books show gnomes in brightly colored clothes -- let's take that seriously and see what happens next. For centuries artists have portrayed Death as a figure -- let's take that seriously. In The Fifth Elephant, one of the strands lies in taking seriously the idea of a true werewolf (i.e., not some shambling monster, but someone who can take on a wolf shape) and wondering what would real wolves think about this? You get an interesting answer.  

Crescent Blues: For The Fifth Elephant, have you done research into real wolf behavior to understand this type of thing or is it more of a common sense (Discworld style) reasoning? 

Terry Pratchett: Both. I've researched wolves, over the years, but generally I start from what is "common sense." I think I've come up with quite a good way of explaining the different types of werewolves, anyway. 

Crescent Blues: Different types of werewolf? I'm afraid I have to plead ignorance here as know only one type of werewolf unless of course I was to differ between British and American werewolves. (I understand one came to London a few years back. [Grins.]) Would you elucidate a little about what the different types are? 

Terry Pratchett: Bearing in mind Discworld deals with the world as perceived, and what we "know" about werewolves, as with vampires, has a lot to do with a huge body of movies/fiction/folklore. [Smiles.] 

Apparently Discworld werewolves look a lot like the three classes of werewolves defined by a guy called Riccardo Testa in a book called, I think, Die Lycanthropia, published several hundred years ago -- I say this because I've seen it referred to but have never come across a copy. 

There are the "royal" werewolves -- people who can become a wolf at will at any time (although in Discworld I add that they must be a wolf at full moon). For them, being a werewolf is a noble thing. There are the "classic" werewolves -- the guy who becomes a werewolf at full moon. And there is their opposite, which I think of as the "cursed" werewolf -- the wolf who becomes a man at full moon. For both of these, being a werewolf is no fun at all.  

Folklore and the great body of fiction support the first two -- I thought I'd invented the last one, but apparently not. But I've also had to take on board the "hairy guy still with his trousers on" werewolf (folklore suggests you just turn into a wolf, not some kind of a wolfman), so I've had to find a way to plausibly allow this, too. Werewolf families can be weird -- wait until The Fifth Elephant

Crescent Blues: There are several American writers, including Elizabeth Peters and Sharyn McCrumb, who are so keen to read your books that they have standing orders with English publishers and book distributors to buy your books the moment they come into print. (And who said that eccentricity was purely a British trait?) Are there any authors whose books you refuse to miss? 

Terry Pratchett: Er... Carl Hiassen, George McDonald Fraser, Donald Westlake, Joseph Waumbaugh... 

Crescent Blues: Any who provide a great inspiration to your work? 

Terry Pratchett: That's harder to say. Inspiration comes from everywhere. 

Crescent Blues: Thank you. That's quite an impressive list of authors and they cover such diverse areas too. (Translation: I had to go and look one up.) Do you find that reading the comic mysteries gives you a break from Discworld, or do you find that their absurdist visions feed your own imagination and help produce facets of the Discworld? 

Terry Pratchett: Both. But the four books currently beside my bed are a history of the tobacco industry, a collection of English essays on various subjects, a book of American folklore and a Tom Clancy. I read lots of stuff... 

In a couple of weeks I'm off to Australia. [Do you] think this interview will be over by then? 

Crescent Blues: That was actually the next to the last question. For a closing question, we give you a blank page. Is there anything else you'd like to add or feel we haven't covered enough. Or do you have a soapbox topic you want to mention? As I said before, your text is unaltered (except for proofing) when it's posted to the site. 

Terry Pratchett: I answer questions. I've never been very good at the "and is there anything else you want to say?" one, though. [Smiles.] 

Stephen J. Metherell Smith and Donna Andrews

 

Volume 2, Issue 4.1 © 1998, 1999 by Crescent Blues, Inc. All Rights Reserved


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