INTERVIEW Terry Pratchett

Yep, if you hadn’t heard the news already Terry Pratchett achieved the impossible. No, he didn't work out what all that technobabble meant in the Doctor Who finale, but he did beat JRR Tolkien – who many assumed was a sure bet – to be named SFX readers’ favourite SF/Fantasy author of all time. The full Top 100 authors can be found in The SFX SF and Fantasy Books Special , and here's an extract from the seven-page Pratchett interview that can only be found in the same SFX Special.

SFX: Why do you feel uncomfortable with being ahead of Tolkien?

Terry Pratchett: “I think Tolkien will be around in a hundred years time but I’m not certain that I will.”

SFX: Really? It’s surprising to hear you say that.

TP: “Well, actually, a hundred years is quite a long time. I think The Lord of the Rings is at a point where it will keep going by the sheer momentum, almost forever. Have you ever wondered why a piece of crap like Alice in Wonderland is still in print? It really is the most awful book and I think it just keeps going because there’s some kind of momentum that keeps it trundling on. Does anyone ever read Alice in Wonderland these days? Really, really read it? Somehow society decides that some titles stay in print, even though they’re pretty awful and nobody reads them anymore. I’m sorry but I hated the book. I thought it was god-awful, creepy Victorian humour. The Lord of the Rings is superb though.”

SFX: Even the third book, where it all gets a bit portentous?

TP: “It’s a trilogy, you have to have a third book.” (Laughs)

Terry’s genuinely uncertain whether people will continue to read his books in the decades ahead. The topical references, he thinks, may count against them. On the other hand, nobody ever tried to put Tom Sawyer on a skateboard, so who knows? “They’re mostly about the foibles of humanity,” he muses, “and there’s no shortage of foibles.”

SFX: Do you think perhaps people will keep reading the later books because they’re a bit more complex, about people and characters?

TP: “I suppose so. As a matter of course I prefer the later books. It worried me that The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic were made into a film, although it actually did a lot better than I thought it might. But as a matter of course you think the later books are better because you’ve learnt to write, you’ve got very familiar with your material.
“This was brought home to me writing Nation [see page 47]. It has been really punishing because it’s not Discworld. You can sit down at Discworld, you open the Discworld toolbox and every now and again you buy a new tool, but you say, ‘What can we do with this?’

“For Unseen Academicals, which is going to be the next one, I hadn’t the faintest idea of how I was going to start a Discworld football novel, so I’d written a scene about the man whose job it is to change all the candles in the university. If you’ve got candle power and a huge university, how does he have to work? I thought that might be quite interesting. And then suddenly I realised he had an assistant. It was like watching the Discworld wake up, unfolding itself around this girl. Oh yes, this other girl, because they were born on the same street. And suddenly you look around and you see this populated film. And you realise how little of the backstairs life of the university we see.

“There’s a scene in the Uncommon Room at about 2am when the maid arrives with the cheese trolleys cos wizards always feel like a snack about two in the morning. It’s like a procession of them because there’s the pickle cart as well, and it was actually like someone going down into the machinery of the Titanic and starting something up. And suddenly other bits start and the lights come on and suddenly it pulls away. Little things keep cropping up all the time. I love the idea of the wizards having a football team, especially since wizards are not very good at teamwork.”

This feature continues in The SFX SF and Fantasy Book Special