UPDATED 15th MAY 2011
Sir Terry Pratchett: born 28 April 1948, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Major source of education: Beaconsfield Public Library (though school must have been of some little help). After passing his 11-plus in 1959, he attended High Wycombe Technical High School rather than the local grammar because he felt ‘woodwork would be more fun than Latin’. At this time he had no real vision of what he wanted to do with his life, and remembers himself as a ‘nondescript student’. But he had an interest in radio, he and his father belonging to the Chiltern Amateur Radio Club in the early 1960s, their joint handle being ‘Home-brew R1155’. It was from this that Terry’s interest in computers grew – when a transistor cost a week’s pocket money and you built things like a radio round one.
When Terry was thirteen, his short story ‘The Hades Business’ was published in the school magazine Technical Cygnet, and two years later, commercially, in Science Fantasy. With the proceeds he bought his first typewriter. Other short stories – ‘Solution’, ‘The Picture’ and maybe others, yet undiscovered – also appeared in the Cygnet. Terry was in line for a bright future. Having earned five O-levels and started A-level courses in Art, History and English, he decided after the first year to try journalism, and when a job opportunity came up on the Bucks Free Press, he talked things over with his parents, and left school in 1965. While with the Press he still read avidly, took the two-year National Council for the Training of Journalists proficiency course (and came top in the country in its exams) and passed an A level in English, both while on day release.
Terry married Lyn Purves at the Congregational Church in Gerrards Cross in October 1968, by which time he had interviewed Peter Bander van Duren, my fellow director of our publishing company Colin Smythe Limited, for the Bucks Free Press about a book he had edited on education in the coming decade, Looking forward to the Seventies. At this time Terry mentioned to him that he had written a book called The Carpet People and asked whether we would consider it for publication? So Peter passed it to me. Yes. It was a delight, and it was obvious that here was an author we had to publish. We got Terry to produce about thirty illustrations and published it in 1971, with a launch party in the carpet department of Heal’s store in Tottenham Court Road, London. Peter and I both wrote a blurb and as each wouldn’t give way as to which was to be used, we used both. The Carpet People received few reviews, but those few were ecstatic, with it being described as being ‘of quite extra-ordinary quality’ (Teacher’s World) and ‘a new dimension in imagination ... the prose is beautiful’ (The Irish Times). What the reviews would have been like had reviewers seen the illustrations in colour – Terry hand-coloured the illustrations in about half a dozen copies – can only be guessed. (These coloured illustrations have been on display on the L-Space site for a few years, and many of them will be used in an illustrated edition of the second version of the book to be published by Random House Children’s Books in 2009).
While at the Bucks Free Press, as well as his other duties Terry took on responsibility for writing the stories for the children’s column, the first of which featured the world and characters that later became The Carpet People. During his time there he wrote sixty short stories for it, never missing an episode for over 250 issues. He left the Press for the Western Daily Press on 28 September 1970, but he returned to the Press in 1972 as a sub-editor. On 3 September 1973 he joined the Bath Evening Chronicle. (At this time he also produced a series of cartoons describing the goings-on at the government’s fictional paranormal research establishment, ‘Warlock Hall’ which Peter commissioned for our monthly journal Psychic Researcher, published by us, that he edited.) Terry and Lyn’s daughter Rhianna was born in 1976, and many of his books have been dedicated to her. The Dark Side of the Sun (1976) and Strata (1981) were both written on dark winter evenings, when it wasn’t possible to work in the garden. In 1980 Terry was appointed a publicity officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board (now PowerGen) with responsibility for three nuclear power stations (‘What leak? – Oh, that leak’ and in a phone call from his boss at 6.30am ‘Have you heard the news? No? Well, it’s not as bad as it sounds….’).
In 1981, he spoke about Strata, ‘Fundamental to the story is a theme hinted at in my previous SF book The Dark Side of the Sun, that nothing in the universe is “natural” in the strict sense of the term; everything, from planets to stars, is a relic of previous races and civilisations. Life is not an afterthought on the universal scheme of things, but an integral part of it which was in there shaping its development from the beginning. It might be true, for all I know.’ And he added, ‘I am also working on another ‘discworld’ theme, since I don’t think I’ve exhausted all the possibilities in one book!’ Indeed he had not, as the future was to show. He was working at the CEGB when we published the first of the Discworld books, The Colour of Magic, in 1983. Given that it consisted of four connected tales, I hesitate to call it a novel, and our contract actually defines it as a collection of short stories. Terry’s paperback publisher at the time was New English Library, whom we had licensed to publish The Dark Side of the Sun and Strata (both with cover illustrations by Tim White) but they failed to market Strata adequately – the fact they’d just been taken over by Hodder & Stoughton at the time did not help matters as Hodder’s sales representatives had heard of few of the NEL authors they were now selling, with the possible exception of Robert Heinlein. (NEL published Strata in 1982, but when they remaindered their stock in 1985, I bought about 300 copies and so kept the book in print for a few more years.)
In 1983 I was able to interest Diane Pearson at Corgi in The Colour of Magic, and as soon as I knew that Corgi would be interested rights I got NEL to forego their option clause - 'As Strata sold so badly, you don't want to publish Terry's next book, do you?' 'No, we don't.' 'Oh dear. Well never mind. I expect I'll be able to find another paperback publisher in due course,' sort of exchange – and Diane in turn convinced Corgi to buy the paperback rights. Corgi succeeded in getting BBC Radio 4 ‘Woman’s Hour’ to broadcast it as a six-part serial, immediately after which NEL rang to ask whether the paperback rights were still free… Corgi’s publication of the first Discworld novel in late 1985 was the turning point in Terry’s writing career. ‘Woman’s Hour’ later broadcast his third novel, Equal Rites. At the time, I was told that no other books had generated so much reaction from their listeners.
The Light Fantastic was published in 1986, by which time it had become obvious to Terry and myself that if he was to maximise his potential, then he had to move to a major hardcover publishing house, as our small company was unable to cope with the demands of bestsellers, and that this should be done while we were still friends. Victor Gollancz’s SF list was very well known and respected, and Terry indicated that he’d like to be published by that company. I suggested to a friend at Gollancz, David Burnett, that they should consider taking Terry on, and although they had never published fantasy before, only traditional SF, once the editor of their SF list Malcolm Edwards was convinced of their saleability, we struck a co-publishing deal for three titles, Equal Rites, Mort and Sourcery, and these appeared under Gollancz’s imprint ‘in association with Colin Smythe’. With Terry’s increased popularity, however, it became obvious that this arrangement would cause a conflict of loyalties for me, so it was terminated and I became his literary agent. Until the appearance of The Last Continent, all Discworld novels were published in hardcover by Gollancz, while Corgi published all the paperback editions (except Eric).
In September 1987, soon after he had finished writing Mort, Terry decided that he could afford to devote himself to full-time writing, rather than merely doing so in his spare time after work: he thought he might suffer a drop in income for a while but that it would pick up in due course – and anyway, he enjoyed writing more than fielding questions from the Press about malfunctioning nuclear reactors, so he resigned his position with the CEGB (about which he says he could write a book if he thought anyone would believe him). His sales – and income – picked up very much more quickly than he expected, and his next Gollancz contract was for six books, with much larger advances. Gollancz also signed up Faust Eric, a novella illustrated by Josh Kirby, that was first published simultaneously in large-format hardcover and paperback editions in August 1990, and the following year as a small A-format paperback without illustrations. It has since been published in other countries in both illustrated and unillustrated versions.
Terry’s collaboration with Neil Gaiman on Good Omens was published in May 1990. There have been film options and rumour of options ever since, with Terry Gilliam’s name often associated with it, but it has yet to escape from Development Hell. However, late in 2007 the Costa Book Awards carried out a survey of the most re-read books, and Good Omens came fifteenth, ahead of The Bible and The Hitchhiker’s Guide. (It is finally available as an unabridged audiobook, issued in the UK by Isis and read by Stephen Briggs, while the American edition, published by HarperAudio, is read by Neil’s preferred choice, Martin Jarvis.) Also in 1990, Clarecraft Designs, a company in Suffolk, founded by Bernard Pearson, was licensed to produce a series of models of Discworld characters, and before it closed in 2005 it had produced over 200 figurines, many of which were also produced as pewter miniatures. In October 2008 the Polish company, Micro-Art Studios, started producing Discworld miniatures under licence, based on Paul Kidby’s illustrations.
As Discworld grew in Terry’s imagination, so did the complexity of the city of Ankh-Morpork, and Stephen Briggs, with Terry’s input, set about creating a street map of the city mostly based on the descriptions of the activities of Samuel Vimes and the City Watch. This was initially drawn by Briggs, but then painted by Stephen Player, and it was issued with an accompanying booklet as The Streets of Ankh-Morpork by Corgi in November 1993. Following its success – rather bizarrely it reached no. 4 in the bestseller non-fiction list, if I remember correctly – Terry and Stephen created The Discworld Map, published by Corgi in 1995, again painted by Stephen Player.
Sales continued to improve, Soul Music (published by Corgi in May 1995) spent an unbroken run of four weeks in the no.1 position on the paperback bestseller list, The first Discworld computer game (if we exclude the ill-fated Piranha’s very basic 1986 Colour of Magic, created by Delta-4 for Amstrad, Commodore and Spectrum computers), produced by TWG/Perfect 10, was released by Sony’s games company Psygnosis on St Patrick’s Day 1995 (which in 2009 was still being lauded as ‘one of the best adventure games out there’). In 1996 both Maskerade and Interesting Times featured in the top ten hardcover and paperback lists of titles most in demand prior to Christmas.
In 1997 I read that Reaper Man (1991) was Britain’s eighth fastest-selling novel for the previous five years: a remarkable achievement for any book at that time, let alone a so-called ‘genre’ novel. (Of course, the Harry Potter phenomenon was soon to change that market out of all recognition, and we should now be surprised at nothing.)
Of his books for young readers – all published by Doubleday – Truckers (1989), the first volume of what is known in the USA as the Bromeliad Trilogy, was a landmark in that it was the first children’s book to appear in the British adult paperback fiction best-seller lists. It was followed by Diggers, and Wings (both 1990), the revised version of The Carpet People (1992), and the three Johnny Maxwell books, Only You Can Save Mankind (1992), Johnny and the Dead (1993), which had been the first Terry had started work on, but put aside to write Only You as a result of the Gulf War, and Johnny and the Bomb (1996), which won the Smarties Prize Silver Award that year. Film rights in the Truckers series were acquired by Dreamworks Animation in 2001, but only now in 2010 are things appearing to move on that front, with Danny Boyle at the directorial helm, following his success with Slumdog Millionaire, and while Frank Cottrell Boyce was at one time writing a script, the most recent information I have (3 December 2010) would indicate that Craig Fernandez has written one, entitled Everything Must Go.
In 1993 Corgi started issuing abridged versions of the Discworld novels as audio-books read by Tony Robinson, and two years later the unabridged versions started to be released by Isis Publishing. Of the first twenty-three, twenty-one were read by Nigel Planer and two by Celia Imrie, and since the twenty-fourth, all have been read by Stephen Briggs, who has also read the Truckers trilogy, The Dark Side of the Sun, Strata and Good Omens for Isis. Chivers (now part of the BBC) have issued the Johnny Maxwell novels and The Carpet People, all read by Richard Mitchley. In the States, Terry’s most recent novels have been also read by Stephen Briggs for release by HarperAudio. Almost all are available for download from audible.com and from audible.co.uk.
Playtexts by Stephen Briggs, of Mort, Wyrd Sisters, and Johnny and the Dead (this by Oxford University Press), were also published in 1996, as was Gollancz’s publication of Feet of Clay, described on the jacket as a ‘chilling tale of poisoning and pottery’, featuring, among others, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes, Captain Carrot and the City Watch. The Pratchett Portfolio of Paul Kidby’s illustrations of Discworld denizens, with accompanying text by Terry, was published in September and November saw the publication of Hogfather, the paperback edition of Maskerade, and the release by Psygnosis of Perfect Entertainment’s game, Discworld II: Missing, Presumed.... As to sales, Hogfather and Maskerade shared the honours by being top of the hardcover and paperback lists respectively two weeks running. It was the third time Terry had had books in the no.1 positions in both lists simultaneously, and as far as I know, no other author had succeeded in doing this even once up to that time. And Hogfather held the no.1 position in the hardcover fiction list for five weeks. The Times stated that by their calculations, he was probably the highest earning author of 1996 in Britain, and certainly had the greatest sales.
Jingo, in which Ankh-Morpork and Klatch go to war over an island in the Circle Sea that tends to rise and sink, and the Patrician and the City Watch have to settle matters, was published in 1997, as was Discworld’s Unseen University Diary for 1998 (the first of eight co-written with Stephen Briggs and illustrated by Paul Kidby), and Cosgrove Hall’s cartoon series Wyrd Sisters was shown on Channel 4, with Astrion releasing it and Soul Music on video. (For some reason, possibly the arrival of a new head of department, although also commissioned by Channel 4, Soul Music was only transmitted in the middle of the night on 27 December 1999, over two years after its release on video). Corgi have published the illustrated film-scripts of both. Stephen Briggs’ stage adaptations of Guards! Guards!, and Men at Arms were also published that year.
Terry’s twenty-second Discworld novel (and first hardcover to be published by Transworld’s Doubleday imprint) – The Last Continent (definitely not about Australia, but just vaguely Australian) – was published at the beginning of May 1998 and was twelve weeks in the no.1 position in the hardcover fiction best-seller list in Britain. The next, Carpe Jugulum, in which the witches battle vampires for the Kingdom of Lancre, was published on 5 November and it and the paperback edition of Jingo (published on the same day) jointly held the no.1 positions in the hardcover and paperback fiction lists for four weeks running.
Also in May 1998, Corgi published The Tourist’s Guide to Lancre by Terry, and Stephen Briggs, illustrated by Paul Kidby, and Terry’s and Paul’s Death’s Domain was published in May 1999. The third computer game, called Discworld Noir, was also released about that time, as were a double volume containing The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, entitled The First Discworld Novels, published by Colin Smythe Ltd. At the same time, the paperback edition of The Last Continent came out and stayed for something like twelve weeks in the no.1 position on the Sunday Times paperback bestseller fiction list. In August Steve Jackson Games issued the GURPS Discworld game with contributions by Terry (though citing Terry and Phil Masters as joint authors) and illustrated by Paul Kidby, which was followed in 2001 by GURPS Discworld Also, illustrated by Sean Murray.
As far as Britain is concerned Terry was the 1990s’ best-selling living fiction author (but this was before the Harry Potter phenomenon),. His sales now run at well over three million books a year. In 2001, it was reported that during the first 300 weeks’ existence of the British Booktrack’s (now called Bookscan) weekly bestselling chart, over 60 titles had continuously been in the top 5,000 bestselling titles, and the author with the most titles in this listing was Terry with twelve novels, The Colour of Magic, Guards! Guards!, Pyramids, Soul Music, The Light Fantastic, Reaper Man, Interesting Times, Sourcery, Men at Arms, Equal Rites, Mort and Wyrd Sisters. By 2008 only twelve titles remained in that category, and three of those were Terry’s – The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, and Mort. No other author had more than one. The Bookseller’s article announcing this fact therefore crowned him ‘evergreen king’.
In 2003 the BBC Big Read showed Terry as having as many titles in the top 100 best-loved books – five – as Charles Dickens. (Initially Terry was told he had seven in the list, this being the figure the BBC gave him when they interviewed him for the programme, thus beating Dickens by two books. Subsequently the number was reduced – for some reason not yet divulged – to five, so there was a dead-heat for first place, and all those questions in the interview that referred to his seven titles therefore had to be deleted.) The second 100, as listed in The Big Read Book of Books contained a further ten of Terry’s novels.
Terry has also written a number of short stories, a number of which have Discworld themes. The longest, ‘The Sea and Little Fishes’ was published in October 1998 (in Legends, a collection edited by Robert Silverberg). He finds that short stories involve him in almost as much work as a full-scale book, and if he is already writing a novel – which is almost all the time – he finds it very difficult to stop and change tracks, as it were, and write a short piece, so there are fewer of that genre around than one might expect. A non-Discworld story, ‘Once and Future’, appeared in a collection in the USA in 1995, but it has not been and will not be published in Britain in the foreseeable future. A collection of short writings, Once More, with Footnotes was published in the US to coincide with the 2004 Worldcon, when Terry was its Guest of Honor. A similar collection has yet to appear in the UK, but I (and Pratchett fandom) live in hopes.
When he took up his position with the Western Daily Press in 1970 Terry and Lyn moved to a cottage in Rowberrow in Somerset, and in 1993 when he found he could not enlarge the cottage further, the family moved to what Terry has described as ‘a Domesday manorette’ south west of Salisbury. Alert fans will have seen pictures of this on the TV interview at the time Soul Music was published, and in Salisbury Newspapers’ July 2001 issue of Limited Edition, under the title ‘Planet Pratchett’. Just before the 1993 move, Terry slipped outside the front door of the cottage, hit his head, and mildly concussed himself, blotting out his memory of the previous few hours. Unfortunately, he had received a cheque from me that morning for a rather large sum of money. He knows he put it somewhere safe, but still has no recollection where, and it has yet to turn up, much to Terry’s puzzlement. The replacement was safely banked, without problem.
Terry’s work for the Orang-Utan Foundation is common knowledge. In 1995 he went out to Borneo with a film crew to see orang-utans in their native habitat, and among the praise that ‘Terry Pratchett’s Jungle Quest’ received was a comment by Sir Alec Guinness in his diary (published the following year), that it was – apart from one other programme – ‘the most impressive thing I’ve seen on the box this year’). Terry has also done a year’s stint as Chairman of the Society of Authors (1994-95) was elected a permanent member of its Council, and was chairman of the panel of judges for the 1997 Rhône-Poulenc Prizes for Science Books (later known as the Aventis Prizes, and since 2006 the Royal Society Prizes, as they are now owned and managed by the Society).
His fiftieth birthday at the end of April 1998 was celebrated by a party hosted by Transworld Publishers. While news of a celebration could not be kept from him, I think that its size – fifty guests to a dinner at the Ivy Restaurant in Soho, with various original presents – took him completely by surprise. But what hit the headlines that year was his appointment as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s 1998 Birthday Honours List ‘for services to literature’. The initial soundings-out from Downing Street came as such a surprise to him that initially he suspected that it must be an elaborate hoax. However, accompanied by his family, he went to Buckingham Palace on 26 November 1998 to receive the decoration from the Prince of Wales.
The Fifth Elephant (the working title of which had been Uberwald Nights) was published in November 1999, as was Nanny Ogg’s Cook Book (written in collaboration with Stephen Briggs, with recipes by Tina Hannan, and illustrated by Paul Kidby).
In July 1999 he received an honorary Doctorate of Literature (D.Litt.) from the University of Warwick (and in turn granted doctorates of the Unseen University to Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, co-authors with him of The Science of Discworld, which had been published the previous month). This was the first of a string of honorary doctorates, from the University of Portsmouth (2001), the University of Bath (2003), and Bristol University (2004).
Terry’s twenty-fifth Discworld novel, The Truth, was published in November 2000. This novel had been started some years previously but he put it aside as for some time he could not see how the plot would develop. An idea of how long ago he started planning it is given by the original working title – Interesting Times – which got used for a different novel, published in 1994. The Truth is about Ankh-Morpork’s first newspaper, so Terry was able to make use of some his experiences from his own reporting days. It was the first Discworld novel to have been published simultaneously in Britain and America.
It was followed in May 2001 by Thief of Time, featuring Susan, History Monks, the Auditors, the Five Horsemen (including the one who left before they became famous) and even chocolate-covered coffee beans... In August 2001 Gollancz published the 2002 Discworld calendar, entirely made up of pictures by Josh Kirby. They also published the 2002 Diary - The Thieves’ Guild Diary. The Last Hero, featuring Cohen the Barbarian, the Silver Horde, and a cast of ?thousands, amazingly illustrated by Paul Kidby, was published in October 2001. This was followed a couple of weeks later by The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, which won the prestigious Carnegie Medal for the best children’s book of the year. Before the repeat presentation before the Librarians invited to the event, Terry was able to palm the gold medal and replace it with a chocolate-centred gold ‘coin’ of the same size, which he proceeded to eat, to the amazement of his audience.
Sadly, Josh Kirby died in November 2001, aged seventy-two. He had illustrated the covers of Terry’s books since Corgi first started publishing him in 1985 and it must be true to say that outside America – and for many there – the first Discworld book almost every fan acquired would have had a Kirby picture on its cover, and in many European countries Kirby covers are still essential.
Terry’s second collaboration with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, The Science of Discworld II - The Globe, was published by Ebury Press in May 2002, followed in November by Night Watch, the first Discworld novel without a Josh Kirby cover on it (if you don’t count our first edition of The Colour of Magic, which had been published before Josh was selected by Corgi to do the covers). Instead it had a magnificent Paul Kidby painting based on Rembrandt’s ‘The Nightwatch’.
In Autumn 2002 (the year Terry’s sales accounted for 4.3% of the UK’s general retail market for hardback fiction), Gollancz published The (Reformed) Vampyre’s Diary and a Calendar with work by a number of artists, both for 2003, a year in which Doubleday published Monstrous Regiment, The New Discworld Companion (with Stephen Briggs) and The Wee Free Men, a novel for younger readers, set on Discworld, featuring the Nac Mac Feegle and a young girl discovering she has witch-powers, Tiffany Aching. This won the 2004 W.H.Smith People's Choice Book Award in the Teen Choice Category. It also won the Locus Award for the Best Young Adult Novel of 2003. Terry’s second novel featuring Tiffany Aching, A Hat Full of Sky, which brought Granny Weatherwax in as a major player, was published at the end of April 2004.
Going Postal, the thirty-third novel in the Discworld sequence, was published in October 2004 (with an ever-enlarged selection of stamps emanating from the Cunning Artificer, Bernard Pearson, some of which are reproduced on the book’s end-papers), and became the UK’s biggest selling hardback novel for 2004. It was followed by The Art of Discworld, in which Terry’s text accompanies Paul Kidby’s illustrations. There were only calendars and no diaries for 2004 or 2005 as Terry had not been able to decide on suitable themes for Stephen Briggs and Paul to work on.
The 21st anniversary of the November 1983 publication of the first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic (which has sold well over a million copies in the Corgi edition alone) took place in 2004, and to mark this Transworld (in association with Colin Smythe Ltd) issued an anniversary hardcover edition of it with a photographic black and gold cover (with 1,000 signed, numbered and slip-cased copies), as well as the next six novels in paperback with similar cover designs. (By 2009, all the Discworld novels will also be available in this alternative format.)
The third Science of Discworld book with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, called Darwin’s Watch, was published in May 2005, and his next Discworld novel, Thud!, appeared at the beginning of October, and apart from its usual appearance at the top of the British bestsellers list, and according to Bookscan it broke all records for one week’s sales of an adult hardback fiction novel since they began keeping UK book sales data. Meanwhile, the American edition published by HarperCollins reached the no. 4 position in the New York Times’ bestseller list – the first time in the top ten there.
At the same time Doubleday and HarperCollins issued a short picture book, Where’s My Cow? illustrated by Melvyn Grant, which shows Sam Vimes reading it to his young son, as described in Thud!, but adding his ‘improvements’. This book, the ‘Children’s Winner of the Ankh-Morpork Librarians’ Award’, was written by an Ankh-Morpork author, one Terry Pratchett, whose portrait even hangs in a corner of Young Sam’s nursery. Unfortunately, no biographical details of this author appear in it, and he has not yet featured in any of Terry’s other Discworld books.
2006 started with Terry completing Wintersmith, the third Tiffany Aching novel, the appearance of a three-part adaptation of Johnny and the Bomb on BBC1 TV, the announcement that Sam Raimi planned to direct Wee Free Men (after completing the third Spiderman film – see Variety’s news story HERE,
Empire.com’s HERE and the BBC’s HERE, though I haven’t heard much on that front since then.
A two-part four-hour dramatized mini-series adaptation of Hogfather (by Mob Films) for transmission on Sky1 was transmitted in December 2006, and the DVD is now available. Filmed as live-action with CGI, with the late Ian Richardson as the voice of Death, Sir David Jason as Albert, Marc Warren as Teatime and Michelle Dockery as Susan. Filming the snow scenes took place in February 2006 in Scotland and main filming was completed at the Three Mile Studios in London, with the CGI being created by the Moving Picture Company. In April 2007 it won a BAFTA Interactivity Award, the citation being to Aidan Conway, Giles Pooley, Rod Brown, Ian Sharples (Mob Film Company/Sky One Networked Media). Sky invested more in this than in any previous production they’d commissioned, and their confidence was more than justified by the viewing figures of 2.8 million for this £6 million project, making it the highest rated multi-channel commission ever (to that time), beating BBC3’s October 2006 figures for Torchwood.
While all this was making headlines, Terry finished his next Moist von Lipwig novel, Making Money, published in September 2007, which became the best selling adult fiction novel published that year in the UK, and he finished writing his next young adult novel, Nation, set on a small island in the almost Pacific in the aftermath of a Krakatoa-like eruption. In 2007, too, he had been working with Jacqueline Simpson, eminent folklorist, and former Secretary of the Folklore Society, on The Folklore of Discworld.
Sir David Jason, Tim Curry, Sean Astin and Christopher Lee (as the voice of Death) are four of the major names in The Colour of Magic, the Mob’s second Discworld mini-series for Sky1 and RHI Entertainment, which combined the first two Discworld novels under the title of the first book, and was transmitted in Britain in two parts, on Easter Sunday and Monday 2008 and later in the year in North America and Australia. It was mostly filmed in and around Pinewood Studios in south Buckinghamshire (near where I live), with forays to Horsley Towers in Surrey, Cardiff docks, Snowdonia (north Wales) and Niagara Falls. The Mob’s next foray into Discworld will be Going Postal, with an intended transmission date in Spring 2010.
While on tour in America in summer 2007, Terry told audiences at the National Book Festival in Washington DC (during which Terry breakfasted at the White House and dined at the Library of Congress with the other featured authors) and in New York, that he’d had a stroke, but the symptoms had been misdiagnosed, and were of a far worse illness, posterior cortical atrophy, a rare variant of Alzheimer’s disease, which was diagnosed in December. As he knew he would have to inform his publishers, he thought it wise to make a public announcement (first releasing the news at www.pjsmprints.com/news/embuggerance.html): he knew the news would leak out anyway, and he preferred that people should have the full facts immediately. This got considerable press coverage, but it did not prevent him from completing Nation, and by March 2008 he’d decided that he would hit back at the disease and help the search for a cure – or at least help find methods to control it – by donating a million dollars to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust. It took him some time to be prescribed the best drug presently available to combat the symptoms, Aricept, but he does have to pay for it as he is considered too young to be given it without charge by the National Health Service.
2008 has marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of the first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, as well as Terry’s sixtieth birthday and his and Lyn’s fortieth wedding anniversary, all of which were celebrated in different ways, public and private. On 14 June he held a five hour signing outside Foyle’s bookshop on London’s South Bank to mark the publication of the Making Money paperback, fortunately in fine weather – and it gave those in the queue an excellent chance to see the Royal Air Force’s fly-past as it headed for Buckingham Palace at the end of the Trooping of the Colour, it being the Queen’s official birthday. The queue was also entertained by songs from the musical of Only You Can Save Mankind, composed by Leighton James House, lyrics by Shaun McKenna, which should be seen on stage in 2010 (an earlier version of which was seen at the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe).
To mark his sixtieth birthday, Terry’s daughter Rhianna arranged an open-air concert by Steeleye Span (one of Terry’s favourite groups) in their home village in Wiltshire. This was followed in August by the 2008 Discworld Convention, the sixth in Britain. The Folklore of Discworld was published on 11 September with the much-acclaimed non-Discworld young adult novel, Nation, almost entirely set on a not quite Pacific island, were officially published on the same day, with a launch party held at the headquarters of The Royal Society (which has a ‘walk-on’ part in the book), in London, while the Illustrated Wee Free Men (illustrated by Stephen Player) appeared in early October.
Terry has now written fifty books (of which thirty-nine are Discworld novels) and co-authored a more than fifty more. Between them they have sold over 70 million copies in thirty-eight languages, which I calculate would be a pile of books over 1,000 miles high, stretching further than London to Rome – or from New Orleans to Chicago, and then some.
Apart from these events, Terry has been often interviewed about his books and his thoughts on Alzheimer’s Disease and the government’s attitude to treating the sufferers, pointing out on television, radio and in the press, that up to December 2008 Alzheimer’s research had only been getting 3% of the government funding that cancer research receives, and he has also been highlighting the inadequate treatment general available to sufferers,. His vociferous support seemed to be having a positive effect on the government, but supportive words from ex-PM Gordon Brown were not supported by action. As Rebecca Wood, the Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust said: ‘Terry promised to “scream and harangue” about dementia research. He did much more than that. He became a voice for the 850,000 or so people in the UK who live with dementia but cannot scream and harangue so loudly. Dementia research is still vastly underfunded, but this is changing thanks to Terry’s incredible work.’ But so much more needs to be done.
Terry has also been appearing at various festivals, including those in Cheltenham and Edinburgh. He was busy before he discovered he had early onset Alzheimer’s, but now even more so, as he appears to have become the public face of the disease: his particular variant leaves the cognitive parts of his mind virtually untouched, as anyone who has recently seen or heard him on TV or radio or elsewhere can vouch. He even spoke at the Tory Party’s annual conference in September in 2008, and received a standing ovation. The two hour documentary by IWC Media for the BBC, ‘Living with Alzheimer’s’ was shown on BBC2 in February 2009 as part of BBC Headroom, the BBC’s two-year mental health and wellbeing initiative, and received two BAFTA awards. As Terry was in Ennistymon for the first Irish Discworld Convention at the time the awards were to be announced, his PA Rob Wilkins made the exhausting journey from the West of Ireland to Glasgow, received the award and then returned to Ennistymon, from where he almost immediately had to drive the hire-car back to Dublin,
This article inevitably focuses on activities in the English-speaking world north of the Equator, and much could and should be written about his popularity in other countries and other languages – stage adaptations have been performed on six continents (including Antarctica), and his popularity south of the Equator is considerable. Australia, for example, accounts for about 5% of Transworld’s sales of Terry’s books, and both Thud! and Making Money were no.1 in the Australian hardback fiction bestsellers’ list on publication.
On 9 September 2008 he received a fifth honorary degree, from Buckinghamshire New University (based in High Wycombe, where he’d worked for the Bucks Free Press in the 1960s), and where he was also the guest speaker at the ceremony, and on 12 December he received an honorary doctorate of literature (LittD) from my alma mater, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin University, the first he has been given by a university that was founded before the 20th century.
The year climaxed with the announcement that Terry had been included in the 2009 New Year’s Honours List, being appointed a Knight Bachelor, ‘for services to literature’, with the press handout adding that it was ‘in recognition of the huge impact his work has had across all ages and strata of society and across the world’. Amongst the mass of worldwide press reportage, the Independent (London) devoted half its leading article ‘Honours earned and omitted’ to Terry, ending with the words ‘In a period of personal adversity, Mr Pratchett has shown genuine courage. The knighthood of this modest man is an example of what our honours system should be about – and the best reason of all not to scrap it.’
In January 2009 the Royal National Theatre announced that it was going to stage an adaptation of Nation by Mark Ravenhill in the Olivier Theatre, over Christmas 2009. The previews started on 11 November, with the press night on the 24th, and it was shown on NT Live around the world on 30 January 2010. Corgi had published the playtext in time for the preview nights, but the play changed prior to the first night, so the Corgi text differs from the final version, which is to be published by Pearson as an educational text.
Terry completed Unseen Academicals some months behind schedule, mainly because of its length (135,000 words – none of his other novels having been more than about 110,000 words) and the complexity of its ‘threads’ and time-line that had to be checked carefully to ensure everything flowed smoothly without internal contradiction. Editing his work now is not nearly as easy for him as it used to be as he now dictates, either to Rob Wilkins or through a voice recognition program. The Mob’s production with Sky of Going Postal (in which Terry has a cameo role as a postman attempting to deliver a letter to the late, unlamented Reacher Gilt) was filmed in Hungary during the very hot summer of 2009, and was transmitted on Sky at the end of May 2010.
Other events during 2009 were the award of further honorary degrees, from Bradford and Winchester, his attendance at the First North American and First Irish Discworld Conventions, his creation of a sword made from iron ore he collected on Salisbury Plain (with the addition of a little bit of ‘thunderbolt iron’ from the Sikhote Alin meteorite to give it that special extra-terrestrial ‘something’), and a cogently-argued article, published in the Mail on Sunday in August, on the right of a terminally-ill person to be able to choose when to die without being viewed as a potential criminal. Terry developed this theme when, at the end of 2009 he was invited by the BBC to give the extremely prestigious 2010 Richard Dimbleby Lecture, which he called ‘Shaking Hands with Death’. It was broadcast on 1st February 2010, with Terry reading the introductory words and then handing over to Tony Robinson as his ‘stunt Pratchett’ to read the major part of the lecture. It was about a subject whose ‘time had come’ to be aired, and I thought it remarkable how many people agreed with his viewpoint, Christians and non-Christians alike. For Terry, writing is an essential for a happy life, and he has said that when he can no longer create, then would be his decision-time. But there seems no need for him to worry about that decision for years to come – as readers of Unseen Academicals and I Shall Wear Midnight will recognise, when they finish these immensely enjoyable, beautifully crafted, works. He has just finished his next work: another Commander Vimes/City Watch novel, called Snuff (with a working title of ‘Vimes on Holiday’). I had originally thought it was to be the third Moist von Lipwig novel, Raising Taxes – and oh how relevant is that title in Britain now! – but Terry moved away from that, and I think his next book will be a young adult novel set in the 19th century London of the alternate world of Nation.
Terry is now an adjunct Professor at Trinity College, Dublin University, and in November 2010 went to Dublin to give his inaugural lecture and masterclasses, as he did so again to do in March 2011.
In March too, the Royal Mail issued a series of stamps called ‘Magical Realms’, which include portraits of Rincewind and Nanny Ogg (painted by Howard Swindell) as well as characters from the worlds of Harry Potter, Narnia and Arthurian myth.
Work is progressing on a number of TV productions, Unseen Academicals being the next to be produced by Mob.
During the Summer of 2010 the National Portrait Gallery put on an exhibition of mystery portraits in its collection at Montacute House, Somerset and invited various people to create lives for those portrayed. Terry called the character in ‘his’ portrait Sir Joshua Easement, a late Elizabethan adventurer whose career to a certain extent depended on his total absence of a sense of smell. His biography and those of six other sitters (by authors including John Banville, Joanna Trollope appear in a paperback being published by the NPG in February 2011, Imagined Lives: Mystery Portraits from the National Portrait Gallery c.1520-1640.