Terry Pratchett: Meeting Britain's "biggest niche author"
In the late summer, as the days begin to noticeably shorten, I find myself looking west from the office here at Television Centre. West to the other end of the Uxbridge Road and the offices of Transworld Publishing. The reason? The new Terry Pratchett novel normally appears at this time of year. Calling it a herald of autumn is almost certainly gilding the lily, but there you are.
Friends of mine who know about my "bad habit" mock me for getting on the tube at the end of August to go and collect my reading copy of the latest Discworld book, but I've being doing it for so long it's probably a standing joke in the press office at Transworld. Of course, the flip side of them knowing you're a fan means that when you ask for a half hour long interview slot they take you seriously.
My conversation with the Discworld creator aired on Saturday's edition of Up All Night. Here are the video highlights.
An interview with Sir Terry has the potential - if you're under briefed or make the cardinal error of saying you've not read the book(s) - of going very badly wrong. Something certain afternoon DJs from other stations have discovered to their cost in the past. It's not that he's prickly, far from it; it's just that this is a man whose work is read and enjoyed by millions. Not affording him the same respect as you would a Rushdie or a Murakami because he's "just a fantasy author" is rude, and Sir Terry doesn't do rude. I suspect the fact that he was a journalist himself plays into this as well; not doing the research is letting the side down.
None of this explains why I make my annual pilgrimage out to Ealing. I make it because I like the books, and knowing that there's a new one sets my palms itching. I have a problem with delayed gratification, you see. Not having the thing snuggled up with its fellows on the two shelves that groan with the hardbacks and the paperbacks, some signed, some not, the cookbook, the maps, the stamp collection and the diaries offends the completist in me.
Sir Terry's new novel
That's not to say that I read them once and shuffle them into a kind of literary suspended animation. The Discworld is a series that I return to: picking one or other of them up and ripping through. It doesn't matter that these are books I've read and re-read; there are always corners and turns of phrase in any book that you forget between visits. That's part of the pleasure of revisiting them.
Of course, from a series as big as this, 38 books and counting, you have your favourites. I personally think he hit his stride around 'Wyrd Sisters' in '88. Before that the books are more obviously parodying bad fantasy novels, and let's be honest here (we're amongst friends if you've read this far) there's a lot of bad fantasy out there.
The Discworld started out as one thing but has, over the course of the last 27 years, become something else entirely. It's not just a realm for literary mischief; it's also the place where Sir Terry explores ideas about identity, society and politics. The fact that he uses magic and characters with odd names in almost recognisable versions of places we might have found here, on our Earth, a couple of hundred years ago is neither here nor there (after all it worked for Dickens - Mr Gradgrind anyone?)
Let's not think about the past - time to welcome the now. Tiffany Aching is officially a proper witch. I know because Granny Weatherwax has said so. If that sentence leaves you bewildered there is a simple solution, pop down the library and ask a librarian to point you in the right direction. If you're very lucky you'll find a large hand which feels a little like a worn leather glove thrust into yours as you are led towards the long shelves. And remember; not 'monkey', but 'ape'. I'd keep a banana handy, just in case. Ook indeed.
Adam Rosser is a broadcast journalist at 5 live. Up All Night is broadcast every night from 1am.
- Up All Night website - see what's coming up and listen to the last seven programmes