Saturday, March 01, 2008

An evening with Terry Pratchett

Recently I was lucky enough to acquire tickets to see Terry Pratchett talk at the Bath Literature Festival. With the tickets being reasonably priced and Bath a place I can get to fairly easily I felt it was a win win situation. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect but hoped, given the joy the Discworld novels have given me over the years, that it would be good. I was wrong.... it was absolutely fantastic!

This year Pratchett is celebrating two milestones, his 60th birthday and the 25th year of Discworld. As I turn 25 later this year it might explain why I have no recollection of a time before Discworld! With over 30 Discworld novels under his belt, not to mention all the extra books giving us further insight into the Discworld and the non-Discworld related books like Good Omens, one cannot fail to be impressed. Some of us can only dream of managing to write one novel, let alone turn out over 30.

There is a danger when you meet famous people who you feel positively about (whether you idolise or just admire them) that they will fail to meet up to your expectations. I recently got to see Tony Robinson for example and to be honest he kept himself to himself and wouldn't talk to anyone. With Terry I doubt this could ever be the case. He is down to earth, chatty, funny and perfectly open about his work and his life. He is a joy to listen to and the 75 minutes we got of him seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. He makes no bones of where he's come from and that now he has a pile of money. In some ways he models Sam Vime's rise on his own, citing how odd it was that his grandfather was a gardener and now he himself employs two! When asked how he deals with fans who feel they know him and have made a connection with him through his books he responded that he usually thanks them, and then asks them to buy him a drink! Fame hasn't turned him into an aloof diva.

Terry got into reading and writing at a young age and he talked fondly of his time working in the local library on Saturdays. They couldn't pay him but, as his motive was to acquire as many reader tickets as possible so that he could borrow as many books as possible, this didn't deter him. By the time he left the library he had acquired 156 reader tickets! He also talked fondly of the Penn Second Hand Bookshop, a second hand bookshop as it is supposed to be, that also fuelled his love for books. Perhaps paradoxically to us he owns a fairly small fiction collection and instead chooses to read a vast array of non-fiction books.

In fact one thing you quickly pick up on is just how frighteningly intelligent he is. He is mine of information and I for one would be incredibly happy to have him on my team at a pub quiz. His interests are many and varied and it would be impossible to get them all across. One of his interests though is ways in which people have died, particularly if they're gruesome. He talked about a young Victorian girl who died of arsenic poison she ingested from flakes from her new green shoes that she was wearing at a dance. The room wasn't ventilated so she managed to inhale them and spent the next two days dying. This was just one of many annecdotes he shared with us.

For those of you who can't wait for the next book (which is released in September in the UK and does seem to be called Nation after all), we were given a sneak preview of a couple of pages. Nation is all about the aftermath of a great tsunami and Pratchett has used his fascination with Krakatoa and everything he's learnt about the more recent Asian Tsunami to create this work. It revolves mainly around a boy, in a loin cloth, and a shipwrecked high class girl (presumably therefore not in a loin cloth). They are the only survivors of the tragedy. It is set in a Victorian type time according to Pratchett and I get the impression it is different again from other books he's written. He and brought with him a scene involving Captain Roberts and the wrecking of his ship on the island, which meant we got to hear Terry sing. I won't spoil it by giving any more detail than that, but it does sound as if the book is going to be good.

As many Pratchett fans know towards the end of last year Terry was diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer's. Unlike many who would seek to conceal their aliments he has chosen to be open and frank about his condition. As he said himself 'Should you apologise for being hit by a meterorite??'. He won't go down without a fight. Apparently the type of Alzheimer's he has means that he will remain himself until he dies but already he is having problems writing and typing but will move over to dictating his work if he has to. He apologised profusely for being unable to dedicate the books he was signing to people because of his condition. Although he can manage when the group is signficantly smaller, with several hundred people he finds it impossible to keep focussed. I for one felt no apology was necessary but was moved that he felt sorry about this. He is clearly a man who embraces his fans.

He's also no afraid to use his fame to support Alzheimer's charities and last night decided to auction the pages of the new book he'd brought with him, that he would sign and dedicate to the highest bidder. Amazingly the total got up to £475. Long may he continue to do things like this and highlight this dreadful disease.

After my evening listening to the great man I feel my recent review of Making Money may have been a little harsh. I very much want to re-read the book as I have a greater understanding of the man behind the books. In fact I feel I want to re-read all the Discworld books. I hope that Terry will be able to continue writing for many years and will to look forward to each new book he writes. If you ever get the chance to listen to him speak, grab it with both hands.

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