CR2008

From Convention to Convention:  Two Years on the Discworld

There has been a lot happening in the  past couple of years, between the publication of Wintersmith on 28 September 2006 and the paperback edition of Thud! the following week, to the appearance of the paperback Making Money in June 2008 – not only TV mini-series, radio adaptations, digital audio and e-books, but books about Terry, ranging from the learned to light-hearted, but all definitely unofficial.

At the 2006 Convention we were surprised to discover Clive Gifford’s So You Think You Know Discworld? – The Unofficial Quiz Book on sale, and it was evident that its publisher, Hachette Children’s Books, was unaware that one should get permission before making use of registered trademarks: they’d not checked up and found themselves pulping the rest of the printing, and donating a four figure sum to charity, before reprinting it with the ® symbol in appropriate places.

At the same time ISFiC Press published Worldcon Guest of Honor Speeches, edited by Mike Resnick and Joe Siclari, in which Terry’s 2004 Worldcon speech appeared.

The third Tiffany Aching title, Wintersmith, was published in September and it has sold almost as well as an adult Discworld series title, hardcover sales reaching over 215,000 copies before the end of the year. There was also a special signed, numbered and slipcased Collectors’ Edition of 1,000 copies issued for exclusive sale by Waterstones. October saw Doubleday’s publication of The Unseen University Cut-Out Book, a light-weight version created by Alan Batley, with instructions, for those whose shelves could not support Bernard Pearson’s original magnificent edifice and could spare the time to spend many hours on a cut and paste job. (The skill involved in the minutiae of creating this version of the building – the unseen parts of its cut-out design – still fills me with admiration whenever I look at it.) The Ankh-Morpork Post Office Handbook and Discworld Diary for 2007 was also published at this time, as was the 2007 Discworld Calendar (both from Gollancz).

We then saw the run-up advertising and publicity (including ‘12 Days of Hogswatch’) to the transmission in December of Mob Films’ four-hour (including adverts) BAFTA Award-winning (for special effects) production of the two-part mini-series of Hogfather on SkyOne, starring Sir David Jason, Marc Warren, Michelle Dockery, Nigel Planer, David Warner, Joss Ackland, Tony Robinson, and with the late Ian Richardson as the voice of Death. Sky invested more in this than in any other 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. Gollancz published the illustrated screenplay by its director Vadim Jean (mucked about by one Terry Pratchett) to coincide with the screening. The DVD was released the following April, both in a limited edition 2-disc format and a single disc version, so fans who’d not seen it on Sky did not have to wait too long. Pirate DVDs of the screening appeared on eBay pretty rapidly but were speedily removed. Hogfather was first shown in North America on 25 November 2007 on the ION channel by RHI International and has since been released on DVD there. In Australia it was released on DVD on 23 April 2007 but not shown on TV till the following Christmas.

Sky was eager to repeat its success with another Discworld project, and signed up The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, and Vadim (with Terry’s aid) combined them to create a similar two-part miniseries, with Sir David Jason (who’d wanted to play Rincewind since he’d first read the books in the 1980s) as an executive producer, and on this Sky upped the budget by £2 million – but more of this below.

Terry visited ‘Nullus Anxietas’, the first Australian Discworld Convention in February 2007. Unfortunately I was unable to attend, but thanks to Skype and the internet I and others in the UK were seen, rather larger than life, at this very successful event.

In June 2007 the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool opened its doors on a three-month exhibition of the late Josh Kirby’s works, which contained not only all his pictures for the jackets of Terry’s books, the illustrations for Eric and the Discworld calendars, but an amazing quantity of other pictures, many coming as complete surprises to those who visited the exhibition. This was the third major exhibition of Josh’s work, and also the biggest, with over 200 exhibits on display, the earlier two having been in the Durham Art Gallery in 1995 (with about 80 paintings) and in the Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead the following year (120 pictures, filling three massive rooms.)

The Studio Theatre Club produced the premieres of Stephen Briggs’ adaptations of Feet of Clay at the Unicorn Theatre, Abingdon in January 2007, and of Making Money in November 2007. Czech TV is going to broadcast the Briggs adaptation of Maskerade produced by Divadlo v Dlouhe, Prague, but no date has yet been fixed for this. Apart from numerous amateur dramatic productions of Stephen’s adaptations worldwide, there have been a number of professional or semi-professional productions: TABS produced Wyrd Sisters in summer 2007, and Mort in April 2008, and Youth Music Theatre UK’s production of Mort the Musical (adaptation by Jenifer Toksvig, music by Dominic Haslam) is being produced at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford in the week of this Convention, while a German production, Mort – Das Musical (words by Sabine Schindler, music by Matthias Weiher) was premiered on 15 December 2007 in Hamburg. Unfortunately the projected German opera of Mort has not yet materialised.

Every year there’s a May Meet and a Hogswatch event at the end of the year in Wincanton organised by Bernard Pearson, Discworld’s ever-ebullient Cunning Artificer, and his helpers, and in August 2007 they also organised the Discworld Jamboree, set in the Wincanton sports fields, which due to the rather damp weather that summer, made the soil less than firm: areas likely to swallow people were roped off, and the sun shone, making the days of the event some of the hottest of the year. More and more Discworld stamps (and numerous variants) have been released, works of art in their own right, thanks to the combined labours of the artistic technological trio, Bernard, Alan Batley and Colin Edwards (http://www.discworldemporium .com), under the critical eye of Discworld’s creator.

At this time Mob Films were actively filming The Colour of Magic in and around Pinewood Studios, Horsley Towers and London’s Guildhall, with forays to Cardiff, Snowdonia and Niagara Falls. Apart from Sir David, the cast included such well known names as Sean Astin, Tim Curry, Jeremy Irons, Nigel Planer and Christopher Lee (as the voice of Death), and Terry in the opening and closing scenes as the Second Astrozoologist. As before, Rod Brown and Ian Sharples were the producers, and Vadim Jean directed and wrote the script with the active aid of the author, who could on occasion be found on the set hastily writing more text for the actors during the shots, with Rob Wilkins juggling his roles as an extra and as Terry’s PA.

In September 2007, Doubleday published Terry’s new Moist von Lipwig novel, Making Money, (the publicity material included currency and a Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork chequebook), and Stephen Briggs’s collection of quotable Discworld quotes, The Wit and Wisdom of Discworld, and Gollancz issued Lu-Tze’s Yearbook of Enlightenment 2008 and a 2008 Calendar. (Sadly, Euan Macrae died on 2 September. He had been Terry’s guest at the 2006 Convention as a result of their meeting through the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and had been Champion Assassin. He bore his terminal illness with fortitude and good humour, making in indelible impression on all those who met him.)

At the end of October, Piper Verlag published a collection of Terry’s shorter writings in German, Der Ganze Wahnsinn, which also contained, in full colour, eighteen of Josh Kirby’s pictures illustrating Discworld and the short stories in the collection. A shorter Czech collection Divadlo Krutosti, had been published by Talpress in February 2004, some months before Once More* *with Footnotes. (There will be an English version, but its publication date is still uncertain.) Talpress also published, in April this year, To Nejlepší ze Zemĕplošských diářů a ročenek 1998-2007, a collection of the text and artwork (including the covers) of the first seven Discworld diaries. (An English language volume, with the text and illustrations from all the diaries, will appear from Gollancz in due course.)

In December 2007, Terry was completing his next young adult novel, Nation, when he learned that he was suffering from a rare form of Alzheimer’s Disease that caused posterior cortical atrophy. Prior to that, he thought he’d suffered a mini-stroke – which he’d mentioned to audiences while on his Summer tour of the US (including its 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). 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): it 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 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. When he announced this at a meeting of researchers in Bristol in mid March, it got even greater press coverage than the original announcement, and he has since been hard-pressed to keep writing, not only because the disease makes it more difficult for him to type, but because he, in common with many other sufferers of his age, had been denied the use of the drug Aricept, because he was too young and his symptoms were not sufficiently severe. The National Health Service’s committee that decides such things, with its misleading acronym N.I.C.E., has decreed that it is too expensive, at £2.50 a day, for people like Terry to be prescribed it. Fortunately, with the help of well-wishing specialists he now has a regular prescription – which he pays for.

Since then Terry appears to have become the public face of Alzheimer’s sufferers, and much of his time since has been involved in very successfully raising the profile of the disease, while at the same time attempting to get on with writing his next adult Discworld novel, Unseen Academicals. At present Alzheimer’s is treated as the poor relation to cancer: although there are almost as many sufferers in the UK (and soon will be many more), cancer research receives about twenty-six times more per sufferer than Alzheimer’s. An Early Day Motion (no. 1337) has been tabled in Britain’s House of Commons by Greg Mulholland MP, that applauds Terry’s donation and asks that the House supports an increase in funding. To date (18 July) 115 members have signed it, including 60 members of the Labour Party, 34 Liberal Democrats, 6 members of the Democratic Unionist Party and, most disappointingly, a mere 9 members of the Tory party. Given that about 45% of Britain’s population have family members or know people suffering from Alzheimer’s, these figures show neither of the two largest parties in a very favourable light.

IWC Media, Scotland’s largest independent TV production company, and the BBC, are presently working with Terry to produce a documentary series based on his diagnosis.

The news of Terry’s donation was followed rapidly by the transmission over Easter of The Colour of Magic on Sky1, followed by showings on Sky2. Viewing figures were not nearly as high as those for Hogfather, but this was because of Virgin’s ongoing disagreement with BSkyB, so no Virgin subscribers were able to watch it. BSkyB were evidently very content with these figures in the circumstances and commissioned MOB to produce Going Postal as their next Discworld production. These events rather overshadowed Terry’s opening of the UK’s largest planetarium at INTECH in Winchester on 19 March.

Dreamworks are showing movement with regard to Truckers, which is being adapted for the screen by Frank Cottrell Boyce – according to a recent article in The Times.

It seems almost superfluous to mention that this year has seen Terry’s 60th birthday (on 28 April) and November marks the 25th anniversary of the publication (by Colin Smythe Ltd) of the first Discworld novel – The Colour of Magic: these facts are hardly secret. Little did we know how successful the series would become, but there has naturally been great satisfaction in seeing it do so, with Terry’s worldwide sales coming up to 60 million copies, in thirty-seven languages: that’s a pile of books about 1,000 miles high!

Terry and Lyn’s fortieth wedding anniversary also occurs this year, and Rhianna (who has recently been getting press coverage for her work on DICE’s new game Mirror’s Edge) is marking it on 27 July with an outdoor concert (in a marquee) by Steeleye Span in their honour.
The poll of SFX readers published in the June 2008 SFX Collection, ‘SF & Fantasy Book Special’ named Terry as ‘the Best SF and Fantasy Author of All Time.’ (In the accompanying interview, Terry says he would have voted for Tolkien, and that he felt that fans engineering a block vote in the poll may not have been a good idea: ‘…sooner or later it will end up with them bickering, I fear’.)

The paperback edition of Making Money was brought forward from the usual autumn slot to be published on 16 June, while the non-Discworld young adult novel, Nation will be published in September. In the same way that The Last Continent is not about Australia, this is not about an island in the Pacific Ocean or the eruption of Krakatoa. As Terry has stated ‘Nothing could be further than the truth!!!!!’. It is set in a parallel universe that merely bears a passing resemblance to the Victorian era. And it’s truly great. (Passengers leaving Heathrow, Gatwick and other UK airports will be able to buy copies of a trade paperback version, which is produced for these outlets.)

The satellites accompanying this from Doubleday will be The Folklore of Discworld, by Terry and Jacqueline Simpson, the eminent authority on English folklore; a new edition in a single volume of the long out-of-print graphic novels of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic (adapted by Scott Rockwell, illustrated by Stephen Ross and Joe Bennet); an illustrated Wee Free Men, with a mass of pictures by Stephen Player (who illustrated The Streets of Ankh-Morpork, The Mapp of Discworld and the covers of many of the playtexts); and a paperback edition of Wit and Wisdom. Stephen is also producing illustrations for a celebratory edition of The First Discworld Novels for Gollancz.

September will see Terry adding a fifth honorary doctorate to his collection, this one from Bucks [Buckinghamshire] New University, based in High Wycombe, the home of The Bucks Free Press where he first worked as a reporter when he left school, and in its weekly ‘Children’s Corner’ column under the name ‘Uncle Jim’, he wrote over seventy stories spanning 250 issues of the paper, and on some of which he based The Carpet People. (It was also where Johnny Maxwell’s home town of Blackbury first appeared.)

In October Transworld will finish issuing all the Discworld novels in B-format black-and-gold covers. These started appearing in 2004, and now include The Amazing Maurice and the Tiffany Aching titles (some exclusive to Waterstones till the end of 2008) as well as the main series novels. The Colour of Magic will also be released on DVD in the UK this month.

On the audio, electronic and digital front, following in Nigel Planer’s voiceprints Audie Award-winning Stephen Briggs has come into his own with his much-praised readings of the more recently issued unabridged Pratchett novels (issued by ISIS in the UK and in the US by HarperCollins), and these and Tony Robinson’s readings of the drastically abridged versions are mostly available for download from audible.com and audible.co.uk. To mark the 25th anniversary of Discworld, ISIS are also releasing all their Discworld audiobooks on MP3 CDs. But, please note that any CDs with more than one novel on them as MP3s (occasionally found on eBay and in car boot sales) are without exception pirated versions.

Sandra Kidby’s website PJSM Prints continues to add Pratchett news to its website (www.pjsmprints.com) as well as Pratchett and Discworld memorabilia – and it’s the only place you can get signed copies of Terry’s books other than at the Convention and Terry’s public signings. This year they released their Discworld Charity Pin Badge Collection which has proved hugely successful and has raised money for various good causes.

Attached to the ship of Discworld, somewhat like barnacles but doing nothing to impede its progress, are a number of books that come under the heading, more or less, of literary criticism: the first (and by far the most weighty) to appear, in November 2007, was An Unofficial Companion to the Novels of Terry Pratchett, edited by Andrew M. Butler (editor of Terry Pratchett, Guilty of Literature?, and author of The Pocket Essential Terry Pratchett), published by Greenwood, and it was followed in April by the somewhat misleadingly titled Secrets [what secrets?] of The Wee Free Men and Discworld. The Myths and Legends of Terry Pratchett’s Multiverse, by Carrie Pykkonen and Linda Washington (St Martin’s-Griffin), and The Turtle Moves! Discworld’s Story Unauthorized, ‘unauthored’ by Lawrence Watt-Evans (BenBella Books, Dallas, TX).

In the years to come, there will undoubtedly be more works of this nature appearing as Terry’s work gains greater critical appreciation, as studies of his work at university post-graduate level become increasingly common, and as more and more people throughout the world discover that as a creative writer of genius (as the Booker prize-winning novelist A.S.Byatt describes him), and as a parodist and satirist he is without equal.

© 2008 Colin Smythe

PS. The 1 August issue of the British book trades weekly The Bookseller announced that of the two million new books published since Nielsen’s Bookscan records began in 1995, only twelve ‘evergreens’ have remained in the Total  Consumer Market top 5,000 year on year. Of those, three are by Terry, The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic and Mort. No other author has more than one, so Terry was crowned the ‘evergreen king’ in this, their first list of this nature, described as the ‘most exclusive chart in publishing history’, a list of books that week after week prove enduringly popular.

Background image © Josh Kirby Estate, All Rights Reserved