CR2010

Terry and Discworld

This is the first draft of my biennial report for the 2010 Discworld Convention programme book, but it was too long, and about a thousand words had to be cut for it to fit in. Fortunately space is not a problem here. I have also added material to bring some of the reports up to date.

These last two years have been momentous for Terry Pratchett: some months after the last Convention, Terry received a letter from the Prime Minister’s office in 10 Downing Street to ascertain whether, if he were offered it, he would accept a knighthood from the Queen. Immensely honoured, he accepted, and then had the almost impossible job of keeping his mouth shut about it until the official announcement from No. 10 on 31 December 2008. On 18 February 2009, he was invested by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.[1] But to a chronological sequence of events following the last Convention.

Terry’s collaboration with Jacqueline Simpson, The Folklore of Discworld, was published on 8 September, and on the following day he received an Honorary Doctorate from Bucks New University, which Terry had attended in the 1960s when it was the rather humbler High Wycombe Technical College. Two days after that, Nation was published to considerable acclaim, being voted The Independent’s Children’s Book of 2008. [2] There were 120 bookproofs and it was published in a number of different formats: apart from the standard UK hardcover edition, there were 275 specially bound signed, numbered and slip-cased copies, 5,000 numbered copies issued in a black/gold dustjacket for Waterstones, and a large format trade paperback for sale in airports and abroad. A black/gold covered trade paperback edition was published to mark Father’s Day 2009. Stephen Briggs read both English (for Isis) and American (for HarperAudio) unabridged versions of the novel, and in the States his performance earned him one of the five American Library Association 2009 Odyssey Honor Awards.

The reviews brought Nation to the notice of director Melly Still at the Royal National Theatre, who proposed that it should be adapted for the stage by Mark Ravenhill as the NT’s Christmas 2009 production. The deal was made, and Corgi published the rehearsal/preview playtext on 26 November, a couple days after the opening night, but by then there had been a number of changes to the version of the play seen by the audience at the first preview on 11 November, and that was already different from the text as published by Corgi.

Since then, Pearson publishers have been granted a licence to publish an educational edition, and this will use the final text used in the NT production, that broadcast throughout the world on NT Live on 31 January 2010 (though for technical reasons about a fortnight later in Australia and New Zealand). The production itself, with Gary Carr as Mau and Emily Taaffe as Daphne, also featured Milton, a very vocal parrot (Milton Thorpe), who was a definite scene-stealer with his irreverent comments, opened to mostly good reviews, but it was certainly more popular with audiences.[3]

Victor Gollancz has continued publishing Discworld Calendars, those for 2009 and 2010 containing work by a number of different artists, but the 2011 Calendar, published on 18 August in time for the Convention, returns to reproducing the work of a single artist, in this case a collection of Josh Kirby’s pictures that haven’t appeared before in any of the earlier Calendars, while the 2012 Calendar will consist entirely of paintings by Paul Kidby, most of which are being painted specially for it.

The Illustrated Wee Free Men was published by Doubleday on 6 October 2008 (and three weeks later by HarperCollins in the US), with superb illustrations by Stephen Player, including some fold-out pages. The original text had been revised in places by Terry, who also added material such as the ‘Official Court Transcript’ on p. 227.[4]

In the Czech Republic, to mark the 25th anniversary of Discworld (and to mark Terry’s 60th Birthday) Talpress issued an edition of their translations of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, with pencil illustrations by Paul Kidby.

The DVD of the Mob/Sky production of The Colour of Magic was released on 3 November 2009, and it became the most rented TV series of the year in Britain. It was followed by the Blu-ray version on 16 December, while Gollancz published The Illustrated Screenplay for the film on 27 November. American fans had to wait until 22 March 2009 before it was shown on the Ion channel, in a much shorter version, as annoyed reviewers noted at the time, the US version being about 135 minutes in length compared with the British version which is over fifty minutes longer. Doubtless it was to allow much more time for adverts as it was placed in a four-hour slot, so there must have had 1¾ hours of them. It was finally released on DVD in the US the following July in the unfortunately shortened version.

On 12 December 2008, Terry received his first honorary doctorate, in Letters (LittD), from one of these islands’ ancient universities, Dublin University (my alma mater), where the Public Orator spoke his praises in Latin before the Chancellor of the University, Dr Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and presently one of the Elders. On the same occasion Sir David Attenborough received an Honorary Doctorate in Letters, and another highlight of this visit to the University was an inspiring lecture he gave to members of the Biology School, which Terry, Rob and I also were able to attend. We also had a tour of the University Library, which Terry wanted to return to (and did, the following year).

Terry and experts from the Alzheimer’s Research Trust handed in a petition for increased government funding to No. 10 Downing Street on 26 November 2008. The Prime Minister had agreed to meet them, and during their meeting praised Terry for ‘speaking for those without a voice’. The previous March he had announced his own personal donation of $1,000,000 towards Alzheimer’s research, and throughout the year had participated in a two-part BBC2 documentary ‘Living with Alzheimer’s’, which was televised on 4 and 11 February 2009.

On 24 February, a few days after being dubbed a knight by the Queen, Sir Terry attended the Oldie Awards ceremony in London, where he received the ‘Campaigner of the Year’ award for raising awareness throughout Britain about Alzheimer’s Disease.

On 18 December Gollancz published their 25th anniversary edition of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, illustrated by Stephen Player. It had been delayed as the printers, ignoring instructions and thinking they knew better, had inverted one of the illustrated end-papers, so that the ikonograph’s artist was suffering from an inverse gravitational pull, appearing to float in space. Gollancz had the books corrected before release, hence the late publication date, but a handful of uncorrected copies do exist.[5]

In January 2009 Stephen Briggs’s ‘Director’s Cut’ of his adaptation of the newly-created knight’s Wyrd Sisters was performed by the Studio Theatre Club at the Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon, and this was followed by his adaptation of Unseen Academicals in November.

At the end of December 2008 Danny Boyle, who had made no secret that he wanted to adapt the Truckers/Bromeliad Trilogy, bought by Dreamworks in 2001, announced that due to executive indifference, his plans were collapsing, and he and Frank Cottrell Boyce were no longer associated with the project. But following Danny’s being awarded eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay, for Slumdog Millionaire, Dreamworks had second thoughts about his participation, and the film’s scriptwriter Simon Beaufoy, is also on board, according to news at the end of March 2009.[6] At time of writing (June 2010), however, nothing more has been heard as to progress.

2009 was a year of five events/conventions, the last two of which Terry attended: Nullas Anxietas, the second Australian Convention took place 27 February to 1 March, at the Storey Hall, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology; the second German Convention, held on 14-16 August at Schloss Bilstein; the eighth Wadfest, at Trentfield Farm Camp Site, Church Laneham, near Retford, in Nottinghamshire on 21-23 August; the first American Convention, held at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel, Tempe, Arizona, from 4-7 September, and the first Irish Convention, at the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon, Co. Clare, on 6-9 November.

It was also a year in which he received two further honorary doctorates, from the University of Bradford on 16 July, and on 23 October from the University of Winchester (at which he has just given, on 26 June, the Plenary Address at this year’s Winchester Writers’ Conference).

Last November, while working on the fourth Tiffany Aching novel, I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry received an invitation from the BBC to give the prestigious 2010 Richard Dimbleby Lecture, to be given at the beginning of February.[7] This is held annually in memory of the late great broadcaster, and the invitee is asked to talk about something he or she feels passionate about, and has full discretion as to subject. Terry’s immediate reaction was to accept, indeed he felt it was an invitation that was almost impossible to refuse, almost a royal command, and he decided to take assisted dying as his theme, but then he became worried that he would run out of things to say in the time allotted – he was expected to speak for 35-45 minutes – and he was also worried about how to give the lecture in view of his reading difficulties caused by his Alzheimer’s variant. However these were problems Terry felt he could circumvent, and he decided to call it ‘Shaking Hands with Death’.

The novel was put on hold while he worked on his lecture, whichi was given at the Royal Society of Medicine, London, on 1st February, and broadcast on BBC1 later that evening. Initially it was planned that Terry would read his lecture and if he had problems, he would be replaced by Tony Robinson, but in the event Terry merely read his introductory paragraph, and then handed over to Tony, his ‘stunt Pratchett’ to read the text. The programme had been well publicised and it was watched by 2.1 million viewers, the highest figure for a Dimbleby Lecture since they were inaugurated in 1972. During the Lecture Terry mentioned that people called him Mr Alzheimer’s and he was wondering what they’d be calling him the following day, but it was obvious that assisted dying is a subject whose time has come to be discussed, and there was far more support for his viewpoint than expected. No wonder The Oldie called him ‘Campaigner of the Year’.

During the summer of 2009, The Mob’s production of Going Postal was being filmed, in extremely hot conditions, in Hungary, and Terry and Rob travelled to Budapest to see the set, meet the actors,[8] and record his cameo appearance as a postman attempting to deliver a letter to the late unlamented Reacher Gilt. This year, on 15 April, Terry and Charles Dance[9] attended MipTV in Cannes to launch the mini-series, with Mob, and it was premiered on Sky1 and Sky1HD on 30-31 May.

In October 2009 Doubleday published Unseen Academicals. This has the most complexly interwoven plot of all Terry’s novels, and it was written at a time when he was also campaigning for increased funding for Alzheimer’s research and for assisted dying, so it was hardly surprising that delivery of the book to Transworld (of which Doubleday is an imprint) was somewhat delayed. Terry would have liked to work on it further, but the publishing schedule could not flex further than it did.

Wincanton, twinned as it is with Ankh-Morpork (much to the irritation of English Heritage), was the site of the book’s launch, and the Studio Theatre Club aka Stephen Briggs and His Sporting Thespians, the Transworld Publishers Flying Five, Unseen University, Ankh-Morpork United?, the Dolly Sisters, Wincanton FC and Wincanton Urchins/Whippersnappers fielded five-a-side teams for the Championship, in which the senior Referee was one Stephen Briggs, who (whatever may have been written elsewhere) showed commendable partisanship to ensure that the right team won.

To commemorate the event, Bernard Pearson (known on this occasion as the Jolly Sailor Tobacco Company) issued a superb collection of football cards (illustrated by Paul Kidby) and an album to stick them in, Famous Footballers Of Ankh-Morpork. Apart from the standard edition, Transworld also produced for Waterstones a specially bound, numbered, slip-cased Limited Collector’s Edition, of 3,000 copies. (Earlier in the year there had been a small number – 120 copies – of bound proofs.) At the same time Corgi issued a paperback edition of The Folklore of Discworld that contained ‘revealing additional material on Unseen Academicals’.

In October the Salisbury Civic Society published a superb collection of photographs called Salisbury in Detail, for which Terry had written a Foreword. An order form can be found at http://www.salisburycivicsociety.org.uk/book/home.html and I’d recommend it, not only to completists collecting Terry’s writings, but also because of the superb pictures of this historical city.

Terry travelled to Tempe Arizona in September for the first North American Discworld Convention, and while there visited the Kits Peak Observatory, the Grand Canyon, and the OK Corral in Tombstone, which he had imagined as being much larger than it is in reality – 20 x 40 feet, opening onto the street. The temperature averaged 104° F, though the attendees were fortunate that one day they awoke to rain, which cooled the courtyard.[10] Corsets were very fashionable during the weekend.

In November Terry attended the first Irish Discworld Convention, which was held in the uttermost part of the west of Ireland, at the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon, Co.Clare. Terry arrived the day after it started, having attended the previous night a dinner at Dublin University, and earlier in the day explored the great 18th Century Library. Driving down to Ennistymon the following day, Terry, Rob and I encountered such rain that appeared to be hitting us from all directions at once, but we arrived at the Hotel in sunshine. At this time, Terry learned that he was going to receive a BAFTA Award for his ‘Living with Alzheimer’s’ programme on Sunday night, and Rob Wilkins travelled to Glasgow to receive it on Terry’s behalf, returning exhausted, to Ennistymon on Monday.

Ennistymon is situated close to the home of the fabled 19th century Irish wise woman, Biddy Early, who lived in Feakle, Co. Clare,[11] and who contributed not a little to Terry’s original conception of Granny Weatherwax so, thanks to the organisers of the Convention, Mary-Ellen Murphy, Nicola Murphy and Sheila O’Sullivan (soon to be their sister-in-law) and their family, Terry and I were able to stand (suitably kitted out in very necessary Wellington boots) in the soggy ruins of Biddy’s cottage, prior to flying back to London from Shannon, a bottle of whiskey being left among its rafters along with mementos left by earlier visitors to the ruin. While Terry and I took the easy route home, Rob had to return the hire car back to Dublin Airport and fly home from there: an exhausting weekend for him.

An audiobook of Terry’s and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, read by Martin Jarvis, was finally released in the USA in November 2009, over three years after Stephen Briggs’s recording was issued by Isis in Britain.

In April 2010 the Alzheimer’s Society published My Name is not Dementia: People with Dementia discuss Quality of Life, for which Terry wrote a Foreword. He also guest edited the July issue of SFX, issued rather oddly in May. Perhaps their corporate motto should be ‘the future comes early at SFX’.

I Shall Wear Midnight, the fourth Tiffany Aching novel, was finished somewhat behind schedule as a result of Terry’s composing the Dimbleby Lecture, but it is still scheduled for publication in the first week of September.

Unseen Academicals[12] has been optioned by the Mob as the next mini-series to be produced for Sky, and Terry has recently signed up for another two novels, an adult Discworld, and a Young Adult book that is likely to be set in London, in the alternate world of Nation. A collection of shorter writings has also been signed up, but no decision has yet been made as to what will appear in it, or when it will be published, although it is certainly going to be much larger than Once More, with Footnotes.

In 1986 Terry had an idea for a SF series, which he called The Long Earth, and wrote a couple of short stories to settle himself him into the relevant universe, and started writing the first novel of that intended series, but we then discussed the way his writing should go, and decided that Discworld appeared to be successful – Terry had just finished writing Equal Rites – and there appeared to be sufficient mileage in that series for two or three books at least. So The Long Earth Series idea was put aside, though it never completely vanished below the horizon, and as a result he’d never allowed me to offer the short stories to anyone for publication, quite apart from the fact they needed revising, being only first drafts. Given my enthusiasm that they should appear in his shorter writings collection, Terry reread them and decided to collaborate with his friend Stephen Baxter on writing them, so a two novel contract has been signed up by them with Transworld.

In June, Transworld announced the ‘Terry Pratchett Anywhere but Here, Anywhen But Now Prize’ for a work of fiction by an hitherto unpublished author (see http://www.terrypratchett.co.uk/news/termsandconditions.html) and also announced that the acclaimed SF author Stephen Baxter would be collaborating with Terry on two (maybe more) novels based on an idea first projected in 1986. It was then called the Long Earth series and Terry had written first drafts of a couple of short stories and forty pages of a novel, but at the time he felt that there was still some mileage left in Discworld, so he put aside Long Earth, and started writing Mort.

So that brings us up to date – at least to the end of June, the delivery deadline for this survey being 1 July. Terry is now read in thirty-eight languages, with sales now in the region of 70 million books worldwide: put side by side, they’d stretch from London to Rome – over a thousand miles. That’s a lot of reading!

[1] Having been knighted, Sir Terry felt he should have a sword, not one bought off the shelf, or out of a catalogue, but one that he had made, as far as possible, himself. He gathered iron ore from Salisbury Plain – there are a few outcrops, if you know where to look – and smelted it, handing the iron, together with a piece of iron from the Sikhote Alin meteorite to give it that something extra, to master swordsmith Jake Keen, and helped beat it into shape. The sword, as yet scabbardless, is a thing of beauty. (In September 2010 the press finally caught up with the story, after a short piece in the Sunday Times starting the ball rolling, and the Australian Daily Telegraph proclaimed it to be the most read story of the week.)

[2] In the US Nation was winner of the extremely prestigious Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature.

[3] Terry wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph on how he found the adaptation much more enjoyable than he expected – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/6824996/Terry-Pratchett-interview-look-what-theyve-done-to-my-book.html – but its title was not his choice.

[4] Relating to the occasion when a Mr James Natter unwisely prosecuted a case against a witch on behalf of Princess Sandy for breach of contract as his client didn’t feel she was getting enought happiness from the wealth, health and happiness package she’d received from said witch on her baptism, and was transformed during the court proceedings into a toad, thereby bringing the case to a close.

[5] Piper, in Germany, divided it into the original two books again, releasing them in November 2009.

[6] See http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/mar/27/simon-beaufoy-terry-pratchett-truckers/print and http://hollywood-animated-films.suite101.com/article.cfm/boyle_beaufoy_to_animate_truckers

[7] Recent lecturers have included HRH Prince Charles (2009), General Sir Mike Jackson (2006), Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury (2002), and ex-President Bill Clinton (2001).

[8] Including Richard Coyle (Moist von Lipwig), David Suchet (Reacher Gilt), Charles Dance (the Patrician), Claire Foy (Adora Belle Dearheart), Marnix Van Den Broeke (Mr Pump), Steve Pemberton (Drumknott), Andrew Sachs (Postman Tolliver Groat), Tamsin Greig (Miss Cripslock), Ingrid Bolso Berdal (Sgt Angua), Adrian Schiller (Mr Gryle), Ian Bonar (Stanley Howler), Madhav Sharma (Horsefry), and Timothy West (Arch-Chancellor Ridcully).

[9] An interview with Charles Dance, filmed in Cannes, can be found at http://www.reedmidem.com/mipblog/index.php/2010/04/15/182-talking-miptv-exclusive-video-interview-with-charles-dance

[10] The 2011 North American Discworld Convention will take place in Madison, Wisconsin.

[11] For further information about Biddy Early, see the chapters about her in Lady Gregory’s Visions & Beliefs in the West of Ireland, and D.A.MacManus’ The Middle Kingdom, True Irish Faerie Tales, both books published by Colin Smythe Ltd.

[12] Originally it was going to have been Sourcery, but there was a change of plan.

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