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Discworld report written for Nullus Anxietas III – 2011

As this is the first article I’ve written for Nullus Anxietas, I think I should perhaps start the history a little before the last convention, with Terry being appointed a Knight Bachelor – Sir Terry Pratchett – in the 2009 New Year’s Honours List, and his being tapped on the shoulders with a (presumably very light) sword by the Queen at Buckingham Palace on 18 February. A few days before that event, Terry’s two-part documentary, ‘Living with Alzheimer’s’, was shown by the BBC.

2009 was a year of five events/conventions, the last two of which Terry attended: Nullus Anxietas; the second German Convention; the eighth Wadfest; the first American Convention, and the first Irish Convention.

It was also a year in which he received honorary doctorates from the University of Bradford on 16 July, and on 23 October from the University of Winchester, bringing his total to eight.

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, and record his cameo appearance as a postman attempting to deliver a letter to the late unlamented Reacher Gilt. On 15 April 2010, Terry and Charles Dance attended MipTV in Cannes to launch the mini-series, with Mob, and it was premiered on Sky 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.

The Somerset town of Wincanton, twinned as it is with Ankh-Morpork (much to the irritation of English Heritage), was the site of its launch, with a number of five-a-side teams playing 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 for them, Famous Footballers Of Ankh-Morpork.

Apart from the standard edition, Transworld also produced for Waterstones a special Limited Collector’s Edition of 3,000 copies. (There had earlier 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.

As a knight, 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 80 kg of iron ore from near his home and smelted it himself, handing the iron, together with a piece of the Sikhote Alin meteorite that I’d got for him 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 started the ball rolling, and the Australian Daily Telegraph proclaimed it to be the most read story of the week.)

Terry travelled to Tempe Arizona in September for the first North American Discworld Convention, and also did some sightseeing at the Kits Peak Observatory, the Grand Canyon, and the OK Corral in Tombstone.

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. 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, and who contributed not a little to Terry’s original conception of Granny Weatherwax so, thanks to the Convention’s organisers, Terry and I were able to stand 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. Meanwhile, Rob had to return the hire car back to Dublin Airport and fly home from there: an exhausting weekend for him. That month, an audiobook of Terry’s and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, read by Martin Jarvis, was finally released in the USA, over three years after Stephen Briggs’s recording was issued by Isis in Britain.

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. This is held annually in memory of the late great British broadcaster, and the invitee is asked to talk about something he or she feels passionate about, and has full discretion as to subject. Terry decided to call it ‘Shaking Hands with Death’. The novel was put on hold while he worked on his lecture, which was given at the Royal Society of Medicine, London, on 1st February, and broadcast on BBC1 later that evening.

Terry read his introductory paragraph, and then handed over to his friend Tony Robinson, his ‘stunt Pratchett’ (who has read all the abridged Pratchett audiobooks for Corgi) , 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. 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’.

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.

I Shall Wear Midnight was finished somewhat behind schedule as a result of Terry’s work on the Dimbleby Lecture, but it was still published in September – quite a rush for the publishers

Unseen Academicals has been optioned by the Mob as the next mini-series to be produced for Sky, and apart from his next Sam Vimes novel, Snuff (just finished and due for publication in October) Terry signed up for 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 contracted, 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 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. He therefore started writing Mort and the Long Earth project 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 the novels, so a two novel contract has been signed up by them with Transworld.

In June 2010, Transworld announced the ‘Terry Pratchett Anywhere but Here, Anywhen But Now Prize’ for a work of fiction by an hitherto unpublished author, and the shortlist is slated to be announced on 31st March.

I had hoped to be able to say that there’s positive news about the Bromeliad trilogy’s fate with Dreamworks, but all we hear is rumour. They bought the rights in 2001, but we only learned of movement in 2008. First we heard that Frank Cottrell Boyce was writing the script, then at the end of December 2008 Danny Boyle, who had made no secret of the fact that he wanted to adapt the Truckers/ Bromeliad Trilogy, announced his plans were collapsing, and that neither he nor Boyce were any longer associated with the project. However, after Boyle was awarded eight Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire, Dreamworks had second thoughts and both he and Slumdog’s scriptwriter Simon Beaufoy were brought on board, according to news released at the end of March 2009. More recent information, in December 2010, would indicate that Craig Fernandez has written a script, entitled Everything Must Go.

The British Discworld Convention took place at the end of August, once again at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole, and one of its highlights was the Rocky Horror Discworld Show, which was specially, and uniquely, agreed to by Richard O’Brien, on the condition that no recording of it should be made.

At the end of September we suffered the tragedy of Terry’s American agent of 20 years, Ralph Vicinanza, dying in his sleep at the horribly early age of 60. Terry, Rob and I flew over to New York for his funeral.

Since then Terry has been appointed an adjunct Professor at Dublin University, and he gave his plenary lecture and two masterclasses there at the beginning of November, and he returned to give further lectures in March this year. (At least, I’m typing this in February, so I hope nothing prevents it.) Almost simultaneously the British Royal Mail issues a series of stamps, entitled Magical Realms, two of which feature Rincewind and Nanny Ogg.

So that just about covers the last two and a bit years: enjoy the Convention.

 

Background illustration © and by courtesy of Marc Simonetti