Report for the 2015 Nullus Anxietas V Australian Discworld Convention Official Programme
I have been asked to give you an update/survey of what has been happening in the world of Terry Pratchett and Discworld over the past few years as concisely as possible, space being at a premium – smaller page size.
What to mention about what’s happened since I last wrote for Nullus Anxietas III? What’s noteworthy? In May 2011 Terry (and Rob and I) went to Dublin to meet H.M. Queen Elizabeth in the Long Room of Trinity College Dublin’s Library during her State Visit to Ireland (the result of Terry’s being an Adjunct Professor at TCD); there had been two BBC2 TV documentaries – the International Emmie and BAFTA award winning Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die was screened in June 2011, and Terry Pratchett: Facing Extinction was shown in March 2013 in Britain and later elsewhere; novels got published, Snuff (2011), Dodger (2012), and Raising Steam (2013), a fourth Science of Discworld title – Judgement Day was published in April 2013 (again written by the trio, Terry, Ian and Jack), and two collections of shorter writings – A Blink of the Screen (fiction, 2012) and, last September, A Slip of the Keyboard (non-fiction) as well as, for young readers, Dragons at Crumbling Castle and other stories.
The Long Earth Series (co-written with Stephen Baxter) got under way, first with The Long Earth in June 2012, to be followed by The Long War (2013), The Long Mars (2014), and The Long Utopia, this coming summer. The Compleat Ankh-Morpork (2012), put together by the Discworld Emporium (also noted for amazing Discworld stamps), is a street and general guide to the city with an accompanying map and a fantastic aerial view of the city, which Transworld followed up with an app a year later.
Following the death in 2010 of Terry’s US agent Ralph Vicinanza, Terry had no one experienced – I certainly wasn’t – to represent him with regard to film and TV rights, so the goddess Narrativia before whose statuette Terry had often lit a candle, was invoked and Narrativia Ltd. was set up to deal with film, TV and merchandising rights, with Rod Brown who had been one of the producers of the three MOB produced mini-series – Hogfather, The Colour of Magic and Going Postal – as its Managing Director: Terry had been working with him for a decade on these productions and we know he gets things done.
Over Christmas BBC Radio 4 broadcast the radio adaptation of Good Omens (written and directed by Dirk Maggs) and things look as if they are about to happen with regard to a BBC TV series. There is finally real cause for optimisim! Things have been about to happen – development hell for nearly 20 years – since Neil and Terry first negotiated an option deal with the Samuelson brothers.
A couple of years ago Terry moved most of the unpublished American editions of his books from HarperCollins to RandonHouseKnopf, while The Carpet People went with Terry’s children’s editor Anne Hoppe to her new home, Clarion, to be followed with Dragons at Crumbling Castle and another collection, presently called The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner.
I’d been nagging Terry for years to let me license some of his juvenilia. Of course the stories are nowhere near as good as his later, mature work, but he started writing when he was fourteen – when the first version of ‘The Hades Business’ (called ‘Business Rivals’) was published in his school magazine, The Technical Cygnet, followed by others – and some of the stories in Dragons were written when he was in his late teens, showing his immense promise, and stand the test of time, judging by the reviews and children’s reactions to that collection.
Since 2011 there have been one or more major Discworld conventions every year, the UK/International Cons occur every even year, and the Australian, North American and Irish ones in the odd years. The Irish and UK Cons do not suffer from the difficulties experienced by the North Americans, whose 2011 Con took place in Madison, Wisconsin, while Baltimore hosted the 2013, and the 2015 seems as if it is going to be part of Worldcon in Spokane Washington. Ireland’s have been taking place in the west of Ireland, the home territory, one might say, of the WIGs – the Wild Irish Girls from Connaught – whose hard work over three Cons (two at the Falls Hotel, Enistymon, Co. Clare, and one in Limerick), has forced them to be less wild. They have grown in responsibility, and sensibly passed their responsibilities over to a new committee, in readiness for the 2015 one next October, at the Cork International Hotel. There are also small events in the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland.
In April 2012 Terry and Rob travelled to Borneo to revisit the Orangutan sanctuary and see what had happened since Terry last visited, and reported on in the 1995 documentary Terry Pratchett’s Jungle Quest. It resulted in a new documentary, Terry Pratchett: Facing Extinction, filmed by Charlie Russell, shown on BBC1 TV on 27 March 2013 – rather later than expected.
The SF collaboration with Stephen Baxter came about because I had been nagging Terry edit two SF stories he’d written in the mid 1980s, called ‘The High Meggas’ and ‘To See How Far it Is’ and to let me find a publisher for them, but he’d always held back – he felt the concepts deserved a much extended treatment and he’d thought of writing them himself, but things evolved and he had the bright idea of asking Stephen Baxter whether he would collaborate with him on a series. Stephen agreed and the upshot was The Long Earth series. After some initial minor ‘hissy fits’ (their description) between the two writers as they worked out how to work together, they settled down to a productive collaboration.
The Long Earth, the first of a projected five-volume series, was published on 16 June 2012, going straight to no.1 in the Sunday Times hardcover fiction bestseller list, with the Independent describing it as ‘a triumph’. About 120 proof copies had been produced at the end of April, six weeks before publication. The publicity activities were impressive, led by a Long Earth event on 21 June at the Royal Institution with a panel that included Terry and Stephen, with Dr Roger Highfield in the chair, as well as Dr David Wallace, a philosopher in physics at Balliol College, Oxford. David had, by the end of his exposition, convinced many of us that we thought we understood quantum, at least for the time being.
Apart from the standard edition and a slip-cased ‘Collector’s Limited Edition’, Waterstones had a ‘Metallic Edition’ (in reference to the importance of iron in the novel) which also included ‘The High Meggas’, described, for some reason, as ‘the first few thousand words of the (very) unfinished novel that evolved into The Long Earth’. That it was not: it’s obviously a short story in its own right. In fact Terry had written two versions of the story, the other, rather more unfinished, included an ‘elf’ which the character Larry Linsay called Elrond.
In April 2013 the fourth volume in the Pratchett-Stewart-Cohen Science of Discworld series, Judgement Day, was published by Ebury Press and immediately went to the top of the British Sunday Times non-fiction lists. Waterstones’ copies were accompanied by a free pamphlet The World Not a Dysk, by Spread-the-word (-of Om-throughout-the-lands-of-the-heathen) Gladly.
Terry has been a long-time fan of one of the best known acts of the British folk revival, Steeleye Span, which was founded in 1969, his daughter Rhianna even booking them to play at his 60th birthday party. They now have a further close connection with a series of songs and non-vocal tracks based on Pratchett’s novel Wintersmith. The subject matter is completely appropriate for Steeleye, a tale of ancient rituals and secret folk dances that perfectly complements their previous work whilst taking it in new directions. The resulting album Wintersmith was released in October 2013 for their tour and a deluxe double CD edition appeared a year later.
Victor Gollancz has continued publishing the Discworld Calendars, with the 2012 edition containing all new work by Paul Kidby. The 2013 and 2014 editions are devoted to pictures by Marc Simonetti, the French artist used by Pocket, Terry’s French paperback publisher. The 2015 Calendar is illustrated by Stephen Player.
Off the main highway, as it were, other things have been happening: Stephen Briggs’s stage adaptation of Making Money was published by Samuel French in early 2011, and Matthew Holmes has produced two musicals (published by A&C Black) for primary school use, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, and Johnny & the Bomb, published in August 2011 and 2012 respectively. Both come with scores and a CD with the music. Meanwhile the Polish company Micro-Art continue to produce superb miniature models of Discworld characters, as well as larger busts.
An expanded range of Stephen Briggs/CMOT Dibbler’s merchandise (including the ever-popular UU scarf) is now available from PJSM Prints (now www.discworld.com), and I have taken over the job of licensing the amateur dramatic productions of Stephen’s adaptations of Wyrd Sisters, Mort, Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, The Amazing Maurice & His Educated Rodents, Johnny and the Dead and Dodger, which was published by OUP in Febrary 2014. All professional productions are now of course in the hands of Narrativia.
Stephen has continued to record the Discworld novels for ISIS and for HarperAudio, and he also joined forces with Michael Fenton Stevens with recordings of the four Science of Discworld books in when he recorded the Discworld parts and Michael the scientific sections. Michael has also read The Long Earth and The Folklore of Discworld (to which has been added Terry’s and Jacqueline’s discussion recorded just before the start of the 2010 Convention). Helen Atkinson Wood (Mrs Miggins in Blackadder 2) has recorded The World of Poo, while Mrs Bradshaw’s Handbook (published at the same time as the Corgi edition of Raising Steam) was recorded by the famed Penelope Keith and Michael. The Dragons at Crumbling Castle is read by Julian Rhind-Tutt.
Jason Anthony and Annie Mac and their teams continue to keep us informed and entertained with Discworld Monthly and Wossname: Discworld fandom owes them debts of gratitude. (I’d like also to acknowledge that owed by Pratchett fans to Leo Breebaart and everyone else who set up and maintained L-Space – http://www.lspace.org/. Although Real Life has made it almost impossible for Leo to keep it up-to-date, it is still an invaluable resource with the mass of information it holds. The Annotated Pratchett File alone has helped an incalculable number of readers over the years.)
Martin Wallace’s Treefrog Games and Leonard Boyd and David Brashaw’s Backspindle Games have brought out board games, Discworld Ankh-Morpork and The Witches (both illustrated by Peter Dennis) and Guards! Guards! A Discworld Board Game (illustrated by Stephen Player) and both have plans for further offerings.
Transworld has now set up www.terrypratchett.co.uk, a wide-ranging website which is linked with HarperCollins’ www.terrypratchettbooks.com, and brings together information on all Pratchett activities. It is run by Laura Swainbank firstname.lastname@example.org, and the Pratchett Facebook page is being looked after by Lynsey Dalladay.
Snowgum Films’ Kickstart initiative to raise US$45,000 to complete the filming of Terry’s short story ‘Troll Bridge’ reached its target figure fifty-seven days ahead of the deadline, by which time the sum pledged had reached a staggering US$82,000, and it’s now even highe [and by mid 2015, over $100,00o). This has enabled them to be much more ambitious, filming scenery in New Zealand, using superior camera equipment, and so on. Wonderful generosity on the part of the 1,240+ donors. Given that everyone gives of their time freely, progress is not as fast as it would be with a professional production, but I hope you will be seeing it here.
Terry’s books are now published in thirty-eight languages, and sales are now over 85 million copies worldwide (but who’s counting?): put side by side, I calculate they’d now stretch from London to North Africa, and as the books are getting ever fatter, maybe further into the Sahara. And what width should one give to e-books and audiobooks in one’s calculations? It would surely be unfair to grant them a mere CD width each.
So what to look forward to? Certainly a fifth Tiffany novel, The Shepherd’s Crown and a further collection of his early writings, The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and other stories, contracts for which have just been signed. I’m leaving Rod Brown to tell you in person what’s happening on the film and TV front as whatever I might write now is sure to be out of date by April.
[The following was not published in the Programme Book, not being part of the survey, but it may be of interest.]
As I was starting to write this survey last Christmas, I had just read Colin Steele in the Sydney Morning Herald bringing up the old chestnut that Terry never forgave Joe Rowling for supplanting him as Britain’s top-selling author. Really not true: if he hadn’t said anything like that to me, his agent, why would he have said it to others? When Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkhaban appeared in 1999, and Potter sales had already outstripped Terry’s, he was asked by the Sunday Times to write about fantasy and this is the final paragraph to that article:
‘Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter is firmly in this [the fantasy] tradition. In truth, the stories do not contain a lot of elements new to anyone keeping up with modern fantasy writing for children. Young wizards and witches have been to school before. But that really does not matter. Genres work like that; if they didn’t, there would only ever be one book with a Time Machine in it. Most crime novels are full of policemen, crimes, and criminals, and most cakes contain pretty much the same sort of ingredients. It’s the cookery that counts. Cook it right, with imagination and flair and a good pinch of luck, and you have that rare and valuable thing – a genre book that’s risen above the genre. And Harry Potter is beautifully cooked.’
What irritated Terry in 2005 (and a lot of other people) was the way that journalists pretended that no one had written any worthwhile wizarding fiction before JKR (or perhaps they’d never read any), and when he pointed this out, it was jumped on as a jealous attack on her. ’Nuff said.
Background illustration © and by courtesy of Marc Simonetti