Thursday 13 September 2012


Hurrah! Hooray! 

Today sees the publication of Dodger, a new novel by Sir Terry Pratchett which the publishers describe as follows:
Dodger is a tosher - a sewer scavenger living in the squalor of Dickensian London. Everyone who is nobody knows Dodger. Anyone who is anybody doesn't. But when he rescues a young girl from a beating, suddenly everybody wants to know him. And "Dodger's" tale of skulduggery, dark plans and even darker deeds begins...

Pratchett and Dickens: a perfect combination! I can't wait to read it...
The advent of a new Pratchett has also awoken a nine-year-old memory...

It was an unforgettable event – for both good and bad reasons – it was the night of the 2003 SFX Awards – annually dished out by "the greatest SF, fantasy and horror magazine on the planet" – and I was a nominee for my book, The Lord of the Rings: The Making of the Movie Trilogy.

I'm sure in the subsequent nine years the SFX Awards have gone from strength to strength, but back in 2003, the organisation (at least as far as the nominees were concerned) was a tad chaotic and I spent well over an hour abandoned in the gloom of the back stage area with nothing to drink and nowhere to sit except on the cases used for transporting the sound equipment.

On the plus side, apart from subsequently winning the award in my category  – the bizarrely-titled 'Best Sci-Fi Fantasy Related Non-Fiction Book' (think about it!) – was being incarcerated during the pre-show wait with the aforesaid Terry Pratchett.

Terry Pratchett is, of course, creator (of among other things) the Discworld (a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stand on the shell of a giant turtle travelling through space) which serves as a device for the author's humorous dissection of the social, political and cultural mores of our own non-flat world!

The first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, was published in 1983 and has been followed by, to date, another 39 novels. Behind the consistently brilliant jesting is one of the most startling minds around – something Pratchett receives insufficient credit for with the lit-crit crowd because his wit and wisdom (and an astonishing ability to conjure unforgettable imagery) is wrapped up in laugh-out-loud humour. In my library, Pratchett doesn't sit on a shelf alongside the other fantasy and sci-fi guys (regardless of how well he can do that stuff), he cohabits with other great, and all too often underrated, humorists such as Thurber, Wodehouse, Perelman and Benson.

We had already met, my having interviewed him on three separate occasions for various BBC arts and books programmes. The first of those encounters did not go brilliantly (due to a combination of catching him during one of those exhausting book-launch-tours and a couple of dumb questions from the interviewer) and, mercifully, no copy of it has survived! But I learned the lesson and, the next time we sat down to chat, I was better prepared...

My initial encounter with Terry Pratchett was not quite as uncomfortable as that experienced by the member of the SFX Award ceremony team (and an effusive fan) who encountered us as we lurked in the half-light waiting for someone to bother about us. By this time Terry was lying flat on one of the cases with his trademark hat over his eyes. The fan approached with a huge pile of books ("Would you sign them to 'Pooh', that's my nickname...") and Terry began patiently inscribing the books, at the same time saying very quietly: "If someone doesn't come to look after us in the next two minutes, we won't be here when you eventually get around to coming back."

The message finally got through and, as it turned out, it was probably just as well we didn't leave since – apart from the lovely James ('Scotty') Doohan from Star Trek – we were the only two recipients to turn up for the ceremony. In fact, my award was seventh or eighth on the running order and the first award not to be collected by the presenter! As a result, even though no one knew who the hell I was, my trip to the podium was greeted with thunderous applause and an indecent amount of cheering!

In the intervening years since we collected our gongs, Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with 'posterior cortical atrophy', a very rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease and his courageous and characteristically phlegmatic response has been widely documented as have his views on assisted dying. It would be impossible, today, to interview Terry without asking about these looming issues.

Back in 1995, when he had just published his eighteenth Discworld novel, Maskerade, I had an extended interview with Terry Pratchett that was largely full of his sharp perception and quirky humour, his profundity and humanity.

However, since Discworld features the eternally present character of Death, it is hardly surprising that he makes what may now seem a prophetic appearance...

Make yourself a cuppa, put your feet up and  enjoy...


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