Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of seeing Terry Pratchett speaking at The Forum in Bath. He was "in conversation" with Sarah LeFanu (Art Director of the Festival) and the subject of the evening was '25 years of Discworld'. This was only the second time I had seen him in the flesh, the first being at a book signing at Ottakers in Walsall about 7 years ago. I was surprised, as I was then, at how unassuming a character he is in real-life. Small, balding, with a neatly trimmed beard, and customary black hat, he talks in a slightly high-pitched voice and seemed a little nervous when he first walked on-stage. However, his ready wit immediately came to the fore as he began answering LeFanu's questions. Their chat meandered through a variety of subjects, beginning with how he first came to the world of Fantasy/SF (via a Saturday job in a library) and moving through subjects such as his fillings, tarletane dresses, his new book 'Nation', and ended by touching on his recent diagnosis of Alzheimer's.
It was fantastic to hear him speak about so many subjects, both related directly to Discworld and also about his own life, which he is generally pretty reticent about. He talked about his house and how he had his own library built, with shelves high enough to require a ladder, and a magnificent open fireplace with stone lintel, which he regularly bangs his head on and led to him wearing an Edwardian velvet smoking cap when sitting in there of an evening. It's details such as these which remind me why I identify with Terry so much, he is a lover of reading books as well as writing them. I also dream of being able to afford to have my own library, ideally two-stories with a spiral staircase leading up to a balcony running round the top shelves... Though I don't know what the Librarian would have to say about having an open fire near all of those books (actually, I do, he'd say Oook!).
Terry also read us an extract from his new book 'Nation', due to be released in September. This will be another stand-alone book, without the usual suspects (though I assume Death will make an appearance). It is set on a small Pelargic island, known as 'Mothering Sunday Island', which near the start of the book is hit by a massive tsunami, killing all but one of the inhabitants. The boy who is left is shortly joined by another survivor, a girl who has been shipwrecked on the island by the wave. So far that's all we know, though Terry then proceeded to read the extract, taken from the beginning of the book it described the wrecking of the ship from the captain's perspective. A religious man, he has lashed himself to the wheel, and proceeds to sing 'For those in peril on the sea', adding his own alternative final verse as the ship is swept inland on the crest of the wave. The reading also involved Terry singing the verses as the captain heads toward his doom, which was highly entertaining. It was a tantalising glimpse into the new novel and has certainly whetted my appetite, it sounds like it will include Terry's usual insightful wit and unusual characters. At the end of the talk Terry signed the paper which held the extract and proceeded to auction it off there and then, with the proceeds dedicated to the Alzheimer's Foundation. It was finally won by a lady sitting a few rows behind me, with a winning sum of £425!
After the conversation part of the evening then Terry answered questions from the audience, sadly no-one asked any terribly insightful ones but he answered with good humour and told a couple of anecdotes. We learnt of the inspiration for the Luggage, as most people know the inception of this character occurred when Terry saw a rather large American woman struggling with a massive suitcase on wheels, apparently with a life of its own. However he went on to say that the Luggage then started life as a character in his next door neighbour's sons' RPG games. It was a walking inventory, which was liable to wander off and turn up later, but without your carefully secured weapons and items of value. He also talked a little about Sam Vimes, possibly his most well-loved character, and drew an interesting parallel between Sam's discomfort with his elevation to the landed gentry, and how this reflects Terry's own journey from his working class origins to his current status as one of the wealthiest authors in the world.
After his talk Terry came down to the front of the auditorium to sit and sign books. Unfortunately a result of his illness is that he is no longer able to sign dedications, and indeed he did seem to be tiring as we in the queue were encouraged to be as quick as we could when having our books signed. Fortunately I had done the restrained thing anyway, taking only one book to be signed: 'Guards Guards', which was the first Discworld novel I ever read. However, the queue stretched from the front all the way around the stalls and out of the door at the back, so I suspect he was there for quite a while.
It was a highly enjoyable evening all in all, it was the first time I had heard Terry speak at length and he was as brilliant and funny as you would expect him to be. I also very much enjoyed being amongst such a large gathering of Discworld fans. I don't usually attend fan events, more by accident than design, but in future I may try to get to some. The atmosphere was great, everyone was chatting about things that I usually only hear of through the e-fanzines and websites, and I immediately felt that I was amongst kindred spirits (even if some of them did smell a bit strange).
For any fans who may be reading this Terry also mentioned that 'Night Watch' is to be broadcast on Radio 4, beginning on Wednesday 27th February at 11pm. He also confirmed that he has a small cameo in the forthcoming adaptation of The Colour of Magic/Light Fantastic, though he was unable to give us any further detail of the date of its premiere on Sky.