Good omens the nice and.., p.36
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       Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, p.36

           Terry Pratchett
 
Neil likes to think that one day maybe there will, and Terry is certain that it will never happen. In either case, neither of them will believe it until they’re actually eating popcorn at the premiere. And even then, probably not.

  NEIL GAIMAN ON TERRY PRATCHETT

  Right.

  So it’s February of 1985, and it’s a Chinese restaurant in London, and it’s the author’s first interview. His publicist had been pleasantly surprised that anyone would want to talk to him (the author has just written a funny fantasy book called The Colour of Magic), but she’s set up this lunch with a young journalist anyway. The author, a former journalist, has a hat, but it’s a small, black leathery cap, not a Proper Author Hat. Not yet. The journalist has a hat too. It’s a grayish thing, sort of like the ones Humphrey Bogart wears in movies, only when the journalist wears it he doesn’t look like Humphrey Bogart: he looks like someone wearing a grown-up’s hat. The journalist is slowly discovering that, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot become a hat person: it’s not just that it itches, or blows off at inconvenient moments, it’s that he forgets, and leaves it in restaurants, and is now getting very used to knocking on the doors of restaurants about 11:00 a.m. and asking if they found a hat. One day, very soon now, the journalist will stop bothering with hats, and decide to buy a black leather jacket instead.

  So they have lunch, and the interview gets printed in Space Voyager magazine, along with a photo of the author browsing the shelves in Forbidden Planet, and most important, they make each other laugh, and like the way the other one thinks.

  And the author is Terry Pratchett, and the journalist is me, and it’s been two decades since I left a hat in a restaurant, and one and a half decades since Terry discovered his inner Bestselling-Author-with-a-Proper-Author-Hat.

  We don’t see each other much these days, what with living on different continents, and, when we’re on each other’s continent, spending all our time signing books for other people. The last time we ate together was at a sushi counter in Minneapolis, after a signing. It was an all-you-can-eat night, where they put your sushi on little boats and floated it over to you. After a while, obviously feeling we were taking unfair advantage of the whole all-you-can-eat thing, the sushi chef gave up on the putting sushi on little boats, produced something that looked like the Leaning Tower of Yellowtail, handed it to us, and announced that he was going home.

  Nothing much had changed, except everything.

  These are the things I realized back in 1985:

  Terry knew a lot. He had the kind of head that people get when they’re interested in things, and go and ask questions and listen and read. He knew genre, enough to know the territory, and he knew enough outside genre to be interesting.

  He was ferociously intelligent.

  He was having fun. Then again, Terry is that rarity, the kind of author who likes Writing, not Having Written, or Being a Writer, but the actual sitting there and making things up in front of a screen. At the time we met, he was still working as a press officer for the South Western Electricity board. He wrote four hundred words a night, every night: it was the only way for him to keep a real job and still write books. One night, a year later, he finished a novel, with a hundred words still to go, so he put a piece of paper into his typewriter, and wrote a hundred words of the next novel.

  (The day he retired to become a full-time writer, he phoned me up. “It’s only been half an hour since I retired, and already I hate those bastards,” he said cheerfully.)

  There was something else that was obvious in 1985: Terry was a science fiction writer. It was the way his mind worked: the urge to take it all apart, and put it back together in different ways, to see how it all fit together. It was the engine that drove Discworld—it’s not a “what if. . .” or an “if only … ” or even an “if this goes on … ”; it was the far more subtle and dangerous “If there was really a … , what would that mean? How would it work?”

  In the Nicholls-Clute Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, there was an ancient woodcut of a man pushing his head through the back of the world, past the sky, and seeing the cogs and the wheels and the engines that drove the universe machine. That’s what people do in Terry Pratchett books, even if the people doing it are sometimes rats and sometimes small girls. People learn things. They open their heads.

  So we discovered we shared a similar sense of humor, and a similar set of cultural referents; we’d read the same obscure books, took pleasure in pointing each other to weird Victorian reference books.

  A few years after we met, in 1988, Terry and I wrote a book together. It began as a parody of Richmal Crompton’s William books, which we called William the Antichrist, but rapidly outgrew that conceit and became about a number of other things instead, and we called it Good Omens. It was a funny novel about the end of the world and how we’re all going to die. Working with Terry, I felt like a journeyman alongside a master craftsman in some medieval guild. He constructs novels like a guildmaster might build a cathedral arch. There is art, of course, but that’s the result of building it well. What there is more of is the pleasure taken in constructing something that does what it’s meant to do—to make people read the story, and laugh, and possibly even think.

  (This is how we wrote a novel together. I’d write late at night. Terry wrote early in the morning. In the afternoon we’d have very long phone conversations where we’d read each other the best bits we’d written, and talk about stuff that could happen next. The main objective was to make the other one laugh. We posted floppy disks back and forth, because this was before e-mail. There was one night when we tried using a modem to send some text across the country, at 300 / 75 speeds, directly from computer to computer because if

  e-mail had been invented back then nobody had told us about it. We managed it too. But the post was faster.)

  Terry has been writing professionally for a very long time, honing his craft, getting quietly better and better. The biggest problem he faces is the problem of excellence: he makes it look easy. This can be a problem. The public doesn’t know where the craft lies. It’s wiser to make it look harder than it is, a lesson all jugglers learn.

  In the early days the reviewers compared him to the late Douglas Adams, but then Terry went on to write books as enthusiastically as Douglas avoided writing them, and now, if there is any comparison to be made of anything from the formal rules of a Pratchett novel to the sheer prolific fecundity of the man, it might be to P. G. Wodehouse. But mostly newspapers, magazines, and critics do not compare him to anyone. He exists in a blind spot, with two strikes against him: he writes funny books, in a world in which funny is synonymous with trivial, and they are fantasies—or more precisely, they are set on the Discworld, a flat world, which rests on the back of four elephants, who in turn stand on the back of a turtle, heading off through space. It’s a location in which Terry Pratchett can write anything, from hard-bitten crime dramas to vampiric political parodies, to children’s books. And those children’s books have changed things. Terry won the prestigious Carnegie Medal for his pied piper tale The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, awarded by the librarians of the U.K., and the Carnegie is an award that even newspapers have to respect. (Even so, the newspapers had their revenge, cheerfully misunderstanding Terry’s acceptance speech and accusing him of bashing J. K. Rowling and J. R. R. Tolkien and fantasy, in a speech about the real magic of fantastic fiction.)

  The most recent books have shown Terry in a new mode—books like Night Watch and Monstrous Regiment are darker, deeper, more outraged at what people can do to people, while prouder of what people can do for each other. And yes, the books are still funny, but they no longer follow the jokes: now the books follow the story and the people. Satire is a word that is often used to mean that there aren’t any people in the fiction, and for that reason I’m uncomfortable calling Terry a satirist. What he is, is A Writer, and there are few enough of those around. There are lots of people who call themselves writers, mind you. But it’s not the same thing
at all.

  In person, Terry is genial, driven, funny. Practical. He likes writing, and he likes writing fiction. That he became a bestselling author is a good thing: it allows him to write as much as he wishes. He wasn’t joking about the Banana Daiquiris, although the last time I saw him we drank ice wine together in his hotel room, while we set the world to rights.

  TERRY PRATCHETT ON NEIL GAIMAN

  What can I say about Neil Gaiman that has not already been said in The Morbid Imagination: Five Case Studies?

  Well, he’s no genius. He’s better than that.

  He’s not a wizard, in other words, but a conjurer.

  Wizards don’t have to work. They wave their hands, and the magic happens. But conjurers, now … conjurers work very hard. They spend a lot of time in their youth watching, very carefully, the best conjurers of their day. They seek out old books of trickery and, being natural conjurers, read everything else as well, because history itself is just a magic show. They observe the way people think, and the many ways in which they don’t. They learn the subtle use of springs, and how to open mighty temple doors at a touch, and how to make the trumpets sound.

  And they take center stage and amaze you with flags of all nations and smoke and mirrors, and you cry: “Amazing! How does he do it? What happened to the elephant? Where’s the rabbit? Did he really smash my watch?”

  And in the back row we, the other conjurers, say quietly: “Well done. Isn’t that a variant of the Prague Levitating Sock? Wasn’t that Pasqual’s Spirit Mirror, where the girl isn’t really there? But where the hell did that flaming sword come from?”

  And we wonder if there may be such a thing as wizardry, after

  all. …

  I met Neil in 1985, when The Colour of Magic had just come out. It was my first ever interview as an author. Neil was making a living as a freelance journalist and had the pale features of someone who had sat through the review showings of altogether too many bad movies in order to live off the freebie cold chicken legs they served at the receptions afterwards (and to build up his contacts book, which is now the size of the Bible and contains rather more interesting people). He was doing journalism in order to eat, which is a very good way of learning journalism. Probably the only real way, come to think of it.

  He also had a very bad hat. It was a gray homburg. He was not a hat person. There was no natural unity between hat and man. That was the first and last time I saw the hat. As if subconsciously aware of the bad hatitude, he used to forget it and leave it behind in restaurants. One day, he never went back for it. I put this in for the serious fans out there: If you search really, really hard, you may find a small restaurant somewhere in London with a dusty gray homburg at the back of a shelf. Who knows what will happen if you try it on?

  Anyway, we got on fine. Hard to say why, but at bottom was a shared delight and amazement at the sheer strangeness of the universe, in stories, in obscure details, in strange old books in unregarded bookshops. We stayed in contact.

  [SFX: pages being ripped off a calendar. You know, you just don’t get that in movies any more. … ]

  And one thing led to another, and he became big in graphic novels, and Discworld took off, and one day he sent me about six pages of a short story and said he didn’t know how it continued, and I didn’t either, and about a year later I took it out of the drawer and did see what happened next, even if I couldn’t see how it all ended yet, and we wrote it together and that was Good Omens. It was done by two guys who didn’t have anything to lose by having fun. We didn’t do it for the money. But, as it turned out, we got a lot of money.

  . . . Hey, let me tell you about the weirdness, like when he was staying with us for the editing and we heard a noise and went into his room and two of our white doves had got in and couldn’t get out; they were panicking around the room and Neil was waking up in a storm of snowy white feathers saying “Wstfgl?,” which is his normal ante-meridian vocabulary. Or the time when we were in a bar and he met the Spider Women. Or the time on tour when we checked into our hotel and in the morning it turned out that his TV had been showing him strange late-night seminaked bondage bisexual chat shows, and mine had picked up nothing but reruns of “Mr. Ed.” And the moment, live on air, when we realized that an underinformed New York radio interviewer with ten minutes of chat still to go thought Good Omens was not a work of fiction. …

  [cut to a train, pounding along the tracks. That’s another scene they never show in movies these days. … ]

  And there we were, ten years on, traveling across Sweden and talking about the plot of American Gods (him) and The Amazing Maurice (me). Probably both of us at the same time. It was just like the old days. One of us says, “I don’t know how to deal with this tricky bit of plot”; the other one listens and says, “The solution, Grasshopper, is in the way you state the problem. Fancy a coffee?”

  A lot had happened in those ten years. He’d left the comics world shaken, and it’ll never be quite the same. The effect was akin to that of Tolkien on the fantasy novel—everything afterwards is in some way influenced. I remember on one U.S. Good Omens tour walking round a comics shop. We’d been signing for a lot of comics fans, some of whom were clearly puzzled at the concept of “dis story wid no pitchers in it,” and I wandered around the shelves looking at the opposition. That’s when I realized he was good. There’s a delicacy of touch, a subtle scalpel, which is the hallmark of his work.

  And when I heard the premise of American Gods I wanted to write it so much I could taste it. …

  When I read Coraline, I saw it as an exquisitely drawn animation; if I close my eyes I can see how the house looks, or the special dolls’ picnic. No wonder he writes scripts now. When I read the book I remembered that children’s stories are, indeed, where true horror lives. My childhood nightmares would have been quite featureless without the imaginings of Walt Disney, and there’s a few little details concerning black button eyes in that book that make a small part of the adult brain want to go and hide behind the sofa. But the purpose of the book is not the horror, it is horror’s defeat.

  It might come as a surprise to many to learn that Neil is either a very nice, approachable guy or an incredible actor. He sometimes takes those shades off. The leather jacket I’m not sure about; I think I once saw him in a tux, or it may have been someone else.

  He takes the view that mornings happen to other people. I think I once saw him at breakfast, although possibly it was just someone who looked a bit like him who was lying with his head in the plate of baked beans. He likes good sushi and quite likes people, too, although not raw; he is kind to fans who are not total jerks, and enjoys talking to people who know how to talk. He doesn’t look as though he’s in his forties; that may have happened to someone else, too. Or perhaps there’s a special picture locked in his attic.

  Have fun. We did. We never thought about the money until it went for auction and the big numbers started to get phoned in. Guess which one of us was amazingly cool about that. Hint: It wasn’t me.

  P.S.: He really, really likes it if you ask him to sign your battered, treasured copy of Good Omens that has been dropped in the tub at least once and is now held together with very old, yellowing transparent tape. You know the one.

  ALSO BY TERRY PRATCHETT

  The Carpet People • The Dark Side of the Sun • Strata •

  The Bromeliad Trilogy: Truckers • Diggers • Wings •

  Only You Can Save Mankind • Johnny and the Dead •

  Johnny and the Bomb • The Unadulterated Cat (with Gray Jolliffe)

  • The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents •

  The Wee Free Men • A Hat Full of Sky

  THE DISCWORLD SERIES

  The Color of Magic • The Light Fantastic •

  Equal Rites • Mort • Sourcery •

  Wyrd Sisters • Pyramids • Guards! Guards! •

  Eric (with Josh Kirby) • Moving Pictures •

  Reaper Man • Witches Abroad • Small Gods •
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  Lords and Ladies • Men at Arms • Soul Music •

  Feet of Clay • Interesting Times • Maskerade •

  Hogfather • Jingo • The Last Continent •

  Carpe Jugulum • The Fifth Elephant •

  The Truth • Thief of Time • Night Watch •

  Monstrous Regiment • Going Postal • Thud! •

  The Last Hero (with Paul Kidby) • The Art of Discworld

  (with Paul Kidby) • Mort: A Discworld Big Comic

  (with Graham Higgins) • The Streets of Ankh-Morpork

  (with Stephen Briggs) • The Discworld Companion

  (with Stephen Briggs) • The Discworld Mapp

  (with Stephen Briggs)

  ALSO BY NEIL GAIMAN

  NOVELS

  Anansi Boys • American Gods • Neverwhere • Stardust

  SHORT FICTION

  Fragile Things • Smoke and Mirrors

  FOR CHILDREN

  MirrorMask (with Dave McKean) •

  The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish •

  The Wolves in the Walls (both illustrated by Dave McKean) •

  Coraline

  GRAPHIC NOVELS

  with Dave McKean

  Violent Cases • Signal to Noise • Mr. Punch

  Sandman

  Preludes & Nocturnes • The Doll’s House •

  Dream Country • Season of Mists • A Game for You •

  Fables and Reflections • Brief Lives • World’s End •

  The Kindly Ones • The Wake

  Death

  The High Cost of Living • The Time of Your Life

  Miscellaneous Graphic Novels

  The Books of Magic • Miracleman: The Golden Age • Black Orchid

  NONFICTION

  MirrorMask: The Illustrated Film Script of the Motion Picture from

  The Jim Henson Company (with Dave McKean) • The Alchemy of

  MirrorMask (by Dave McKean; commentary by Neil Gaiman) •

  Don’t Panic • Ghastly Beyond Belief (with Kim Newman)

 
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