Authors: Terry Pratchett
About the Book
In the four decades since his first book appeared in print, Terry Pratchett has become one of the world’s bestselling and best-loved authors. Here for the first time are his short stories and other short-form fiction collected into one volume.
A Blink of the Screen
charts the course of Pratchett’s long writing career: from his schooldays through to his first writing job on the
Bucks Free Press
; to the origins of his debut novel,
The Carpet People
; and on again to the dizzy mastery of the phenomenally successful Discworld
Here are characters both familiar and yet to be discovered; abandoned worlds and others still expanding; adventure, chickens, death, disco and, actually, some quite disturbing ideas about Christmas, all of it shot through with his inimitable brand of humour.
With an introduction by Booker Prize-winning author A.S. Byatt, illustrations by the late Josh Kirby and drawings by the author himself, this is a book to treasure.
A Blink of the Screen
Collected Shorter Fiction
My thanks to my old friend and agent Colin Smythe who
spent a lot of time sieving through a lot of dusty old
newspapers to find my tracks. Amazingly, he really likes
doing this kind of thing …
FOREWORD BY A. S. BYATT
I remember buying my first Pratchett – it was
Men at Arms
– in a bookshop in Sloane Square. I badly needed to be psychologically elsewhere and the bright heap of Discworld novels looked like a possible retreat. I turned them over. At first glance Josh Kirby’s covers with pink and bosomy cartoon women as well as energetic dragons did not seem to be my kind of thing. I think what persuaded me was the word Ankh-Morpork. Anyone who could think that up was a real writer. And a discworld had been part of my childhood – there was an illustration in the book of Norse myths I had, of an Indian myth of a world balanced on four elephants on a giant turtle surrounded by a snake.
I took the book home, read it without stopping, and was hooked. I bought all the books and read them in order. Every summer, whilst thinking out my writing, I read them again. There is always a joke I hadn’t quite got. There is always the quite extraordinary narrative pull of a great storyteller. Later I came to appreciate Josh Kirby’s art
. His creatures have a gleeful wild energy and intricacy – both brash and sophisticated – which is exactly right for these tales.
Terry Pratchett says his readers are people who work with computers. But my literary friends are often addicted as I am – I once had a very polite tug-of-war over a new book (I think it was
Thief of Time
) with my scholarly and brilliant editor in a bookshop where I was giving a reading. Last week I had a good talk with a philosopher at a high table about imaginary worlds in general and Pratchett in particular. Also, people who don’t read, read Pratchett. Boys of twelve who hate books. I hope he is never taught in schools – his biography on the back of the books used once to claim that ‘some people had accused him of literature’, and of course he is literature, but best enjoyed in solitude and retreat.
J. R. R. Tolkien used the term ‘secondary worlds’ to describe fictive, invented worlds with their own creatures, geography, history, people. Human beings have always needed the existence of the other, the unreal – imaginary people and things that are other than ourselves – from fairy tales to myths to urban legends. A maker of secondary worlds needs great resources of inventiveness – both on the large scale and in the fine detail. Pratchett’s world is wonderful because he has the sheer energy of the great storyteller: you think you know all it is possible to know about a dragon, or a policeman, or a plot or a landscape, and he tells you more, a lot more than you had any right to expect, and this is exhilarating.
From book to book he gets better and his world gets more intricate. He gets more and more attached to his own characters, who become more complicated – consider the way in which Captain Vimes grows from being a drunk in charge of a dysfunctional Night Watch to a commander who can arrest two armies for a breach of the peace. He finds it hard to go on disliking characters. He can invent irritating minor forms of life: an imp that operates a
– or Disorganizer – belonging to Vimes, which is redeemed by the discovery that it can do the office accounts; an accountant called A. E. Pessimal, sent to inspect the Watchmen, who turns out to be a hero. (Wikipedia constantly illuminates Pratchett. I didn’t know that the word ‘pessimal’ means ‘bad to a maximal extent’ or ‘most wanting in quality or value’.) But he can do real evil too: take Mr Pin, the villain in
, or the Chief Quisitor, Vorbis, in
– both with the ferocious single-mindedness, true cruelty, and narrow vision which can’t change.
As Tolkien says, secondary worlds must be coherent. There is a risk of the creator being romantic, or being seen to have designs – didactic or sentimental – on the reader. I reread Tolkien for the landscape and the persistent sense of danger. I have problems with stories of real children who find themselves in secondary worlds – rather as though their reading had engulfed them. J. K. Rowling is a brilliant inventor of details of magic, but her world has its origin in a boarding school, a place to which I do not want to return. I never enjoyed C. S. Lewis, because I felt he was morally manipulating me as well as his characters. Philip Pullman writes beautifully and dramatically but he is writing against Lewis, and again runs the risk of becoming didactic and controlling. Pratchett, despite the slapstick, the terrible jokes and the very clever complicated jokes, is somehow wise and grown up. As a reader I trust him.
I was once asked by a television interviewer, ‘Isn’t all this simply really about us?’ and I indignantly replied, ‘No’, because I needed my secondary world to be other, separate and coherent. But he is of course writing about us. He is good at policemen, businessmen, fraudsters, murderers, banks and shares, and at music with rocks in it besides, as well as at goblins, witches, dragons, trolls and dwarfs. And of course, computers. But he writes neither satire nor allegory.
gets into his world is
his world, with its own energy and logic.
The shorter stories collected in
A Blink of the Screen
often consist of incursions from the secondary world into our world. A fantasy writer kills off his barbarian hero only to find him on his doorstep, come to ‘meet his maker’. Death dances in a disco. The first story, ‘The Hades Business’, was written when Pratchett was thirteen. It concerns the irruption of the Devil into an advertiser’s flat. Pratchett is apologetic about it but it has a gleeful pace and a very satisfactory ending. All his stories have satisfactory endings. I particularly like the one based on a real incident in 1973 when a lorry overturned in Hollywood let out some crates of chickens, who settled in a shrubbed verge. I like the weird one in which desperate travellers are trapped inside the world of Victorian Christmas cards, with snow covered with ‘tiny tinselly shards’, monstrous robins, and a ‘dreadful oblong slot’. There are tales about computers, including one, written in 1990, which is told by ‘an amiable repairman, not very bright but good with machines’ who works on machines inside which people create their own reality. (Again with a good ending.)
There is also a collection of stories from the Discworld – including a long and wicked one about Granny Weatherwax and a hilarious version of the national anthem of Ankh-Morpork.
And there is a grim little poem about how
They don’t teach you the facts of death,
Your mum and dad. They give you pets.
Pratchett comments, ‘I tried to write this as though I was thirteen years old, with that earnest brand of serious amateurishness. This is possibly not a long way from how I write at the best of times …’ I
see what he means. What his teacher understood when he was thirteen, and what we all, thirteen-year-olds, nerds and geeks, reading writers and university teachers, recognize with glee is that he is a born writer, a maker, inimitable.
Non-Discworld Shorter Writings
THE HADES BUSINESS
ARNELL, NO. 60, VOL. 20
N EARLIER VERSION WAS PUBLISHED IN THE
Argh, argh, argh … if I put my fingers in my ears and go ‘lalalala’ loudly I won’t hear you read this story
It’s juvenile. Mind you, so was I, being thirteen at the time. It’s the first thing I ever wrote that got published. In fact it’s the first thing I ever wrote with the feeling that I was writing a real story
It began as a piece of homework. The English teacher gave me twenty marks out of twenty for it, and put it in the school magazine. The kids liked it. I was a writer
And this was a big deal, because I hadn’t really been anything up until then. I was good at English. At everything else I was middling, one of those kids that don’t catch the teacher’s eye and are very glad of it. I was even bad at sports, except for the one wonderful term when they let us play hockey, when I was bad and very dangerous
But the other kids had liked it. I’d sniffed blood
There were three, yes, three professional sf and fantasy magazines published
the UK in those days. Unbelievable, but true. I persuaded my aunt, who had a typewriter, to type it out for me, and I sent it to John Carnell, who edited all three. The nerve of the kid