FLR: In an Authors Note to Nation you tell readers that the book is set not in the Pacific Ocean, but in a parallel universe. Was this alternate universe part of your idea for this story from the beginning?
TP: I simply needed a planet earth where things have happened a little differently, but was still very recognizable to us.
FLR: Because so much of the story feels like our world and history, did you ever find it difficult to see where the histories diverged? Did it feel like a separate reality from our own history as you were writing?
TP: Well, there were a series of very bad plagues in Europe in the latter part of the 19th century, and they were generically known as the "Russian Flu." Ive also mucked about with Kings and Queens and changed a few dates. However, once you get past all that, it is pretty much our world. In fact, it would not be unreasonable to believe in a Crete-like civilization in the southern hemisphere during one of the Ice Ages. After all, it would only take a few tens of thousand years to remove all traces of humanity from this planet if we all died out suddenly. And ours is a big, solid, technical civilization. Imagine how quickly nature would reclaim that which had nothing more than a Bronze Age technology!
FLR: Was there a particular character in Nation that you most identified with while writing?
TP: At some time or other practically every single one of them :-)
FLR: Most of your books have a great deal of humor in them—is Nation a conscious departure from that pattern? While it does have some funny moments, overall the tone is much more serious. Is there a reason you wanted to tell this story now?
TP: I came up with the idea of the story in early 2003. Just as I began writing it, the Asian tsunami happened, and I thought it may be considered crass to publish a book then. But about 18 months ago I realized that if I didnt write it now my head would explode. In any case, the events are largely based on those that followed the explosion of Krakatoa in the 19th century. As a matter of fact, a lot of Discworld books are more serious than you think. An English writer, G. K. Chesterton, once pointed out that seriousness is not the opposite of funny. He said "The opposite of serious is not serious and the opposite of funny is not funny." In a nutshell, you can use humor to get across a very serious idea. As far as I am concerned it was the right time to write a book that had been cooking in my brain for some four years. I have no idea how it got there.
FLR: Daphne and Mau are first shown as typical examples of people from their respective cultures before we see them develop and mature. How do you keep characters from appearing as stereotypes?
TP: Mau may be typical of his culture, although its clear as the book progresses that he was probably brighter and more observant than the average kid, long before the wave. Daphne, on the other hand, is the daughter of an aristocrat and is hardly typical of the average kid in the middle of the 19th century in the US or the UK! The point about the book is that anything stereotypical about either of them is soon erased by the hugely unfamiliar problems they have to encounter. As Mau says later in the book, "The wave made us." The things they had to deal with turned them into new people.
FLR: Do you start with an end result of the story in mind or do the story and characters take on lives of their own and grow in directions you did not originally anticipate?
TP: Your latter surmise is correct :-)
FLR: You have said that you enjoy the fantasy genre because it is easier to bend the universe around your story. As you wrote more and more books set in the Discworld universe, did you ever start to find the laws in that created universe conflicting with your plot ideas? In other words, has that universe gradually become more difficult to bend?
TP: Fantasy writing does not necessarily bend the universe around the story plot. But having created a universe the author has to obey the laws that they have created. You cant just have a flying pig out of nowhere. You can have flying pigs if you set out to make rules for the universe that allow pigs to fly. In other words, you do not make it up as you go along. You make it up and then you go along.
FLR: Your first story appeared in your school magazine at age 13, and was commercially published two years later. This is such a young age. Did you ever wish it would have taken you longer to become published? Do you have any advice for young teen writers today?
TP: Absolutely not! I get asked this all the time and I am sure people think that theres a magic website somewhere that authors access. Before you can become a writer you have to be a reader, and you have to read everything. Not just books, but peoples moods and expressions. And you have to think about what you read. Being a writer is not a profession, it is a way of life and often quite a lonely one. If you think you have the good ideas and cant get started, its because youre not a writer. If you cannot finish what you have started, its because youre not a writer. Not being a writer is not a bad thing. The world is full of people who are not writers who manage perfectly well. You cant become a writer just by feeling good about yourself and knowing that youre a writer. You become a writer by sitting down and writing and finishing what you start and writing it well enough that people will want to read it. Sad, but true.
FLR: Can you tell us any special inside information about the first US Discworld convention, to be held in Tempe, Arizona next September? How do you think it might differ from the UK convention?
TP: Well, I hope that it will have a lot more Americans in it! I imagine that a fair number of Brits will come over as well.
FLR: Do you notice any differences between your US and your UK fans in general?
TP: Fans are fans. They often have far more in common with fans in other countries than with non-fans in their own.
FLR: Is it true that your novels are the most shop-lifted in Britain?
TP: Would you care to prove that allegation? This was as a result of a not very extensive survey in 1996. I doubt very much whether that is still the case.
FLR: Are there any current plans to make more of your books into feature or animated films?
TP: Quite a lot is happening behind the scenes at the moment, but I am not going to say any more.
FLR: Is it difficult to come up with ideas for new books after you have written so many?
FLR: Will your next book also be for teens—do you write with a specific audience in mind?
TP: Strictly speaking, it will be an adult Discworld book, but any teen worth their salt should be reading them by now anyhow. Yes, I write for older children/teens and I write for adults. I know in my own mind which group I am writing for when I am writing a particular book. I also know that a lot of adults will read the work for kids and I know that a lot of kids will read the works for adults. Thats how it goes. People who are readers will read anything they like!
FLR: Do you ever see yourself writing anything— aside from your recent advocacy for Alzheimers research—set entirely in ordinary reality?
TP: I dont know. Maybe.
FLR: When a librarian presents one of your books to a potential reader, what would you most like the librarian to say?
TP: Read this book or giant luminous lobsters will come into your bed at night and gnaw your toes off!
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