We were lucky enough to speak to Drs Pat and Jan Harkin before the release of A Stroke of the Pen – a collection of very early short stories by Terry Pratchett. Pat and Jan played an integral role in unearthing these stories from the vast vault known of the British Library’s newspaper archives.
On top of that, Pat Harkin was part of Terry Pratchett’s “Greek chorus” – the small collection of experts who he’d call up (at all hours of the day or night) to ask disquieting questions about scientific or procedural intricacies.
Pat’s also the keeper of a vast collection of Discworld memorabilia and ephemera, a regular face (and gavel) at Discworld conventions, and target of “quacks” the world over.
And read the whole transcript below:
Francine: Hello and welcome to a special bonus episode of The Truth Shall Make You Fret.
A couple of weeks ago, Joanna and I were delighted to be joined by Doctors Pat and Jan Harkin, the diligent researchers who combed through years of newspaper archives to collate the material for A Stroke of the Pen, a collection of 20 early short stories by Terry Pratchett, which is released on Tuesday. As well as this, Dr Pat Harkin was one of Pratchett’s trusted experts. He is a retired pathologist, a Discworld Uber fan, member of the Order of the Honeybee and guardian of a gigantic collection of Discworld memorabilia.
Dr Jan Harkin has, since retiring from her role as a nationally prominent physician, spent more time on the convention circuit herself and even shared a pointless Discworldian quiz. She is also the keeper of Pat’s extelligence. I’ll let them fill in the details. They are fantastic storytellers and I know you, dear little listeners, on your dear little legs, will enjoy their tales mightily. So, let’s make a podcast.
Joanna: Hello and welcome to The Truth Shall Make You Fret, a podcast in which we are usually reading and recapping every book from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, one at a time, in chronological order. I’m Joanna Hagan.
Francine: I’m Francine Carrel.
Joanna: And we have a couple of very special guests with us today.
Francine: We have Drs Harkin, Dr Pat Harkin and Dr Jan Harkin, who are Discworld superfans both, is that fair?
Pat: We’ve been called worse.
Jan: Yeah. I just tag along.
Pat: I think they call it, she’s my enabler, you know.
Jan: I’m his carer.
Francine: On the convention blurb, I’ve got you down as in Discworld circles, she is known as that poor, poor woman.
Jan: Yes. From Sir Terry himself.
Francine: And Pat Harkin, Maskerade MC (quack), which I may have found a clue to in some of the old Usenet groups, but I’m not entirely sure how it started.
Pat: It’s one of those things that you sort of can’t believe it happened, but it happened. It started out when I was compering the Maskerade, must have been about 2010. I’m not absolutely sure. And one of the acts was a chap who had made himself a set of dwarf seamstress armour with filigree mining axe and a little lantern on a pole and whatever.
This guy’s called Alex Carlton. He’s one of the Smoking Gnu. He is Saint Alex. The character is named after him. He’s got a beard that you could lose two badgers in. It’s very, very impressive. He makes a fantastic dwarf.
So he had also written for himself a little song that he sang as this dwarf seamstress, but he’d recorded it and then electronically manipulated it to shove it up an octave or two. So it was like he was on helium. And he danced around the stage, and because of the way the stage was set up, my podium was ahead of where the action was. So he was behind me. I’d seen the rehearsal, so I knew what was going on, but it was technically out of my sight. And it was a sight, I think is a good phrase to say.
When it ended– incidentally, he dies at the end of his dance because the next act was going to be CSI Morpork and he was going to be their corpse– but anyway, so it comes to the end of his section, the stage lights go down, my podium light comes up, and there is a stunned silence from the audience.
And I just looked out at them and said, “It’s all right for me. I can’t see a thing. You lot are sitting ducks.”
And somebody went, “quack”.
From the closing ceremony, the amateur dramatics crew had brought their duck quack that they had, and they started quacking. And since then, I’ve been quacked at in the street down in Abingdon waiting for one of Stephen’s play… anytime I end up on stage: quack, quack, quack, quack, quack.
The house is full of rubber ducks that people keep giving me. Small ones, large ones.
Jan: From every continent, I think. We had a Boston Redsocks rubber duck sent by a fan.
Pat: He’s in the bathroom, isn’t he? Yes.
Jan: And there’s all sorts of duck paraphernalia like a duck shower cap and a French toast mould in the shape of a duck. Amazing.
Pat: A snowball maker. A thing for making snowballs shaped like ducks.
Francine: Oh! I never would have imagined there was such a thing.
Joanna: It honestly hadn’t occurred to me there was that much duck merchandise in the world.
Francine: The world continues to surprise me. I love that. Sorry, Joanna, I’ve immediately taken this off topic.
Joanna: That’s the entire podcast is us going off topic.
Quick note on spoilers. We are a spoiler light podcast. We will mostly be talking today about A Stroke of the Pen. We will avoid spoiling any major future events in the Discworld series past Thud!, which is technically the book we’ll be on by the time this comes out. And of course, we will save any and all mention of The Shepherd’s Crown until we get there. So you, dear listener, can come on the journey with us.
Francine: And what a journey it’ll be.
Joanna: It will be.
Introductions – who are Pat and Jan Harkin?
Joanna: So, Pat and Jan, in the nicest possible way, who are you and how do you know Terry Pratchett?
Pat: Who am I? My name’s Pat Harkin. I’m now retired. But I got into Terry’s writings by accident sometime in the late 80s. I’m not sure exactly when. We went to visit a friend in London as we were packing the car to come home. He picked up a paperback and said, I’ve just finished this. You might like it. And he handed me The Colour of Magic. And I read The Colour of Magic, and I loved it. And I started reading everything I could find. And so it grew.
I missed the first convention, went to the second one. And down the years, got to know Terry, we became friends. He would occasionally ring me when he wanted advice on some technical aspect, usually to do with dead bodies, because my background was in pathology.
So he would ring up and say: “How much earwax do you produce in a lifetime?”
Or: “How strong would you have to be to rip somebody’s head off with your bare hands?”
Just the sort of questions that you can’t answer on the spot. You have to go away and do a bit of research. And I probably got a bit of reputation from the local university libraries for the books I was borrowing.
But anyway, so I helped Terry out and things like that. He named me in the intro to Slip of the Keyboard as Lord of the Uberfans. It was a lot cooler title before the taxi app came along.
Yeah, but it’s too late to go back now.
Francine: It’ll outlast the app. Don’t worry about it.
Pat: And when Terry died, he left instructions in his will for Rob to create an order to thank people who’d helped Terry during his life. The Venerable Order of the Honey Bee. This was announced at the memorial at the Barbican. And I have a beautiful golden bee lapel pin, which Rob had crafted. There’s about a dozen of us. Stephen Briggs, you’ll have met, he’s got one. Bernard Pearson, Colin Smythe, of course. And a small number of others.
So that’s who I am. Jan? Who are you?
Jan: Yeah, we got married just after we qualified. I went into hospital medicine. So I had a lot less free time than Pat, who is a university person. So I didn’t go to as many of the early conventions because I was on call and things like that. But we’ve since retired, both of us retired. And so it’s been great fun getting more into the conventions.
I was roped into chairing a Pointless quiz at the Irish Discworld Convention a year or two back, which was really interesting. We had no technology. We had people making boopy boop noises rather than the slick electronics. So, yes, it was good fun.
And I act as the sort of travel agent and general gopher whenever we’re sorting out cons, you know, I’m the travel agent for him. But yeah, it’s been great fun.
We’ve been privileged to meet up with Terry a lot. The fandom is just so great and funny. And it’s been amazing to visit people all over the world who are now our friends through Terry. That’s really lovely.
Francine: Brilliant. Have you been to many of the international conventions?
Jan: Yes. I mean, when I was working, I had a national role and in my specialty. So I was going to a lot of international conferences anyway. It was great that we could sometimes tag them together. So I went to a medical conference in Seattle and then flew down to Tempe for the American Discworld con. So we could sort of do it all in one trip.
Pat: We’ve been to all the American cons, missed the first Australian one. And we’ve been to all the German ones as well. So we’ve been to a few. One or two.
Jan: I’ve only been to one German one myself. It was the first one this year. It was great fun.
The Pratchett Uncertainty Principle
Francine: Cool. So part of the kind of meeting Pratchett origin story was online, was it not? As some kind of tech support, possibly?
Pat: Yes. Back in, it will have been the late 80s. Again, I didn’t know this was going to be important. So I didn’t make notes at the time. Oh no. Sorry. Sorry about that. I get told off because I will tell a tale and the next time I tell it, it’s slightly different. And it’s, well, I haven’t got any notes.
Francine: We fully endorse changing stories on this podcast.
Pat: Back in the late 80s, PCs were just becoming available for the domestic market, but really only sad nerds had a computer at home. So I had a computer at home and Terry had a computer at home.
And at this point I should switch into old fogey mood and say, you young people don’t know how good you got it these days with your computer equipment. You want two things to work together, you buy them, you put them down sort of vaguely side by side and press a button. And it all happens by magic.
In the olden days, if you wanted to add, as I did, a CD drive, this is cutting edge technology, a thing that could read CDs to your computer, you had to take the side off the case, stick in a circuit board, move some little dip switches around, get it all working.
And I had one of these gadgets and I’d got it working and Terry had got one as well and couldn’t get his working. So he posted a request for help on a bulletin board thing called Kix, which we could sort of talk to each other. Not in real time, you would sort of type something loaded up. It was a bit like email conversations, but public email conversations or Reddit, I suppose, something like that. And I was able to help Terry out.
And I also met Terry. So I met him online at some point. I don’t know exactly when. And I met him when he came to a book signing in my local bookstore, but I’m not sure when. So one of those was technically the first.
I didn’t realise he was Terry Pratchett online because of pseudonyms. And so I sort of realised afterwards, oh, I may or may not have met you already. I don’t know. I don’t know how I first met him.
Francine: I do like that.
Pat: It’s the opposite of the dedicated fans. They can tell you to the second and how many people were in the queue behind them.
Francine: Oh yes. “I met him in all kinds of places. Who can say when was the first? “I think that’s much better. “We were around.”
Pat: The Pratchett uncertainty principle.
Part of the Greek Chorus
Francine: Yeah. Oh, excellent. And then, obviously, your friendship grew with him over the years and you became one of the trusted experts – as Joanna’s put it here, the Greek chorus.
Pat: Yes. That was what Terry referred to us as. Well, I didn’t find that out until that BBC documentary.
Whenever Terry wanted you to answer a question, he would give you precisely what he thought was enough information to be going on and nothing else. It was really frustrating.
So in theory, I had sort of first sight into all these books. But in practice, I know what happened at the bottom of page 87 and that’s it. “I have no idea who these people are. Why do I care if they’re in a river?” He just wants to know what they’ll be like after they’ve been found three days later.
Francine: I love that you get to cut a random window into a universe and try and extrapolate from that.
Pat: Yeah. The how much earwax one was a good one. We were out one Sunday morning, our microwave had died and we were in Curry’s getting a new microwave. The phone rang and it said “number withheld”, which usually meant it was the university ringing. So I thought, I’ve got to take this.
I went outside, and I answered, and it was Terry. And he opened with: “This stays between us, or there will be trouble.” Which is not his normal opening gambit.
I said, “Okay, okay. What is it?”
He said, “How much earwax do you create in a lifetime?”
And I thought for a minute, and I said, “Do you know, Terry, I think I may have been absent for that lecture at medical school. I don’t remember them teaching us that. I’ll have to look into it.”
So I spent many a happy hour digging through ENT textbooks and papers and references and whatever. Till eventually I found some guys who, back in the seventies, had developed a technique for measuring earwax. They just filled your ear with alcohol and then slooshed it out and weighed the difference. But anyway, I was able to come up with an answer for him. We worked out it was about an egg cup full, which seems a very small amount, but that’s what these scientists said it was. So that’s what he went with.
Well, same thing happened with- he rang me one day: “I want you to imagine a magic door that you can walk through that takes you to another place – but you can’t take anything iron with you.”
I said, “Yeah, okay.”
He said, “But what about the iron in your blood?”
So we talked it through, and I was able to work out a mechanism that the iron in your blood is not metallic iron, it’s different, it’s not magnetic. So we can say whatever this magic door is doing, it won’t do it to magnetic or metallic iron. And you get away with it from that point of view.
But interestingly enough, if you were to swallow a bucket full of ball bearings and then walk through the door, you’d go through and all the ball bearings would fall to the ground behind you because they’re not going through the door. Your body goes away, they fall to the ground. And he quite liked that.
And I thought at the time, this is going to be another elves story, back to the land of the elves where they hate iron. But it was actually early research work for the Long Earth series.
Francine and Joanna: Oh, wow.
Pat: Did he give me a clue that it was for something other than Discworld? No. He told me what I needed to know to answer the question he wanted answered.
And that was such a privilege. I’m fine with that.
Francine: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
Joanna: That’s wonderful. Oh, I love that.
A Stroke of the Pen – how did it happen?
Joanna: So we’re on the eve of, well, not quite the eve, of A Stroke of the Pen coming out, and you were both instrumental in putting the book together.
Francine:A Stroke of the Pen is collected works hitherto unseen. How has that happened?
Pat: One of the Discworld books starts, “Everything starts somewhere, though some physicists disagree.” And that’s very much this story. It’s got about three starts.
From Jan’s perspective and mine, it started when Colin rang us to say that a fan who had contacted him – a chap called Christopher Lawrence, I think – had, as a child, collected clippings from the local paper, which were a short story by Terry in, I think it’s 36 parts. And he had collected all these cuttings and still had them some 40, 50 years later, mounted, framed and mounted in a board.
But in doing this, he had cut off all the information as to which date or which paper each piece of clipping had come from. And then Colin had never heard of this story, didn’t know where to go for it. So he contacted us. Jan, you’d spoken to him before.
Jan: Yes, it was at a conference dinner. Again, I can’t quite remember the date. But Colin was normally going to Colindale to dig out the old newspapers that contained Terry’s early journalism. But he was getting news that Colindale was closing and the British Library were opening a new newspaper archive building out in a place called Boston Spa.
And he was generally asking, well, you know, where is this place and does anybody live nearby? And I said, well, we’re about 20 minutes’ drive from there. It’s just outside Weatherby, which is a small market town outside Leeds. And, you know, made the general connection that if he needed us to look for anything, we would.
And that died for years – years and years and years. And then I think just as we retired, again, I think Colin contacted us for a few confirmation issues he had with some of the early journalism.
And so we joined the British Library as readers and went over to have a look at Boston Spa, which is a lovely little library in itself. The reading room at Boston Spa is about the size of your district general library size. It’s not big at all. It has a couple of booths for private meetings and then a whole load of readers’ desks and an absolutely huge campus of buildings behind it, which contain more than three quarters of the British Library stock, including the newspaper library.
So, we ordered the stuff online. The lovely librarians, they were great, would pull the stuff out. We’d check out on these stories for Colin and, you know, we’d have a nice lunch there. There’s also a rather pleasant village, Boston Spa, where we could have a pub lunch, you know. So it was a nice day out, sort of half day, to check these things out.
And then along came this issue with The Quest for the Keys. So we then started to get a bit more systematic about it, didn’t we, Pat?
The Eureka Room
Pat: Yes. Not knowing where to start looking was a bit of a challenge. I think Christopher had said it was probably the Western Daily Press, but he couldn’t be sure. And he said, it’s about 50 years ago.
So we looked at… Colin had sent us a few pictures of some of the clippings. We had a look at those. We saw that the action took place, or at least starts, in the city of Morpork. Not Ankh Morpork, but Morpork.
And I reckoned that meant that the story was probably before The Colour of Magic. I didn’t think Terry would have reused the name after he’d sold the book. So that probably gave us one end of the timescale. And having been told “about 50 years before”, that took us back to 1972, which is just before Terry started working at the Western Daily Press. That’s where we started from.
And each week we would request a year’s worth or 18 months’ worth of newspapers, which would be delivered to the reading room. And we would sit down and go through them laboriously, page by page.
I’d been involved in some cataloguing projects at the university. And one thing I’d learned was, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s better to do too much than to miss something and then have to go back and start again. So we collected all sorts of information that we probably wouldn’t need.
So at one point we were collecting not only which page a piece of writing was on, but whereabouts on the page it was. Colin seems to regard that as very interesting. All sorts of stuff, volume numbers, dates, places and so on.
Jan and I would work separately but together. So we’d be working on the same year, but different months or different quarters. We’d go through them at the end of the day. We would get together to combine our two sets of findings into one spreadsheet. And that was the system that we worked for some weeks. That worked quite well.
Jan: Yeah, the library were really, really helpful. When they realised that we were working together, they gave us one of the private side rooms. So that, you know, if we did let out a little shriek of enthusiasm, having found a bit of television journalism, we didn’t disturb the other readers.
Francine: Oh, nice. The Eureka room.
Pat: But although we’d found, when we were looking for the non-fiction material, we’d found something most weeks. When we started for this, there was nothing to see. It took us a while to find out where in the various newspapers the children’s stories were held. They were in a standard column. It was different in each paper, but we eventually got to know the structure.
Western Daily Press, I think all the stories were attributed to an Uncle Jim. And Terry was Uncle Jim at some point, but nobody knows when. Other journalists, I think it was something you probably gave to the new guy who came in and got all the rotten jobs, was writing the children’s column each week.
Jan: I think it was the Bucks Free Press where it was Uncle Jim. It was the Children’s Circle in Western Daily Press. And they, yeah, the children’s column had different authors, didn’t it?
Should we do that bit again? Because that’s a bit confusing.
Pat: No, because I’ll get it wrong again. I’ll just point out that, like War in the Discworld novels, I keep my memory in my wife.
Joanna: That makes sense. Francine was saying yesterday she uses me as a filing cabinet.
Francine: It’s very convenient for me. Thank you.
Pat: Of course, Jack and Ian refer to it as “extelligence”.
Francine and Joanna: Yes.
Pat: The fact that information lives outside individual people. And that’s what makes us what we are. But anyway, back to the plot. Yeah.
Jan: The Bucks Free Press had Children’s Circle, which was the pseudonym Uncle Jim.
Francine: Got it.
Pat: Whereas the Western Daily Press actually gave names to the writers. And as I said earlier, we decided we would collect more information that we needed. So although we had no interest in Colin Morningstar writing a story called The Haunted Lavatory or something, we would carefully write down all the titles, page numbers, dates and times, so that we could be quite sure we weren’t accidentally missing out a month’s newspapers. Because it would have been quite easy for me to do January and March, Jan to have done April and May, and poor old February get forgotten.
So we kept track of all the information.
The end of one afternoon, we are combining our two sets of findings into one spreadsheet. Jan was reading out to me and I was typing. We could do this because we were in this nice shared room that we were allowed to talk in.
And she read out, first story today is the Blackberry Pie by Patrick Cairns. Second one, the Blackberry Thing. And the Blackbury Weather. Yeah.
And on that one, as I was typing it, Jan said, oh, the spelling’s unusual. It’s B-L-A-C-K-B-U-R-Y. It’s not Blackberry as in Blackberry Pie.
And I thought, oh, hang on. That sounds familiar. Blackbury, Johnny and the Dead, Johnny and the Bomb, Only You Can Save Mankind. They’re set in Blackbury. How can we check?
Well, Blackbury from the books was in the little county of Gritshire. And we had to look back through a couple of the stories and there was a reference to Gritshire. And at that point we thought, I’m not going to get excited yet. I’m reserving the right to get excited in a moment. Because it could just be a coincidence. It might just be that the journalists at that newspaper shared a common background that they wrote the stories against. And you moved on, somebody else came in and wrote a story in Blackbury. So it could have been there.
But we thought, right, well, we better tell Colin.
So we got in contact with Colin pretty quick and explained what had happened and sent him some photographs of the pages that we’d found. And he said, “Well, it’s certainly in Terry’s style.
“And what I know that you don’t know is that Cairns was Terry’s mother’s maiden name.”
So he was Terry Cairns in a way of speaking. And Colin reckons that Patrick and Pratchett are close enough together that Terry Pratchett became Patrick Cairns.
Pat: And at that point, we then went back in time to stories that we had looked at and ignored. We’d made our notes that Patrick Cairns had written other things.
And then we went looking for other stuff. Jan found some non-children’s works by Patrick Cairns. And in Christmas specials of the various newspapers.
Jan: He did three or four Christmas specials. We actually found one page where we had a bit of journalism titled Terry Pratchett byline. And next to it was a Christmas story bylined Patrick Cairns on the same page.
Francine: Kept it separate. Love that.
Jan: Well, Terry already had a couple of pseudonyms, didn’t he? He had Marcus, which he used to put, again, more factual things that he did for the Bucks Free Press midweek editions later on. So he was known to use a pseudonym, but not Patrick Cairns.
So we sent all this stuff off to Colin. Interestingly, you can’t photocopy in the British Library. They expect you to take pictures or email or whatever, you know, if you’re using the readers. So yeah, we then waited for Colin’s phone call. It was exciting.
Pat: It certainly was. Yeah.
The Quest for The Quest for the Keys
Francine: And from there, it kind of evolved into a bigger project?
Pat: Well, how can I put this? It was very exciting to find this stuff by Terry. It’s not what we came here for. We were looking for the Quest for the Keys.
Francine: Yes, that’s right, sorry!
Pat: So we’d found all this new stuff by Terry, and we went backwards several years and we went forward several years. We found all that, but we still hadn’t found the Quest for the Keys.
So we thought, we looked through another couple of years and another couple of years. Eventually we thought, well, maybe it’s not actually in these newspapers. As far as I can tell, back in the 1970s, newspapers changed their names about two or three years. The Bucks Free Press would become the Bucks Daily Press, would become the Bucks Midweek Press, would become the, oh, I don’t know, made it really hard to keep track of stuff.
But we thought maybe we’ve been sent up a dead end. We’ll do one more year, one more year, and then we’ll have a look. So we started on 1984. We got all the way through to August with nothing. And then in July, there was part one of the quest for the keys, the byline of Terry Pratchett.
Pat: And there it continued daily during the summer holidays. And then when the kids went back to school, it swapped to being a weekly story for 36 episodes. So it is unique in that it’s the longest serialised fiction that Terry wrote. His other kids’ stories tend to be at most five-parters. This was 36.
With an embedded map and competition. We could have won a tent to go to camping. I mean, we were 40 years late for the entry date. Such sticklers, some newspapers.
So we have actually found the Quest for the Keys and it is set in Morpork. And it is actually published after the use of Ankh Morpork. So I was wrong in my assumption. In fact, if I had stuck to my guns, stuck to my convictions, we would have never gone back to 1984. We would have thought, it’s got to be earlier than that.
But that was finding the Quest for the Keys.
Mr Brown’s Holiday Accident (spoiler free)
And then in the middle, somewhere along the way, we found one last little titbit, which is probably the least important thing to have found, but it’s my favourite.
Terry wrote a story called Mr Brown’s Holiday Accident, about a chap who sets off on holiday – without wishing to give any spoilers here – and has an accident. And takes another three pieces to get back together again. It’s quite a nice little story.
But it was known that it had been published, or at least written in five parts. Parts one to four were present in the library archive and Colin knew about them. But part five, the following week’s paper, was no paper for that date. There is no copy of this paper for the 2nd of January, that particular year.
Why not? Well, I’ve been given several hypotheses. One is that there was industrial action and nobody wrote anything, so nobody printed anything. I’ve also been told that losing newsprint due to industrial action at paper mill was not uncommon, or shortage in supply lines. So there are all sorts of reasons for this.
And in fact, if you go to the library archive and get that magazine out, the first parts are there, and then there’s a blank in the date. And then the very next issue of the paper has in pencil on the front, June 2nd, NP, not printed. So, you know, this had been accepted as that’s what happened. It wasn’t printed.
And this story is lost forever. But…
I had been going through newspapers and photographing everything. Remember I said, collect stuff even if you don’t need it. So the stories in the Bucks Free Press, the ones with Uncle Jim, were not given titles. When you look at Terry’s collections of children’s short stories that have recently been issued, there are titles in there. Those are titles that Colin made up because we had to call them something.
So the missing element of the Bucks Free Press was thought gone forever, but I had photographed everything. And at the end of the day, when I wanted to tie a piece of newsprint to a title, I would use Colin’s website. Because Colin would say, this was published on these dates in August 1972, under the title, Mr Flopsy Has an Adventure, or whatever.
So I was going through these and matching them all up. And I went to the website, and it went for Jan 2nd, and this story was never printed. I thought, it is, I’ve got it on the other computer screen. And I looked back to the other computer screen, and I hadn’t got it on the other computer screen. Not a trace of it.
I thought, odd.
Francine: We’re starting to get like lingering smell of bananas type mystery here, aren’t we?
Pat: Yeah. So I had accidentally closed one window too many, but I went back and sorted through the files again. In fact, there it was.
But it wasn’t in the newspaper that the other four parts were in. The missing newspaper, the June 2nd edition, had never gone on sale. It had been given away inside another newspaper.
Inside the, and again, Jan will correct me, the Midweek Free Press.
Jan: That’s right. Yeah.
Pat: Oh, a sweetie. Right. I get a reward for getting one right.
Jan: It’s complicated, this story.
Pat: The story had been misfiled for 40 years, 50 years.
Pat: And I’m kind of more proud of that one than the massive Quest for the Keys. When we started out, we knew The Quest for the Keys existed. We just didn’t know where. The Patrick Cairns stuff, nobody knew existed. So we weren’t looking for it.
But the little missing bit of Mr Brown’s adventure was known to have existed and been lost. And somehow to have lost a bit of Terry’s writing seemed so terrible. Somehow it seems worse than not knowing of it, but to know that you’ve lost it.
Francine: Yeah. And to find it where so many others had failed.
Jan: Yeah. The whole story’s in the book, isn’t it now?
Pat: It is.
Francine: Oh, super.
Pat: And the other thing I like about it is it uses a literary device that Terry reuses in one of the Discworld novels. And I won’t tell you what it is. You can find it out.
Francine: Fantastic. I look forward to that.
Pat: That’s not a sales pitch for the book. I don’t get commission.
Francine: No, no. I don’t think you really need to do the hard sell on our audience, to be honest.
Pat: No, no.
Pratchett was “one of the best authors from a fan’s perspective”
Pat: I did once ask Terry at a convention, “Do you ever look round and think, what have I done?”
He said, “Every bloody day.”
But I have to say, I think he was one of the best authors from the fan’s perspective that has ever been.
Again, I did once ask him, “If you didn’t spend so many hours at signings, just writing your name over and over and over again, how many more Discworld novels would there be?”
And he said, “I think there’d be about half as many.”
Francine: Oh, well, that’s wonderful.
Pat: He loved talking to his fans and he took inspiration from them.
Francine: That is lovely.
Yeah. In Rob’s book, A Life with Footnotes, I did enjoy the early stories of Pratchett going to a couple of conventions himself and speaking to the greats and that inspiring him. And it is wonderful how that carried on to his ethos with dealing with fans later. That’s fantastic.
Tying in slightly with what we were saying earlier about the news groups, the forums and everything. One of my favourite little random bits of research to do before we start covering a book is to find his comments in those news groups about that particular book. And I do enjoy how cantankerous he gets sometimes with the bad annotations.
Pat: Oh, yes, yes. There’s the public Terry Pratchett and the Neil Gaiman Terry Pratchett. Neil paints a more realistic picture. But kindly.
Francine: Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, it was at the same time lovely. I think, yeah, it’s just funny when you pick out the “I’m sick of this” ones.
Outclassing Mr Flopsy and dismissing writer’s block
Francine: So all these stories then, you found these wonderful gems. And at what point did they coalesce into we’re going to make a book out of these? Was it Colin Smythe?
Pat: It was Colin. Yeah.
Jan: I mean, we had no inkling that they were going to go into a book or when it took some time before we found that out.
Francine: Cool. So you were saying you’d seen some kind of a literary device definitely used and we’ve had the name Morpork. Once you started reading these, these stories under the aliases or under Pratchett’s name, was it easy to see him in there or the beginnings of his style, his work?
Pat: I can definitely tell you that Terry style was very, very different to all the other children’s writers writing for those newspapers at that time. How he compares to the sort of the greater universe of children’s authors, I’m not sure I’m qualified to judge.
But you’ll know that in– have you got to The Amazing Maurice in your read through yet?
Pat: It’s not really a spoiler anyway, but the rats have a book: Mr Bunsy Has an Adventure.
And there are some extracts from Mr Bunsy Has an Adventure and they are written in the style of the other writers from the early newspapers. The terrible, “Mr Flopsy hopped down the bank. Hoppity hoppity hoppity”.
So I think he was letting it out at that point. “This is what they expected me to write, but I knew better.”
Francine: Oh, you love the idea of a child picking up that edition of the newspaper and not knowing what hit them.
Joanna: No stories could do that.
Francine: Superb. Obviously, you were massive Pratchett fans already, putting it very lightly there. Did it, did all this kind of give you a new appreciation of Pratchett’s writing or a new, new angle to look at it from, or just adding to the foundation?
Pat: We’re pretty much so deep in that… the wrecked oil tanker on the bottom of the ocean does not notice the ripples on the surface.
Francine: Oh, what a nice metaphor.
Jan: I think it’s nice to see, you know, the early, the early stuff and, as we’ve said, yeah, how he developed.
Pat: Yeah. We’d read a lot of his journalistic nonfiction a few years ago when we were helping Colin again and see how he would cope with stories that you might think were unsalvageable.
Like, there are some ducks nesting in the cooling pond of this power plant. Write 300 words on it. Or, the local amateur dramatic group are doing Iolanthe this week. Go and write a report.
He was forced to write in a hundred topics, which he had no personal interest in, but he had to be good. He had to get the numbers out. He had to get the words out. He had to get the word count right. He had to make it readable. And that was, that was interesting.
Francine: Yeah. See how he developed the discipline.
Pat: Yes. Yes. He was reputed to have said about writer’s block, “I have a way of dealing with writer’s block. I sit down and I write.”
Because you’re a journalist, a junior journalist particularly, you have no sympathy for writer’s block. Get out there and write it.
Francine: “Boo hoo. Anyway, this was due an hour ago.” Yeah, absolutely.
Francine: So, A Stroke of the Pen is obviously coming out when this releases in just a couple of days, we’ve got the talk at the British Library coming up. Are you doing any more kind of promo, interesting events, that kind of thing?
Pat: Yes. We’re going to the Yeovil Literary Festival where we’ll be speaking, and being interviewed in Waterstones, and we’re going to an independent bookshop in Taunton a couple of days later.
Pat: Did I say Taunton?
Jan: Yeah. Yeah. No, it’s right.
Pat: Oh, good. Right. Me getting something right is so unusual that she has to come in.
Francine: Ah, super.
Pat: You know, and given that we are based in Yorkshire, this is the obvious place for us to be talking.
My local Waterstones? No, no interest at all. Taunton? Yeah, fine. Do come down.
Joanna: Nice excuse for a holiday in November.
Pat: Well, as luck would have it, I’m going to a convention in Plymouth the day before one of those tours. I can’t remember which one. So we actually can make it without it being too inconvenient.
Francine: Ah, super. Yeah. No, that’s not the easiest place to get to in the country, is it?
Joanna: Am I right in saying you’ll be at the Irish convention, Discworld convention in October as well?
Pat: Oh yes.
Joanna: Yes, you’ll be auctioning.
Pat: Take that for granted, yes.
Discworld memorabilia – the gargantuan collection
Francine: Moving on then from A Stroke of the Pen, if that’s all right. The thing you’re perhaps best known for within the Discworld circles is your incredibly impressive collection of oddities and ephemera and Discworldian miscellanea.
Pat: Yeah, I think that’s reasonably said. I never started collecting. It just happened.
Joanna: That’s what they all say.
Pat: I mean, if you, if you look around the house, you will find wardrobes crammed with convention programs, bars of chocolate from different conventions. It’s probably not edible anymore.
Francine: Well, everything’s edible once.
Pat: The Irish convention produced bars of chocolate.
All sorts of strange things. I have a shell casing from a nine millimetre Glock pistol that Terry fired.
Jan: You’ve still got the pickle somewhere.
Pat: I’ve still got the Holy Pickle.
The Holy Pickle
Francine: Yes, can you tell us about the pickle, please?
Pat: You wish to be initiated into The Order of the Pickle?
Francine: If that’s acceptable. Again, I found clues on the forums from many years ago.
Pat: Sometime around the, I don’t know, 2006, something like that. I’m not sure. There used to be biannual meetings in Wincanton where Bernard has the Discworld Emporium.
So every six months we would all bundle in the car and go down there.
And one of the events was always the charity auction. And this particular year, Terry had grown some onions in his own garden, pickled them and given them to Bernard as a Christmas present, since both Bernard and Terry are very fond of pickled things. Pickled walnuts, pickled eggs… you name it, they’ll have a go pickling it.
So Bernard ate the pickles, enjoyed all the pickles – all bar one, which he put back in the jar, sealed up and put in the auction as “a pickled onion grown by Terry Pratchett”. And I bought it. And the next time we were in Wincanton, I took it back and I put it back in the auction and I bought it again. And then I took it back and this time I let somebody else have it for a go. But when they brought it back the following year, I bought it again.
And I don’t know how many times I’ve bought it now, but it’s got to the point where you can’t tell there’s a pickle in there anymore. The liquor has gone opaque, or at least opalescent.
If the lighting is just right, if you happen to walk into the room at just the right time of day, you might glimpse the holy pickle. But basically, you will never see it. You have to believe in it.
Francine: It sounds like a ghost story. I love it. “…and on a quiet night, you can still hear the bells ringing.”
Pat: “On a quiet night, you can still hear Bernard burping over the last pickle.”
Francine: Much better.
The Luggage, the auctions, and the canoes
Joanna: Have you still got the prop luggage?
Pat: Oh, I do. Yes, he was out for his annual barbecue just a few weeks ago.
I went with Terry to one of his honorary degrees. I think it was Warwick, University of Warwick.
And over lunch, he said, “Would you like to have your own luggage?” This was shortly after Colour of Magic had been filmed.
And I thought for a moment, and I said, “Well, Terry, I would absolutely love to have my own luggage, but what could I do with it?
“It’s enormous. I can’t have it in the living room. I wouldn’t be able to see the television past it. It’s a lovely offer. Thank you very much. Thank you for thinking of me. But I have to say no.”
And he said, “Oh, well, never mind. I’ll think of something else.”
And he put it into the auction at the Birmingham Convention. So when it came to the auction, people were bidding, people were bidding. And then I suddenly realized who was bidding, or at least who one of the two bidding were.
And who might that have been?
Jan: Well, I just waved my paddle at the right time, you know. I knew he wanted it. It would go in the garden.
Pat: So we ended up paying 400 quid for something I could have been given for free. But anyway, we got it, and it’s for charity.
Now, the thing about film props – I have a couple of other ones as well – the thing about film props is they are designed to look good from a certain distance for a very short period of time. They tend to be fragile. They don’t look terribly good close up.
The luggage actually does look quite nice close up, but it was terribly fragile. He’s fibreglass.
I’m saying “he”– I think that’s canonical, isn’t it?
Pat: It’s quite fragile, made of fibreglass. And I thought, well, I know what I’ll do. I’ll pop down to Halfords, get some of the kits you get for mending car wings that have taken a dent, little patches of fibreglass. And I went down to Halfords and I found that enough to make a repair a hole about the size of a teaspoon was a ridiculous amount of money.
Francine: Oh, no.
Pat: To try and do the whole luggage was going to probably double the price.
So I thought, oh, well, never mind. I’ll think of something else.
And then I had a sudden thought. I work at a university which has a lot of students and students have societies. One of those societies will be a canoeing club. They will be used to mending fibreglass and buying it in industrial quantities. I will get on to them.
So I abused my powers as the moderator of the students mailing list to send a message to all the medical students. I’m retired now, so I can’t get into trouble, It’s all right.
Francine: Oh, well, that’s a fairly low level abuse of power, isn’t it?
Joanna: I think you can get away with that one.
Pat: What’s the point of having power if you don’t abuse it, I always say.
Pat: So I sent an email out saying, anybody here in the canoe club knows about mending boats.
And a couple of days later, I got a reply back from one of my students saying, I’m not in the canoe club, but my boyfriend has a business making fibreglass boats. So he’s got all the raw materials. He’s got all the equipment. He’s got the ovens. He’s got everything. He can do it.
I said, oh, that would be brilliant. So he came around and had a look at it and said, yeah, I can do that. Stuck it in his car, set off.
It’s a very slow process because he built a wooden frame and then coated the inside with fibreglass and then had to let it mature for a long time. So it was about two, three months before I got it back again.
And when he brought it back, he said, “I had it sitting out in the workshop, ready to bring back to you. One of my other customers came in and said, ‘Is that the luggage?’”
So the luggage had fans of its own. And now he lives in my garden under a barbecue cover. And then once or twice a year when we have a Discworld themed barbecue, he comes out and takes pride of place.
Discworld barbecues and quizzes
Francine: Oh, superb.
Joanna: That’s lovely.
Francine: What else happens at a Discworld themed barbecue?
Pat: We eat food, and we have a quiz.
The quiz is usually horribly, horribly difficult because people do this teams and can take time. So it’s not the sort of the Mastermind style, “What was the name of Twoflower’s child” or whatever. They do tend to be quite difficult.
For example, the Sedan Chair Challenge. If somebody wants to get from here to here, which of these routes?
“Sam Vimes wants to get home from the watch house to Ramkin Manor, what streets does he go down?”
Now that looks like an absolute git of a question, but it was written as multiple choice. There were four to choose from, and of course you look for one that starts in Pseudopolis Yard and ends in, is it Spoon Avenue?
Joanna: Scoone Avenue.
Pat: Scoone Avenue, yeah. So if you know where the Ramkins are, you can see that he has to end up there and he has to start somewhere where there’s a watch house. So it’s actually very easy.
And that’s the thing I most like about the quizzes. You hand them out and people go, “Oh, I hate you, hate you, hate you.”
And then I explain to them how easy they are, and they go, “I really, really hate you now.”
“We could have done that. We did know.”
Joanna: It’s not a barbecue without inducing some rage. An essential part of the gathering.
Francine: That’s why I enjoy your gatherings so much, Joanna.
Joanna: Thank you.
More jewels of the collection
Francine: So do you have any other bits in the collection that you’re particularly proud of that you’d like to mention in the roundup?
Pat: Um, it’s very, very difficult to say.
I suppose the nicest is the golden bee that Terry or Rob commissioned to have made for me, which is a beautiful work of art and an honour to have been given.
I tend to go for things because they’re odd rather than because there’s anything particularly special about them. So if you were at the last UK convention, you’ll have seen this item sold. I have a second one.
A few years ago, an American company called Hill House Press announced they were going to issue facsimiles of the Discworld novels. So I ordered the first three, which is as far ahead as you could order. And they delivered the first two and then went out of business. So there only are two facsimiles: The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic.
I found out about it in a slightly unusual way. I was at work and a parcel arrived for me and I opened it and I took out what appeared to be a pristine copy of the first edition of a Discworld novel.
And I thought, well, this is a really good copy. I’m going to give it a try. I opened it and I took out what appeared to be a pristine copy of the first edition of The Colour of Magic. The cover matched, the pages matched, the printer’s information on the inside matched, the ISBN matched.
And Terry had signed it just like the real thing and sent it to me. “Surely he’s not sending me a first edition Colour of Magic,” because even in those days, this was about 2000 quid, which is why I don’t have one.
And eventually I found a little disclaimer that said that this is a facsimile. So I had my facsimile signed by Terry for many years.
And then it occurred to me that Paul Kay, the actor, has sort of become the de facto Terry Pratchett. He played Terry in the Back in Black. And he’s also played various parts in Good Omens and The Watch, I think. But nonetheless, he has played Terry Pratchett.
So I got in contact with him through his agent saying, “If I was to send you a facsimile of The Colour of Magic, would you, as the facsimile Pratchett, sign it for me for the charity auction?
With lots of disclaimers about I am not some random nutter. I’m a very specific nutter.
Francine: Here are my nutter credentials.
Pat: Rob Wilkins, I hope, will vouch for me. What have you got back to me? Yeah, yeah, send them off. So I sent it off and he signed it: “Nothing like the real thing, Paul Kay”. So there is now a facsimile The Colour of Magic, signed by the facsimile Pratchett. There are only two – I’ve got one, Rob Wilkins has the other, which he bought at the charity auction.
Francine: Amazing. Excellent. And I suppose a slightly background question on it is, what made you want to collect all these things? We’ve been talking a lot about collection instincts because we’ve been reading Going Postal and obviously Stanley and his pins and his stamps and everything like that.
This is a very vague question, but what is it that brings you joy about it?
Pat: I Really don’t know. I was never a collector of stamps, for example. I collect books, or rather I never let a book go. I buy a book, I read it, it goes on the shelf. You can call that collecting if you like. But somehow the Pratchett stuff just built up and up.
And some stuff, you know, you sort of can’t get rid of that. To my right is a lifetimer from Hogfather.
Joanna: Is that one of the film props?
Pat: Yes, a film prop.
And I ended up with that by accident in that I was giving Rob a hand shifting stuff to the auction. We ended up in a very dark car park. When I unloaded the boot, the black lifetimer got left behind in the badly lit car.
Francine: Oh no.
Pat: It wasn’t until the following day that I realised it was still there. So I acquired it semi-illicitly. I did pay the equivalent into the charity auction to account for it.
But a few years ago, it got broken. We were burgled. And the burglar alarm went off in the middle of the night. We rushed downstairs. There in the living room, the TV unit’s been pulled over. And there on the floor, surrounded by sand and broken glass, is the lifetimer.
Francine: Oh, very ominous.
Pat: And Jan looked at me as if he’s going to go librarian poo over this, isn’t he?
I just looked at it and said, 17 seconds. Which, the number may well be wrong. It’s what Death says when Albert drops his lifetimer and it breaks, he picks up the rest, 17 seconds. So anyway, I now have the wooden stands. I have the sand, and some broken glass, which is not all that useful.
I thought, oh well, somehow this got made. I will find out who made it and where he got the thing from. So I emailed Rod Brown, one of the producers who made Hogfather and Colour of Magic. And I said, “Do you know where you got this from?”.
He said, “Uh, no. We just asked props if they could get one. They did.”
Okay. So I then went on the internet and just looked for hourglasses and hunted and hunted and hunted. And eventually I found a company who actually make, among other things, little glass beads that go into fire extinguisher sprinkler systems that burst at a particular temperature and let the water through.
They do all sorts of specialist glassware, including an hourglass which was the right size to fit in the stand I had. I’d measured up what I had.
So I then contacted them and said, “I want one of these. Will it fit a stand this size?”
And they said, “Yes. Do you know, we sold an awful lot of these about a year ago to a film company.” So I had actually found the right company.
I was able to, to, to repair it, put it back together. In the interim, I mentioned to Rod Brown that it had got smashed and he said, “Oh, I’ve got a spare one. Next time you’re in London, drop by the office and pick it up.”
So the next time I was in London, I dropped by his office. He was out, but his assistant was there, who said, “Yes, he’s left it in his office. I’ll go get it.” And he went, he got it, and he brought back a God’s lifetimer, which is about twice the size.
A very impressive piece of piece of proppery. But far too big to go in the box I had brought to carry my lifetimer in. I spent some time wobbling gently down Oxford street, trying to not to drop this thing. Jan was in London at a meeting. The plan was I was just going to go shopping and have a nice time that afternoon and then meet her at the train.
But I thought, no, I can’t, I cannot carry this. I will drop it. So I went to the railway station and asked to be let into the first-class lounge, please. I haven’t got a ticket because my wife’s got them. And so they let me into the lounge, and I was able to sit with in isolation with this fragile object. It was brilliant. And then she arrived at the end of the afternoon to pick me up and said, we don’t have first class tickets.
Oh, well, yeah, these things happen.
Francine: You’ve got a lifetimer of a god, what more do they want?
That reminds me, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there was a thread on Twitter that got quite popular earlier in the week of one of the props department on Good Omens talking about– because they burnt the shop down at the end of series one and they really burnt it down. Everything was destroyed and they didn’t realise it was going to be a series two – and the struggles they’ve had putting back together the exact props for continuity and hand painting this antique sink in particular. I love all that stuff.
Jan: There was a similar thing about the Hobbit, wasn’t there, that they after the first Lord of the Rings film, the farmer had his farm cleared of all the props and then they decided we’re going to make some more. So then they set up a more permanent Hobbiton set and it’s still there. You can go visit.
Pat: Terry’s been in Bilbo’s burrow. We got to sit on the bench outside, we didn’t get to go in.
We weren’t there with Terry. Terry had been sometime before and recommended it.
Francine: That’s slightly less sad than being left outside then.
Joanna: “He’s allowed in, you have to wait here.”
Favourite Discworld books
Joanna: We’ve got one last question, I think, which is one of our most annoying ones, but we have to do it because we’re a Discworld podcast–
Pat: Where do you get your ideas from?
Francine: Yeah. How do you write?
Joanna: Your favourite/top three Discworld books – with the caveat that we fully understand this is only your answer today and it could change in five minutes.
Pat: Discworld books. I think Mort. I have a fairly black sense of humour and the Death novels in general, I love. And if I have to pick only one of the Death novels, it’s Mort.
I just, just so many wonderful visual images in it. There’s a boy constructed entirely of knees. I think that’s the phrase, isn’t it? Everybody went to school with somebody who’s constructed entirely of knees, but never realised it until Terry put the words together.
Jan, do you want to have one of these?
Jan: Oh, well, I like the Witches series and also I’m a sucker for a police procedural. So, you know, anything to do with the Watch. Guards! Guards!, I’ve just finished reading and it’s so funny in places as well.
Pat: Yeah, Guards! Guards! was going to be my second choice as well, particularly the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Knight.
Board games and Bernard
Joanna: I finally found a copy of the Guards! Guards! board game recently and it is very fun to constantly read out the nonsense about the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Knight in the board game.
Francine: Oh, my Thud arrived, Joanna. We need to sit down and play.
Pat: Oh, if we can go back to the collection for a moment, I have an unusual Thud set.
When Bernard was doing the Discworld buildings, the Unreal Estate, there were 250 of us collecting them. My collector number was 235. I found out about them very late on and only just got one. In fact, that was how I first talked to Bernard – I found out online that somebody was making a model of the Unseen University, but they were going fast, and here’s the phone number.
I thought, well, it’s 10 o’clock on a Friday night. They’ll be closed, but I’ll leave a message on the answer phone. So I rang the number.
And the voice on the other end went, “Hello, Bernard here! How can I help you? Do you have any money? Answer the second question first.”
And I went, “Oh! A human being. I was expecting an answer phone.”
“Oh, no filthy answer phones here.”
So that was the first time I ever spoke to Bernard. And it was putting my number down to have an Unseen University model.
However, roll forward some years. Bernard, when Thud came out, made the Thud game, Thud box set. They also did a limited edition one. It’s a limited of 100. But I made a special plea that since my collector’s number was 235, could I have number 235? So mine is number 235 of 100.
And the Thudstone is three-sided, as Thudstones are. And one side is signed by Terry, one side is signed by Bernard, and one side is signed by Trevor Truran, who designed the game.
Francine: Super. Oh, well, that’s fantastic. Are you any good? Do you play?
Pat: I’m absolutely useless. Wiped out in seconds every time I play.
Francine: I’ve only just opened the instructions and I’m worried already, you see.
Joanna: Yes, but you’ll be playing against me, darling. You’ll be fine.
Francine: Are there a lot of Discworld Board games?
Pat: Well, there’s the Witches, Ankh-Morpork,
Joanna: I’m looking at mine up there.
Pat: The Clacks one.
Joanna: Yeah, that had a reissue recently.
Pat: Yeah. I think that’s it.
There are some of them available in more than one edition. There are others that were sort of in small numbers.
There’s one called Watch Out, which was a nice idea, but it never took off. You have a set of, I think it’s eight watch officers and a set of eight thieves, and a board. The board is made up of which are shuffled and dealt at the start of the game to make a random playing surface. Each piece has a colour and a shape on it. And the rules of movement are, I can’t remember them in detail, to do with, you can move on to something of the same colour or something of the same shape, or under certain circumstances, you can jump over other people.
The underlying thesis of the game is that each army is trying to get to the other side of the board, ideally without interacting. The Watch want to get home without having to do paperwork. The thieves want to get home without ending up in the tanty.
So, there are rules about whether you can be next to a policeman or whatever. There were only a small number of those made. I don’t know how many.
Francine: Oh, fantastic. Sorry, tangenting again there.
Joanna: There was one that I don’t think ever got properly made, or got a proper printing called The Gods. I found one person selling it recently, who was selling it for very cheap, and being told by everyone in the comments, no, please sell that for more money. It goes for a lot more.
Francine: Oh, it’s lucky it’s a nice fandom, isn’t it?
Pat: Trevor Truran also wrote card game rules for a Discworld set of cards. They’re based on the Tarot set. So, there are four suits, each with eight values. And then, I think it’s 64 in the minor Arcana. And it never went into production. Some sets were made by getting blank cards and writing on them.
To play within Wincanton. But I haven’t seen a set for years.
Francine: Oh, I’ll have to look into that. Excellent.
Pat: I think I have the rules. You can always create cards.
Joanna: Yes, yeah, exactly. I’ve got some blank cards and a sharpie.
Francine: Let’s have a Saturday.
Pranks on Pratchett
Francine: Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you would like to talk about?
Pat: Hmm. Not football.
Francine: Absolutely fair. We wouldn’t know.
Joanna: We’re looking forward to doing Unseen Academicals.
Francine: I kind of am. Some of the history of the really early stuff, and the 300 people brawling in the street. It’ll be fine, don’t worry.
Pat: Pranks I have played on Terry?
Francine: Ooh, yeah.
Pat: Not exactly a prank. I got a headset for a mobile phone, but it was like an old style Bakelite phone that you hold in your hand. A big thing. The sort of phone you normally associate with a rotary dial.
So I changed the ringtone on my phone to be the classic “ring ring” of an old-style phone. Stuck it in a little knapsack I was carrying, went and stood next to Terry, and got somebody to ring me.
So my bag starts going, “ring ring, ring ring, ring ring”.
I reach in, take out the phone.
And then gave it to Terry, saying, “It’s for you.”
“You bastard,” was the phrase.
My other good telephone story is I was in the office one day. We worked in a big open plan office. And the phone rang and it was Terry. And that was the time he wanted to know about how much force it would take to tear somebody’s head off. And I talked to him for about a minute saying, yeah, I will have to go and look this up. This is not the sort of thing I carry in my head.
And at that point I spotted there was a new member of staff walking down the corridor towards me, a person I knew was a great Discworld fan.
And I said, “Terry, we’ve got a new member of staff who’s a big Discworld fan. Would you have a quick word with her?”
And he said, “Yeah, certainly.”
So I just said, Gillian, “Somebody on the phone wants a word,” and handed the receiver over.
And she went, “Gillian!” And then – I can’t do this on a Zoom link – but she just froze in the face, looked suspiciously at the phone, looked furiously at me, and went pink, cherry, lobster… And then they had an absolutely wonderful conversation about archaeology. Because she had previously been an archaeologist.
When they hung up, she handed me the phone back and said, “You bastard.”
Francine: Do a lot of stories end with somebody saying that?
The Discworld fan community
Francine: I’ll tell you what, actually, something I did want to ask, because you were at a lot of the early conventions and you’re still at the later ones. How was it seeing that kind of that fan community evolve over the years like that? It must have changed a lot since, what was it, ‘97, you would have started going, I suppose?
Pat: ‘98 was the first one. ‘96 was the first one in Liverpool. No, sorry, in Manchester. And then 98 was in Liverpool. I went to that one. And then 2000 got cancelled.
So, I haven’t got much view of the very early years. I was only at ‘98. That was only one out of the first three supposed conventions.
And I don’t know that they’ve changed that much. They’re probably a bit better organised. I don’t mean that from the point of view of the convention organising committee. They’ve always done an excellent job. But the fans are bringing more and more elaborate costumes and setups and whatever.
And on the other hand, fans are improvising on the day and doing incredibly well. I’ve seen people win the Maskerade with a costume they made that morning. Out of bits lying around in… oh, there’s a “Chaos Costuming”, a room that’s just got lots of sewing equipment and glue guns and fabric and whatever.
Alex Carlton, the guy I mentioned earlier, who did the dwarf seamstress, went as “Mr Troll [Shine], him Diamond”, on a costume made entirely out of wrapping paper, holographic wrapping paper and CDs hung on a fishing line to sparkle and glint.
Pat: There was a group who– where did they get the blue dye from? Anyway, I think four people had come as feegles and then, never having met before, entered the masquerade as four feegles. They managed to make a fake sheep out of hotel sheets and chairs and stuff and take the sheep, lift it up and send it hurrying backwards out of the auditorium. Terry liked that one.
The Zone of Flaming Death
Francine: I bet. Oh, super. Right. I will keep asking random questions until the cows come home, if I’m allowed.
Pat: I’ll keep giving random answers.
Francine: But yeah. Yes, I suppose, again, is there anything we haven’t covered that you would like to, because there’s just this entire world of topics surrounding Discworld and everything, but I’m conscious that you’ve already given us quite a lot of your time.
Is there anything that springs to mind as just an anecdote you’d like to tell about the general world of?
Pat: Me? Tell anecdotes. The suggestion of such a thing.
What about the time they blew up the Drum?
Francine: Okay. Yes.
Pat: For filming The Colour of Magic. I was lucky enough to be an extra, which I found out as Terry phoned me up and said, “We’ve been doing a draw for the places of extras and I’m afraid your name keeps coming up.”
So yeah. So we did our filming for the day and we knew that the Drum was going to be blown up that night. Now the setup for the filming was basically, there was a sort of a small open space with a road leading off it, leading to a T-junction and there were side ways in and out. It meant as you stood in the middle of this open space in front of the Drum, everywhere you looked, all you could see was Ankh Morpork. There was no way of looking back out into reality. It was all nicely cut off.
And what that meant was that the best place to see the Drum blow up was from the top of the T-junction. And we thought that’s where we’ll go. So we went there, and the director and the cameraman had thought that was the best place to do it as well. So we weren’t allowed to go there.
So we had to go somewhere else. So there was a security fence around the set and we thought, well, if we go out there. We can actually get right next to the Drum, but on the other side of the security fence. So as sun was going down, we went, we stood in the carpark, and we waited and we waited and we waited.
And some security guards came wandering around and they came to us and said, “Hey lads, what are you doing?”
“Oh, we’re waiting to see them blow up the Drum.”
One of them said, “I wouldn’t stand there if I was you.”
And we said, “Why not?”
He said, “You’re in the secondary effects zone.”
And I looked at his mate, and his mate said, “The zone of flaming death.”
So we thought, right, we’ll take a step away out into the car park. So we walked back a little bit into the car park. I thought, this will do. Now maybe a little bit further. So we walked a little bit further back into the car park. This will do. Now maybe just– I mean, there’s cars here. They wouldn’t do anything that would damage the cars. Probably a little bit further.
We went back a little bit further and then – Jason Anthony from Discworld Monthly was with me, and he was saying, “Look, there’s a camera over there.”
It turned out the ‘making of’ documentary people were filming it from outside the fences. So there’s a camera over there. And I said, “Oh, right. Cameras are expensive. They won’t have put that anywhere dangerous. Let’s go stand by the camera. So we walked up to the camera, and somewhere the mob have a little bit of film of me going, “Hi, my name is Pat Harkin. You may have seen me in previous films such as–” my best Troy McClure impression.
Anyway, so Jason and I went and sat by the camera and then three things happened at once.
I said, “This camera is running.”
Jason said, “Is that the ‘making of’ crew hiding behind that van over there?”
And the Drum said, KABOOM.
We went deaf. All the car alarms in the car park went off from the blast. And the air was full of little bits of burning polystyrene coming down. I still have the shirt I was wearing that night. It is covered in little black burn marks.
Francine: Tertiary effect zone.
Pat: The thing was, the next day we came onto the set and we were filming in the Drum. They blew it up without doing any damage to it at all. It was impressive. Sheets of flame, blasts of this and the other.
We were talking to the special effects guys later. One of the things they had done was there were air cannons behind the windows. So you flick a switch on the air cannon, it puffs a great blast of air and all the light stuff you want thrown out, it just goes ‘BLAM’ out the window. It looks like an enormous explosion, but it’s just basically a man with a souped-up hairdryer.
Francine: Oh, incredible. I hadn’t thought about that. Love those practical effects.
Pat: Oh, he said kerosene gives you flame, but no heat.
Francine: Standing there in your pockmarked shirt.
Joanna: We need to have another watch of the Sky adaptation so we can actually look for Rob and Jason and you.
Francine: Do you happen to be in Going Postal anywhere? That’s our next one, isn’t it?
Pat: Yes. Yes. Oh, yeah.
Jan: Our son, Patrick, as well, is in it.
Francine: All right. We’ll be looking out then.
Pat: I don’t know if they’re still online, but when it came out, Sky TV did some little interviews with various people, including Patrick and me about what it was like to be a fan and an extra.
Joanna: Excellent. Oh, that’ll be great. They must be on the internet somewhere. Or on the DVD. I forget. Real DVDs are still a thing with featurette.
Pat: The Hogfather DVD on some of the discs I’m on and the extras. They did the Twelve Days of Hogswatch.
Francine: Oh, yes. I’ve got you interviewing Death.
Pat: Yeah. That was in the museum of the biology department at the university.
Francine: Ah, best place for it.
Pat: For which Mob Films paid a rental of one pound and they paid me a fee of one pound. Well, money had to change hands for it to be legal for the contract. And that was the smallest amount that they could do. I like that.
I’ve still got the quids, actually.
They should have given it to us as a cheque. I would have just framed it and never cashed it.
Francine: Do you have a catalogue of all your collection?
Pat: No. No, I don’t.
Jan: I’ve been trying to get him to do that.
Francine: You suddenly look very panicked. I’m so sorry.
Pat: Yes. This is a question of some importance. I have a list of some of the books, but I don’t have a list of anything else.
Francine: Yeah. I wonder if– there must be a real niche profession of stock takers of collectors, maybe.
Pat: Quite possibly. Yeah.
Jan: We had the building contents insurance renewed recently. It took some time to explain to them about the collection.
Pat: “This is a really valuable pickle.”
Francine: “No, I know you can’t see it. That’s the point.”
Joanna: Well, I don’t think there’s a better anecdote to end on than a large explosion.
Francine: No, that is how I like to end every–
Joanna: We do like to end on explosions, then we walk away from them in slow motion.
Francine: Sunglasses on.
Pat: Of course, there is an anecdote about Jason and me running away from an explosion. Silently over gravel, but never mind.
Joanna: Feel free to tell it. I mean, now you’ve started.
Pat: I’ve told you it now. We were being directed by the second unit director, and we had to run behind Rincewind and Twoflower with flames going off and this, that and the other.
It was a gravel path. We ran across it and the director came back and said, “Run quieter.”
So I don’t know if it shows up, but Jason and I are doing this sort of stylised hopping from one leg to another to try and get across the gravel with as little noise as possible.
Strange lot, film people.
Joanna: Thank you very much for joining us for this very special episode of The Tree Shall Make You Fred.
Pat: It’s been our pleasure.
Joanna: We really appreciate it.
Francine: Yeah, it’s been fantastic. We’ll try and run away silently over the gravel as we, uh-
Pat: If you find the secret, let me know.
Joanna: A Stroke of the Pen is out on October 10th and you’ll be at the British Library that day?
Jan: Yes, that’s right. I think there’s online access as well.
Francine: Oh, are there streaming tickets? Well, indeed, then I will put a link to those in the show notes listeners. And I think that would be something a lot of us would enjoy. Some kind of some kind of live chat in the Discord as we all watch, perhaps.
Joanna: Thank you very much for listening to this episode of The Tree Shall Make You Fred. We’ll be back on Monday with the first part of Thud!.
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Pat and Jan: Don’t let us detain you.
Pat: I’m going to get badges made. “Authors annoyed to order.”