How We Met: Stephen Baxter & Terry Pratchett

 

Stephen Baxter, 54

An award-winning 'hard-science-fiction' writer, Baxter (left in picture) focuses on plausible alternate realities in his work, from Mars mission tale 'Voyage' to climate-change novel 'Flood'. He lives in Northumberland.

I'd read Terry's science-fiction novels from the early 1980s, in particular Strata, which stuck in my mind. It was about an artificial planet, like a sci-fi vision of Discworld, full of jokes and humour, while having something deep to say about the nature of reality. I was never particularly a fan of the fantasy genre, but having read his science-fiction I followed his early Discworld novels, such as The Colour of Magic. It was big, expansive, adventure stuff, full of Dickensian wisdom that will long outlive us all.

We met in 1992 at an Arthur C Clarke event in Minehead: he had on that black fedora hat even then. Over dinner we talked about sci-fi – between us we'd read all the sci-fi written since the 1930s, and that broke the ice. After that we'd go to sci-fi conventions together, while every year our publisher would put on a dinner and stick us together. Terry would say, "So what news of the quantum?" or "What are all these cosmologists banging on about now?" He was really interested in my background of hard science.

Our collaboration, The Long Earth, came about after an evening we spent at our publisher's party last year, when Terry asked me what I thought about an idea he'd had about parallel universes, based around a short story he'd written years ago. We got so involved spinning around his idea that hours passed, taxis came for us and were turned away until there was no one left at the party but the hostess, staring at us – and we got evicted.

We spent months swapping ideas. I'd visit him for long weekends in Wiltshire and we hammered out a rough structure over one weekend. By the end of it we did a totting up; pub lunches consumed: six; hissy fits: three; books still on track: one.

Terry's Alzheimer's [he suffers from a rare form that affects the visual part of his brain] has complicated his work in practical ways: he's had to adapt to using voice-recognition software, he needs the support of his PA in going over drafts, and so on. But what's impressed me most is that he has never let this get between him and the books he needs to write.

Terry Pratchett, 64

Since publishing his first Discworld novel, 'The Colour of Magic', in 1983, Pratchett has penned a further 38 titles in the fantasy series; 'Snuff', his most recent, became the third-fastest-selling novel in the UK. He lives in Wiltshire with his wife.

We met at a sci-fi convention about 20 years ago. Stephen remarked on my hat and I told him, "When you've got no hair they're very useful." We stayed in touch; we haunted the same bookshops and went to the same publishing parties.

What I love about Stephen's books is that they're not so much science-fiction as a reality that didn't quite happen. Take his book Voyage: after the Apollo programme, Nasa wondered about going onwards to Mars by either upgrading its technology or instead taking the space shuttle/space station combo. What he lays out in Voyage was one of the options Nasa had. I liked doing the Discworld series, because I can do lots of things with it, but it isn't a "what if..." [scenario], as Stephen's books are.

I think it does Discworld good if I don't write about it all the time: sometimes you have to get it out of your system. So last year I was looking around for something new and I came across ideas I'd written about [parallel] versions of Earth. They were from before The Colour of Magic was published and I became successful, and the idea languished until last year.

Stephen has hard-science strengths that I don't, so I asked him to collaborate on turning this material into a book. He's done work with other writers, including Arthur C Clarke, so I thought, well, if he was good enough for uncle Arthur he's good enough for me – and if we get the science wrong, he'll get the blame!

So he came to stay at the pub near my house and we started brainstorming. My wife would have pushed me out of the house if he'd stayed, as we spent a lot of time in the house talking during the day – about the book, the professional side of writing and the sci-fi we grew up with.

Yes, we did have a few hissy fits during the writing of it: one initiated by each of us and one shared. I suspect it came down to the fact that we didn't want the other to trespass on our own territory; I didn't want Steve to become the big, "I know how to write real sci-fi" and he didn't want me to say, "Yes, but I've got more fans than you!" Broadly speaking, though, he was sweetness and light. We went through everything each other wrote, though on several occasions I said to Steve, "That's a very good piece you did," and he said, "Actually it was yours, I just polished it up!"

'The Long Earth', by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, is published by Doubleday on Thursday, priced £18.99

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'