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
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

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum