A Slip of the Keyboard
Collected Nonfiction by
Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett

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A Slip of the Keyboard (continued)

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Foreword by Neil Gaiman
First part of A Slip of the Keyboard

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A Slip of the Keyboard

Copyright © 2014 by Terry Pratchett and Lyn Pratchett


A Twit and a Dreamer
On school days, scabby knees, first jobs, frankincense, Christmas robots, beloved books, and other off-duty thoughts

The Big Store
Programme for Bob Eaton’s stage adaptation of Truckers, March 2002
Six years ago a Russian translator told me how hard it would be to translate the book. I said: surely Russian children don’t find it too hard to believe in little people? She said: that’s not the problem. The problem is making them believe in a store stuffed with merchandise.



The Meaning of My Christmas
Western Daily Press (Bristol), 24 December 1997

It’s better to ask Santa Claus for a pair of slippers for Christmas rather than peace on earth. You might actually get it.

Big, jolly fat men with beards can’t deliver world peace. That’s something we have to work at ourselves.


Santa Claus


The God Moment
Mail on Sunday, 22 June 2008, headlined
“I create gods all the time—now I think one might exist”

I asked a teacher what the opposite of a miracle was and she, without thinking, I assume, said it was an act of god. You shouldn’t say something like that to the kind of kid who will grow up to be a writer; we have long memories.



I don’t believe. I never have, not in big beards in the sky. But I was brought up traditionally Church of England, which is to say that while churchgoing did not figure in my family’s plans for the Sabbath, practically all the Ten Commandments were obeyed by instinct and a general air of reason, kindness, and decency prevailed. Belief was never mentioned at home, but right actions were taught by daily example.

Possibly because of this, I’ve never disliked religion. I think it has some purpose in our evolution. I don’t have much truck with the “religion is the cause of most of our wars” school of thought, because in fact that’s manifestly done by mad, manipulative, and power-hungry men who cloak their ambition in God.



For a moment, the world had felt at peace. Where did it come from?

Me, actually—the part of all of us that, in my case, caused me to stand in awe the first time I heard Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium, and the elation I felt on a walk one day last February, when the light of the setting sun turned a ploughed field into shocking pink; I believe it’s what Abraham felt on the mountain and Einstein did when it turned out that E=mc2.

It’s that moment, that brief epiphany when the universe opens up and shows us something, and in that instant we get just a sense of an order greater than heaven and, as yet at least, beyond the grasp of Hawking. It doesn’t require worship, but, I think, rewards intelligence, observation, and inquiring minds.

A Genuine Absent-Minded Professor
Inaugural Professorial Lecture at Trinity College, Dublin, 4 November 2010

Twice, when I have spoken out on subjects like Alzheimer’s and assisted dying, helpful Christians have told me that I should try considering my affliction as a gift from God. Now, personally I would have preferred a box of chocolates. Nevertheless, there may be some truth, a curiously convoluted truth, in that because it has made me look at the world [...] from a new perspective, which, according to G. K. Chesterton, is the role of fantasy anyway. And now I am living in a kind of fantasy, and I have found that growing within me is a steeliness that I never knew was there, the view of the world that might make Bob Dylan look like a man who was only slightly annoyed about the government. Whereas, not so long ago, I used to drift gently through the world, occasionally rebounding softly from the side, I began to open my eyes which led to a terrible tendency to question authority, because authority that cannot be questioned is tyranny and I will not accept any tyranny, even that of heaven.

Nevertheless, to question authority is not, in principle, to attack it, although authority always assumes that this is the case since authority must repeatedly establish its right to rule; and if this is done by force, then it turns out that it was a tyranny all along.



Bliss it was in that space-age dawn to be alive, but unfortunately my only reliable source of first-class secondhand American science fiction magazines was called the Little Library, and it was in a shack in Frogmoor, a tiny part of High Wycombe, in which a very nice elderly lady dispensed cheer, the occasional cup of tea, and pornography. However, in order to justify the name and presumably to have some wares that she could put in the window, she also sold decent SF and fantasy [...]

I recall scrabbling around happily one day after school when the door was abruptly pushed open and in came a man who by the look of his efforts not to look like one was clearly, even to me, a plain-clothes policeman. He pointed angrily at me and demanded of my hostess, who was a dear old soul, “What is he doing in here?”

Gleefully, she brandished a mint copy of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, which I certainly was, and said, “Honni swarky marley ponce, Geoffrey,” which, astonishingly, he didn’t understand but seemingly accepted. And for those of you with little French, it broadly translates as “He who sees any evil in this is a ponce.”



A subeditor, on a local newspaper at least, needs a pin-sharp apprehension of every inadvertent double entendre. Did a correspondent once send in a report about a Women’s Institute flower, fruit, and vegetable show that actually included the bit about the naked man streaking through the marquee, “causing disarray among the tarts before he was caught by the gooseberries”? [...] Any writer needs an eye for the double entendre in the same way that the gamekeeper has to have the mind of a poacher.
Words turn us from monkeys into men. We make them, change them, chase them around, eat them, and live by them—they are workhorses, carrying any burden, and their usage is the skill of the author’s trade, hugely versatile. There are times when the wrong word is the right word, and times when the words can be manipulated so that silence shouts. Their care, feeding, and indeed breeding is part of the craft of which I am a journeyman.



Days of Rage
On Alzheimer’s, orangutans, campaigns, controversies, dignified endings, and trying to make a lot of thing a little better

The Orangutans Are Dying
Mail on Sunday Review, 20 February 2000
When you’re big enough, and powerful enough, and pay the right people, you can do what you like. Greed and corruption are calling the shots.

We made a big fuss over the possibility of microbes on Mars. If orangutans were Martians we’d cherish them, we’d be so amazed at how they’re like us but not like us, they’d be invited to tea and cigars at the White House.

But they’re apes, sad in zoos, funny in movies, useful in advertisements and in fantasy books, I’m almost ashamed to say, but at least the Discworld’s Librarian has done his bit for the species and caused more than a few bob to flow their way. But the problem, unfortunately, is not money. The problem is lots of money.

I’m Slipping Away a Bit at a Time . . . and All I Can Do Is Watch It Happen
Daily Mail, 7 October 2008

How brave is it to say you have a disease that does not hint of a dissolute youth, riotous living, or even terrible eating habits? Anyone can contract dementia; and every day and with a growing momentum, anybody does.

It occurred to me that at one point it was like I had two diseases—one was Alzheimer’s and the other was knowing I had Alzheimer’s.

Point Me to Heaven When the Final Chapter Comes
Mail on Sunday, 2 August 2009

We would not walk away from a man being attacked by a monster, and if we couldn’t get the ravening beast off him we might well conclude that some instant means of less painful death would be preferable before the monster ate him alive.

And certainly we wouldn’t tuck it up in bed with him and try to carry on the fight from there, which is a pretty good metaphor for what we do now, particularly with “old-timer’s disease.”

I am enjoying my life to the full, and hope to continue for quite some time. But I also intend, before the endgame looms, to die sitting in a chair in my own garden with a glass of brandy in my hand and Thomas Tallis on the iPod—the latter because Thomas’s music could lift even an atheist a little bit closer to heaven—and perhaps a second brandy if there is time.

Oh, and since this is England I had better add: “If wet, in the library.”



Currently, people say they are worried about the possibility of old people being “urged” by greedy relatives into taking an early death.

If we cannot come up with a means of identifying this, I would be very surprised.

In any case, in my experience it is pretty impossible to get an elderly person to do something they do not wish to do. They tend to know their own mind like the back of their hand, and quite probably would object to this being questioned.

The Richard Dimbleby Lecture: Shaking Hands with Death
Royal Society of Medicine, 1 February 2010
Broadcast on BBC1, with revisions to indicate that Tony Robinson would be reading the main text.

Contrary to popular belief, fantasy is not about making things up. The world is stuffed full of things. It is almost impossible to invent any more. No, the role of fantasy as defined by G. K. Chesterton is to take what is normal and everyday and usual and unregarded, and turn it around and show it to the audience from a different direction, so that they look at it once again with new eyes.

As a journalist, I learned to listen. It is amazing how much people will tell you if you listen in the right way. Rob, my PA, says that I can listen like a vacuum cleaner. Always beware of somebody who is a really good listener.



And Finally . . .

Terry Pratchett’s Wild Unattached Footnotes to Life
Space (at the) Bar, a Compute for Charity magazine.
Compiled by Octarine (Science Fiction and Fantasy Humour Appreciation Society), 1 July 1990 (Hull)

ANTIPASTA (inspired by seeing it on an Italian menu)
Possibly the greatest, and certainly the most expensive, food in the world. You need a massive particle accelerator and enough electricity to power Greater London just to make one plateful of antipasta because, like all antimatter, it travels backwards through time. Normal pasta is made several hours before you eat it; antipasta is made several hours after you’ve eaten it. If correctly timed, both can be made to appear on your fork at the same moment, resulting in the inevitable taste explosion.

text checked (see note) Feb 2024

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