In this interview, Stephen Briggs speaks about his experiences as the writer of many subsidiary works surrounding Terry Pratchett's Discworld.
Image provided by himself
Stephen and Terry played together on Discworld for 25 years and had a lot of fun along the way. They built a city on a brownfield site, then mapped a world to put it onto. With nothing else to do with their spare time, they wrote the Companion, several diaries, another map and a cook book.
Stephen also took on the unabridged audio books and has recorded more than thirty for Isis, AudioGo & Random House (UK) and Harper Collins and Random House (US), winning several industry awards that he’s secretly very pleased with. It's plays, though, that got him into Discworld, and he’s adapted, and published, around twenty Pratchett novels, which have been staged in more than 22 countries. Although he is still cheaper than Charles Dance & Jeremy Irons, his tragedy is that the only way he can get cast as Vetinari is to direct his own plays.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I like it most when an inspiration has struck, I can see where I want the project to go, and the words flow (for a given value of two-finger typing).
Many writers try to keep to a fixed routine … and some actually manage to do it! What does your writing process involve?
I don’t have a fixed routine, although I’m a morning person and achieve much more in the hours before midday. Terry Pratchett and Discworld have been a big part of your writing life. How did you first become involved with dramatising Terry’s books?
My drama group had staged dramatisations of two Monty Python movies and two novels by Tom Sharpe. For various reasons, there weren’t third options for either of those routes and someone suggested I should try the books of Terry Pratchett.
I selected ‘Mort’ at random from a rail station bookshop, read it and loved it. After I’d read all the paperback editions I wrote to ask if we could stage ‘Wyrd Sisters’. Which aspect of Terry Pratchett’s writing first grabbed your attention?
It was Terry’s humour and his skill with dialogue. Terry and I were close contemporaries and shared a background in the same comedy greats (Python, Goons, ‘Round the Horne’, etc). Having done both, I know writing for the stage is totally different from writing a book. How do you go about turning a Pratchett book into a play?
A play has to last no more than around two hours, so quite a lot of the book isn’t going to make it. I read the book; leave it for a day or so, then jot down the main plot points. Anything I miss is probably something that can go onto the ‘possible areas to sacrifice’. Which Terry Pratchett play was the hardest to dramatise and stage?
‘Jingo’. Very complex, multi-thread, multi-location plot. I tried to include too much of it. Everyone has a favourite Terry Pratchett novel. Mine is Night Watch. What is yours?
I’d have to say ‘Mort’ because it was that book that got me into Discworld and changed my life, quite literally. Dramatising Bram Stoker’s Dracula must have been quite a departure, however it proved a critical success. I would imagine that Humbug the musical was an even greater challenge. Did you feel a little bit exposed in moving away from Pratchett?
No, because I’d previously adapted several other books for the stage, and written lyrics for other shows. ‘Dracula’ was a book I’d liked since my teens and it was great when I realised how I could make it work as a play without it being ‘camp’. With ‘Humbug!’, I love ‘A Christmas Carol’ and the composer and I saw a way to make it all work within the limitations of our drama group. Audio books are becoming more and more popular. How did you get involved in narrating Terry’s books and how many more will you be doing?
It happened that Nigel Planer had told Isis Audiobooks that he would not have the time to continue doing the unabridged books at the same time that the company was looking to engage with other Discworld ‘businesses’ to promote the audio books to Terry’s fans. When they told the people at Clarecraft that they were looking for a new reader, they said ‘try Stephen Briggs – he’s a thesp’.
I doubt I will be doing any more – I suspect that the ever-increasing popularity of audio books means that publishers will want ‘big names’ to attract sales. Whether you’re reading, or writing what makes a story good in your view?
Characterisation, clever writing, humour and pacing. Plus internal consistency of logic. What has been the greatest challenge of your stage writing career?
Having the author coming along to see what we’d done with his ‘Wyrd Sisters’. What are you currently writing?
Having just completed a Discworld show, I am waiting for inspiration to strike. Two or three options are on the agenda but, at the moment, none of them have ‘won’. What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a writer?
That writing can be fun.
With many thanks to Stephen Briggs for this interview,
conducted and compiled by Richard Hardie and Francesca Tyer.
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