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A Slip of the Keyboard Collected Non-Fiction

Formats: eBook. Hardback.

Out Now in Paperback

With a Foreword by Neil Gaiman

Terry Pratchett has earned a place in the hearts of readers the world over with his bestselling Discworld series – but in recent years he has become equally well-known and respected as an outspoken campaigner for causes including Alzheimer’s research and animal rights. A Slip of the Keyboard brings together for the first time the finest examples of Pratchett’s non fiction writing, both serious and surreal: from musings on mushrooms to what it means to be a writer (and why banana daiquiris are so important); from memories of Granny Pratchett to speculation about Gandalf’s love life, and passionate defences of the causes dear to him.

With all the humour and humanity that have made his novels so enduringly popular, this collection brings Pratchett out from behind the scenes of the Discworld to speak for himself – man and boy, bibliophile and computer geek, champion of hats, orang-utans and Dignity in Dying.

Thought Progress

20/20 Magazine, May 1989


A bit of writing about writing. Careful readers will spot that Small Gods had been on my mind at the time.

It’s a pretty accurate description of the creative process at work . . .


Get up, have breakfast, switch on word processor, stare at screen.

Stare at screen some more.

Carry on staring at screen, but cock ear for sounds of postman. With any luck it will be large bag of post, leading to a busy morning’s work. Last novel just gone off to publisher. Got nothing to do. Huge vacuum in centre of world.

Post arrives. One letter on Holly Hobbie notepaper, asking for a signed photograph.

All right, all right, let’s do some research. What we need to know for the purposes of the next Discworld plot is something about tortoises. Got vague idea that a talking tortoise is essential part of the action. Don’t know why; tortoises just surfaced from racial un- consciousness. Possibly prompted by own tortoises surfacing from hibernation and currently doing Bertrand Russell impersonations in the greenhouse.

Find book on tortoises in box in spare room.

Will definitely get bookcases rebuilt any day now (clever idea was to prefabricate bookcase in garage, everything neatly cut, used set- squares and everything, two coats varnish, then all bits brought inside, assembled with proper dowels and glue, hundreds of books in neat array. Interesting science experiment: what happens to wood that has spent weeks in cold damp garage when suddenly brought into warm dry room? At 3 a.m., learned that every bit suddenly shrinks by one eighth of an inch).

Interesting footnote in tortoise book reminds us that most famous tortoise in history must be the one that got dropped on the head of famous Greek philosopher . . . what’s the bugger’s name? Very famous man, wherever the tortoise-dropping set get together. Sudden pressing desire to explore this whole issue, including what the tortoise thought about it all. Keep thinking it was Zeno, but am sure it wasn’t.

Finding out that it was Aeschylus occupies twenty minutes. Not philosopher, but playwright. In his hands, early drama took on a high- religious purpose, serving as a forum for resolving profound moral conflicts and expressing a grandeur of thought and language. And then a high-pitched whistling noise and goodnight. Look up Zeno out of interest. Ah, he was the one who said that, logically, you couldn’t catch a tortoise.

Should have told Aeschylus.

Also read up on prayer wheels and, for no obvious reason, William Blake. While so doing, lady phones up to ask if we’re the dentist’s.

Definitely getting some work done now. The creative mainspring is definitely winding up.

Bound into action and press on with some serious disk backing- up. That’s the beautiful thing about word processors. In the bad old typewriter days all you had to occupy yourself with when creativity flagged was sharpening the pencils and cleaning out the e with a pin. But with the word processor there’re endless opportunities for fiddling, creative writing of macros, meticulous resetting of the real-time clock and so forth: all good honest work.

Sitting in front of a keyboard and a screen is work. Thousands of offices operate on this very principle.

Stare at screen.

Wonder why the eagle dropped the bloody thing on the play- wright. It couldn’t have been to smash it open, like the book says. Eagles not daft. Greece is all rock, how come eagle with all Greece to choose from manages pinpoint precision on bald head of Aeschylus? How do you pronounce Aeschylus, anyway?

Pronunciation dictionary in box in loft. Stepladder in garage.

Car needs a wash. Lunch.

Solid morning’s work, really. Back in front of screen.

Stare at screen.

Another lady phones to ask if this is Paradise. (Motel up the road apparently has a phone number one digit different from ours.) Give humorous rejoinder number three.

Stare at screen.

Start wondering, perhaps not eagle’s fault after all, it just had job to do, it had been flying too many missions, jeez, you get thrown out of  eagle  air  force  if  you  start  worrying  about  the  innocent philosophers you’re dropping your tortoises on. Hatch-22. No.

Stare at screen.

No. It was obviously tortoise’s idea all along. Had grudge against playwright, perhaps tortoises had been insulted in latest play, perhaps offended at speed-ist jokes, perhaps had seen tortoiseshell spectacles: you dirty rat, you got my brother. So hijacked eagle, hanging on to desperate bird’s legs like the tortoise in the old Friends of the Earth logo, giving directions in muffled voice, vector 19, beepbeepbeep, Geronimooooo . . .

Stare at screen.

Wonder if eagle has anything else a desperate tortoise could hang on to.

Look up biology of birds in encyclopedia in box on stairs. Gosh. Supper.

Stare at screen. Turn ideas over and over. Tortoises, bald head, eagles. Hmm. No, can’t be playwright, what sort of person would tortoises instantly dislike?


Stare at screen. Vaguely aware right hand has hit keys to open new file. Start breathing very slowly.

Write 1,943 words. Bed.

For a day there, thought we weren’t going to make it.

'His life and legacy will always be cause for celebration.'

The Guardian

'A wonderful collection...[Pratchett] emerges as, yes, likeable but also complex and angry.'

The Independent

'Seriously funny about the weirdness of the world and humorously serious about the NHS, assisted dying and his urgent personal campaign for more research into Alzheimer’s disease.'

The Times

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Crivens! It appears the audio excerpt from the book that we had to go here has been borrowed by a wee free man.


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