The Beatrice Interview

Douglas Adams and Terry Jones

All Aboard the Starship Titanic

interviewed by Ron Hogan

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No, it's not a marquee listing for a double bill of Starship Troopers and Titanic. It's a CD-ROM adventure game, in the tradition of Myst, which has led to a unique collobaration between two of the funniest men on the planet, Monty Python member Terry Jones and Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio show, TV program, and four-volume trilogy of books. I caught up with the two authors during a whirlwind media tour and got them to explain Starship Titanic in detail and discuss some of their other projects.

RH: First, let's go over how this book came about. I gather it's a pretty convoluted story.

DA: Well, it is, actually, and this is one of the reasons we have such a convoluted accreditation. It's currently called "Douglas Adams' Starship Titanic, a novel by Terry Jones," which sounds absurd, but there's a perfectly logical explanation for how we got there. Of course, once we got there, we should have seen that there was a simpler place to be, and that it should be "Starship Titanic, by Douglas Adams and Terry Jones," because although it wasn't a collaboration in the sense that we were sitting around a table swapping lines with each other, it was a serial collaboration. I did my work and then Terry did his.

TJ: Douglas did a twenty-page treatment with a storyline and characters. That existed when I came aboard, and I came aboard because I was asked to be a parrot...

DA: the thing we haven't mentioned yet, the way the whole thing got started, which is the CD-ROM. I've been working on the Starship Titanic CD-ROM for the last couple years, and when I realized that there would have to be a novel as well, I was up to my ears working on the CD-ROM, so I couldn't do the novel then, while the publisher insisted that the book had to come out at the same time as the CD-ROM. Terry happened to be coming in, because he was doing the voice of the semi-deranged parrot. He came in to discuss the parameters of the character, its motivation...

TJ: The motivation of the parrot, by the way, is generally millet seed or pistachio nuts.

DA: Anyway, he saw what we'd been doing for the game, the graphics and the animations, and he asked, "Is there anything else I can do?" So I said, "Well, would you fancy writing the novel? We need it in five weeks." And he said, "Oh, no trouble at all. In fact, I'll just do it in the mornings, do it in three weeks, and then take two weeks off."

TJ: I didn't know it was going to take three weeks. That's just how long it took for me to run out of treatment.

DA: After all the furor to get the book done in time to release it with the game, the game has done what every single piece of software in the history of multimedia software has done, which is turn out to be six months late. But it's brilliant.

TJ: When I went in to do my work for the parrot, Douglas showed me the designs for the game. They're absolutely stunning.

DA: And what's particularly special about it is that not only does it look fabulous -- and I can say that since I didn't do any of the design --, you can carry on conversations with all the characters. We've had to develop a highly sophisticated language machine into the game, and have recorded over twelve hours of dialgoue snippets which can then be strung together to create a conversation. When it works, it's pretty damn devastating. We just have to make sure it happens all the time.

RH: You're both used to working in cross-media platforms by now, of course.

DA: I enjoy it. For the last few years, I've only been writing novels, and while I'm happy to write novels from time to time, I'd like the freedom and opportunity to do other projects.

TJ: It's a peculiarity of modern times, that we think that everybody should be just one thing, that you're a writer of comedy, or of science fiction, and you should just do that one thing and stick at it.

RH: In fact, this is your first science-fiction novel, but you've previously written some fantasy material.

TJ: Usually for children, right. In fact, I just had another book come out a few weeks ago called The Knight and the Squire, a historical epic for children. And I directed a movie, The Wind in the Willows, which was released by Columbia recently.

DA: And how did it get reviewed, Terry?

TJ: It got absolute raves, Douglas, since you ask. The New York Times said it was one of the best children's films ever...

RH: Variety even took Columbia to task for not releasing the film widely enough, right?

TJ: You're right, they did. Although I think their exact words weren't "broadly enough," but "at all." I suppose, though, that technically they did release it, they're just not advertising it. Although we're told it did very well in Salt Lake City.

RH: Now, if I'm reading the press kit right, Douglas did some work with Monty Python?

DA: Almost none at all, really.

TJ: Douglas appeared in some small cameos.

DA: If you put them all together, it might add up to a good three seconds... There is one other, tiny connection. When you were doing the album to Holy Grail, and for some Pythonic reason you decided you didn't want to do material from the film on the album, there was a sketch I'd written some time before that, along with several other people, about a film director wanting to make a new movie with Marilyn Monroe. I rewrote the sketch with Graham [Chapman], then I think you and Michael [Palin] rewrote it yet again. By the time it got on the album, I think one of my actual lines still appeared in it. So there's one tiny, tiny, little remote bit of a credit.

RH: Both Starship Titanic and Monty Python have websites. How much involvement do you each have in the respective sites?

TJ: I can answer that quickly: not very much. Eric [Idle] has really been the vanguard of PythOnline. I answer some email on it occasionally, but that's about it.

DA: In my case, I was involved in the conceptual stages: what would be on the site, how it would work. But Michael Bywater did the bulk of the actual writing. It's very well-written, and I can say that because I didn't write it.

RH: What's next for each of you?

TJ: I'm making a series of films for the Discovery Channel called Ancient Inventions, and I'm writing a screenplay for a film called Longitude.

DA: My next planned project is a new novel called The Difference Engineer, but what may derail that is that we're close to finally reaching a deal to do Hitchhiker's Guide as a movie.

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BEATRICE Suggested further reading
Daniel Handler | Complete Interview Index | Tibor Fischer

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