Bill Nighy might be one of the UK’s best-loved actors, known for roles from Love Actually’s Billy Mack to Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean. But he will be relegated to the marginalia in his next endeavour after signing up to read the footnotes in a new adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.
Nighy will be part of a star-studded re-recording of all 40 Discworld audiobooks from Penguin Random House, which will see narrators read nearly four million words in total, over almost 150 days in the studio, to result in more than 400 hours of finished audio. Indira Varma, of Game of Thrones fame, will be narrating Pratchett’s books about his trio of witches, Fleabag’s Sian Clifford will narrate the titles in which Death plays a major role, and Andy Serkis will narrate Small Gods, with more casting to be announced.
Nighy, meanwhile, will appear in all titles where there are footnotes; Pratchett was a sucker for a good annotation. “Ankh-Morpork had dallied with many forms of government and had ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; he had the Vote,” footnoting a line from Mort about the “accession of the Patrician”, is a classic of its kind, as is “Nanny Ogg knew how to start spelling ‘banana’, but didn’t know how you stopped”, footnoting “I have drawern a picture of a banananana dakry” in Witches Abroad.
Nighy said he was honoured to “bring to life one of the funniest, quirkiest and best-loved aspects of Terry Pratchett’s world … They are his personal commentary on the action, little snippets of information or funny asides,” he said. “They feel very much like the voice of the great man himself commenting on the action. I’ve enjoyed it enormously.”
Peter Serafinowicz will be voicing the part of Death. The hollow-voiced personification of death appears throughout the comic fantasy series, with his voice represented by Pratchett in capital letters, without quotation marks. “WELL, said Death in a voice with all the warmth and colour of an iceberg … WHY HAVE YOU SUMMONED ME?” writes Pratchett in 1983’s The Colour of Magic, which first introduced readers to his disc-shaped world, carried through space on the backs of four elephants standing on the star turtle Great A’Tuin.
“Coming back to Terry Pratchett’s world after many years has been a pleasure,” said Serafinowicz. “I loved his subversive, absurdist humour when I was a teenager and reading the part of Death, who appears in nearly all the Discworld books, has given me a renewed appreciation of his comic genius.”
Richard Lennon, PRH audio producer, said that although all the Discworld novels had been adapted as audiobooks before, “a lot of them came out when the books were originally published, and we decided it was time for something that felt a bit more contemporary”. The audiobooks are being produced and directed by Neil Gardner of Ladbroke Audio, who said he had bought Pratchett’s books “every year without fail” since 1987, describing it as “an immense pressure to do Terry and the fans justice”. Theme tunes for the novels have been composed by the Bafta-winning composer James Hannigan.
The plans were unveiled in the week of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Pratchett’s debut novel, The Carpet People. “We couldn’t be more delighted to have such a fitting tribute to Terry,” said Rob Wilkins, who manages the Terry Pratchett estate. “When the first finished audio files arrived at the Chapel – Terry’s writing room and centre of the Pratchett universe – I listened at full volume until the stone walls rattled and am beyond overjoyed with the results … Every single voice does justice to the wit, warmth and unique genius of Terry’s storytelling.”