Galaxy Hitchhiker Douglas Adams

How do you interview a genius?

Well, for one thing, you don’t try to keep up with him, you just toss him what you hope are good questions .. then just sit back and enjoy the answers.

Such describes my first interview with the great Douglas Adams.

His fans dubbed him DNA — Douglas Noel Adams.

Born in 1952 in Cambridge, England, Adams became a radio and television writer after studying at St. John’s College.

But when his book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was published in 1979, his career skyrocketed.

I first spoke with Douglas Adams in 1987 about his book “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.”

Photo: Michael Hughes – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0,

I decided one day I was going to write a detective story, then I thought, no actually what I want to do is write a ghost story, and I particularly wanted to do the ghost story because I wanted to tell a ghost story from the point of view of the ghost, who always gets the bad press. Then I thought, no actually what I want to write is a computer thriller.

And so it went on, and in the end I thought, well, I’ll put it all together — yes, it’s a ghost horror detective whodunit time travel romantic musical comedy epic. It’s a new genre, and this is the first and so far only book in the genre.

“You see, my previous books .. ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ once or twice I would find it in bookstores in the travel section. And then ‘Restaurant at the End of the Universe’ you’d find sort of amongst the restaurant and hotel guides. ‘So Long and Thanks For All the Fish’ would end up in the cookery section.

So I thought, well, if you do a ghost horror detective whodunit time travel romantic musical comedy epic, it can go in any part of the bookstore. They can put it where they like.”

I asked, “Have you ever stopped to think why your work is so popular?”

“If I did know, then I probably wouldn’t be able to do it anymore, so, no!” was his answer.

“It’s like trying to explain why a joke is funny,” I said.

Yeah, right, yes!”

“To those who don’t know you, by reputation or by your work, or by having heard you or read you, who is Douglas Adams?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never met him,” Adams quipped. “Well, I suppose he’s the person who wrote ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. He’s spent ten years doing it, which I think he probably thinks is too long.”

But indeed, whether Adams could explain it or not, the Hitchhikers stories have become part of the culture.

There were so many different version of it. People sort of kept saying, will you do a play version? We even did a bath towel in the end, so .. it started out as a radio show, then it became a book, a series of books, four books altogether. It was a four-book trilogy a trilogy for innumerates.

“There was a television series — I did the television series actually because I was told, and was astonished and horrified to learn, as I’m sure you will be when I tell you this, that there are people out there who neither read books nor listen to the radio.”

So I was curious: “What is one of your average days like, assuming your not on a book tour or doing interviews or giving lectures?”

Well, I have a routine,” Adams replied. “The routine is, I wake up and try to think of a routine. And after a while I realize I’m not going to achieve a routine, or rather. by the time I’ve decided on what the routine for the day will be, I’m already two hours late in starting it. So it gets very confusing.

By then I usually have to go out to lunch and think, well, I’ll spend the afternoon working out tomorrow’s routine.

“It’s funny — in England there was a regular magazine feature called, ‘A Life in the Day Of…’
A lot of people were asked just to say what their day is. And I remember reading a whole sequence of different writers, and each of them said, well, I wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning, get up, write a couple of chapters in my novel, then the post arrives and I deal with all the correspondence, then I take my wife or husband his or her breakfast, then I get down to do another couple of chapters of the novel, take the dog for a walk. then I sort of have a meeting with so-and-so…

And this is absolutely terrifying, to think that people are actually able to do that! And I really thought I’m just not going to be able to make it as a writer, because I cannot do this. And after a while, I suddenly realized what was going on: the people who were writing this column were writers. They were making it up! It was complete fantasy.’

Douglas Noel Adams died of a heart attack in 2001.

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