PUBLIC relations people flutter about like reverent young priests, speaking in low and urgent tones, raising a hand and smiling when they wish to make eye contact with the Godfather of Weird.

Terry Pratchett (pictured) is polite to a fault. No reporter's question is too nit-witted, nor photographer's idea for a picture too naff.

He smiles through it all. But, it is during the quiet moments while the babble about book signings and publishers' deals fades and moves away like a frantic little dust-devil that you get a glimpse of the man under the big black hat.

The creator of Discworld is quiet, with a slightly dry humour, and not himself over-disposed to make a fuss. But with 28 million book sales to his name he's a property around which a protective fence must be erected.

But he sees me watching him, and the face which is rather solemn in repose lights up. A hand shoots out, and soon we're sitting down and talking like the old workmates we were, very many years ago.

I ask about Lyn, his wife, and Rhianna, the baby I knew, who is now in her mid-20s. I tell him he hasn't changed very much, and it's the truth. Rather than chasing success, Terry Pratchett has had the good, native Bucks sense to not court fame and fortune, but to embrace it readily when it happened his way.

The occasion was the launching of his last book, The Thief Of Time, in both English and Welsh, in Cardiff.

Just as when I first met him 33 years ago, he is wearing black. He always wore black, favouring at one time polo necks, flared cords and one of those Egyptian ankh symbols on a silver chain around his neck. The ankh's gone and trousers aren't flared, but otherwise he's the same, only slightly greyer. I am delighted to see him after so many years.

"I read in one interview that you denied being a rich man, just a poor boy with a lot of money," I begin, making the transition from personal chat to interview.

"Well. I'll have to admit that I'm now very rich, but I'm horizontally rich rather than vertically rich.

"Vertically rich people get pots of money and then ask, 'Where's this Antibes place? They tell me I have to buy a house'. They let the money define what they are.

"Us horizontally rich live the sort of lives we want to lead, except we have a lot more money to do the things we want to do. For example, if my hobby had been model trains, you can be sure that by now I would have the biggest, most complex and expensive model railway system in the world.

"But I'd still be the same model train enthusiast." In fact, his hobby is breeding insectivorous plants. When he lived not far away, near Wells, his collection was on a modest scale. Now he lives near Salisbury and has a designer-built greenhouse.

Inanimate objects such as bound chests which suddenly sprout legs and begin to talk, dwarves, vagabonds, Wyrd sisters, wizards and necromancers populate his novels. Given that, it isn't difficult to make a connection between the fly-gobbling plants and his literature.

In the 1960s Terry Pratchett was heavily influenced by the satirical humour of the time, and that's in there, too. All these things and more have been thrown into a pot, seasoned with a crisp style he learned as a newspaperman and leavened with a pinch of his unique magic.

What comes out is a potation that could perhaps best be described as Heavy Metal meets Morris Dancing, and which clearly and quite understandably has a mass following. I say "clearly" because Pratchett has retained an umbilical connection to his fans. Like the workman he is, he knows he makes his living from them and therefore respects them. The main reason that he's agreed to have a simultaneous publication in Welsh is that he feels Welsh fans might appreciate it.

But the priests and priestesses are hovering. More pictures are required. We shake hands.

Richard Tunnicliffe is the publishing manager of Rily Publications, who got Pratchett signed up for his relatively small company.

"I just phoned him up and asked him if he'd let us publish him in Welsh. It was as simple as that," Richard Tunnicliffe says.

"I'm a great Pratchett fan and I know there are lots of people who would like to read his humorous and imaginative stuff in Welsh. There is a good tradition of publishing children's stuff and the more academic material in Welsh, but I feel there to be a lack of highly popular literature translated from English. It is a great publishing coup for us, there's no doubt of that.

"Terry Pratchett has already been translated into 27 languages, so evidently, the humour survives translation. A lot of it, though, is because he genuinely does care about his fans."

Pratchett's a Saxon, but not a Norman exploiter. He tills the literary soil to earn his corn and mead. He might be the richest husbandman on the block, but he's still our figurative neighbour.