Where To Start With Terry Pratchett…

New to Terry Pratchett? Which book should you read first? I’ve been reading Terry’s books for over 30 years and will give you a quick guided tour of the best places to start with Terry and the Discworld. I also acknowledge the influence of Terry’s writing on my own work and my new book The Crow Folk.

Transcript:

Hello, folks
Mark Stay here
In the description of my new book, The Crow Folk, the publisher has written “For fans of Lev Grossman and Terry Pratchett,” and a bit further down there’s lovely quote from the author Ian Sainsbury, who says “Pratchett fans will love this book,” which is a comparison that both thrills and terrifies me.
I’ve been reading Terry’s books since I was 14, 15 years old, which is over 30 years.
It’s safe to say that no writer has come close to capturing my imagination in the way that he did.
I’ve not got everything he’s written, but I’m fairly close. And like any fan of Terry’s work, my first reaction when someone says, “This this is just like Terry Pratchett!” is,
“Yeah, yeah, right.”
So what I want to talk about today is the debt that I owe to to Terry Pratchett, and how I’ve come to terms with that comparison.
But I’m also aware there are people out there who won’t have read any Terry Pratchett, and they will look at all the backlist and… It’s a bit bewildering and thinking, Well, where do I start? It’s probably one the most common questions from any new reader. So let’s have a look at some entry points for new readers to the Discworld and Terry Pratchett.
The Discworld, as its name suggests, is a flat disc of a world on the back of four elephants on the back of a giant flying turtle floating through space. And it’s a wonderful precinct for every kind of story. Terry’s stories combine magic with wry humour,
and a humanity that I think you don’t see a lot in fantasy. At least, you didn’t until Terry came along. And as the series have evolved, various story threads have evolved, various kind of distinct series within series and fans have their favourites, and it started with The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, pretty much you know, the first book and a sequel. These two really do tie in, and it covers the story of a cowardly
Wizard called Rincewind. These are fun. It’s not Discworld at its best. It’s still something of a parody, at this point, of regular fantasy, and it’s interesting… you compare them to the later books how far the books have evolved over time, so… These are great. I wouldn’t say start with these.
Some of the most beloved books are the stories of The Watch. The City Watch. There’s a city,Ankh Morpork, and there’s a city watch led by Captain Vimes. They all started with this book Guards, Guards, which is written in tribute to… in any other fantasy story, the poor guards who run into the room and are slaughtered by the hero straight away. These are terrific fun, really, really good fun. There is a TV show coming which doesn’t… it shares some of the DNA of the books, but frankly… It’s one of those things… Good Omens aside — we’ll come to that in a minute — I’m not sure you can adapt Terry’s books for TV and film, because the things I love about Terry’s books the most is the writing itself,
the prose and the characters. The stories are good fun, but I don’t think they lend themselves to TV adaptation in the way that other books do. This is just magic.
This is a great one to start with. The other ones are the books that feature Death.
I mean Death features in every single one of Terry’s books. He’s the one recurring character that crops up all the way through. This was actually the first book I ever read in the Terry Pratchett canon: Mort, which I absolutely adore. Death takes on a young apprentice, and it’s just brilliant, very moving in places as well. Death was such a hit in this one, it’s probably the first time he really came to the forefront in any of the
stories, he started getting his own novels, and this again, is a huge favourite. Reaper Man, where death essentially takes a holiday. Definitely worth recommending, but start with Mort if that’s your kind of thing.
There are all kinds of stand-alones as well, within the series. Books like Soul Music,
which is about rock and roll, Moving Pictures, which is about movies. Pyramids, which is set in a kind of Discworld version of Egypt. They’re all good fun. Probably don’t start with those. They’re kind of atypical. They’re the ones that you discover once you love the series. Of course, the one stand alone, probably even if you’ve never read Terry, you probably do know, is Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman, back in 1990
Signed!
Which, again… Just one of my absolute favourites.
It’s about the apocalypse, on the face of it, it feels like a parody of The Omen and that kind of genre. But again, there’s so much more to it. So much more fun to it.
But the books I love the most, and this is where I do owe Terry a debt, are the witches series which feature three witches… it evolves over time, in a kingdom called Lancre,
which is this kind of, it’s, like, cliffs tumbling across farms, and it’s it’s a wonderful, magical place.
Ostensibly, it starts with this one, Equal Rights, but in the same way that The Colour of Magic and Light Fantastic aren’t quite fully evolved Discworld. Granny Weatherwax, the lead witch, she first appears in this. But it’s not quite the Granny Weatherwax that that we come to love. It’s a lovely book. It’s a really, really lovely book, but it’s not quite… It’s not where I’d recommend you start. For that, I’ll send you the Wyrd Sisters, which is essentially Macbeth, but from the witches’ point of view. And then you get our trio of witches: Granny Weatherwax, the hilarious Nanny Ogg, and Magrat, who is kind of their their drippy apprentice. This is huge fun and my favourites of all of Terry’s books,
probably are the Witches ones.
And there have been a number of them, where they go off on various adventures.
I’ve got a soft spot for this one, because I remember reading this in hospital when I had kidney stones, so this was a bit of a lifesaver. And there are all sorts here, which are just wonderful, magical stuff.
He then did something very clever. He introduced a new witch, in a book called The Wee Free Men, called Tiffany Aching, who has gone on to have her own series.
They started, as you see, slightly smaller hardcovers. They started as children’s books and then folded into the mainstream of the Discworld canon essentially, and it’s rather fitting that Terry’s last book featured Tiffany Aching: The Shepherd’s Crown. I know a lot of people who can’t bring themselves to read this book I completely understand why, and it’s… it is a difficult read I did get very choked up… I’m getting choked up.
just thinking about it. It is a tough read, but it is wonderful.
One of his best books, actually…
I’ve learned so much from reading Terry’s work: the importance of
character over plot, that use of language and vernacular language.
But most of all, the importance of being yourself as a writer.
The comparisons, “This is like Terry Pratchett,” it’s only ever meant as a guide.
So am I trying to write like Terry? Bloody hell, no, no, I could never do that.
But has he inspired me? More than he could possibly know.
And he continues to do so.
And if you’re new to him, hopefully he will inspire you, too

Getting pre-pub quotes for your novel

A few weeks ago, just after finishing the copy edit for The End of Magic, I decided it was time to see if I could get some advance quotes for the book from authors that I knew. I got some ARCs printed and converted my doc into ePub and Mobi (for Kindle) using a free bit of software called Calibre.

I had drawn up a list of authors I knew, popped them on a Google spreadsheet, and started making contact with an introductory message asking if they would be interested in reading the book and giving me a quote, while acknowledging that they are most likely deluged with such requests. I gave a deadline of the first week of December (when the book is going to print) as it would be great to have a positioning quote on the book’s cover.

A few got back saying they were just too busy, and that was to be expected (I was surprised that wasn’t the reply from everyone, to be honest!), but I was delighted to see that most replied saying they would do their best and get back to me before the deadline.

One author replied saying that they couldn’t get into the book, and again that’s fine. I wanted honest reviews and it’s always a big ask to get someone to read your novel, so I was cool with that. All I wanted was one quote. Just one I could pop on the cover. And then, this week, the quotes started coming in…

Edward Cox, author of the epic Relic Guild series, says… “Slick and entertaining, The End of Magic is powerful fantasy.”

Gavin G Smith, author of the superb Bastard Legion series, says… “Mark Stay takes the tropes of high fantasy and uses them to wield an original, compelling and intricately plotted story. With some wonderfully human characters (even the elves) and at times laugh out loud funny, The End of Magic is exactly the kind of fantasy that we need more of.”

And James Barclay, author of the classic Raven series, says… “Mark Stay’s End of Magic is the sort of book you give to people who say ‘prove to me why I should read fantasy’. It’s an intensely human novel, beautifully paced, populated by finely drawn characters and containing startling allegories to the world we find ourselves in today. It deals with tragedy, cataclysm, treachery and hope with equal skill. It asks difficult questions and answers them with clever twists, neat prose and incisive dialogue; delivering a most satisfying conclusion. I loved the humour amidst the tragedy. I was drawn in by the premise, carried along by the unfolding dramas and disasters, the hard, sometimes conflicting choices and inspired by the sheer will of the human spirit to triumph over disaster. A simply terrific read.” 

I currently have an ego the size of Jupiter and I am a very happy writer… Also, James’s email was perfectly timed as it arrived just after a note from my script agent telling me I had just been rejected for a gig, so I’m doubly pleased.

With any luck there will be a few more like this before we go to print, but if it stopped right there I would still be happy. However, I might be cheeky and chance my arm with a few more requests. Even post-publication these quotes still have great value. They position the book for the browsing reader and give the book a credibility beyond me begging you to give it a go…

Speaking of which…

Why not give a pledge for Christmas? Get a loved one’s name in a book! Click here to make someone happy (and not just me!).

For regular writing tips, news and other stuff to help a writer get through the day, sign-up to my monthly newsletter, and grab a FREE eBook while you’re at it!

I got some ARCs printed…

Now that the copy edits are done on The End of Magic, the proof read will be next and after that comes the print deadline* when no further changes can be made. Before we go to print I would love to get at least one quote from an author saying how wonderful the book is. Something that we can put on the cover and on the feed that goes out to all retailers.

These really help position and legitimise your book in the mind of any potential reader and can help with sales. Unbound don’t have any budget for proofs or ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies), so I had ten printed from scratch for the princely sum of £51.** These are basic… very basic…

IMG_4139

… but they’ve come out beautifully.

I created the print version from my copy edit file and tinkered with it in Vellum, creating ePub, Mobi (Kindle) and print versions.  Vellum is a fairly pricey piece of software, Mac only, and it’s options are limited, but it really does create a professional-looking book.

I drew up a list of authors I thought might be up for reading it (their names will remain secret, just in case they hate it!), but they’re all writers that I know and whose opinions I respect, so a quote from any one of them would mean the world to me. And, knowing they’ll all be drowning in ARCs and quote requests, I politely approached them first and asked if they were up for reading my book. Most came back and said yes – a couple politely declined, which is fine as I prefer a straight no to a never-maybe – and gave me their preferred format. I then either sent them digital files or added them to the print list. I’ve kept all this on a grid to keep track of when they go out and who to…

And now it’s out there, people I respect and admire might just be reading it, and if you need me I’ll be over here in the corner quietly rocking back and forth and trying not to think about it…

 

*Oh, and I can now confirm that we have an official publication date!

7th February 2019.

Pre-order now if you want your name in the book!

 

**UPDATE – a few people have asked where I got these printed. I work at Hachette in the UK and they have an amazing print room in the basement, and this was the fastest and easiest way to get them printed. If that wasn’t an option I would probably go to Ingram Spark or Lulu.

For regular writing tips, news and other stuff to help a writer get through the day, sign-up to my monthly newsletter, and grab a FREE eBook while you’re at it!

Listen to my writing retreat diaries…

The highlights of my audio diaries from my recent writing retreat were aired on the Dominic King show on BBC Radio Kent these last couple of nights.

You can hear me interview Marcus Sedgwick (in a hot tub!) here. Skip forward to 1 hour 29 mins.

And I spoke to YA author Dawn Kurtagich (not in a hot tub) here. Skip forward to 2 hours 10 mins.

The full-length diaries will be on the Bestseller Experiment podcast soon, so for more hot tub action (and insight into the writing process, of course) don’t forget to subscribe to that here!

 

For regular writing tips, news and other stuff to help a writer get through the day, sign-up to my monthly newsletter, and grab a FREE eBook while you’re at it!

Writing retreat – day 5 – Climb Every Mountain…

Bet you expected a photo of a mountain, didn’t you…? Well, there’s been a few of those this week already, and I heard somewhere that cats are popular on the interwebs, so I’m heading this blog with a pic of Napoleon the cat* in a craven attempt to be down with the kidz.

Today was the final full day of this writing retreat at Le Chant de la Cascade and there’s a bit of an end of term feel to proceedings. I was up at around 6am, and by 10am I had done all I set out to achieve. The first five chapters of my middle grade book have been thoroughly rewritten and I have a road map of how to finish the rest of the book. Just having the head space to ruminate on this story has been invaluable. Note that I said ruminate and not concentrate. Concentrating is what I do during my regular working week; grabbing an hour here and there and focussing intently on the story. Here I’ve been allowed to let it drift in and out of my head as it pleases and we’ve been getting along better than ever as a result.

After my session, I went for a walk and found myself clambering up a very steep path, stopping every twenty minutes or so to avoid a coronary. I was eventually treated to this…

IMG_1657
Yes, another bloody photo of Mont Blanc… but look at it!

This has been an extraordinary week. A leap forward for a writing project, great company with my fellow writers, and wonderful hosts in Marcus and Maureen. If you have a project that needs some rumination and you like an environment that’s tranquil and inspiring, then check out the next retreat in May. I can’t recommend it enough.

 

*Not his real name. He asked for anonymity.

 

For regular writing tips, news and other stuff to help a writer get through the day, sign-up to my monthly newsletter, and grab a FREE eBook while you’re at it!

Writing Retreat – day 4 – mind groove

The best thing about this retreat is the space it gives you to think. Work emails are off on all my devices, I’m not worrying about catching trains, or getting to meetings on time. I’ve been given the luxury of time to let this story float around in my head and take shape.

I’m still working on streamlining the opening, which has meant chunky rewrites, but I’m really happy with how they’re coming out and I now feel like I have a roadmap to finish the next draft of this book before the end of the year, if not sooner.

It also helps that my fellow retreaters are night owls and I’m up first thing in the morning, which gives me the run of the place all morning.

After the morning session, we became tourists and visited the market in Les Gets and Morzine and I think I’ve bought chocolate, cheese and beer than will actually fit in my luggage. Our host, Maureen also took on a diversion to Lac de Montriond (pictured above) which is depleted after a drought. Everywhere you look here, there is epic scenery and I know I’ve banged about this already, but it really does get the synapses sparking.

We’ve been discussing author intent all week, so tonight we watched Room 237, a wonderfully bonkers documentary where various writers/conspiracy theorists outline their thoughts on Kubrick’s intent for The Shining.

IMG_3989

Most of them start with intriguing hypotheses, and then eventually go off the deep end because they just don’t know when to stop. My theory about The Shining is it’s just about a poor writer who wants to finish his book, but his wife and kid keep interrupting him… maybe he should go on a retreat?

All work and no play… something… something…

For more details about the retreat click here.

To read about the final day click here

For regular writing tips, news and other stuff to help a writer get through the day, sign-up to my monthly newsletter, and grab a FREE eBook while you’re at it!

Writing Retreat – day 3 – Taking out the trash…

Another early start with a little bit of light podcasting for next week’s episode, and a good morning’s writing. I’m realising that a big problem with this book is I’m setting too much up too soon, and a lot of what I’m setting up doesn’t even need to be there in the first place (retrospect is a fine thing and this is why we have rewrites). So my first four or five chapters might only need to be three chapters with clearer intent so that the reader’s expectations aren’t muddled and I have a greater chance of getting them engaged with the story.

It’s all about focusing on what’s important and taking out the trash… Speaking of which, Marcus asked if we fancied helping him take the trash up the road to where it’s collected, because when you get there, this is the view…

IMG_1643
Mont Blanc… which, on the hour, every hour, rumbles and ejaculates a new overpriced fountain pen from its summit.

 

I mean… blimey… that puts our local recycling centre into perspective. I couldn’t stop staring at it, and these photos don’t do it any justice whatsoever. It’s magnificent and gets something ticking over in my excitable little brain.

Fired-up once more, I returned to the chalet and worked harder than ever. This is the nook that I’ve been writing in. A little mezzanine level in the chalet with a not-remotely distracting view of the trees gently swaying outside…

IMG_3932

After a walk and an incredible dinner, we gathered for this evening’s session with Marcus, which was on endings, twists and readers’ expectations. This all came from conversations we’d each had with Marcus during the day, which is such a nice way of tailoring the group sessions to our own needs. I also got to interview one of my fellow retreaters Dawn Kurtagich who has been to a number of retreats and now even runs her own (subscribe to the podcast to make sure you don’t miss out on that!).

Once again, this retreat has defied all expectations and I can heartily recommend it. Check out more details of the May retreat here, and if that doesn’t convince you then this is the sort of food we’re getting…

IMG_3958
I mean, come on…

For day 4 click here.

For regular writing tips, news and other stuff to help a writer get through the day, sign-up to my monthly newsletter, and grab a FREE eBook while you’re at it!

Writing Retreat – day 2 – hot tub writing machine…

I was up pretty early this morning and got straight into my rewrites, working solid for an hour or so before I hit a crossroad. One of those writing moments where your choices can end up taking you down all sorts of blind alleys. 

Last night, our host Marcus Sedgwick talked us through a mapping method that he uses to sketch out his outlines on a large sheet of paper. I gave this a go, but my bum had been stuck in the same spot for too long, so I decided to take a walk to get the oxygen flowing through my beleaguered noggin. Marcus thought this was a good idea, pointing out that the Romans had a phrase for this: Solvitur Ambulando! (Yes, say it out loud and make a Harry Potter wand action, good, yes, now sit down, well done). It means, ‘It is solved by walking.’ Well, I’m all for that, especially when the views are like this…

These photos do this place no justice whatsoever. It’s incredible. Sheer cliffs, mossy boulders the size of a house, the distant clonk-clonk of cow bells, deep, impenetrable woods echoing with the sound of mysterious creatures… if you’re not inspired by this stuff, then there’s no hope for you.

After a couple of hours going up-diddly-up, I came down-diddly-down, staying close to the stream to ensure that I didn’t get completely lost. Returning to the chalet I was fired up and ready to write and had a very productive afternoon completely and utterly rewriting the second chapter of my middle grade book.

Part of my suspicion of writing retreats is the thought of having to read out my stuff to a bunch of other writers who will then rip it to shreds. I embrace a bit of healthy criticism, but I’ve ever thought that’s the best way to go about it. However, our session with Marcus this afternoon was partly inspired by my switching from third person past tense, to first person present, and so it made sense to read a bit of both versions out to make the comparison, and I’m glad to say it went down very well. We also discussed character, opening pages and how shifting the perspective of your narrator’s voice can make a dramatic difference to the tone of your writing. This was an easygoing hour or so with a small group and it was inspiring stuff.

I can’t recommend this retreat enough and there’s another one next May if you fancy it. Click here to check it out.

Oh, and tonight I got to interview Marcus while we were both in the hot tub. Another first for the Bestseller Experiment. Please subscribe on iTunes or your pod catcher of choice to ensure that you don’t miss out!

Click here for day 3.

For regular writing tips, news and other stuff to help a writer get through the day, sign-up to my monthly newsletter, and grab a FREE eBook while you’re at it!

Writing retreat – day 1 – Good news, bad news…

I’ve always had a healthy, working class suspicion of writing retreats: do you really need to go to a nice country house in Dorset to work on your novel…? Really?! Really??! Oh, get over yourself…

But then I stumbled across Le Chant de la Cascade over on Instagram. A retreat run by Marcus Sedgwick, an award-winning children’s author whose books I used to sell when he was published at Orion Children’s and someone whose writing I like very much, and he’s a very decent chap… and as I’ve said before, in these trying times I try to only work with nice people.

I dropped Marcus a line and he explained that the retreat is a small affair, just a handful of writers, and it’s all very relaxed and easygoing. No enforced jolliment or systematic abuse or ritual humiliation (you might think I’m confusing prison with writing retreats, but I have heard horror stories…).

After an incredible drive from Geneva through some truly stunning countryside we arrived in approximately the middle of nowhere, and it’s perfect. The only sound is the gentle hiss of the wind through the trees and the occasional cock-a-doodle-doo from a laid back cockerel.

I’m here to crack a middle grade children’s novel that I’ve been working on. I sent a draft to Karen Ball over at Speckled Pen and she gave me some excellent notes, which I plan to tackle while I’m here. The main note was about the authorial voice of the book. It’s currently in the third person past tense, and she noted that it just sounded too much like me (a bloke in his forties) and not the protagonist (a child), which can really hobble a children’s book. Karen advised that I read Joanna Nadin’s Joe All Alone – an excellent example of a first person present tense children’s novel – to see if it appealed… and it does. My first task today was to experiment with my book and see if that worked for me… and it does. That’s the good news. The bad news is I now have to rewrite the whole book in the first person present tense, which is a bit of an undertaking, but y’know what? What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, and that applies to rewrites.

Tonight, Marcus, myself and the other writers here discussed plotting, outlining, story, and we had fun sorting lyrics from ballads and synopses from films into order. This has put us all in an excellent frame of mind for the rest of the week… More tomorrow!

Click here for day 2

To find out more about the retreat click here.

For regular writing tips, news and other stuff to help a writer get through the day, sign-up to my monthly newsletter, and grab a FREE eBook while you’re at it!

Put these in your ears…

Safer than Q-tips and a lot more educational and edifying, you can hear me waffle on not one, not two, but three podcasts this week!

First up, of course, is the Bestseller Experiment where I speak to the wonderful Pernille Hughes about her road to publication, why she shared a photocopier with La-La the Teletubby, and we play a game called ‘Getting to know you’ where there are no right answers. You can listen here.

Secondly, comes the second part of an epic three-part trilogy on The Hero’s Journey that I’m recording with the wise and learned Julian Barr. We look at tricky middle acts, inmost caves, and that sort of stuff with examples from The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars and The Notebook. But the best part of these is the thoughtful, polite noise Julian makes when I say something stupid… These are for our Patreon supporters, but if you’re not one of them (and if not, why not??), then you can listen to a sneaky peek here.

And third is this interview with Tim Clare on the Death of 1000 Cuts podcast. This is especially fun as Tim laughs at most of my jokes, I drop some truth bombs about marketing and publishing, and then a fire alarm goes off during the interview and Tim keeps it in. You can listen on iTunes here, or the thingy below…