The lovely people at the Hair Past A Freckle asked if I could tell them ten things about me as part of the blog tour for The Crow Folk, so here goes…
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.
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
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
Yesterday, we finally launched our book Back to Reality (I may have mentioned it once or twice on social media), and it was an incredible day. Here’s what I wrote in my diary last night…
Monday 16th October
Publication day! I’m completely knackered, so here’s a quick summary…
My first solo Youtube Live starts well, but soon descends into confusion as it becomes apparent that there was some kind of problem with the link and a bunch of people were on the wrong Youtube page.
I’m stuck in a glass cubicle at work and I’m sweating, but the sales and reviews are coming in. The reviews are completely heartwarming.
We try and hook up with Mike Morris, but he’s in Dubai and we can’t connect so we have to drop his slot. Not great – nothing techie is working!
Second session with Desvaux is better and by now we’re number one in popular music on Amazon.com, nudging aside Phil Collins and Carly Simon!
I’m humming by now, so stroll up to the Next near St Paul’s and buy some fresh t-shirts. It’s a warm, close day and the sky is amber and the sun is a blood orange – side effects of hurricane Ophelia, currently battering Ireland and Northern Ireland.
I freshen-up and change shirts in the toilet at work. We were hoping to speak to Joanna Harris, but the publicist whisks her away. Boo!
The evening Youtube session is the best one. We’re getting the hang of it now, and the enthusiasm from the listeners is wonderful and sustains us.
On the train home, and we’re #1 in three categories on Amazon.com, including Fantasy Humor… above Good Omens and The Colour of Magic…
That’s a pinch-me moment!
Desvaux tweets Gaiman, who retweets us and my notifications go crazy. Desvaux says we’ll faint. Gaiman wants to see the faints, so we film them… More RT fun.
We end the day by finally getting an orange ‘Bestseller’ flag on Amazon.com.
Now for sleep.
Howdy, this month’s chicken centrefold is Giz. Say hello to Giz…
We’ve learned quite a few things on the Bestseller Experiment podcast, but the one lesson that’s really chimed with me is the importance of a deadline. And not only a deadline, but a big, public bastard declaration of a deadline that you can’t go back on without making yourself look a complete pillock and suffering big heapings of public shame when you don’t meet it.
It focuses the mind of a writer, forces you to make difficult decisions, doesn’t give you much time for self-doubt, and increases productivity. Just have a look at Brandon Sanderson’s website: he has little progression bars for each of his projects right there on the homepage, and I’m sure this plays a big part in maintaining his incredibly prolific output. Deadlines can be terrifying, but after a year of writing for the podcast I can tell you they bloody work. I still haven’t decided when I’ll make my next stupid declaration. Maybe by the end of this newsletter…? Who knows?
During the meanwhilst, our novel has been through an edit, another rewrite, and is currently with our copy editor. She’s currently getting forensic on its ass, and we look forward to getting a document riddled with notes pointing out our poor grammar, punctuation and identifying massive plot holes.
It’s also with a couple of advance readers. Just a handful at first, then we’ll take on their feedback and widen it out to others. The truth is, we don’t have much time, so if they come back with ‘It stinks, rewrite the whole thing and set it in 12th century Mongolia,’ then we’re kind of screwed. Fortunately, so far we’ve had ‘This isn’t what I expected, but I’m really enjoying it,’ comments (it really is unlike anything I’ve written before).
We’ve also had our first meeting with our cover designer, which was incredibly exciting and promises to be the most enjoyable part of the experiment if for no other reason than it’s our chance to torture a fellow creative. There will be some kind of cover reveal in the next month or so. Follow us on the Twitters, Facebook and Instagram to be the first to know.
I’ve also gone back to look at a couple of projects that I put aside in order to concentrate on the Bestseller Experiment. The first is a middle-grade science fiction adventure novel. I finished the first draft of this almost exactly a year ago, and I’m happy to say that it stands up to scrutiny pretty well. I’m giving it a light polish before sending it to my agent. My hope is that this will get picked up by a children’s publisher and be the first in a bestselling series, leading to big budget movies, action figures and inordinately expensive Lego kits.
The other project… Well, maybe it’s time for a big, stupid, ballsy, public declaration of a deadline? This project started as a book in 2008, then became a TV pilot script, then went back to being a book again, then was reduced to a treatment for another version of a TV show. It was an idea in search of a format and was in danger of being completely abandoned, but whenever I went back to it I knew that it had such rich potential. Another big lesson learned from the Bestseller Experiment is that a good series can be hugely successful. And it occurred to me that this project didn’t need to be just one book and it didn’t need to be restricted by TV and film budgets. It could be a series set in a single precinct, much like Robert Rankin’s Brentford, or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld where anything could happen. A kind of Midsomer Murders with magic, with a roster of characters and situations that will allow me to write about pretty much any theme I want to. It’s current working title is The Woodville Project after the school where I grew up (my parents were the school caretakers and I had the run of the fields and adventure playground… it was bloody brilliant).
So, my big, stupid, ballsy, public declaration is that I will write and self-publish three Woodville novellas in 2018. The first one in, pfft, I dunno… shall we say April? Fine, that’s a deal. Here we go!
Shit, what have I done?
Till next time!
PS. Of course this could all be scuppered by a really good film or TV deal coming along. I reserve the right to sell-out to Hollywood.
PPS. What’s your declaration? I promise not to tell anyone, but I will hold you to it. Life is short, what are you waiting for…? Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day…
PPS. Subscriber to my newsletter get this news first, so why not sign-up now? It’s Mailchimp, so no selling to spammers.
There was a time, about twenty years ago, when my reading prowess reached its peak. I could whip through a novel in a day. There was one holiday where I devoured twenty-four books in a fortnight (okay, most of them were short children’s books, but my holiday companions were all fairly impressed), and I was engaged and enthralled by all of them. No skim-reader, me.
But how times have changed. Writing takes up almost all of my spare time now. When I’m not working at the day job at Orion, I’m writing: on the train to work, my lunch break, the train home, the evenings and weekends. And then there’s real life: bits of housework and paying bills and all that crap. Oh, and a family! So I’ve found myself with very little time for reading. I tend to leave it till the end of the day, which I find is okay for non-fiction, but lately I’ve been really struggling with fiction, and at my age I need my snoozy-time beauty sleep, so I find myself reading twenty pages and nodding off.
One night last week I started reading the final Terry Pratchett novel THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN. I got about twenty pages in and had to stop myself. This was the great man’s last book. I’ve been reading Terry since I was a teenager, and would regularly read his books three or four times, and here we were at the end of his journey. This couldn’t be enjoyed piecemeal. It deserved to be savoured properly and so, for the first time in ages, I set aside some proper, quality reading time at the weekend. In the day time. And boy, does it change how you appreciate a book.
I was able to enjoy the quality of the writing, and had a much clearer feeling for the characters and their story arcs. I know this might sound like the bleeding obvious, but this was a reminder to me just how much I enjoyed reading.
So now I need to make this a regular thing. But how to make more time? I guess it means watching fewer crappy TV shows and less goofing about on Facebook and Twitter. So, should you see me there blethering on about the movies or (God forbid) politics or religion, ask me what I’m reading and that should get me skipping back to my bookshelf.
PS. This was written after 9pm, so apologies for any speling mistrakes. I’m rather tired…
PPS. THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN is a fitting and moving end to Terry’s work. I’m so glad I took the time to read it properly.