Tag Archives: Terry Pratchett

Stirling Literary Society

The Resident IT Consultant had been a couple of times, but I needed something special to tempt me out on a wet and dark Monday night, so it was my first time. Stirling Literary Society meet at The Smith [local museum] once a month, and the thing that got me out of the house was Scottish Children’s Literature. Dr Maureen Farrell from the University of Glasgow drove through floods to tell us about it.

When she realised that her degree didn’t cover any Scottish books Maureen decided to do her PhD on Scottish children’s literature, but was dissuaded because it was thought there wasn’t enough material for a doctorate… (I was unsure in the end if she went ahead with it anyway, or not. But whichever way, Maureen knows a few things about those non-existent children’s books.)

In the ‘beginning’ there were books, and some children read them. And there were chapbooks, sold by travelling chapmen. In the 18th century James Janeway published A Token for Children. Often books were written by puritans who wanted to educate, and needed to use language accessible to children. As early as 1744 there were ‘magazine giveaways’ with balls for boys and hoops for girls.

Then we had Sir Walter Scott. Naturally. He wrote a book for his grandson, but as a ‘very wordy writer’ it probably wasn’t all that easy to read. But he enjoyed it so much he wanted to give up writing adult books. The first proper children’s book in Scotland seems to have been Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House, where children played and were naughty.

Maureen Farrell’s criteria for what counts as Scottish literature are books by someone Scottish, set in Scotland or about Scottish people. If not, we couldn’t lay claim to J K Rowling or Julia Donaldson.

There wasn’t really time enough to talk even quite briefly about most Scottish authors. Maureen galloped past Treasure Island, The Light Princess, Peter Pan, and on to Theresa Breslin and Eric Linklater, explaining what the Carnegie Medal is (very elderly audience, but maybe not necessary?), Molly Hunter, Joan Lingard, and she showed us covers of lots of books, including The Wee Free Men.

She described the beginning chapter of Nicola Morgan’s Fleshmarket, and I decided I could possibly avoid fainting if I was lucky. Jackie Kay cropped up with both fiction and poetry, local author Rennie McOwan got some attention, as did Mairi Hedderwick and Debi Gliori.

And then there were the books in Scots, of which she had many to show us. I particularly liked Roald Dahl’s The Twits, which became The Eejits.

I reckon you can deduce that there’s enough for a PhD there, somewhere. We could have gone on for hours and only skimmed the surface. There was a lot I knew about, obviously, but there was also quite a bit I didn’t, because I was never a small Scottish child, unlike others in the audience who had strong and fond memories of many of the books mentioned.

The Compleat Discworld Atlas

‘Oh, it’s not a real map,’ said the Resident IT Consultant on seeing the newly arrived Discworld Atlas. Whereas I would say it is as real as Discworld. But what do I know?

In fact, I feel it looks suspiciously like Earth in some ways, which is odd for something supposedly flat, which rests on tortoises and elephants and stuff. (I know. Discworld experts are fainting left, right and centre on hearing – reading – my ignorant musings on Discworld. Sorry.)

It’s just, my Discworld looks different, in my head. And yours, and theirs, will be different still inside your respective heads. Which is where it should remain, unless it’s to get messy.

The Compleat Discworld Atlas

But it’s a lovely volume of regional maps (I’d forgotten, or possibly never realised, quite how many areas there are), with all sorts of information on people and money and anything else you might want to know.

And when you get to the end there is a big fold-out map, which could get very nicely tangled in windy weather or turn soggy in the rain, were you to take it out when you go places.

All in all, this is a nice book. At least, I think so. If it has anything new to offer the Discworld nerd, sorry, specialist, I couldn’t say. It has plenty to offer me, and that’s what matters.

(You could always play with the elastic band which keeps the atlas under control.)

The Shepherd’s Crown

When you know it’s the last book, it’s hard to see clearly. But reading Terry Pratchett’s last gift to his fans, The Shepherd’s Crown, I did my best, and I’m fairly sure it’s as wonderful a story as we hoped for. Maybe it would have been a bit longer if Terry had had longer. But it is most satisfactory as it is.

Terry Pratchett, The Shepherd's Crown

When reading about Granny Weatherwax and her approach to meeting Death, you can’t help but feel this was also Terry Pratchett’s way. Perhaps his real name was Esmeralda? He probably didn’t scrub the toilets in his house as Death approached, but he will have done the stuff he did; write books.

There are so many thoughtful thoughts in The Shepherd’s Crown, and so many words, good words, well used, that you can’t really tell that they were assembled by a man with Alzheimer’s. Most of us would be proud to write like this at any time.

I got that warm glow from reading, that one of the characters in the book discovers, once she realises that having carried one basket is not enough. You can go on doing things for others.

Tiffany Aching finds that you can fill someone else’s boots, even if you don’t think so yourself. Or you can use your own boots. That will also work just fine. Tiffany comes to countless understandings about witches and people and everything else in the world. And this is what we needed to hear. Terry sorted the world out for us, as much as he possibly could.

And there is a lovely new character, a male witch with an uncommonly good grasp of how people function. You simply cannot beat a decent shed.

‘My’ book

Children's Media Yearbook 2015 - Terry PratchettWell, a bit. You may well not have heard of the Children’s Media Yearbook. I hadn’t either, but when I was asked to write a Farewell to Terry Pratchett I obviously had to do it. The Children’s Media Foundation – the leading UK advocacy body for quality and choice in children’s media – publish a yearbook to inform and stimulate debate across the issues that are relevant to children’s media. And clearly they needed me for this.

Children's Media Yearbook 2015

Lynn Whitaker who edited the book, wanted to use a reworked version of my first Terry Pratchett interview, so that’s what she got. The first, with extra bits and snippets from the second. So, you will have read most of the text already.

And then I went and owned up to having stolen Chris Riddell’s cartoon of Terry and Death, simply because I felt it would be the perfect illustration to go with my piece. As I’ve already hinted, Chris agreed, which was very kind of him.

Children's Media Yearbook 2015 - Terry Pratchett by Chris Riddell

So here I am in the company of two of the greats. My copy of the book arrived just as we were in the grips of Death at Bookwitch Towers, which is why I had to share it with you right now.

The attaché case

The things a witch sees when travelling…

We went into town on the bus a couple of days ago, and miraculously they had not changed anything major at all. About the buses. Apart from the timetable.

When we got into town and the bus drove round a corner, I spied a well dressed man on the pavement. He wore what Swedes wear when they want to be fairly formal, which is shirt and jacket with jeans or slacks. He looked to be about 35, so not old. Not young, either.

On his head he wore a sort of bicycle helmet, and looking back, I can almost swear it was turquoise. And, between his lower legs was a turquoise attaché case. It moved. I.e. he rode the attaché case along the pavement.

I thought maybe this could be a common occurence here, but judging by the reaction of the young girls behind me, I’d have to say not.

When I told the Resident IT Consultant about it, he felt it was a bit like Terry Pratchett’s The Luggage. Only more turquoise.

Retiring Philippa

My pangs of envy and regret started even before Philippa Dickinson’s retirement festivities got under way on Monday. When you’re online you can see what everyone else is doing and quite a few people announced they were heading that way, making me wish I was too. But there are drawbacks to moving to Scotland, and the spontaneity of sudden trips south is one of them.

So I wasn’t there, and now I can follow – online again – those who were, and there are more pangs. But I’m glad there was a party, and that it was good, and that – almost – everyone else was there. Because Philippa deserves to be celebrated.

Philippa Dickinson

Back in 2009 when I was introduced to her at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, it felt a bit like meeting the Queen, although perhaps more relaxed. And six months later when her publicists invited me to actually come and spend a day in Ealing, I was impressed with her again, and not only for remembering me a little.

Random House Children’s Books felt like the most active publishing house at the time. And she might have been the MD, but Philippa was still hands-on (editing Terry Pratchett, the lucky thing), working like a normal person. During our brief meeting in her office, she made a point of showing me her personal recommendation and arranging for me to have a copy of Jack Gantos’s Joey Pigza.

Philippa and I are almost the same age, and occasionally I have stopped and asked myself what I have achieved with my life, and why I couldn’t be a bit more like her. (Answers on a postcard, please.)

Sometimes when I think of Philippa and wonder what made her better or more interesting than other publishing bosses, I realise that apart from a few directors of smaller publishing houses, I didn’t meet or get even a little acquainted with anyone else.

So maybe that’s why. You need to be out there, possibly rubbing shoulders with the little fish.

Do they even know?

Recently I had a brief discussion with an author about a small factual mistake in their book. I had sort of noticed it when I read the book, but was too busy actually reading and enjoying, so thought no more of it. It took the Resident IT Consultant to bring it up, and I decided I might as well mention it to the author, in case they’d rather know, perhaps with a view to correcting it in a reprint later on.

The author sighed, along the lines of how ‘the editor, copyeditor and proof reader could all have picked it up too, but didn’t.’ I’m not surprised. Not because I think these people are no good, but this wasn’t a grammatical error, or bad spelling, or anything that simply needed some pruning to look better.

We all make mistakes, even when we know the right answer. So the author is entitled to get things wrong, and the various people at the publisher’s are – sort of – allowed to miss it as well. The author could have asked someone, but to do that you need to know that you need to know. And you don’t always know that. Nor did these editors know that the author might not have known.

It’s rather like Masklin in Terry Pratchett’s Truckers says about learning to think: ‘some things we can’t think because we don’t know the words.’ And later on, about the nomes in the Store: ‘They don’t know, and they don’t even know they don’t know. What is it that we don’t know?’

In the last few years there are absolutely masses of words and ideas that I have realised I don’t know, when I had thought I did know. I’d been told these things by people I assumed knew. Maybe they did, or maybe they didn’t, and either way they didn’t know that either.

Life’s not easy, is it?