Last week I went to an event organised by the Chiswick Book Festival (link here) in honour of the release of I Shall Wear Midnight (Sept. 2010) written by Sir Terry Pratchett.
I was first introduced to the work of Terry Pratchett when I was at University. I was working on the school's satirical newspaper (the one and only Breadcrumb and Democracy) and one of the other editors of the newspaper was a huge fan. He used to quote him in most of his essays and it became a practical joke. I knew a lot about Pratchett without having read any of his books. Then I read Good Omens and was introduced to the awesomeness of both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
I was really excited to hear him talk and get a book signed (for my friend and myself!) but I have to admit that the talk was rather short (well you would like to hear him talk for hours, wouldn't you!) and the Church where it was taking place was so packed that I could hardly hear anything. So here is a tiny report of what I could manage to hear and some pictures!
There are more than 30 novels in the Discworld series and the Tiffany Aching storyline has, for now, four books:
- The Wee Free Men (2003)
- A Hat Full of Sky (2004)
- Wintersmith (2006)
- I Shall Wear Midnight (2010)
Writing Children's Books for Adults:
Terry Pratchett started writing the story of Tiffany Aching seven years ago and has now made his character age and become an adult. I Shall Wear Midnight is what you would call a children's book for adults since there are adult/tough themes inside.
When he explained his concern to his editor, he/she answered that if he took a look at the YA books published recently, he'd see that the large majority of them are full of serious issues and themes and that basically, youngsters nowadays can take it.
The only difference between writing for adults and writing for children, Terry Pratchett was told, is red hot sex. And he's really bad at writing these things (so he claims - jokingly saying that people blame his wife!). Now when anyone asks him the difference between writing for adults and writing for children, he answers "red hot sex".
He says that for him there are absolutely no differences in the writing process between his books because fantasy is uni-age. Anyone can read fantasy from very young to very old and even though they might not read exactly the same thing, they will certainly enjoy it just as much.
Many journalists pointed out that there were a lot of real things and serious issues in I Shall Wear Midnight. "Why, yes of course" answered Terry Pratchett. He said that the presence of serious themes didn't take out the comical aspect of the novel since the contrary of serious is not serious and the contrary of funny is not funny, so you can write about a serious subject and still be funny (it sounds way funnier when he says it :) ).
How He Writes:
Terry Pratchett has no idea how he writes. He feels that a blank page is perfect because nothing has come to spoil it yet.
For Nation, for instance, the story felt like a disease. He had had the idea years before but he considered it bad timing to write it at that moment because the Tsunami had just happened and he felt uneasy about the whole thing. He said that it was a disease because it took all of him for more than six months. He had had the idea for a long time and had even researched the subject and it all suddenly came back to him. He said he had never put so much in a book.
Some parts of I Shall Wear Midnight also mean a lot.
There were a few questions on writing from the public, and Terry Pratchett explained that it was very important to understand characters and know where they come from to write. He also talks about the importance of increasing one's own experience of the world (travelling in places and also figuratively in history/future, people, economic/social circumstances...) but also make a place where "the ideas are light".
How He Started:
He said that school never taught him to like reading and education (I have to agree on this one, I only became a consistent reader only after I left school). Schools should teach children to become adults, but that's hardly what they do according to Terry Pratchett. He has no faith in the education system.
When he was younger he found a small job in a library and started reading all the comedy authors of all styles. He read Punch magazine with all the different kinds of humour, satire in English language. He was inspired by all of them.
By reading, he 'caught' vocabulary and started asking himself the good questions like "What kind of sound does blue make?" and wrote The Colour of Magic (first Discworld book) which is mainly a gag book.
There was a question from someone in the public (I am going to put the person's intervention because I was highly shocked and it will explain Terry's answer: the young woman asked how he managed to write funny lines because (wait for it) when she wrote it was a sort of Lord of The Rings for girls and it wasn't funny at all - I am not even kidding). He stressed the difference between wit and humour where humour comes from interaction or a misunderstanding in the book. You don't need to think about it, humour comes naturally.
Humour is also about understanding different circumstances (youth, working classes, poor people, etc...). He said that a great book to understand these different circumstances was Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor (1851). The book is set in roughly the same time as Charles Dickens books and presents a world so incredible that you wouldn't even imagine it, almost like a fantasy world.