September 14, 2006

Cloudy With a Chance of Coffee!

As it was a cloudy and cool 40 degrees when I awakened this fine morning, I thought it fitting that my AuthorTracker email contained an interview with Terry Pratchett on Wintersmith, since I've been longing for cooler weather. Since I can't find it printed elsewhere ( and forwarding you my email would be pointless), I include the interview here:

Talking with Terry Pratchett
(AuthorTracker News from HarperCollins)

Tiffany Aching has decided she wants to be a witch when she grows up. What did you want to be when you were Tiffany’s age?

When I was Tiffany’s age, I wanted to be an astronomer. I never succeeded in my ambition, because astronomers have to be good at math, and I’ve never been very good at math. I thought astronomy was a really cool job, because you got to stay up late at night. But I have to say I’m very pleased that now, because of the success of my writing, I’ve built my own observatory.

Tiffany read the dictionary straight through because no one had told her she wasn’t supposed to. Did you ever read the dictionary straight through?

Ha! Yes, I did it when I was a kid. I read dictionaries all the way through: dictionaries, thesauruses, dictionaries of slang, all that sort of thing, for the sheer fun of doing it. I think I was a rather weird kid, to be frank.

Tiffany is also an expert cheesemaker. Have you ever made cheese?

Yep. Goat’s cheese. We used to keep goats, which are really just like sheep, but a lot more intelligent and much, much more bad-tempered. I was pretty good at goat cheese, I have to say. I could make goat cheese again if someone wanted me to.

The landscape Tiffany grew up in is clearly based on the English chalk country—you’ve said there is amazingly little you had to make up about her home. What can you tell us about this part of England?

A large area of southern England is on the chalk; in fact, the White Cliffs of Dover are chalk. I live on the chalk, about twelve miles from Stonehenge. I even own about forty acres of the chalk. You always get to see sheep on the chalk, it tends to be very high country, and you don’t see too many trees. It’s really the center of all our mythologies in England. There’s Stonehenge there, and strange ancient carvings, and the burial mounds of dead chieftains. Back in the days when the valleys were just all flooded and swampy, the chalk uplands were how people moved around, and, in the heart of it all, was Stonehenge.

Is Tiffany’s family in any way based on your own?

Well, I grew up on the chalk. I was born in the Chiltern Hills, which is another chalk outcrop. And a lot of the things that Tiffany thinks and sees, in fact, I thought and saw when I was her age; a lot of the way Tiffany comprehends the landscape is based on my own experiences. I don’t come from a farming family, but I spent a lot of time among farmers and their families when I was a kid. I’m the actual archetypal example of an only child, so I had plenty of time to myself. My paternal grandmother has a very special place in my heart, just as Tiffany’s grandmother, does, because when I was a kid I was allowed to read from her bookshelf. It was a very short bookshelf, but it contained every book you really ought to read, like the complete short stories of H. G. Wells, and the complete short stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I just worked my way along my granny’s bookshelf and didn’t realize that I was getting an education.

In Tiffany’s world, being a witch means, in part, to have certain duties and responsibilities. How did you decide to include these obligations as part of your definition of witchcraft?

Certainly witchcraft for Tiffany has very little to do with magic as people generally understand it. It has an awful lot to do with taking responsibility for yourself and taking responsibility also for the less able people and, up to a certain point, guarding your society. This is based on how witchcraft really was, I suspect. The witch was the village herbalist, the midwife, the person who knew things. She would sit up with the dying, lay out the corpses, deliver the newborn. Witches tended to be needed when human beings were meeting the dangerous edges of their lives, the places where there is no map. They don’t mess around with tinkly spells; they get their hands dirty.

And then there are the Nac Mac Feegle. They’re the most feared of all the fairy races, and yet they’re also loyal, strong, and very funny. How did you come up with the Nac Mac Feegle?

I thought it very strange, and very sad that the fairy kingdom largely appears to be English. I thought it was time for some regional representation. And the Nac Mac Feegle are, well, they’re like tiny little Scottish Smurfs who have seen Braveheart altogether too many times. They speak a mixture of Gaelic, Old Scots, Glaswegian and gibberish. And they’re extremely brave, and they’re extremely small, and extremely strong, and there’s hundreds and hundreds of them, and they just are automatically funny. You can’t help but love them, at a distance.

What happens to get you to sit down your desk and write the opening words of a new novel?

I’m not sure. I start with a handful of semiformed ideas and play around with them until they seem to make some sense. Actually typing is important to me—it kind of tricks my brain into gear. I’ve got a pack-rat mind, like most writers, and once I starting thinking hard about a new project all kinds of odd facts and recollections shuffle forward to get a place on the bus.

Do you know where a story is going when you start writing, or do you let the story take control and see where it takes you?

This answer deserves one sentence or an essay! I’ll try to summarize it like this: writing, for me, is a little like wood carving. You find the lump of tree (the big central theme that gets you started) and you start cutting the shape that you think you want it to be. But you find, if you do it right, that the wood has a grain of its own (characters develop and present new insights, concentrated thinking about the story opens new avenues). If you’re sensible, you work with the grain and, if you come across a knot hole, you incorporate that into the design. This is not the same as “making it up as you go along”; it’s a very careful process of control.

The fantasy genre is often thought of as escapism, but is it escapism with a firm root in reality?

Fantasy IS escapism, but wait...why is this wrong? What are you escaping from, and where are you escaping to? Is the story opening windows or slamming doors? The British author G. K. Chesterton summarized the role of fantasy very well. He said its purpose was to take the everyday, commonplace world and lift it up and turn it around and show it to us from a different perspective, so that once again we see it for the first time and realize how marvelous it is. Fantasy—the ability to envisage this world in many different ways—is one of the skills that makes us human.

Your Discworld novels are fantastically successful. Now you’re writing Discworld novels specifically for younger readers. Why?

I think my heart has always been in writing for children. My first book was written for children, and a few years ago I realized that if I wrote a few books for younger readers I could approach Discworld in a different way. There’s a lot of difference between writing for children and writing for adults, and it’s almost impossible to tell you what it is, but I know it when I’m doing it. You have more fun, and I have to say, it’s a little bit harder, especially if you do it right.

Mr. Pratchett's newest Discworld adventure, which is due out this month, has a sample chapter posted! And for those who can't get enough Pratchett, his only California stop on his book tour (so far) will be on Sunday, October 15th at 3 pm at COPPERFIELD'S Books Petaluma store, but he'll be elsewhere in the U.S. in the next months. Enjoy!

The contest over at Journey-Woman is still going! Put your mind to the madmen (and women), because EACH YA or children's lit antagonist you submit gets you one entry into the drawing for the coffee gift cert. Submissions are due by 9PM, Eastern, September 19, 2006. The winner will be randomly selected from all entries on September 20, 2006. Think of it: COFFEE. Antagonists. Antagonistic coffee. It's an important contest!


DaviMack said...

OH, we are SO going to Petaluma on the 15th! Wow! Even if he doesn't talk to us, we'll buy a book from Copperfields ... unless we've somehow managed to buy it from the UK & have it shipped to us, so we don't have to wait for it to show up LATE here in the US. Bah!

Road Trip!

Anybody else going with us? A.Fortis?

DaviMack said...

And I'm NOT reading the sample chapter. How ... awful!

The full collection of his books is up into the hundreds of dollars already, and we haven't even gotten a good start!

S.A.M. just doesn't get it ... and won't get the revenue if you sell any, either. Hah!

a. fortis said...

Ooh! Maybe there's a Petaluma trip in the making...I think it's 2-plus hours for me, though, so I'll have to think about it.