Tag Archives: terry pratchett

the brilliance of Terry Pratchett

when I was young and my older brother was reading Terry Pratchett, and my younger brother was about to start reading Terry Pratchett, his books still had those dizzying, vulgar (I’m not sure whether I mean that in a positive or negative sense, but I’m sure that’s the right word) covers. I thought for years that his books must be a surreal and adult romp through some incomprehensible world.

Not all of that impression was wrong, but having now read almost every Discworld book, I know that not much of it was right.

I’m reading his second-to-latest book at the mo, Unseen Academicals, and it’s coming home to me all over again, just how well he writes characters. Specifically, characters who are pretending to be something they’re not – or pretending not to be what they are.

(I realise those last two pretty much say the same thing, but there is a huge difference. It reminds me of an anecdote Michael Caine tells about his early days of acting. He was on the stage doing his very best “drunk man walking”, when the director stopped him. “I see a sober man walking in a squiggly line,” the director said (though he may not have used the word “squiggly”). “I want to see a drunk man walking in a straight line.”

Both amount to the same thing, but are completely different. The difference between a character putting their energy into pretending to be something they’re not, and putting their energy into pretending not to be what they are is what makes Terry Pratchett great.)

His characters are complex. They are unreliable narrators, because they’re not always honest with themselves about who (or what) they really are. Their motivations are not what they appear to be. Or else they have two opposing motivations, and you never know which one will out. It’s nature v nurture battling it out inside one consciousness.

It creates narrative traction like nobody’s business, because whilst you’re following the bigger-picture narrative and trying to figure that out, you’re also working away in the back of your mind on what this character is hiding from you. It never feels coy, because they’re almost always hiding it from themselves, too.

Very often, when the conflicting parts of a character come to a head, there’s a moment where free will determines the outcome of this one struggle, which most likely determines the outcome of a larger struggle. A character’s own nature sets the stage and writes the drama for their own moment of epiphany.

The next thing is figuring out how the hell he does it.

don’t meet your heroes

One very hot evening in 2007, special k and I went to a free concert on the banks of the Hudson River, just up from Ground Zero.

We saw some people play who were not too shabby, and then Martha Wainwright played a solo set, just she and her guitar. It was magical.

Then I decided to go up to the stage and join the smallish crowd waiting to meet her.

Bad move.

She wasn’t very nice, or communicative – and in her defence, she had just flown direct from a particularly muddy Glastonbury festival. I don’t even care that she wasn’t nice, it really has nothing to do with me.

I just took this from it, as I had three years earlier when i met Sime Nugent: Don’t Meet Your Heroes!!!

I recently had the opportunity to see Terry Pratchett speak. I have read almost every book he’s ever written, and I think he’s absolutely phenomenal; there is so much to learn from reading him, about writing. But this is how I thought it through:

It’s his books I love, not him. I can keep loving them, and getting everything I get, without ever coming into contact with him.¬†Ditto Martha. It’s her music I love, and who she is doesn’t enter into that.

The desire to know everything about these people is insidious though. (Er, yes. See the entire tabloid industry.) As I said yesterday, I’ve fallen in love with Matt Smith’s Doctor Who.

Not to be confused with falling in love with Matt Smith.

Because as soon as I see photos of him, the man, the actor, it diminishes who he is on screen. It adds another layer to it, that has nothing to do with it. He isn’t written, in real life.

So next time you feel that need to know more, which is so easily fed by google and the like, just pause for a moment to consider what you really love.