Showing posts with label Terry Pratchett. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Terry Pratchett. Show all posts

Friday, 15 March 2019

Apostrophes. Dontcha just love ’em? By Rowena House

Having spent every spare minute this week glued to Twitter - enthralled and appalled by the Brexit mayhem - I’ve been reminded just how many people seem to think the plural of MP is MP’s.

Now it might be that technology bears its share of the blame. Certainly, my phone has taken to autocorrecting “its” into “it’s” every time.

Particularly irksome is a short, sneaky delay before Samsung’s gremlin imposes its will on my punctuation. The error slips past, and my social media feed is forever befouled. The solution: proof read every tweet, post & comment.

Which brings me to a story.

The story of The Wizards’ Rabbits’ Apostrophes.

First off, let me acknowledge unconditionally and absolutely that this story was inspired by proof-reading expert, Catriona Tippin, whose advice on every aspect of this topic in SCBWI’s Words and Pictures has been invaluable for years. In particular, I relied on her superb article, here:

Catriona, thank you very much.

I also acknowledge the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett as my inspiration for the setting and style of the wizards’ rabbits’ tale - and hope that in law such fan fiction/blatant plagiarism is OK given it’s done purely for educational purposes.

You see, I wrote the story for colleagues faced with the daunting prospect of umpteen thousand words of academic assignments to proof read.

It’s meant to be a fun way to make the point that every apostrophe in every assignment ought to be double checked because they’re devious little devils, slithering either side of an “s”, running away for “its” and hiding in contractions like “it’s” which aren’t allowed in academic writing.

I’ll do the correction exercise alongside them to test myself, and also to demonstrate that even though I’ve been a professional wordsmith for decades, and set the bloomin’ task, Murphy’s Law suggests that I’m bound to misplace at least one or two of the buggers.

[Typing this post, several “apostrophe’s” have appeared as if by magic, and I’m starting to wonder if my tech is Hubris, given a past tendency to sneer about other people’s errors: ‘Oh, look who got that wrong. Tut, tut.’ Hopefully, that’s a thing of the past now; life is way too stressful the sweat the small stuff.]

Anyhow, here is the story - with all the apostrophes removed. It’s not a sparking story. It’s not meant for kids, either. But if anyone fancies having a go at correcting it, I’ll post what I think is the right version in the comments section in a couple of days.

Please let me know if I make mistakes. Like I say, Murphy’s Law and all that…



Tuesday last, the wizards of Untold University held an open day to which their young male relatives were invited, females being banned from its hallowed precincts. Among the exhibits were rabbits, kept by the wizards in lieu of lawnmowers, but which the denizens of Lank-Moorpuck endlessly asked to see being magicked out of the wizards hats whenever one of them was spotted sidling along The Lashup in search of refreshment in its seedier establishments.

Knowing that these performances were demanded to annoy the wizards, rather than from any fondness for magic, Untold Universitys finest had determined to distribute their rabbits among their nephews in order to prevent any further interruptions to the serious business of drinking.

On the appointed day the Master of Impossible Feats, Silas Graves, wasted no time. The moment his nephew, Nigel, stepped over the threshold, Silas thrust two white rabbits into the boys reluctant hands, and then scuttled out of the building. The two bemused creatures were now the magicians nephews pets.

Seeing Silas striding towards The Goblin Arms, with a bag of dwarfs gold dangling from his belt, identical twin wizards Cornelius and Corinthian Trump stuffed their shared rabbit into the trouser pocket of their sisters son, Humphry, then hurried after Silas. The wizards nephews rabbit looked nervous.

On the far side of the quad, Obadiah Ringworm was livid: the Trump brothers reputation for boozing was legendary, and Lashup Old Peculiar in dangerously short supply due to the brewerys draymens strike. Obadiah grabbed both his nephews by their ears, forced them under threat of being turned into skunks into selecting a rabbit each, then he snatched up his hat and staff and ran full pelt into town. Ringworms nephews rabbits looked at each other - and winked.

Now, over the years, the wizards, being careless, had spilt a great many spells in the universitys halls, and in the quad and on its lawns. The wizards nephews rabbits had, in consequence, dined on magical grass since birth, growing both in intelligence and guile. They had no intention whatsoever of being handed over willy-nilly to a bunch of spotty-faced, indolent, catapult-wielding urchins, thereby forfeiting the pleasures of The Lashup, whose byways and back gardens housed far fairer fluffy tails than the booze-sodden wizards could ever have imagined in their misogynistic lives. To a rabbit, they bared their teeth, bit the nephews down to the bone and legged it.

@HouseRowena on Twitter



Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Polishing Buttercups by Paul May

Over the last couple of months I’ve developed an unexpected obsession with Enid Blyton.  I think it may have started when I read Alison Uttley’s private diaries, in which she recounts a meeting with Blyton in the fish shop in Beaconsfield.  These were two of the best-selling children’s authors of their day, and Blyton, of course, continues to be a best seller. She is the fourth most translated author in the world – the three ahead of her being - according to Wikipedia - Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and William Shakespeare. 

By a strange coincidence Blyton and Uttley lived just a couple of miles from each other in Beaconsfield, where, in another uncanny coincidence, I also lived for a few years as a teenager. What's more, while Blyton and Uttley were meeting in the fish shop, Terry Pratchett may well have been beavering away, 'getting an education' in Beaconsfield Public Library. The fish shop meeting was recorded in Uttley’s diary:

'I was watching a woman ogling [the fishmonger], her false teeth, her red lips, her head on one side as she gazed up close – suddenly he turned to me and introduced her, Enid Blyton! The Blyton photographed and boastful! When I asked her which books she wrote, she replied "Look in Smith’s window" and turned away, and never spoke again.'

There is more to this than meets the eye.  W H Smith in Beaconsfield refused to stock Uttley's books because, according to the manager, they didn't sell. (Her Little Grey Rabbit books sold well all over the rest of the world.)  Uttley took him to task without success.  It seems likely that Blyton knew this, which made her remark about looking in the window even more pointed. To make matters worse, while Blyton had been rejected by the BBC for more than thirty years, Uttley was a regular broadcaster. Asking Blyton 'which books she wrote,' was wonderfully catty of Uttley. 

They never spoke again. And yet they had a lot in common.  Both were great nature-lovers and very knowledgeable about the natural world. Both were acute businesswomen who had achieved financial independence through writing for children, and both had an interest in fairies.  I say 'had an interest in' because, while Alison Uttley believed in fairies, and Enid Blyton wrote endlessly about goblins, elves, gnomes, pixies and brownies, I’m not convinced Blyton actually believed in them herself. 

But in one respect there was a huge difference between the two women – their relationship with children and with childhood. Although, even here, there is an odd, inverted symmetry. It was an account of a disastrous encounter between Alison Uttley and an audience of schoolchildren that led me, first to Uttley's diaries, and then to Enid Blyton. 

Uttley didn’t really get on with children, or maids, or milkmen, but she did have an intense relationship with her only son (it involved a lot of kissing) that resulted in many problems with her eventual daughter-in-law.  Blyton, on the other hand, while sharing Uttley’s problem with maids, did get on with children.  Or rather, most children, for she didn't have a lot of time to spare for her two daughters.  

Blyton also knew what children liked to read, and she gave it to them.  Hodder, in 2016, was still selling half a million Famous Five books a year. But it wasn’t Blyton’s sales that so caught my interest; it was a line in Barbara Stoney’s biography describing the way a room full of small children fell silent when Enid Blyton sat down to tell them a story, and then sat enthralled for half an hour or more.

There are other accounts that confirm this talent, and the accounts identify the key to Enid Blyton’s success.  She was a storyteller, an oral storyteller.  Her voice is always there, addressing the reader as if they are sitting right in front of her. The effect was instantly recognizable to me. I spent many years teaching small children and I know that telling children a story has an effect on them completely different from that of reading a book. After I've told them a story someone almost always asks, 'Is that a true story?'  I don't think I've ever heard a child ask that question after hearing a story from a book.

In the introduction to 'Modern Teaching in the Infant School', which Blyton edited in 1932, she quotes this advice to storytellers:

'Those who first memorise the words work from without inward, while those who visualise, using the imagination, work from within outward. . . Visual memory goes back of words to the cause, to the mental pictures for which words stand. He who deals with imagery is free. If he forgets one word he can use another.  He can tell the story in the simplest way and language to a little child . . .'

This could be a description of Blyton's writing method, which, as I mentioned last month, consisted in her closing her eyes and seeing the scenes of a story acted out in front of her eyes as she wrote them down.  And I think this is why her stories are best enjoyed silently, privately, possibly beneath the blankets with a torch. That way nothing gets between the storyteller and her listener.

The voice in Blyton's stories is the voice of the primary school teacher, and it comes through even more clearly in her nature writing.  Here she is in 'Round the Year with Enid Blyton':

'You will feel very pleased when you can actually cut a bunch of flowers to put in your schoolroom, or to take to someone who is old or ill.'  Or: 'Is it a windy day? I do hope it is, because I am going to talk to you about the wind and its work . . .'

From 'Round the Year with Enid Blyton' originally
published as a series of columns in 'Teacher's World' in 1932

Many primary school teachers use a special voice for talking to children. I have seen newly-qualified teachers in their early twenties adopting a manner that seems to be based on Joyce Grenfell’s famous parody. Parody only works, of course, if it has a basis in truth.

I know that voice well. My mother was born in 1927, a year after Enid Blyton published 'A Teacher’s Treasury', a massive, three-volume compendium of source material for the Elementary School for which she wrote the vast majority of the songs, poems and stories. Blyton wrote prolifically for education in the twenties and thirties, and her stories and nature-study books were part of the scenery during my mum’s time at school. It’s not surprising that when she became a primary school teacher herself, the voice that she adopted was very similar to Enid Blyton’s.

Blyton has been heavily criticised and sneered at over the years, not least by the BBC, and she was clearly hurt by this.  More recently, following the publication of her daughter, Imogen’s memoir (1989), much was written about her private life, and a film, Enid (2009), portrayed her in a very negative way.  More balanced by far, and more interesting, was Anne Fine’s piece on BBC radio in 2008, with its account of her daughter’s surprising conversion to Blyton reader.

My exploration of Blyton’s educational writing took me to the Newsam Library at UCL where librarian, Nazlin Bhimani, had written a blog about Enid Blyton, Educationalist, describing the library's collection of Blyton material. Then I spent some time reading Blyton’s stories in 'A Teacher’s Treasury'. Most of these stories have simple morals.  Be tidy, kind, helpful etc.  Naughty children learn the error of their ways. Good children are rewarded. But one story, 'Peronel's Polish', was different.  

Peronel's job is polishing. He tries to impress the king, and when the king doesn't react as he hopes, Peronel starts playing tricks by polishing things to make them slippery. When everyone falls over after he has polished the ballroom floor, Peronel owns up in order to stop the king blaming the other servants. 

The king then offers Peronel an interesting choice.  He can stay in the palace and give up polishing, or he can be banished and take his magic polish with him.  For Peronel this is not a choice.  Polishing is all he knows how to do, so he takes his polish and goes out into the fields where he finds his true vocation, polishing the insides of buttercups.

Enid Blyton wrote this well before her first rejection by the BBC, but before she was twenty years old she had experienced hundreds of other rejections, including the most important of all when her father left the family home to set up with another woman. She then single-mindedly pursued her ambition to write. I'm sure she approves of Peronel and sympathises with his annoyance at not being properly appreciated. In most of her other stories a 'naughty' character tearfully promises never to do it again.  Not here. 

I was reading 'Round the Year with Enid Blyton' this morning.  'Do not forget that you can grow the seeds of wild flowers in pots too,' she tells her readers. 'A pot of sturdy, golden-yellow buttercups is a lovely sight!'

Buttercups on Maypole Green, Norfolk, 1985

Paul May's website is here.  He also has a blog about education, bicycles, trees and various other things called AS IN THE LONG AGO.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Some Phenomenal P's by Lynne Benton

Today we have reached authors whose names begin with P.  Of these I have to start with one of my favourites.

PHILIPPA PEARCE wrote several books for children, but her most famous, and arguably her best, has to be her fantasy time-slip novel Tom’s Midnight Garden.  This is the story of Tom, who, while staying with his uncle and aunt in their small modern flat with an ugly back yard, discovers that at midnight the yard becomes a beautiful garden where a little girl lives.  The little girl grows older each time he visits the garden, and he becomes fascinated by her life which is so much more interesting than his own.   The book won the 1958 Carnegie Medal as the year's outstanding children's book by a British subject.  She was a commended runner-up for the Medal a further four times.   She was born in Cambridgeshire, where many of her books are set, including Minnow on the Say, The Way to Sattin Shore and A Dog so Small.  She died in 2006.

K. M. PEYTON is a British author of books for children and young adults.  Born in 1929, she has written more than fifty novels including the much loved Flambards series of stories which spanned the period before and after the First World War, for which she won both the 1969 Carnegie Medal and the 1970 Guardian Children’s Fiction prize.  In 1979 the trilogy was adapted by Yorkshire Television as a 13-part TV series, Flambards.  She had a great love of horses, so wrote a great number of other pony books, which became very popular.  She was awarded the MBE in 2014 for services to children’s literature.

BEATRIX POTTER needs no introduction.  Her wonderful children’s books featuring animals, such as Peter Rabbit, Jeremy Fisher, Mrs. Tiggywinkle etc. have delighted children for over a hundred years.  Born in 1866, she was educated by governesses, and grew up isolated from other children, but she had numerous pets which she closely observed and painted.  During holidays in Scotland and the Lake District she also developed a love of landscape, flora, and fauna, and painted these too. In her thirties she self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which became highly successful, so she then began to write and illustrate children’s books full-time.  Her 23 children’s books still sell throughout the world in many languages, and her stories have been retold in song, film, ballet and animation.  Her life too was depicted in the film Miss Potter.  She died in 1943 in her home in the Lake District, by which time she had become a prosperous farmer and prize-winning sheep breeder, and she left almost all her property to the National Trust.  She is credited with preserving much of the land that now constitutes the Lake District National Park.

The PULLEIN-THOMPSON sisters – JOSEPHINE PULLEIN-THOMPSON MBE (3 April 1924 – 19 June 2014), DIANA PULLEIN-THOMPSON (1 October 1925 – 21 October 2015), and CHRISTINE PULLEIN-THOMPSON (1 October 1925 – 2 December 2005) – were British writers, known mainly for their pony books, mostly fictional, aimed at children and mostly popular with girls. They started at a very young age, initially writing collectively, and they were at their peak in the 1950s and 1960s, but their popularity has endured. They also wrote a collective autobiography Fair Girls and Grey Horses.

TERRY PRATCHETT once said he wrote most of his books for an imaginary fourteen-year-old boy called Kevin.   Born in 1948, he was an English author of fantasy novels, especially comical works (which would appeal to said Kevin!)  His first novel, The Carpet People, was published in 1971, but he is best known for his Discworld series of 41 novels, the first of which, The Colour of Magic, was published in 1983, after which he wrote two books a year on average.  The final one, The Shepherd’s Crown, was published in August 2015, five months after his death.  In 1998 he was awarded an OBE, and in 2009 he became a Knight of the British Empire.

PHILIP PULLMAN is an English novelist, the author of several best-selling books, including the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials.  In 2008 The Times named Pullman one of the "50 greatest British writers since 1945".  In a 2004 poll for the BBC, he was named the eleventh most influential person in British culture.  Northern Lights, the first book of His Dark Materials trilogy, won the 1995 Carnegie Medal for the year's outstanding English-language children's book. For the 70th anniversary of the Medal in 2007 it won the public vote for the all-time "Carnegie of Carnegies".  It was adapted as a film under its US title, The Golden Compass.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL) and was awarded a CBE in 2004.

SUSAN PRICE was born in Dudley, West Midlands, and has written many books for children and young adults, from fantasy, science fiction and ghost stories to historical novels, books about animals and everyday life.  She is also fascinated by folklore, and in 1987 she won the Carnegie Medal for her first Ghost World novel, The Ghost Drum, an original fairy tale using elements from Russian history and Russian folklore.  Another of her books, The Sterkarm Handshake won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 1998.  In this book and its sequel, A Sterkarm Kiss (2003), time travel brings together a young anthropologist from 21st century Britain and a young warrior from 16th century Scotland.   Susan still lives and writes in the Black Country.

I could come up with no authors whose surnames begin with Q, so unless anyone can tell me of any I've unaccountably forgotten, next time I will go on to the Rs.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Terry Pratchett: HisWorld - by Sue Purkiss

A few days ago, I went to see the Terry Pratchett exhibition at Salisbury Museum. (Apologies to my companions, OH and two friends from Salisbury, none of whom have ever read a Terry Pratchett book - and thanks to them for their patience, as I wandered round chortling and sometimes a little misty-eyed, while they were simply mystified. And thanks too to the two guides, who clearly shared my enthusiasm. One of them was also called Susan, and we bonded over the picture of Death's granddaughter, Susan, and Terry's explanation of why he gave her the name. I didn't make a note of it, but it was something to the effect that he felt sorry for Susans, who tend to be the sort of people who make the sandwiches - nice but rather dull - so he decided to give them a boost by calling this very special character Susan. Thanks, Terry.)

The exhibition was largely structured round the illustrations of Josh Kirby and Paul Kidby, though there were other exhibits too - notably a mock-up of Terry's study, with its six computer screens, wall of book shelves, and various memorabilia - such as this lifesize model of The Luggage. (If you're a fan, you'll know what I'm talking about, and if you're not, then there really isn't much point in trying to explain. You just need to read the books. And keep out of the way if you see it heading towards you.)

And there were costumes you could try on. No idea who this manic-looking peron in a pointy hat is. It's in black and white because, trust me, the colour version was far too scary for a family blog.

The labels, or captions, were mostly in Terry's own words. Here he talks about how it all began - incorporating a useful tip for parents trying to help their children to learn to read: 'I didn't enjoy primary school, Mr Tame, my headmaster, thought he could tell how successful we would be in later life by how well we could read or write at the age of six. He told me I would never amount to anything... My mum wasn't having any of that. She taught me to read, with love, care and affection. When that didn't work, bribery, at a penny a page when I read perfectly.' (I noticed, as we went round, that this is how Terry's humour often works: he writes a few apparently serious sentences, and then undercuts them with something sharp, unexpected, and funny.)

Here's a picture of the Discworld by Alan Smith. As many of you will know, it floats through space on the back of a giant turtle. (Sorry about the reflections.) I was intrigued by this from Terry: 'I write about people who live on the Discworld. They worry about the sort of thing we worry about, like death, taxes and not falling off. There are no magic swords or mighty quests. There are just people like us, give or take the odd pointy hat, trying to make sense of it all. Just like us.'

Here's the cover art for Reaper Man, by Josh Kirby. It features Death, one of my favourite characters. Terry gives full credit to the artists who worked with him: 'I didn't know what Discworld trolls actually looked like until Josh drew them. The artwork for the covers are masterpieces, especially Reaper Man. It's a shame they have to be spoiled with the title.'

Here's Susan. Not a bad namesake to have. I may begin to wear black.

I had just re-read Wyrd Sisters, so was intrigued to see this picture of Granny Weatherwax's home in Lancre. (That's not a sun, it's a reflection from my phone camera.) Charming, don't you think?

I've always thought of the Discworld novels as fantasy. So this was interesting. 'I've seen a 16th-century woodcut of something like the Discworld. The idea that the world goes through space on the back of an enormous turtle is something that's common to a large number of this planet's cultures, past and present. I don't know why. It's not an obvious beast to carry the world through space; I mean they go underwater quite a lot. I needed a ridiculous world... I wanted to write, in effect, an antidote to fantasy. I thought let's take a ridiculously, self-evidently foolish world, put the people on it, and make them as real as possible.'

I'll leave you with this ensemble picture of the cast of Discworld characters. The exhibition continues at Salisbury Museum till Sunday, January 14th, 2018.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Who, What or Where Influenced your Writing?

Wycombe Library as I knew it

Books have always been a source of inspiration for me. Great literature is like soul food for the imagination. It can take you anywhere at any time, no journey too long, no obstacle too great, no limits, no boundaries. Can I imagine a world where there are no books? NO is the simple answer. When I was a kid, my family couldn’t afford to buy books, (don’t worry, I’ve made up for that big time!), so the library was where I got my weekly fix. My town library during my teenage years was a place of huge inspiration. It was full of books by writers I had heard of and many I had not. 

Wycombe Library now

I made my way round the whole library, reading good fiction, exceptional fiction, high-brow to low-brow, from JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, John Wyndham, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, Tolstoy, Zola, the Brontes, Edgar Allan Poe, Maupassant, Stephen King, Dickens, Erle Stanley Gardner, John Creasey, Denis Wheately (I told you I read everything!), to John Fowles. I had wide and varied tastes – I still do! Although I never dreamt of being a writer then, I soaked up words like they were going out of fashion.

Penn Bookshop
Some of the thousands of books in Penn Bookshop

When I was about sixteen, my dad and I discovered The Cottage Bookshop in Penn – a second-hand bookshop stuffed full of shelves, nooks and crannies, bursting at the seams with books upon books upon books. I practically moved in, losing hours in that place. I didn’t know then that Terry Pratchett had also spent hours and hours lost in the book alleys of this very bookshop when he was a kid. The Cottage Bookshop was the inspiration for L-space (library space) in Discworld. Pratchett often returned to the shop during his career, and launched his Johnny and the Bomb there in 1996.
Ian Fleming

Stephen King was inspired by writers such as Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson, H P Lovecraft, and Bram Stoker. Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe. Ian Fleming's James Bond was apparently inspired by Dennis Wheatley's Gregory Sallust series.

Tolkien was a huge inspiration for me – he led me into the endless worlds and possibilities of a genre I came to love.

So, it’s no surprise then that the first thing I ever wrote was a fantasy epic – complete with its own world, full of many lands, populated by a diverse range of people and creatures. There were several maps, drawn to scale. And hundreds of thousands of words: the trilogy had to be divided up into six parts. The manuscripts have been filed away. Every few years they get dusted off and reread before going back in the drawer. I may do something with them one day... I can’t say that my recent works have been inspired by one writer or a few writers in particular. That’s one I’ll have to mull over.
So what, who or where has inspired you to write?

Savita's Website

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Terry and the Bad Fairies, by Steve Gladwin

It's lovely to be invited to write a regular blog here. I hope to share with you a few intriguing ideas and obsessions. So dear reader - let us begin.

Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.

You can’t really say what a faerie looks like. It appears only as it desires to. All you see is that illusion, that glamour. Whatever appearance the faerie chooses, gives you your sole reference point. A fairy has you believe what it wants you to believe. Should you fail to understand that lesson ----

Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.

Many prefer to think of fairies as tiny, delicate wisps, like the Cottingley fairies who danced so prettily around the girls in their starched Victorian white. Or perhaps rosy cheeked mischief makers like Arthur Rackham’s cherubic Puck. In another Rackham picture however, there is a sinister lurking presence in the background of Titania’s bower. This too is Puck. He is no longer so sweet, (if he ever was), but the gleeful servant of his dark master. (My mistress with a monster is in love!)

I learnt to tell the difference early on when I was lucky enough to be given a dream trio of books to study for GCE English. Not only A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but Cider with Rosie and To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee were gifted to me. In one fell swoop I was taught about magic and illusion, introduced to sex and cider behind a hay cart, and learnt the importance of combatting intolerance and bigotry. I also learnt that faeries could be bad.

Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies

In twenty years of being a pagan druid, I’ve met many people who claim to have seen faeries. Many of these are people whose judgement I trust. I’ve spent many happy performance hours playing and directing versions of Oberon and I still know all his speeches. I was even hand fasted to a Midsummer Night’s Dream theme. I love faeries at their baddest and have little patience with the Victorian flower fairy version. If Oberon and the rest were to begin behaving reasonably, I’d feel let down.

Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.

At the moment I’m writing a book about the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams and faerie. It’s fiction of course, but I was amazed to learn recently that his last unfinished work was to be an opera based on the stories of both Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin. It seems to make an eerie sort of sense of my own wild fictional imaginings, but it also unites two of the most well known of the stories of English faerie. Each, however similar, seem to carry an opposite message. On the one hand we have true Thomas of Erceldoune, choosing to follow the Queen of faerie to Elfland, (Childe Ballad 37) but allowed to leave when his own life is forfeit because of the ‘tithe' that must be paid to hell’. On the other there is Tam Lin, the kidnapped Lord of Roxburgh (Childe ballad no 39) made captive in his youth by (maybe even the same) faerie queen. Fair Janet battles for his very soul, as her lover's form switches between lion, serpent and a fierce hot brand.

Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.

So are these examples of good and bad faeries?  Or are they just the same faery in different moods? How do we know which version we’re going to meet? Will it be the faeries of the seelie court, -- supposedly the goodies, or those of the unseelie court, who can be as nasty as they come? In my favourite modern fantasy trilogy, The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay uses a similar idea by dividing his elves into the Unseelie svart alfar, _ (a name also used by Alan Garner in The Weirdstone of Brisingamen,  and the Seelie like, lios alfar. As he spent a year preparing The Silmarillion with Christopher Tolkein, he was surely in a good place to recognise that there might be more than one side of faerie. 

Elves are terrific. They beget terror.

It’s very clear in which court the 'gentleman with the thistledown hair', belongs in Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. He seems to exist solely to tease and manipulate and destroy. He feasts on exotic and extinct fauna, has a castle surrounded by dead men’s bones and takes great relish in the hunting and destruction of a whole pack of wolves. However his sustained and, more often than not, unwelcome acts of kindness to Stephen Black, show him more quixotic in this instance at least. He is by a long way the villain of the piece. However neither by the end of the book can we be wholly sure of the true nature of the John Uskglass, the Raven King, whose shadowy presence grows throughout the book.  His role is left deliberately ambiguous, with only clues to what he might be when he - Lord Voldemort like, returns in his full power!

Terry Pratchett understood bad faeries better than most. Lords and Ladies has a chill undercurrent throughout, for all the jokes about dwarf Casanovas with step ladders, royal falconers called Hodges aargh and anything done by the magnificently bawdy Nanny Ogg. His faery lords and presiding Lady cannot understand the idea of cruelty because it does not form part of their moral compass. Poking someone harder when they are already being tortured, just seems like a good idea to them. It takes the reader a while to realise that lurking in the background of Lords and Ladies is the faerie plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Thus in order to prevent ‘Titania’ from allowing her anger at the royal estrangement to wreck things any further for the human world, ("We are their parents and original'), Nanny Ogg and her dwarf paramour venture underground to have it out with ‘Oberon’. Essentially they request him to have a word with the Mrs. 

Nanny succeeds in the sort of task few would dare try, because, despite all the jokes, she’s a very powerful witch herself. In the end however it is her friend Esme who discovers the only way to beat the queen. Maybe Granny Weatherwax doesn’t understand the concept of defeat. She probably wouldn’t accept it even if she did.

No-one ever said elves are nice

In the last few years of his writing life, Terry Pratchett returned to both the witches and the world of faerie in his Tiffany Aching books. The final book in the series, The Shepherd’s Crown, is the last book of his to be released. I like the idea that like Vaughan Williams, almost the last thing he set down was about faeries.

 There are of course many other characters in literature who have discovered to their cost that a faerie is none of those things it either appears to be, or others have had us believe. Maybe they just needed an Esmerelda Weatherwax in their corner. She could tell a bad faery from a good faery. Elves were all the same as far as she was concerned.

Elves are bad.

Quotations from Lords and Ladies by Terry and Lyn Pratchett 1992

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

Steve Gladwin

Author of The Seven published by Pont Books 2013
Shortlisted for Tir na n-Og prize 2014

'I really like its rigour, its pace, its wit and the way you step so 'lightly and fiercely through the window between the worlds.'

Kevin Crossley Holland

Find out more about The Seven here.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Too Much Writing Wisdom? - Lucy Coats

Sir Terry Pratchett has just won the 13th Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. This is excellent.  He is, undoubtedly, a very funny writer, and deserves it.  The prize includes having a Gloucester Old Spot pig named in his honour - and doesn't every author secretly aspire to that?

Many people (including some whose judgement I respect greatly) dismiss Terry's writing as mass-market schlock, saying that his humour is infantile and his plots verge on the ridiculous.  They find the covers (of the paperbacks) hideously overfull of bosomy blondes, chunky swords, ugly assorted mythical creatures and posturing musclebound heroes. Others admit to reading him, but undercover (oh, the bliss of the e-reader for allowing one to peruse a whole host of 'unsuitable' books in public!).  Personally, I am an out-and-proud Pratchett fan and happy to tell anyone what they are missing out on (serious subjects and ideas such as the the power of journalism, astronomy, the Gulf War, feminism, high finance and racism are just a few he covers).

However, it's neither the fact that he's won a prize, nor the merits of his work that I want to write about today.  At this year's Hay Festival, Terry described writing as "running down a hill with wings on your back and taking flight, although sometimes you have to run up and down a few hills."  Absolutely true - at least that's how it feels to me too.  There are many such gems of writing wisdom out there (from a myriad authors), for those who wish to look for them, as well as reams of advice on everything from punctuation to publication.  But I do wonder if there's too much.  I wonder if those starting out on this writing journey are now faced with so much material telling them how to write, that they lose sight of the main objective - which is to apply bum to seat and just do it.  In other words, the physical practice of setting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is worth a million 'self-help' books.

Asked about the best way to write fantasy, Terry advised looking at how the best do it and told his listeners: do not sit around listening to me, you should be at home typing.”  Absolutely.  When I am asked for advice by children, I tell them I have only two essential pieces of writing wisdom to impart.
1: Read voraciously.
2: Write something every day.  
For all the blogs, books, rules and tips out there, in the end, I believe that is the only writing wisdom anyone who truly has the passion to start on this mad creative rush down the hill really needs, (perhaps in conjunction with Terry's other exhortation to find your own writing voice).   So I'll add in his immortal words:
3. "For Heaven's sake, don't try and write like me. That is suicide."
What do all of you think?