For fans of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s comic fantasy novel Good Omens, it’ll be a long two-week wait until its Radio 4 adaptation begins on the 22nd December – but we’re letting you peek under the Christmas tree early.
RadioTimes.com can reveal some of the Good Omens cast speaking in character, including Merlin’s Colin Morgan as Newt Pulsifer and future Call the Midwife star Charlotte Ritchie as Anathema Device.
Written in 1990, Good Omens follows the attempts of an angel and a demon to save the world from the antichrist, but all is not as it seems thanks to a bureaucratic mix-up. Soon, the fate of humanity is left to a gang of young children, a trainee witchfinder and a collection of garbled flashcards. To paraphrase Colin Morgan’s Newt, below – something weird is DEFINITELY happening.
Read the full article on Radio Times’ website.
Philosophers looking for fresh insights into metaphysics, epistemology and ethics can add another author to their reading list, as a study reveals the philosophical issues explored in the work of Terry Pratchett.
With more than 75m copies sold around the world, Pratchett is one of the UK’s best-loved writers. He published his first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, in 1983. The 40th, Raising Steam, was released last year, with new work still coming thick and fast despite a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s in 2007. ButPhilosophy and Terry Pratchett, published on 3 December, is the first study to explore the philosophical implications of Pratchett’s imaginary world, which is perched on the back of a turtle.
Edited by philosophy professors and Pratchett fans James South and Jacob Held, the collection of essays examines questions including “Plato, the Witch, and the Cave: Granny Weatherwax and the Moral Problem of Paternalism”, “Equality and Difference: Just because the Disc Is Flat, Doesn’t Make It a Level Playing Field for All”, “Hogfather and the Existentialism of Søren Kierkegaard”, and “the Importance of Being in the Right Trouser Leg of Time”.
South, associate professor of philosophy at Marquette University, is adamant Pratchett’s novels “hold up to sustained philosophical reflection”.
“Pratchett is a very smart man, a gifted writer, and understands as well as any philosopher the power of storytelling and the problems humans face in making sense of their lives and the world they live in,” South said. “Or, as Death puts it so well: ‘DO NOT PUT ALL YOUR TRUST IN ROOT VEGETABLES. WHAT THINGS SEEM TO BE MAY NOT BE WHAT THEY ARE.’ This is a truth that Pratchett relatedly acknowledges and tries to get his readers to acknowledge as well.”
Read the full article on the Guardian here.
The adaptation of the fantasy novel will air on Radio 4 this Christmas – and one eager fan will be in the cast
Plenty of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett fans are excited about the upcoming radio adaptation of the authors’ joint novel Good Omens – but it turns out one of them is actually in the cast.
“I’ve always been a fan of Terry Pratchett, I think he’s great,” Colin Morgan (who plays Newt in the fantasy comedy) told RadioTimes.com. “So when Good Omens came along it was a bit of a no-brainer for me. “
“I’ve always felt this about Terry’s books and Neil’s books – they’re an absolute pleasure to read personally, but I think they’re just an honour and a privilege to get the chance to perform professionally.”
Also starring Mark Heap, Peter Serafinowicz, Sherlock’s Louise Brealey and Fresh Meat’s Charlotte Ritchie, Good Omens follows the attempts of an angel and a demon to save the world from the antichrist – but all is not as it seems.
It was written by Gaiman and Pratchett in 1990, and became a bestseller that remains popular to this day – and while the authors haven’t had too big a role in the radio adaptation (Gaiman has pitched in with the scripts), they will be popping up in cameos.
“Neil was at the read-through, so I met him there,” Morgan confirmed. “Terry isn’t able to travel as much, but his cameo has been recorded.”
And despite the touchy religious subject matter, Morgan is convinced the radio drama will fit in perfectly in the Christmas schedules.
“It’s a story about the antichrist,” he said. “There’s nothing more festive than that!”
Good Omens will be on BBC Radio 4 this Christmas
Read the full article over on Radio Times here.
The first update to the Discworld App for iPad featuring four new locations, new images and information to explore including the Administrative Office of the AM&SPH Railway for information on the new steam-powered train service to and from Ankh-Morpork.
Download it here for £9.99.
Anyone who has ever read a Discworld novel knows that despite being flat, and travelling through space on the back of a giant turtle (and being inhabited by dwarfs and trolls) Terry Pratchett’s world is in many ways a mirror image of our own. Sometimes the links are obvious – Edith Nesmith in Raising Steam, for example, who has a special interest in children heroically preventing accidents on the railway, could not be much closer to E. Nesbit, real world author of The Railway Children, without , well – actually BEING her.
But if you look beneath the surface of a Discworld novel, past the most obvious jokes, there are layers and layers more of real-world influences creeping in, which is what makes Discworld feel so familiar a place, despite all the magic. They are cleverly woven together from snippets of knowledge gleaned here there and everywhere by an author who has seen a lot, done a lot, and who as a child set out to read his way through the library, and hasn’t stopped since.
Iron Girder evolves – in one single train she embodies years and years’ worth of work by numerous inventors and engineers.
Steam trains are undeniably imported from the real world, or as Discworld aficionados would call it, Roundworld. But there are steam trains and there are steam trains – and Terry’s are solidly grounded in history and all those books he’s read (this resulted in a very specific brief for his cover designer). The Raising Steam train, Iron Girder, ends up bearing a close resemblance to the Lion locomotive that plied the first passenger line between Liverpool and Manchester. (Lion later starred in a 1953 comedy film, The Titfield Thunderbolt, seen and loved by Terry and still highly recommended by him, if you haven’t come across it – it’s no coincidence that a character in Raising Steam bears the name Thunderbolt, and in fact one of the earliest stories Terry ever wrote, for a local paper as a teenager, was the steam-powered tale of Humphrey Newt and the Thunderbolt Carriage.) However, Iron Girder evolves – in one single train she embodies years and years’ worth of work by numerous inventors and engineers. The “pro-to-type” incarnation of Iron Girder at the start of the book is more like the engines designed by Richard Trevithick, thirty years before Lion first raised steam. Trevithick tried to get the public excited about the strange and new-fangled idea of steam power by setting up a “steam circus” in London where for one shilling punters could ride his engine round a circular track. Unfortunately, the citizens of regency London didn’t go mad for locomotion in the way that the people of Ankh-Morpork do in the book (Trevithick’s engine had a tendency to derail, not an ideal feature for a fairground ride), and there really were fears, in case you mistake them for fiction, that steam trains would frighten horses, ruin sheep’s fleeces and even, at high speeds, cause asphyxiation. Raising Steam is a story of what might have been in the real world if everyone (or at least the ones not concerned about their sheep) had been keen from the start on steam trains, and if one inventor had the vision to create not just the early prototype engine but every engine that came after it. And if anoraks had existed in 1808, perhaps.
Terry also had to do practical research into steam trains – there are some things you just can’t learn from books – much of which took place behind the scenes at the Watercress Line, a heritage railway in Hampshire. Naturally, this involved Terry in the driver’s cab, in an engine driver’s hat, getting a good close look at the enormous furnace inside (more properly called the firebox, it really is quite scary, and a very unpleasant way to be bumped off in a fight scene). Terry was also very impressed, as everyone was, quite unexpectedly, by the signal box: a room full of polished brass and huge levers, plus of course a homely fireplace so that the signalman could have his tea in comfort. If you look out for it you will spot a nod to the importance of proper signalling systems in Raising Steam.
Like many other heritage railways, the Watercress Line is run by a mixture of apprentices and enthusiastic tinkerers, including at least one retired civil servant – in the spirit of Raising Steam’s Rufus Drumknott, whose love of paperclips has to take second place to his love of steam. It also takes its name from its most notable cargo during the 19th century – the watercress of Hampshire. In Raising Steam the impetus behind the development of the railway is the need to get perishable food, including watercress but more especially fish, to the city “before it walks there on its own”. This is an echo of the real world Great Western Railway, which in 1876 alone carried 17,000 tons of fish from the Cornish coast to dinner tables in London. Sadly, the decision to name this fish service the Fruits de Mer Express only happened in Discworld.
Look beyond the trains themselves to their destinations and passengers and the Roundworld parallels pop up again. The most exotic train journey operating in Discworld (so far) is the Altiplano Express through the mountains to the bandit country of Zemphis, and beyond to the dwarf mines in Uberwald. Real altiplano trains exist, though in reduced numbers these days, on the high altitude plains of South America, where they were built in part to service the lucrative mining operations of the 19th and early 20th centuries. One such line runs to the edge of Lake Titicaca, where there are floating villages built on islands artificially created by their inhabitants from the reeds and mud of the lake. Not unlike, some might say, the raft people of the Netherglades in Raising Steam (though the villagers of Lake Titicaca certainly don’t have webbed feet). Traversing every one of these routes across the Disc is Georgina Bradshaw, a train enthusiast and compiler of useful information for the intrepid yet respectable traveller. Her real world counterpart is of course George Bradshaw, whose Victorian railway guides remain popular today, despite the timetables being a little out of date, and are celebrated by Michael Portillo in the Great British Railway Journeys TV series.
I could go on like this – and you can do this with any Discworld book – analyse the real world links, spot the cameos and jokes, and eventually develop a weird feeling that you’ve been looking over Terry’s shoulder at what he’s been reading. But it’s important not to miss the point of it all. In Raising Steam, you can investigate what Terry knows about trains (a lot), but what’s much more relevant is the interesting sort of chaos that trains cause when dropped into the melting pot of Discworld, just as football, or moving pictures did before. What’s also key is what Terry thinks about trains – he chuffing loves them. That is the reason that steam came to Discworld at all, the reason why steam (without risking spoilers) will probably save the day. The boys who see a train for the first time and dream of becoming “a master of the sparks! a coachman of the Thunderbolts!”; the passengers at the steam circus running straight to rejoin the queue when their ride ends; maybe even the tinkering goblins but definitely the children who think it’s fun to stick their heads on the tracks to feel the vibration of a train coming – they’re all Terry in some way. Terry Pratchett was a boy who used to flatten coins on train tracks for fun, back in the days before health and safety had been invented. And that’s how you know that steam power arriving in Discworld, despite not seeming like magic as such, will be a Good Thing. And more importantly, an Interesting Thing…
Read the full article over on Waterstones blog here.
Tim Walker is expecting queues outside his family’s bookshops in Oakham and Stamford on Thursday. Other booksellers up and down the country will be hoping for a similar rush of eager readers as 315 of the most eagerly awaited hardback titles of the year hit the shelves.
The day has been dubbed “super Thursday” and titles by Andrew Motion, John Cleese and Heston Blumenthal will go on sale in the race for the Christmas bestseller lists. Bookshops hope to cash in as they try to fight back against cut-throat internet competition.
In amongst the new releases, the Guardian lists Mrs Bradshaw’s Handbook:
Mrs Bradshaw’s Handbook by Terry Pratchett Subtitled “to travelling upon the Ankh-Morpork & Sto Plains Hygienic Railway”, this is Pratchett’s guide to the railways of his 40th Discworld novel, Raising Steam. Independent bookseller Peter Donaldson, of Colchester’s Red Lion Books, is tipping this spoof of the Bradshaw railway guides to “lead the way for humour here”.
Read the full Guardian article here.
I want to tell you about my friend Terry Pratchett, and it’s not easy. I’m going to tell you something you may not know. Some people have encountered an affable man with a beard and a hat. They believe they have met Sir Terry Pratchett. They have not.
Science fiction conventions often give you someone to look after you, to make sure you get from place to place without getting lost. Some years ago I ran into someone who had once been Terry’s handler at a convention in Texas. His eyes misted over at the memory of getting Terry from his panel to the book-dealers’ room and back. “What a jolly old elf Sir Terry is,” he said. And I thought, No. No, he’s not.
Back in February 1991, Terry and I were on a book signing tour for Good Omens, a book we had written together. We were in San Francisco. We had just done a stock signing in a bookshop, signing the dozen or so copies they had ordered. Terry looked at the itinerary. Next stop was a radio station: we were due to have an hour-long interview on live radio. “From the address, it’s just down the street from here,” said Terry. “And we’ve got half an hour. Let’s walk it.”
This was a long time ago, in the days before GPS systems and mobile phones and taxi-summoning apps and suchlike useful things that would have told us in moments that no, it would not be a few blocks to the radio station. It would be several miles, all uphill and mostly through a park.
We called the radio station as we went, whenever we passed a payphone, to tell them that we knew we were now late for a live broadcast, and that we were, promise-cross-our-hearts, walking as fast as we could.
I would try to say cheerful, optimistic things as we walked. Terry said nothing, in a way that made it very clear that anything I could say would probably just make things worse. I did not ever say, at any point on that walk, that all of this would have been avoided if we had just got the bookshop to call us a taxi. There are things you can never unsay, that you cannot say and still remain friends, and that would have been one of them.
We reached the radio station at the top of the hill, a very long way from anywhere, about 40 minutes into our hour-long live interview. We arrived all sweaty and out of breath, and they were broadcasting the breaking news. A man had just started shooting people in a local McDonald’s, which is not the kind of thing you want to have as your lead-in when you are now meant to talk about a funny book you’ve written about the end of the world and how we’re all going to die.
The radio people were angry with us, too, and understandably so: it’s no fun having to improvise when your guests are late. I don’t think our 15 minutes on air were very funny. (I was later told that Terry and I had both been blacklisted by that San Franciscan radio station for several years, because leaving a show’s hosts to burble into the dead air for 40 minutes is something the powers of radio do not easily forget or forgive.)
Still, by the top of the hour it was all over. We went back to our hotel, and this time we took a taxi. Terry was silently furious: with himself, mostly, I suspect, and with the world that had not told him that the distance from the bookshop to the radio station was much further than it had looked on our itinerary. He sat in the back of the cab beside me white with anger, a non-directional ball of fury. I said something, hoping to placate him. Perhaps I said that, ah well, it had all worked out in the end, and it hadn’t been the end of the world, and suggested it was time to not be angry any more.
Terry looked at me. He said: “Do not underestimate this anger. This anger was the engine that powered Good Omens.” I thought of the driven way that Terry wrote, and of the way that he drove the rest of us with him, and I knew that he was right.
There is a fury to Terry Pratchett’s writing: it’s the fury that was the engine that powered Discworld. It’s also the anger at the headmaster who would decide that six-year-old Terry Pratchett would never be smart enough for the 11-plus; anger at pompous critics, and at those who think serious is the opposite of funny; anger at his early American publishers who could not bring his books out successfully.
The anger is always there, an engine that drives. By the time Terry learned he had a rare, early onset form of Alzheimer’s, the targets of his fury changed: he was angry with his brain and his genetics and, more than these, furious at a country that would not permit him (or others in a similarly intolerable situation) to choose the manner and the time of their passing.
And that anger, it seems to me, is about Terry’s underlying sense of what is fair and what is not. It is that sense of fairness that underlies Terry’s work and his writing, and it’s what drove him from school to journalism to the press office of the SouthWestern Electricity Board to the position of being one of the best-loved and bestselling writers in the world.
It’s the same sense of fairness that means that, sometimes in the cracks, while writing about other things, he takes time to punctiliously acknowledge his influences – Alan Coren, for example, who pioneered so many of the techniques of short humour that Terry and I have filched over the years; or the glorious, overstuffed, heady thing that is Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and its compiler, the Rev E Cobham Brewer, that most serendipitious of authors. Terry once wrote an introduction to Brewer’s and it made me smile – we would call each other up in delight whenever we discovered a book by Brewer we had not seen before (“’Ere!’ Have you already got a copy of Brewer’s A Dictionary of Miracles: Imitative, Realistic and Dogmatic?”)
Terry’s authorial voice is always Terry’s: genial, informed, sensible, drily amused. I suppose that, if you look quickly and are not paying attention, you might, perhaps, mistake it for jolly. But beneath any jollity there is a foundation of fury. Terry Pratchett is not one to go gentle into any night, good or otherwise.
He will rage, as he leaves, against so many things: stupidity, injustice, human foolishness and shortsightedness, not just the dying of the light. And, hand in hand with the anger, like an angel and a demon walking into the sunset, there is love: for human beings, in all our fallibility; for treasured objects; for stories; and ultimately and in all things, love for human dignity.
Or to put it another way, anger is the engine that drives him, but it is the greatness of spirit that deploys that anger on the side of the angels, or better yet for all of us, the orangutans.
Terry Pratchett is not a jolly old elf at all. Not even close. He’s so much more than that. As Terry walks into the darkness much too soon, I find myself raging too: at the injustice that deprives us of – what? Another 20 or 30 books? Another shelf-full of ideas and glorious phrases and old friends and new, of stories in which people do what they really do best, which is use their heads to get themselves out of the trouble they got into by not thinking? Another book or two of journalism and agitprop? But truly, the loss of these things does not anger me as it should. It saddens me, but I, who have seen some of them being built close-up, understand that any Terry Pratchett book is a small miracle, and we already have more than might be reasonable, and it does not behoove any of us to be greedy.
I rage at the imminent loss of my friend. And I think, “What would Terry do with this anger?” Then I pick up my pen, and I start to write.
Read Neil Gaiman’s Foreword on the Guardian website or find out more about A Slip of the Keyboard here.
It’s out on October 9th! Have a peek at the book page here.
Focus on a planet revolving in space:
Focus in on a small country in the northern hemisphere – Great Britain.
Closer, closer… and on the western edge of London you can see the county of Buckinghamshire. Small villages and winding country roads.
And if you could go back in time to the mid 1960s, you might spot a young lad on a motorbike coming down one such lane, notebook and pen in his jacket pocket.
Read the full story over on Guardian Books.
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