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.
Tickets can be bought from the Southbank Centre box office.
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It is a collaboration which has fantasy and sci-fi fans salivating – and here is a picture of the amazing cast preparing to dramatise Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s 1990 novel Good Omens.
Adapted for Radio 4 by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy director Dirk Maggs, how many of the star-studded cast in this picture of the read-through can you spot?
There is a lot to choose from with Mark Heap, Patterson Joseph, Peter Serafinowicz, Colin Morgan, Clive Russell, and Phil Davis all featuring in the six part series, plus Louise Brealey and the novel’s writer Terry Pratchett who are both absent from this first photo.
Read the full story over on Radio Times’ website.
BBC Radio 4 has today confirmed that the station will be collaborating with acclaimed authors Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett to create the first ever dramatisation of their co-penned cult-classic, Good Omens.
The audio drama, which begins recording today in a secret London location, has a cast including Colin Morgan (Merlin, The Fall) as Newton Pulsifer, Josie Lawrence (Skins, EastEnders) as Agnes Nutter and Paterson Joseph (Peep Show, Green Wing) as Famine, as well as a host of delightful cameos, from the Gardeners’ Question Time team to Neil and Terry themselves. Other cameos are set to delight listeners, but they are under wraps for now. Probably in a dusty occult bookshop in Covent Garden, but no one is quite sure.
Mark Heap (Spaced, Green Wing, Stardust) and Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians Of The Galaxy, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Shaun Of The Dead) will be taking the central roles as angel and demon, Aziraphale and Crowley, respectively. The star-studded cast will also include Clive Russell (Game Of Thrones, Ripper Street), Julia Deakin (Spaced, Hot Fuzz), Louise Brealey (Sherlock), Simon Jones (Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), Arsher Ali (Four Lions, Complicit, Beaver Falls), Phil Davis (Silk, Whitechapel, Being Human) and Mark Benton (Waterloo Road, Land Girls) to name but a few.
According to the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday in fact. Just after Any Answers on Radio 4.
Events have been set in motion to bring about the End of Days. The armies of Good and Evil are gathering and making their way towards the sleepy English village of Lower Tadfield. Atlantis is rising, fish are falling from the sky, the Four Horsepersons are assembling; everything seems to be going to the Divine Plan.
Everything that is, but for the unlikely duo of an angel and a demon who are not all that keen on the prospect of the forthcoming Rapture. In fact the prospect of Armageddon is all really rather inconvenient for them actually. But if they are to stop it taking place they’ve got to find and kill the one who will bring about the Apocalypse: the Antichrist himself. There’s just one small problem: someone seems to have mislaid him.
Released in 1990 and listed among the BBC’s Big Read Nation’s 100 favourite books, incredibly Good Omens has never been dramatised – until now.
The team behind Radio 4 and 4 Extra’s Neverwhere – which received a phenomenal critical and audience response last year – has reunited for this special six-part dramatisation of Good Omens. With Dirk Maggs, best known for Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, once again back in the director’s and adaptor’s chair, joined by producer Heather Larmour and ably assisted by Neil Gaiman. Neverwhere starred James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Natalie Dormer and Sir Christopher Lee, to name but a few of the illustrious cast.
Fans will have to wait excitedly to hear the final drama as it is currently scheduled to air in December. It will broadcast across a week in five half-hour episodes and culminate in an hour-long final apocalyptic showdown, on a Saturday, shortly before Woman’s Hour, should the world not actually end.
Gwyneth Williams, Controller, BBC Radio 4, says: “I’m delighted to have Neil Gaiman back on Radio 4 – and this time with Terry Pratchett. I can’t wait to hear what they will do with the Apocalypse. The Radio 4 audience loved Neverwhere and Good Omens will be a splendid Christmas treat.”
Listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as one of the top 10 living postmodern writers, Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Stardust, Anansi Boys, The Graveyard Book, the ‘Sandman’ comics) has a huge following, even guesting on an episode of The Simpsons. His episode of Doctor Who was one of the most highly anticipated of recent years and he has nearly two million followers on Twitter.
Sir Terry Pratchett is best known for his epic comic fantasy Discworld series. Since his first Discworld novel (The Colour of Magic) was published in 1983, he has written two books a year on average. His 2011 Discworld novel, Snuff, was at the time of its release, the third-fastest-selling hardback adult-audience novel since records began in the UK, selling 55,000 copies in the first three days.
Read the full story over on BBC Radio 4′s Media Centre.
Sell us on your favorite overlooked or underappreciated writer.
G. K. Chesterton. These days recognized — that is if he is recognized at all — as the man who wrote the Father Brown stories. My grandmother actually knew him quite well and pointed out that she herself lived on Chesterton Green in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, here in the U.K. And the man was so well venerated that on one memorable occasion, he was late in sending a piece to The Strand Magazine and a railway train actually waited at the local station until Mr. Chesterton had finished writing his piece. When she told me that, I thought, Blimey, now that is celebrity.
Who are your favorite fantasy novelists?
O.K., I give in. J. R. R. Tolkien. I wrote a letter to him once and got a very nice reply. Just think how busy he would have been, and yet he took the time out to write to a fan.
What makes for a good fantasy novel?
The kind that isn’t fantastic. It’s just creating a new reality. Really, a good fantasy is just a mirror of our own world, but one whose reflection is subtly distorted.
Which books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
Right now I am looking at a very good book called “Feeding Nelson’s Navy,” having just browsed through another on the usage of arsenic through the ages. Mostly, my shelves are full of nonfiction with interesting titles such as “The World of Snot.” A writer never knows where he’s going to find those little gems.
What kind of reader were you as a child? And what were your favorite childhood books?
I barely read a book for pleasure when I was at junior school and got into reading only because my mother promised me a penny for every page I read to her properly. That cost her some money in the beginning, and then I found a book called “The Wind in the Willows,” by Kenneth Grahame, and I just exploded. There were rats and moles and badgers and they were all acting like humans, and I thought to myself, This is a lie, but what a fabulous lie! After that I scoured the local library and read everything. I even got myself a part-time job there so I could legitimately have multiple library cards.
Whom would you consider your literary heroes?
I would have to say that Mark Twain is up there with the gods and probably cursing it. “Life on the Mississippi” blew my mind. And, of course, reading him meant that I got to read “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” I hope it’s still read and that people read the book he wanted people to see, because I know that some editions leave out the fact that the Yankee boy killed most of the famous Knights of the Round Table using electricity. Now that is fantasy.
Which novels have had the most impact on you as a writer? Is there a particular book that made you want to write?
It has to be “The Wind in the Willows.” It fascinated me. He had toads living in great country houses and badgers and moles acting like British gentlemen. I read the pages so often they fell apart, and God bless him for leaving in the pieces called “Wayfarers All” and “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” I am sorry to say that certain publishers, who really should know better, have produced editions with those pieces cut from that wonderful book, stating they were simply too heavy for children. I scream at stuff like that. After all, “The Pilgrim’s Progress” was a book written for children. A good book, no matter its intended audience, should get people reading, and that’s what started me writing. And once I started, I never stopped.
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? And the prime minister?
Well, it would have to be “The Man Who Was Thursday.” It’s a damn good read that I believe should be read by everyone in politics.
You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?
Mark Twain, G. K. Chesterton and Neil Gaiman, because he’s a mate who knows how to order the most excellent sushi.
And if you could bring only three books to a desert island, which would you choose?
“Boatbuilding for Beginners,” “Poisonous Plants of the South Pacific” and a very good seafood cookery book.
What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?
Probably the first draft of the first one I ever wrote, but I think I’ve got better since then.
Read the full article on The New York Times.