You Want Fries With That? by Alex Stewart

Shooting the RiftThough I’ve a couple of stand-alone novels out from Baen (Shooting the Rift, a wide screen space opera, and A Fistful of Elven Gold, which quite clearly isn’t), the vast majority of my twenty-something books to date have been tie-in fiction for Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 franchise. Given that I use a pseudonym on them, a bit of bad advice I got from a former agent who thought that sort of thing was a bit downmarket, I now find myself in the slightly odd position of being considerably less well known than my alter ego, Sandy Mitchell, who has a large and enthusiastic following.

Working within a franchise certainly isn’t for everyone, but I’ve found it both creatively and financially rewarding, and still have enough enthusiasm for the process to be embarking on the eleventh volume of the adventures of Commissar Cain with genuine pleasure. He and I have been through a lot together over the years, and I owe him a great deal; in fact I’d go so far as to say that without him I wouldn’t be nearly as good a writer as I am. His first outing, For the Emperor!, way back in 2003, was the first full-length novel I ever had commissioned, and the exceptional editorial support I got made the learning curve a lot less steep than it otherwise would have been. Working in a pre-existing universe gave me the chance to concentrate on character without worrying too much about the world-building, although the 40K background is so huge and diverse it leaves plenty of room for individual flourishes.

Caiphas cainAnd that, I think, is the key to playing successfully with someone else’s train set. Find something you can do within the established background that no one else can, and stake out your own corner of it. In my case it was bringing overt humour to a setting that’s generally regarded as unremittingly grim, but in a way which respects the existing IP rather than working against it. Cain is essentially Flashman in space, an idea that had appealed to me for a long time, but which I’d buried in the metaphorical bottom drawer for years because the amount of world-building necessary to set up an idolised military hero who’s actually a self-serving fraud on a galactic scale would crush the entire conceit. Plonking him down in the Imperium, however, short-circuited all that, and made the stakes satisfyingly high, as the consequences of discovery would be too terrible to contemplate.

The other advantage of working in a well-established background is that there’s never any risk of running out of story ideas. All I have to do is leaf through a sourcebook or two, splice a couple of background details together, wonder how Cain would react to the result, and the outline practically writes itself.

And let’s not forget that starting out in a franchise can be a springboard to success in your own projects too; a chance to try new techniques, and develop your own unique narrative voice. I like to think my own, tongue-in-cheek, dryly humorous, would have taken a lot longer to arrive without Cain, if I’d ever discovered it at all.

As I said at the outset, writing for a franchise isn’t for everyone, but if there is one that appeals to you, it’s worth checking out the possibilities. The worst that can happen is you have a little fun, and get paid for it. And the best? You have a whole lot of fun and get paid for it!

-o0o-

AlexAlex Stewart has been writing professionally for over thirty years, during which time he has produced novels, short stories, comic strips, audio dramas and television scripts. His most recent books are Choose Your Enemies, the latest instalment in the Commissar Cain series of Warhammer 40,000 tie-ins, and A Fistful of Elven Gold, a tongue-in-cheek fantasy adventure about a bounty hunting gnome, the mass market paperback edition of which is due out from Baen books in April. He has an MA in Screenwriting, so watches far too many movies ‘for research’ when he ought to be working.

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Beginning at the Beginning by Jacey Bedford

I’ve always been particularly fascinated by book-beginnings. One of my favourite opening sentences is the one which opens John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids:

When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts out by sounding like Sunday, there’s something seriously wrong somewhere.

What a classic! It sets the scene, sets up expectations and leads brilliantly into the story of a man who wakes in hospital with his eyes bandaged to find that the world has changed forever.

The Day of the Triffids was the first adult SF novel that I read. I was eleven or twelve and I’d bought it via a school book club. It made such an impression on me that all these years later I can still quote the first line. Now here I am, a writer with six books already published, and I’m still searching for the perfect beginning of my own.

Finding the right opening line, the right opening scene is a gift. It’s difficult at the best of times, but even more difficult when the book is not the first one in a series. People often ask which comes first, the characters or the plot. It’s a bit like asking a songwriter whether the tune comes first or the words. The two are often so intertwined that it’s impossible to separate them. They arrive at the same time.

And so it is with books, at least, it is in my experience. I usually find a scene that plays in my head. I know who the character is and what the situation is and I have an idea of the basic conflict that’s going to be the engine of the plot. I may not have all the details, but I can work them out later. At the beginning of Winterwood I knew that I had a young woman drawn to visit her dying mother. There was enmity between them, and the young woman had put herself in danger simply by being there. It begins:

The stuffy bedroom stank of sickness with an underlying taint of old lady, stale urine and unwashed clothes, poorly disguised with attar of roses. I’d never thought to return to Plymouth, to the house I’d once called home; a house with memories so bitter that I’d tried to scour them from my mind with salt water and blood.

It was a strong image which became the opening scene of Winterwood. As I wrote I discovered that the young woman was dressed as a man, was the captain of her own ship and was, in her mother’s eyes, a pirate. She was also an unregistered witch, a capital offence in a Britain with magic. As the scene opened up in my mind and on the page, I found out that it was 1800, almost a century after the golden age of piracy, and the house we were in was on the edge of Plymouth, a town with a long maritime history, both naval and commercial. The young woman in the shadows, Rossalinde, known as Ross, is visiting her dying mother for the first time in seven years, but there’s still no forgiveness between them. Later Ross says: I had come to dance on her grave and found it empty.

Thus the Rowankind trilogy begins. Ross captains her own ship because she’s a widow. Will Tremayne, the man she ran away with seven years earlier, died in an accident leaving Ross in charge of a ship-load of barely reformed pirates. Ross’ mother passes on a legacy, a task that Ross doesn’t want, and a half-brother she didn’t know she had. No, I’m not going to tell you the plot of Winterwood, suffice it to say that Ross has to use all of her ingenuity and her courage to fulfil the task, and along the way she meets and falls in love with Corwen, a wolf shapechanger, much to the consternation of the ghost of her late husband.

And so the scene is set for Silverwolf. Starting a sequel is a far different thing from starting a new story. I already have two fully-formed characters, Ross and Corwen, who have committed to each other and who should be enjoying their happy-ever-after, but that’s about to be curtailed by the arrival of a visitor. So I have to open with that happy-ever-after. Ross and Corwen have hidden themselves away in a modest cottage on the edge of the Old Maizy Forest, a liminal place part way between the mundane world and Iaru, the magical world of the Fae. Silverwolf opens:

A large silver-grey shape trotted out of the trees, a grizzled brown hare dangling dead in his jaws. In wolf-form Corwen was almost the height of a small pony, but he had to hold up his head to prevent the hare’s legs from dragging on the ground. He dropped it to the side of the path, and in one smooth movement changed from wolf to naked man.

Ross and Corwen’s idyll is rudely interrupted. What Ross and Corwen did in Winterwood inadvertently paved the way for the return of magical creatures to Britain. A rogue kelpie has taken two children in Devonshire. Ross and Corwen must return to the real world.

If Winterwood was Ross’ story, then Silverwolf is Corwen’s, though still told through Ross’ viewpoint. After dealing with the kelpie, Corwen is called back to his home in Yorkshire to resolve a family crisis.

At the end of Winterwood Ross and Corwen, with the aid of the Fae, wrought a change which has far-reaching consequences for the magical inhabitants of Britain. The mundane world and the magical world, long separated by the heavy hand of the Mysterium, the organisation which regulates magic throughout the land, are about to merge.

And now Rowankind, the third book in the trilogy, is out. Beginning that was really difficult. I had a provisional opening during most of the writing process. For a long time it began:

I’m a witch.
I can hear someone sneaking up on me a mile away.
This time it wasn’t the clip-clop of hoofbeats, nor the soft tread of boots, but the rustle of a small animal running through winter-dry grass followed by the snick of claws on the flaggstones of our front path.
“We have a visitor,” I said.

But in the last revision I wrote a new opening scene. The original opening is still in the book, but later. Now it begins:

Freddie was on trial for his life.
Corwen sat beside me, sick with dread. He owed his life and his allegiance to the Lady of the Forests, but he didn’t owe her his brother.


Winterwood, Silverwolf and Rowankind are on bookshop shelves now in the USA and also available in electronic form. In the UK they are available in print form as an import from specialist SF bookshops, and online from the big firm named after a river.

-o0o-

Jacey Bedford is a British writer from Yorkshire with over thirty short stories and five (so far) novels to her credit. She lives behind a desk in an old stone house on the edge of the Pennines with her husband and a long-haired, black German Shepherd – that’s a dog not an actual shepherd from Germany. She’s the hon. sec. of Milford SF Writers’ Conference, held annually in North Wales.

Jacey’s books:
Empire of Dust (Psi-Tech #1)
Crossways  (Psi-Tech #2)
Nimbus  (Psi-Tech #3)
Winterwood (Rowankind #1)
Silverwolf (Rowankind #2)
Rowankind (Rowankind #3)
Follow Jacey:
Web: http://www.jaceybedford.co.ukTwitter: @jaceybedford
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jacey.bedford.writer
Blog: http://jaceybedford.wordpress.com
Milford: http://www.milfordSF.co.uk

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Write-a-Thons by Karen Brenchley

So I’ve been to Milford twice (2007, 2010), I’ve sold a few stories both by myself and with a partner, I belong to a professional writing critique group that contains people who have published multiple novels (some best selling), and I’m married to a professional novelist, so I must be set, right? I should be churning out story after story, novel after novel, and letting my experience with critique groups hone every noun, sharpen every verb, right? Right? Please let it be right.

I’ve found that between my day job and my family life, I don’t have the time to write the way I used to. I think great characters and plot lines while exercising (something has to disguise the pain), but I scribble them down in my “to do” notebook before petting the cats and rushing to (a very excellent) dinner. I’d love to go to Milford again, but that would mean, you know, finishing something. Anything.

So what to do? My solution is to hold one-day Write-a-Thons. I invite my writer friends over to my house and we spend the day sitting together in a large room, writing. OK, by “the day” I usually mean from around eleven or twelve to around six in the evening. I’ve tried longer, but six or so hours seems optimal. I’m also lucky enough to have a “shed” in my back garden that I’ve remodeled, so it has lights, electricity, and room for two full-sized dining room tables (each sits six-eight). Our back garden itself is fairly nice, too, and at least half the year we don’t have rain (I’m in California), so sometimes we write outside. The space works out well.

Pat Murphy, Heather Rose Jones and Madeleine Robins in the Brenchley Clubhouse

Where should you hold one if you aren’t blessed with California weather and your own giant clubhouse? Think about the area near where you live. Is there a library nearby, with a quiet space that is (or can be) private? Is there a pub or restaurant that’s slow on Sunday afternoons, that has an area that can hold you? There’s an old Mickey Rooney movie that contains the lines, “Let’s put on a show!” followed by “I have a barn!” Conspire with the writer friends you were going to invite anyway. What do they know about? Do they have giant parlors?

I mentioned a library and a pub, which brings me to the topic of food. Libraries tend to not want food (especially not liquids) near their books, and pubs want you to have lots of food and drink, provided you pay them for it. After doing many Write-a-Thons, I tend to hold them from noon to six in the evening, which means that the people coming have a chance to have a meal before and after, if they don’t want to eat during. Since my Write-a-Thons are in a giant dining room, I encourage my guests to bring snacks and drinks to share. They tend to bring fresh fruit (California, remember?), nice breads and cheese, other nice finger foods. At my house we have a supply of drinks of various sorts, so I haven’t lured anyone to a garret to starve.


What about socializing? When I first started doing this I invited pretty much all of my local writer friends, about twenty or so. I was trying the idea out, and so were they. The clubhouse is across the garden from the main house, so I encouraged people who wanted to catch up with friends to do so in the living room (parlor?). When people first arrive, there is a quick moment for catching up, but then the writing commences again in earnest. Based on feedback from friends, I’ve narrowed the list down to those who want to come and just write, with a little bit of snacking and a little bit of socializing. Others have suggested I have a dinner afterwards, for those who don’t or can’t write for six hours at a table, but who want to meet with other writers and socialize, so I’m trying that out with the next one. I’ve found that holding these Write-a-Thons roughly once a month raises my word count dramatically. Other writers who have come agree (and come back to the next one). It’s a great way to get work done, and prepare for the next Milford. Because I very much want to be ready to go again. Don’t you?

Karen Brenchley

Karen Brenchley has had science fiction, steampunk, and fantasy stories appear in various anthologies both alone and with her husband, Chaz Brenchley. She founded the SF in SF reading series with Terry Bisson, and edited her husband’s Lambda Award-winning collection “Bitter Waters”. She designs analytics tools for large, unstructured data sets, is a defunct black belt in aikido, and lives in Sunnyvale with her husband, two squabbling cats, and a long-suffering turtle. See more at her website http://www.karenbrenchley.com

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Milford funding deadline fast approaching.

The deadline is 28th February 2019.

Milford SF Writers’ Conference is offering two bursaries for self-identifying science fiction/fantasy writers of colour (BAME)  to attend the 2019 Milford SF Writers’ Conference in the UK which takes place from 14th to 21st September. The location is Trigonos, Nantlle, North Wales (9 miles south of Caernarfon).

This is for the Milford critiquing week. (Sorry, there are no bursaries available for the writing retreat in May.) Check out what happens here.

107

In 2017, our bursary recipients were Suyi Davies Okungbowa, from Lagos, Nigeria (pictured above) and Dolly Garland from London, UK. In 2018 our recipients are Nisi Shawl from the USA and Rochita Loenen Ruiz from the Philipines, currently resident in the Netherlands.

Applications for the two 2019 places are now open. They close on 28th February 2019. Successful applicants will be notified in March 2019 and must confirm acceptance or decline within a week of notification.

Writers from all over the world (far and near) are invited to apply as long as they write in English and are ‘Milford qualified’ (i.e at least one SF story sale to a recognised publication).Each bursary will cover the cost of the conference fee and full board accommodation (i.e. room and all meals). The bursary value is approximately £650. The bursary does not cover the cost of transport to or from the conference from either inside or outside the UK. Should a successful applicant be unable to take up the offer of a bursary, there is no cash value, and no guarantee that we will be able to offer a bursary in a future year.

This is intended to be an encouragement and not a quota. We have a limited number of bursaries available, however we operate an equal opportunities policy so all SF/F writers who are ‘Milford qualified’ are welcome to apply for the full-price Milford SF Writers’ Conference places, subject to availability.

Thank you to all previous applicants. If you have applied unsuccessfully in the past, you are welcome to apply again. Here’s information and an applcation form or if you have any questions, please contact the Milford secretary.

If you are interested in helping to fund our bursary programme for future years, please talk to us.

Milford secretary: jacey@jaceybedford.co.uk.

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Writing Tip: Using Wordle to highlight overused words – by Jacey Bedford

Wordle used to be a web-based utility, a web toy that allowed you to paste in a piece of writing to make a word cloud. The more frequently a word appeared in your text, the bigger it appeared in the word cloud. Yes, it’s a pretty utility, but also massively useful for a writer. We all tend to have words that we overuse, but we don’t always recognise them. Cut and paste your text into Wordle and your overused words stand out like a rhinoceros in a flock of sheep. Frequently used common words like ‘the’, ‘and’, or ‘but’ don’t show up, of course.

Wordle is a Java applet. Because web design and technology moves on, the online Wordle web toy no longer works for most people, so the Wordle folks have offered a desktop version for both Windows and Mac. You can download it here http://www.wordle.net/. I’m running Win7pro and it works just fine for me.

Here’s an example from a story I’m working on. I have 18000 words so far.
I copied and pasted the whole story and this is the Wordle it produced.

wordle 18000

It’s OK if a proper noun, your main character’s name for instance (Semmeri in this case), comes out as one of your biggest words, but as you can see, the rhinoceros in this flock of sheep is the word ‘back’. Cringing at my own foibles, I went through my piece, searching for the word ‘back’. In some cases I cut it completely without making a difference to the sentence.

Example:
Semmeri walked back up to the camp.
versus
Semmeri walked up to the camp.

In other cases I could replace it with a better word.

After I’d gone through each iteration of the word ‘back’ my Wordle looked like this.

wordle after back

Now the rhino in the flock of sheep was the word ‘one.’ So I tamed that. My next Wordle looked like this.

wordle after one

I wasn’t too worried about the word ‘boy’ because one of my main characters doesn’t have a name to begin with and is simply referred to as ‘the boy’, so I checked ‘like’ next. I couldn’t reduce it too much, but I tamed it, and this is my final Wordle.

wordle after like

Of course, you can easily use Wordle as writing displacement, so don’t get obsessive. I don’t suggest using Wordle until you have a substantial amount of finished words. If you’re working on a novel, maybe use it after 20,000 words to see which of your words are tending towards overuse. That way you can be aware as you’re writing. Then use Wordle again at the end, when your book is finished. I suggest using it after your content edit, but before your copy edit. It will help with your final polish.

Happy wordling.

Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford is a British writer of fantasy and science fiction who is published by DAW in the USA. She is hon, sec. of Milford SF writers and maintains this blog and the Milford website. You can catch up with her writing at http://www.jaceybedford.co.uk

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Spectres of Stories Past by Jim Anderson

Each time I sit down to put words to paper (literally or figuratively), and each time I sit down to plan a chapter or a story, I am haunted by the spectres of stories past, and sometimes I find that very distracting.

There are some stories I remember very well, in whole or in part, and these stories form part of the foundation of my writing.  What I find interesting is that as much as I might remember the specifics of plots or characters, I often don’t remember titles or authors, and even the notes I might have made have come to be buried in all the other notes I make.  For a few of them, I’ve tried searches, almost always unsuccessful, though the act of trying to search does help me revisit those parts I do remember. 

Sometimes they come through because they contain an idea I want to work through in a different way than the author, which then inevitably leads to a discussion (for another day) of the oft-quoted aphorism that ‘Good artists copy; great artists steal‘, which has an interestingly twisted origin.  And here, I can find my academic background coming through, where a paper (mathematical, in my case) can be viewed as a story, with the author saying, this is how far I’ve taken things, and I give this story to you the reader, and I’m curious where you can take it from here. 

Sometimes they come through because there is an element of style that I can only view with awe.  I’m sure we each have a list of stories that we carry around in our heads, those stories that made us go WOW the first time we read them, and every subsequent time.  I suspect that groups amongst us might have a few of these in common, but I like reading the lists of other people’s WOW stories, because I always discover stories I hadn’t read before.

And sometimes, we carry with us the stories that do both.  There is one in particular I remember, of a high level bureaucrat on a newly colonized alien world, though not the base commander.  By the clever manipulation of the rules, he constructs a way of the indigenous aliens, who are dying essentially of boredom and the lack of challenge, to steal a ship so that they can find a new world.  Moreover, it is the base commander’s signature on the incremental orders, and the bureaucrat himself earns a commendation.  

I spend a lot of my time navigating through bureaucracies and I can’t help but admire our brave bureaucrat.  I don’t remember the title of this story, or its author, or even how long ago I read it.  And interestingly, if someone were to point me to an accessible copy of the story, I’m not sure I would look it up.  Would the actual story live up to the memory I’ve constructed and I carry around with me?  This has happened to me a few rare times, reading something once and not wanting to read it even a second time.

And so, I go back to work, trying to craft something that will carry the echoes of the things I’ve read but which nonetheless gives the reader something nifty to hold one to and smile about.

Jim Anderson (available on-line at http://www.multijimbo.com) is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and is also the Associate Dean (Education and Student Experience) for the Faculty of Social Sciences. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy.

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David Langford interviews Terry Pratchett: 1999 – A Langford Retrospective.

Terry Pratchett: 1999 A new Discworld novel from Terry Pratchett is always a major publishing event. The series shows no sign of faltering as its 24th novel, The Fifth Elephant, heads for the bookshops and – as always – the bestseller lists. This time Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch visits sinister Uberwald (Discworld’s version of Transylvania) on a diplomatic mission among scheming vampires, murderous werewolves, and hot-headed dwarfs whose most sacred relic, the Scone of Stone, has just been stolen…. For Amazon.co.uk, Terry Pratchett talked to David Langford about his latest book – and others in the pipeline.

• Which aspect of The Fifth Elephant are you most pleased with?

Terry Pratchett: There’s always an element of surprise for the author when a complex character moves through the plot. I liked the way Vimes reacted to Uberwald and the way he’s desperate to work within the framework of the law because he’s so afraid of what he might do if he didn’t. I like Sam Vimes. He knows that whatever he does, the lords, kings and politicians will run the show, yet he plods on nevertheless. But in truth I enjoyed writing the Igors….

• Are you consciously exploring Discworld race/species relations in increasing depth, or did it just work out that way in the writing?

Terry Pratchett: It’s just been a case of sitting back and thinking about what I’d already written. You know … we have this, and this, so what follows?

• So although vampires have had a bad press in the series, Vimes finally meets one he can grudgingly respect (and she’s on the wagon like him). Werewolves have had it good because represented by the lovely Angua, and now The Fifth Elephant shows the dark side. It’s also interesting that what surely began as a throwaway line about the difficulty of telling dwarfs’ sexes has built into a key factor in their society.

Terry Pratchett: It’s really been a case of applying to the other races the same rules I’d apply to humans; it’s dumb to think in terms of “good races” and “bad races”, and nail characteristics to them without considering how these would work in a society. All races are “complex”.

• Would you say that Tolkien, for all his virtues, has been a bit of a bad thing here – imprinting fantasy with this default assumption of whole races of genetically programmed bad guys, like the orcs?

Terry Pratchett: Hmm. Does it start with Tolkien? All he was doing was echoing a very definite human trait: classify them as orcs (or gooks, slants, towelheads or whatever) and you can kill ’em easier, ’cos they ain’t human…. But he certainly impressed on the public consciousness, against the run of history, the idea of elves as Good Guys.

• A notion that was given a trouncing in your novel Lords and Ladies. Do you plan further rethinking of unloved Discworld minorities like the vampires?

Terry Pratchett: In the next book, currently known as The Truth, I pick up one of the ideas expressed in The Fifth Elephant: that vampires who successfully go “on the wagon”, and therefore free up a lot of intellect which up until then has been concentrating on getting the next meal, might be quite formidable creatures. But somewhat obsessive about whatever they do….

Ten years or so ago, I seem to remember you muttering that you might soon move on from Discworld. Obviously you’re still finding it fruitful! Was it a matter of getting your second wind, or of consciously deciding to take more risks and push at the boundaries, or …?

Terry Pratchett: The second. And finding whole novels in throwaway lines. Take Uberwald – a huge empire has crumbled, a lot of political certainties have gone, there are new alliances … there are a lot of resonances there which I didn’t realize existed when I put it on the Discworld map. While I hope to do a non-Discworld fantasy in the near future, I know there are more Disc novels, several of them with (mostly) an entirely new cast. In The Truth, for example, the main characters are all new and the City Watch are all background characters. This makes it fun, I think, for old readers – we know how Vimes and Co. think, so seeing them from someone else’s perspective gives a fresh twist.

• So there’s no end in sight?

Terry Pratchett: You know I’ve said I’ll never knowingly write the last Discworld novel. But it has to evolve to keep going. If I’d written 25 versions of The Light Fantastic by now, I’d be ready to slit my wrists.

• But some fantasy authors, whom we’d better not name, have done more or less exactly that. What would have really happened to you, I wonder, along that leg of the Trousers of Time?

Terry Pratchett: Hmm. Interesting. Maybe I’d have sold a few more books, been considered a moderately-successful author, kept the day job and by now would have had early retirement from National Power. Or something even more weird may have happened.

Can you tell me anything more about that next book you mentioned?

Terry Pratchett: So far it’s at charcoal-sketch level. But, in short, The Truth deals with the opening of Ankh-Morpork’s first newspaper, whose reluctant editor has almost immediately to become an investigative journalist (and what is the truth? Will you know it when you see it? And what if it’s the wrong kind of truth?) There are no “printers’ devil” gags, but I’m rather pleased with King of the Golden River; people will have to read the book to find out what he does for a living….

• Was it difficult to shed all the much-repeated stuff about Discworld wizards’ implacable opposition to movable type?

Terry Pratchett: Not when Archchancellor Ridcully realizes how much the engravers charge. As Vetinari says, history doesn’t flow, it jerks forward (I quite like his vague strivings towards a New World Order). He gets the priesthood on his side, too, by pointing out how much Good News is being turned out by the presses of Omnia….

• Coming back to The Fifth Elephant, I enjoyed the impossible-crime mystery thread. Were you consciously nodding to Poe, John Dickson Carr, the whole detective tradition? Presumably there are nostalgic influences back there.

Terry Pratchett: Only insofar as it’s in the very air we read. What I wanted to do was get Vimes involved in what is ultimately a political crime, where he’s out of his depth (until, in his head, he can turn it back into the kind of crime he can deal with). I liked the idea of a locked room mystery where they left the door unlocked.

• Yes, Vimes spends a lot of time out of his depth and being relentlessly chased by werewolves. That chase sequence is nicely broken by a farcical Russian-drama interlude – but how many of your fans will get all the “Cherry Orchard” and “Uncle Vanya” allusions? Does it matter?

Terry Pratchett: No. Probably a lot of younger readers won’t spot them, but so what? It’s still funny, I hope; it’s just that there’s two levels. You can’t write a series like this with the idea that every single reference must be caught by everyone, you just try to give people a sporting chance. I’d bet, incidentally, that far more people have acquired a vague shorthand idea about Russian drama (“gloomy people in big houses going on about how much better things used to be”) than have ever sat through a Chekhov play.

• You’ve said in the past that the fans always ask for more appearance of the wizardly supercoward Rincewind: has he now been retired? Bearing in mind the extremes to which you keep pushing Vimes and Granny Weatherwax, do you think you’ll ever take the big step of killing off these or other long-running characters?

Terry Pratchett: In the next couple of years a major character (that is to say, “has featured in the forefront of at least one novel”) will die. I know this, because I’ve written it. But wait, ’t’will not be what you expect…. Rincewind will probably be back, alas … it’s hard to make him more than two-dimensional, though. I have not given a lot of thought to killing off the seriously big characters, and it’s quite hard to see how you could kill Granny. But I can see them gently retiring.

• Why “alas” to the thought of Rincewind’s return? You’re the master of Discworld, after all. Will the fans send you dead rats if you fail to give Rincewind another outing?

Terry Pratchett: No, I quite like him, and he’s useful, but it’s hard to do a lot with him. He’s basically an observer. He’s shallow all the way to the bottom…. He makes a useful appearance in The Last Hero, which will be a book mightily illustrated by Paul Kidby – I mean seriously illustrated, the art taking as much or more room as the text. I’ve written the story, and the artwork I’ve already seen is very, very good.

• In your own view of Discworld cosmology, was there “really” a Fifth Elephant whose mighty fall from the sky caused the coveted Uberwald fat deposits, or do you have some other private theory of their formation?

Terry Pratchett: All tribal myths are true, for a certain value of “truth”.

Do you still manage to deal with all your fan mail?

Terry Pratchett: Ahahaha. Yes. It’s noticeable that the fan mail has levelled out now and the fan e-mail has increased. Sign of the times, I suppose.

• Have you any favourite anecdotes from your trip to Australia for the World SF Convention in September?

Terry Pratchett: It turned out that the parents of one of the guides at a rainforest lodge in Far North Queensland were fans, and they invited us to visit (which meant walking along the beach at low tide, keeping a look out for crocs, because they live in a little valley otherwise accessible only by boat or a long, long slog through the forest). Imagine a garden containing every tropical fruit you can think of and some you can’t, a waterfall cascading into a turtle-haunted pool behind the house, and a house full of books. We drank passion-fruit wine and ate custard apples, and came back by boat on a glassy sea while the stars were coming out. You couldn’t buy it for quids.

• Many thanks, Terry … and I hope you survive the marathon Fifth Elephant autograph sessions without too many bruises.

David Langford. From Crosstalk. Ansible Editions. Kindle Edition. Reprinted with permission.

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