24 hours stalking Terry Pratchett

I should probably give some background before I’m arrested.

I love Terry Pratchett, absolutely adore everything he’s ever written. When I was about 10 my uncle from Delaware recommended the dragon lance books to me. You couldn’t get them very easily here so they used to send them over to me. Then Mom got me to read the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I began to work my way through my local bookshop’s tiny fantasy and sci-fi section. I read Terry Brooks, Douglas Adams, quite a few of the star wars books but I always shied away from Pratchett because his book covers looked so lurid and out there, I was only beginning to get into fantasy and trying to avoid children’s books because I was ‘all growed up,’ and lets face it, his covers did lead me to believe that they were for children. But the books were always intriguing. In my bid to be a ‘growed up’ I even read the Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, marginally more disturbing than anything I’ve ever read before or since. Eventually I ran out of other books to read (like I said, they didn’t have much) so I picked up the Colour of Magic and I was hooked.

Professor Sir Terry Pratchett OBE and Blackboard Monitor

A typical Sunday or Saturday back then: Myself, Mom, Dad and my sister walked into town. We’d leave Dad at the square so he could go to the pub and the rest of us would go do the shopping, groceries, clothes, school stuff, whatever we needed. We’d always end with a trip to the book shop. Then we’d join Dad in the pub and me and my sister would sit in the corner reading while the barman gave us free crisps and dairy milks.

It was a small pub, often packed to capacity. I read through all-Ireland finals like that. I read through the hitchhikers guide trilogy of five and a good portion of the discworld. That’s when I stopped trying to be grown up because it didn’t matter at all. Occasionally when I discovered a quote I would run over and recite it to my parents and the barflys that still recognise me to this day but I have trouble telling apart. I’d declare something like ‘Give a man a fire and he’ll be warm for an hour, but set him on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.’ then I’d run back to my corner and keep reading in search of more gems. Terry Pratchett is the reason I write because he taught me the fun you can have with language. He taught me how important it is to imagine how things should be and work towards them.He taught me a lot about people.

His presence as a member of staff in Trinity College was the icing on the cake when choosing Trinity over Belfast or UCD. His inaugural lecture last year was brilliant and last Wednesday night there was a questions and answers session with him and the head of the English Department, the ever-quirky Daryl Jones (I think all English professors are contractually obliged to be eccentric)

It was technically only for alumni and I had an essay and a story to submit that week as well as NaNo, but I volunteered to help out anyway. Myself and my friends were sitting in the front row, a meter, maybe a meter and a half from the genius himself. Afterwards there was a wine reception and while a few people monopolised his time, asking questions and that, we still got a picture with him and got to hob-nob over glasses of wine in the same room.

Then on Thursday we had a class with him. This was definitely the highlight for me. There was only fifteen of us in a room sitting around a table with him and we got to ask him any questions we like about writing. We got world building advice, a debate on genre fiction vs. literary, ideas for novels, the writing process and a truly epic tangent when one guy asked where he bought his hat. He talked about his new novel Snuff, no one else had read it so he turned to me and said “I’m just going to address this to my reader and the rest of you can all piss off.” For the rest of the afternoon he called me “my reader.” Best. Moment. ever. We talked about so much but here are the best bits.

Gems of Terry Pratchett:

  • The hat tangent: When Zach asked him where he got his hat he got incredibly specific details, then a commentary on fashion, praise of Victorian fashion, telling us how Queen Victoria really did like sex after all, then he talked about Victorian birth control.
  • He calls Cúchulainn Cuhooligan
  • he recommended we get jobs in local news papers, it will help writing
  • We need an eye for the serendipitous – if you’re open to ideas and information it will come to you, if you’re receptive towards inspiration it will swarm towards you.
  • he told us stories from his life that stuck with him which he later inserted into his books. He also told us quite a few stories that he hasn’t written yet and gave us full permission to write them first. He took us through one specific incident that fascinates him – the frozen ice trade in America in the 18th century – that stuck with him and explained how one thing can become so many different plots.
  • He doesn’t outline – the first draft tells him what the second draft will be
  • G. K. Chesterton’s work taught him about humour and paradox. The Punch comics taught him about literature and the world
  • “Walking through London is like walking through a kaleidoscope of colours, all golden people and they’re all English.” If you speak English you’ll become English. He reckons Hiberno-English is a particularly rich dialect.
  • I asked him why fantasy has had such enduring appeal for him considering he started off his career with YA and sci-fi. He said fantasy has all the tools, all the colours. You don’t have to mess about with with other colours to get the same effect. Approaching reality with fantasy reveals something new, with it he can turn his hand to anything.
  • He defined magic realism as “a bastard that says’ I’m a proper writer, but I’m going to write some fantasy.'”
  • he didn’t expect The Colour of Magic to be as successful as it was, he was halfway through writing another book called The Long Earth, which dealt with parallel universes.
  • To write you need to have  a love of language, word games and puns. Dramatising the truth for the purposes of instruction is soulless, you need to be able to spin words on the tip of your fingers. Facility with language is half the battle.
  • You need to research both your genre and outside your genre, bring new things to it.
  • Ideas are 10 a penny, what’s difficult is finishing.
  • When world-building don’t give a travelogue. The reader already knows what high mountains look like. Instead use a piece of dialogue or something. Show what’s different about these specific mountains. You can go over the top in descriptions when you describe through perceptions. Use things to describe a storm that you wouldn’t be able to attribute to ordinary weather.
  • He was successful because he made fun of the fantasy that doesn’t understand human beings or doesn’t know enough about reality. In fantasy you have to be real about the things that are real e.g. how long a horse can gallop for. If you make it real, say with a barbarian warrior whose feet still hurt, it’s relatable.

Afterwards he even signed books, I thought he wouldn’t but he signed The Colour of Magic for me.

Occasionally he was grasping for words and there were quite a lot of tangents but the signing was the only time when his alzheimers became apparent, his hands shook and it’s fairly illegible but it’s still one of my most treasured possessions.

There was a debate in the Phil society that evening ‘that the house would legislate in favour of assisted suicide for all adults.’ It was the single most absurdly formal thing I’ve ever seen. They were all in suits an dicky bows, lots of formulaic talking and reading of the minutes, standing up and sitting down at alarming rates. Then the debate began in earnest. All the speakers were very good and engaging and responded to audience interjections and POI’s well (except for the last guy, what the hell was that about?). It was really interesting and the pro-euthnasia side won, because frankly I don’t think anyone there was going to vote against Pratchett. No-one interrupted his talk, he spoke very softly but you could hear everything he said. He said he’s signed the letter to Dignitas but hopes he’ll never have to use it, he’d prefer a more English death. He spoke about his illness and why he signed the letter and that he’s glad he has it in his top drawer for when he needs it.

But fear not, he  said he has a few more books in him and that he’s in the middle of his autobiography.

He is a great man, a genius I’d say, and it will be a sad day when he does make the trip to Switzerland. No matter what I will continue reading and re-reading the Discworld for as long as I am able to read and write.

10,000 words: take 2

So you may remember the insanity that was last Saturday night. I am doing something similar this weekend, perhaps more relaxed times, a different word count. I haven’t decided the rules yet but it definitely won’t be as late as last week, it’s my parents wedding anniversary tomorrow and myself and my sister are cooking, this could go horribly wrong even without being sleep deprived.

My current NaNo progrees bar says I have 18530 words out of 50,000. If I can get to 30,000, or even 26,000 by tomorrow night I’ll be happy. I’m not sure if Sean’s interested, hang on a minute while I text him…


/ 15000 words. 0% done!

So I’ve decided my playlist for tonight’s event, it consists entirely of Tim Minchin videos, here are a few of the best but the easily offended should not follow these links:

1. Prejudice
2. Peace Anthem for Palestine
3. Drowned
4. F*ck the Poor
5. Canvas Bags
6. Not Perfect
7. Storm
8. The Pope Song
9. If I didn’t have you
10. Darkside

18:47 So after sitting down to write I was almost immediately called and told to pick up Mom from work and take her to Tesco so the wordcount still stands at “0” but I’m cautiously optimistic about the next hour


560 / 15000 words. 4% done!

So I’m actually writing a scene that’s making the obnoxious literary side of me come through, it’s kind of difficult because I want to make it accessible and compelling to read but there’s also lots of pretentious crap I want to fit in too.

Basically the scene is in the 50s in Ireland, Sunday mass, and my main character (a twelve year old girl) is going up for communion. You with me so far?

She has reasons not to like this priest, nothing to do with abuse or that he’s just not a very nice person, arrogant, dismissive etc. and the night before he got really angry at her in confession.
This is where stuff gets literary.

As she’s walking up the aisle I want to compare the red carpet in the church to the purples in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon. In the Agamemnon he comes home from the Trojan war and his wife lays out their red silks, representing their wealth. He walks up to his house along this red strip and as soon as he goes in his wife murders him in the bath (as you do). With the red he’s walking on a river of his own blood to his death, showing all the death he caused too… Awesome right? It’s one of those scenes that I get really excited about, it’s an amazing play and I intend to write a blog post about it later on.

So I’m struggling to make it fit and for it to be fun to read but I’m damned if I’m going to leave it out!


1192 / 15000 words. 8% done!

So it turns out this metaphor lark is better than I thought, my MC is burned in chapter one (which could symbolise the sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis), the fairies can be the Furies from Eumenides and my wise grandfather character who knows all about the fairies but no-one believes is like Cassandra! Isn’t the subconscious amazing?

But I am working very slowly tonight. I need to hire this guy to stand behind my chair and make me work

22:00 It was pointed out to me that food is a good idea so I was coaxed out of my room with a Chinese take-away (even though I was promised Indian, grr) a lit fire and a glass of wine. I love fires. I’m working on the couch next to the fire and it’s currently so hot in here that I’m in a vest and shorts and I don’t care. If When I become rich and famous I’m going to have a fireplace in my office, a big massive one, like this,

Only bigger!

23:00 Move over coffe, writing has a new best friend and it’s name is white wine! which also gives me an excuse to link one of Tim Minchin’s only non-comedy videos that I like:

Isn’t he brilliant?
(the answer is yes, yes he is)

Also I’d like to point out that since starting NaNo I’ve written:
5,500 words of notes on my novel (stuff to put in later chapters, that kind of thing)
2,500 words of a short story
200 words of poetry
1500 words of an essay
4 blog posts
30 pages of handwritten notes for class

That’s at least 10,000 extra words right there, I’m very tempted to count them. But if we’re going strictly by the rules my wordcount stands at

2066 / 15000 words. 14% done!

So I’ve reached the beginnings of a subplot, I’m pretty certain the entire thing isn’t working though. I need to stop and think for awhile about where to go with this or if I should just cut it out altogether. What better way to ponder it than to go to bed and read A Dance with Dragons? So I will finish the marathon tomorrow(ish)

3000 / 15000 words. 20% done!

Night Night!

Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair


This is going to be a very brief post because I’m in the throes of NaNoWriMo and college papers but the Irish writers’ centre (near the garden of remembrance in Dublin)  is running a novel fair in March specifically designed for first time novelists to network with publishers and agents.

This is from their website:

The inaugural Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair for first-time novelists will take place on March 10th 2012.  The Novel Fair aims to introduce up-and-coming writers to top publishers and literary agents, giving novelists the opportunity to bypass the slush pile, pitch their ideas and place their synopsis and sample chapters directly into the hands of publishers and agents…

…Representatives from Penguin Ireland, Transworld, O’ Brien Press, Lilliput Press, Hachette Books, Liberties Press, Little Island, Arlen House and New Island will be present on the day. Literary agents such as Marianne Gunn O’ Connor, Yvonne Kinsella, Emma Walsh, Ger Nichol, Paul Feldstein and Jonathan Williams will also be present.

They say it’s an amazing opportunity and I agree, there’s some heavy hitters on that list, Marianne Gunn O’Connor and even Jonathan Williams; a lecturer of mine and the first literary agent in Ireland.

The only catch is you have to submit 10,000 words of your novel and a 300 word synopsis BY FRIDAY.

For anyone on top of their NaNo word count this should be no problem. For anyone else I sense an all-nighter is in order.

I apologise for the last minute notice but I only just discovered there’s a submission deadline myself, I thought that we could just show up on the day clutching our manuscripts and dreams in our sweaty little writers hands but that is not the case. You have been forewarned, I am going to need enough coffee to reach a completely zen state to pull this off but it’s worth a shot

Futurama's Fry drinking 100 cups of coffee
I knew I’d get to use all my coffee images eventually!

On an not quite separate note I thoroughly recommend membership to the Irish Writers’ Centre in order to avoid last minute confusions like this (I say this as a complete hypocrite who cannot currently muster the €50 annual membership fee)

UPDATE: I’ve just discovered they have a mailing list and a facebook page so that’s a cheaper way to keep an eye on them

Night of 10,000 words

So there’s a challenge on the nanowrimo forums to write 10,000 words between 8pm tonight and 8am tomorrow. (Unfortunately I can’t find the link so there is a chance the crazy part of my brain made this up…) I’ve tweaked the rules a little, going from 6pm until 6am so I can function on a ‘normal’ level tomorrow

I am doing this with Sean Wills, we will both be live blogging it so come witness our descent into madness! Free ringside seats to the night of 10,000 words and a similar number of coffee breaks!

18:00 it begins

0 / 10000 words. 0% done

19:00  Taking a break to make my first cup of coffee of the evening. it can only get worse from here…

19:22 The local kids are playing outside. What kid plays outside in November at half seven?! They were being really loud so I stood on the balcony and glared at them meaningfully until I realised what an how odd that would look to any parents who were watching…

On the plus side I’m past the 1,000 word mark. It’s all downhill from here, right?

1178 / 10000 words. 12% done!

21:00 my computer is not my friend. After spending ages trying to set up Google + hangout chat thingummy so Sean and I could taunt each other, my computer overheated and turned off. the mike didn’t even work. So I’m a bit behind on ye old word count. On the plus side I think I’ve cleared up quite a lot of the mess from my previous attempts at this chapter.

2075 / 10000 words. 21% done!

22:00 starting to fade a bit now, the words are coming quicker but I’m not sure how much sense they make. Oh well, took a break to read A song of Ice and Fire: A Feast of Crows and then he killed SPOILER, who’s one of the only characters I’m still rooting for. I got really angry and read frantically to see how they would be avenged, then gave up and checked the table of contents. Turns out they’re not dead after all so normality resumed and the word race can continue

3075 / 10000 words. 31% done!

5th cup of coffee today!

23:30 So now I’m pretty much horizontal on the couch, can’t sit up much longer without all my vertebrae compressing into one solid mass. I’m also convinced that this building is home to wild gangs of unsupervised children, they’re playing pokemon out in the hall and it’s taking all my willpower not to join them.

On the writing front I just edited a scene I was very happy with, almost nothing needed to be changed and now I’m stuck in the middle of a scene that could have been better written by someone tap dancing across the keyboard. The excitement continues!

4570 / 10000 words. 46% done!

24:00 it’s officially tomorrow! My bed is looking very comfortable right about now…

01:15 So I’ve fallen prey to the adverb demon, and the inconsistent grammar demon… it’s going to take awhile to exorcise all these from the manuscript. I’m now at the point where I’m writing completely new scenes from scratch. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve written so far, my teeth however are not happy, they’ve been assaulted by coffee, diet coke and most of the leftover Halloween chocolate…

6166 / 10000 words. 62% done!

My teeth can take another one for the team, MORE COFFEE!

We’re not retreating, we’re advancing to future victories!

2:55 Now I’m on chapter three! After weeks of lingering around chapter one I’ve suddenly flown through the rest. I wonder if I should make this a regular thing, once a month or something. Worth thinking about

7065 / 10000 words. 71% done!

3:07 So it turns out if you type ‘askew’ into Google the page appears slightly off kilter. Bet you can’t guess what happens if you search ‘do a barrel roll’
I think all the coffee might be beginning to have an adverse affect on my attention span…

I am going to bed, I have a some college work to do tomorrow, some Gears of War to play, some people to be grouchy at. My final word count is (drum roll please)

7720 / 10000 words. 77% done!

Not to shabby, not 10,000 but I think I’ve earned some sleep, or some catatonia, not sure which it’s going to turn out. Thank you for bearing with me during these hours of madness, we now return you to your regular programming…

National Novel Writing Month

So it’s been awhile since I finished my novel and it’s sat there ever since, an unedited mass of smelly words that are daring me to edit it while I, with similar tenacity, have ignored it.

I don’t want to launch into a new work because then I’ll never actually finish anything so instead, as per Chuck Wendig’s advice, I’m using this NaNoWriMo as ‘National Edit Your Shit Month.’ I’ll be happy if I have 65,000 edited to the point where they can stand on their own two feet by the end of the month. Then ideally I’ll be finished in time for Chirstmas.

There’s tons of writign advice out there including lots of good resources on the NaNoWriMo site. The forums are great (If a bit of a time sink) and there are regional meet ups and dozens of blogs offering writing advice.

So what am I going to do to this mire of often dubious advice? Add to it of course! Only it won’t always be advice, sometimes it will be narcissistic self-indulgent posts and rants to relieve the stress.

It’s 12:45 on November 1st and so far I’ve edited 266 words. [614 if I count my contents, my title page and all the little notes I’ve made to remind me of things for later chapters – but I’m trying to be fair about this]