These are the episode notes and errata for Pratchat episode 65, “Let There Be Gaimans“, discussing several pieces from the “Scribbling Intruder” section of Pratchett’s 2014 nonfiction anthology, A Slip of the Keyboard, with special guest Peter M Ball.
We’ve mentioned it before a few times, but here again is Michael Williams’ interview with Terry Pratchett from 2013, during his tour to promote Snuff, titled “Imagination, not intelligence, made us human.” (It used to be available as an audio recording, but now it’s only available via YouTube.)
Notes and Errata
- The episode title is probably not Ben’s best work, but it was there…
- GenreCon is a writing conference in Meanjin (aka Brisbane) specifically for genre writers that tries to cover as many genres as possible: science fiction, romance, crime, fantasy, horror, and more. It just ran its eighth conference from 17-19 February 2023, with this year’s guests including friends of this podcast Garth Nix (#Pratchat51, “Boffoing the Winter Slayer“) and Will Kostakis (#Pratchat18, “Sundog Gazillionaire” and #Pratchat37, “The Shopping Trolley Problem“).
- The Queensland Writers Centre is a not-for-profit membership organisation supporting local writers of all kinds. It was established in January 1990, and as well as GenreCon runs workshops and other events, and provides various services including consulting, mentorship and manuscript assessment and editing.
- The Author is the quarterly journal of The Society of Authors, established in 1884, and is the UK’s union for writers, illustrators and literary translators – not just for authors any more! Terry was Chair of their Management Committee from 1994 to 1995, helping to shape their policy and strategy. His time in those meetings inspired the short story “A Collegiate Casting-Out of Devilish Devices”, which we discussed in #Pratchat63. He was also elected as a member of the Society’s Council. Philip Pullman was President of the Society from 2013 until early 2022, when he resigned following some controversy around a memoir. The current Chair is Joanne Harris, best known for her novel Chocolat. Notably both Harris and Pullman were some of the more level-headed voices speaking up about the Roald Dahl rewrite controversy (see below), with Harris in favour of the changes, and Pullman advocating letting Dahl’s books fade away without being republished.
- Ben is wrong about one thing in his FAQ footnote: the Pratchett newsgroups (see below) did have an FAQ! You can still find it at lspace.org here. We think this was the last version, updated in 2005; like the Annotated Pratchett File (also see below), it was maintained by Leo Breebaart, who also created the L-Space web.
- We’ve previously talked about newsgroups in #Pratchat10 and #Pratchat42, but for context: the Usenet system was created in 1980 as an Internet-based alternative to local Bulletin Board Systems. Setting standards that would later be used by web-based internet forums, they organised posts by users into conversation-like “threads” of messages, which were themselves organised into “newsgroups” under hierarchical categories, similar to (but distinct from) domain names. There were three newsgroups of primary interest to Pratchett fans: alt.books.pratchett for discussion of the books themselves; alt.fan.pratchett (the big one) for general fan chit-chat (though this often included the books); and alt.fan.pratchett.announce, a moderated group for announcements of signings and other events of interest to fans. Pratchett was active on the first two.
- Peter says Pratchett started publishing Discworld in about ’88, but we suspect he meant that the Discworld really took off around then, with the publication of the fourth and fifth books, Sourcery and his first really big hit, Wyrd Sisters. The Colour of Magic was first published in November 1983.
- Pratchett’s fifth and tenth books (including the three pre-Discworld ones) were The Light Fantastic in 1985, and Pyramids in 1989. The gap in between contained the first big growth spurts of the Internet, but to put them in perspective, Tim Berners Lee only created the first version of the World Wide Web in 1989, and the first widely available web browser, Mosaic, didn’t launch until 1993 – by which time Pratchett was onto his twenty-fourth book, Johnny and the Dead! If you wanted to chat to people on the internet, newsgroups and mailing lists were the go in the 1990s…
- In Benjamin Partridge’s monthly comedy podcast, The Beef and Dairy Network Podcast, Partridge plays the unnamed host of the fictional industry body’s podcast. Through mostly unscripted interviews with characters played by various guest actors and comedians, Partridge slowly builds up a bizarre alternate reality over many years. One of the recurring characters is disgraced “Bovine Poet Laureate” Michael Banyan (played by comedian Henry Paker), author of a book of cow poetry titled Crab of the Land, who often tells outrageous stories about partying with Jonathan Franzen.
- ChatGPT is an “AI chatbot” created by the company OpenAI and publicly launched in a prototype state in November 2022. It’s capable of producing sophisticated text responses to prompts using the GPT 3 large language model previously created by OpenAI, and as a result has become hugely popular and controversial. It’s not actually intelligent; rather it uses statistical models based on a huge corpus of text (i.e. large parts of the internet up to 2021) to assemble sentences, poems or lines of code which are drawn from that corpus. We’ll probably talk about it some more in the next episode of our subscriber-only bonus podcast, Ook Club.
- Pratchett told alt.fan.pratchett he was leaving for the reasons outlined in “this piece”Wyrd Ideas” on the 3rd February 1999, after a user speculated about Sam and Sybil having children (he was writing The Fifth Elephant at the time). This was despite other users in the group (and possibly the version of the FAQ available at the time) asking people not to do this sort of thing. You can see his post here – and thanks to Jo and Francine of The Truth Shall Make Ye Fret, who saved Ben the trouble of searching for this by linking to it from their own episode notes! Pratchett didn’t leave newsgroups altogether; he continues to “lurk” (i.e. read without posting much) on alt.books.pratchett and other newsgroups (mostly about videogames) until around 2008.
- We mention several famous writers who published their works in serial form, usually in magazines. But we could have mentioned many more! As well as French authors Jules Verne, Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, there’s also Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, George Meredith, Robert Louis Stevenson and many, many more.
- Speaking of Alexandre Dumas, his surname is pronounced “Doo-ma”. He was indeed paid by the line by some of the newspapers who published his stories, though others paid him by episode, leading to very long books rather than very short dialogue. According to some accounts, his publishers eventually caught on to his writing style, and insisted that a line had to fill half a newspaper column to count, supposedly forcing him to kill off a monosyllabic character he’d invented to extend his dialogue. Charles Dickens, by contrast, is said to have written verbosely as he was paid by the word, but in fact he was paid for instalments which had a very specific page count (32 pages in some accounts). Like a first year arts student, he may have used more words to fill the pages faster…a style emulated by Pratchett in Dodger (discussed in #Pratchat6, “A Load of Old Tosh“).
- Watch this space for a brief history of fanfic, but in the meantime you can check out Archive of Our Own (aka AO3) for yourself – and yes, there’s an extensive Discworld collection there!
- The Nanny (not Nanny Ogg) was a hugely popular American sitcom which ran from 1993 to 1999 – coincidentally the period between “Kevins” and “Wyrd Ideas” – on the CBS network. It starred co-creator Fran Drescher as Fran Fine, a down on her luck Jewish woman from Queens who tries selling makeup door-to-door. She’s hired by high class English Broadway producer and widower Maxwell Sheffield to be the new nanny to his three children, and the two have a will-they or won’t-they relationship aided by Sheffield’s butler Niles and opposed by Sheffield’s business partner C.C. Babcock.
- You can find the second edition of the Turkey City Lexicon on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association website.
- The Neil Gaiman Masterclass on “The Art of Storytelling” is offered as part of the Masterclass streaming video service, which features hundreds of tutorials from famous leaders in their fields covering everything from acting to philosphy, personal style and astronomy. The BBC has a similar series of videos, BBC Maestro, with a class on Storytelling hosted by Alan Moore.
- Pratchett used the term “figgin” for the kind of joke Peter describes because he used the word for exactly that kind of joke in Guards! Guards! In that novel, figgin is used by the Supreme Grand Master of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night in one of the order’s oaths, secure in the knowledge that none of his flock knows what it means. (In this instance Pratchett doesn’t make us wait until the very end to discover the truth for ourselves; it’s defined in a footnote. In fact he only uses the word eight times in the novel, and three of those are callbacks made after the footnote.)
- To avoid confusion, Ben would like to explain that the “sherbert lemon” kind of joke is not an example of shelving, which is when a comedian mentions a concept seemingly in passing so that they can come back to it later in a new context once the audience has forgotten about it and helping the comedy work through surprising recognition. (There’s a reason explaining how comedy works is described as “dissecting the frog”.)
- Pratchett is on record (in the APF, of course) that there’s no pun in Twoflower:
“[…] there’s no joke in Twoflower. I just wanted a coherent way of making up ‘foreign’ names and I think I pinched the Mayan construction (Nine Turning Mirrors, Three Rabbits, etc.).”
- Andrew Harman is the English author of eleven pun-filled comic fantasy novels, published between 1993 and 2000. Most of them are set in the medieval fantasy kingdom of Rhyngill and surrounds, and five, beginning with The Sorcerer’s Appendix and ending with One Hundred and One Damnations, form a loose series following the adventures of the peasant Firkin and his friends. Harman went on to find more creative success as a game designer, founding his own publisher, YAY Games, which specialises in “gateway games” – ones that work well for introducing new people to hobby boardgames.
- Fawlty Towers, John Cleese’s classic sitcom farce about long-suffering but obnoxious hotel manager Basil Fawlty, ran for two series in 1975 and 1979 on BBC Two. It is often cited amongst the greatest sitcoms ever made, though its characters and many of the episodes’ premises rely heavily on ethnic and gender stereotypes. The titular hotel is located in the resort town of Torquay in the coastal “English Rivieria” region of Devon. Cleese was inspired to create the setting and main character for the show after an experience with the manager of a real Torquay hotel where the Monty Python crew stayed while filming on location in 1971.
- For some perspective on the Roald Dahl rewrite controversy, you could do worse than these pieces from The Conversation:
- “Roald Dahl rewrites: rather than bowdlerising books on moral grounds we should help children to navigate history” by Michelle Smith
- “Roald Dahl: A brief history of sensitivity edits to children’s literature” by Alison Baker
- “From Roald Dahl to Goosebumps, revisions to children’s classics are really about copyright – a legal expert explains” by Cathay Smith
More notes coming soon!
Thanks for reading our notes! If we missed anything, or you have questions, please let us know.