Authors I love, book round-ups, Series I love

Bonus post: Where to start with Terry Pratchett

The long-awaited Amazon/BBC Good Omens adaptation goes live on Amazon Prime today, and I’ve had a couple of conversations with people about where to start with Terry Pratchett. So I thought this was a good time to do a quick bonus post about one of my favourite authors because the answer is not simple. But first, here’s the Good Omens trailer:

 

So obviously, if you enjoy Good Omens, then read that first. There are snazzy tie in editions and a script book and all sorts to coincide with the TV event, you should even be able to pick them up in the supermarket I could have thoughts. But obviously Good Omens is co-written with Neil Gaiman and is in an alternative version of the real world. So where next? Well, that depends what you like to read the rest of the time. And this is one (rare) occasion where I wouldn’t suggest starting at the very beginning. Why? Well unless you’re already a fantasy reader (and if you are why haven’t you read him already?) then these are the furthest away from what you’re used to and they might scare you off. They’re not the most accessible and (imho) they’re not his best. The series improves as Pratchett develops the world and its many characters and leans into the satire of our real world.. Luckily there are series within the series and other ways in.

Cover of The Truth

This is a very non traditional choice, but I actually think The Truth is actually a really good place to start. It’s sort of stand alone but it’s also the first of the Industrial Revolution books and is centred on the invention of the printing press and what happened next. It’s got the later Pratchett social satire, but it also has some of the key features of other series: it’s set in Ankh Morpork, the City Watch appear, the Patrician features and there’s a sprinkling of the supernatural- vampires, werewolves and magic. And if you like it, depending on what your favourite bits are, it’ll give you a clue about where to read next.

Cover of Guards! Guards!

Now, if you like what you see of the Watch in The Truth, then try Guards! Guards! You’re jumping back in time, but it’s the first book in the Watch cycle.  If you like police or crime-y type stories usually, this might also be your best place to start.  There’s a nice new* edition at the moment with an introduction from Ben Aaronovitch – so if you like his Rivers of London series (and lord knows I do) then this is your best jumping in point.  This has a rag tag team of misfits who are the night watch and their reluctant leader Sam Vimes trying to figure out who is trying to take over the city – and stop them.  I love it.  Vimes is a wonderful creation – but then Pratchett is full of wonderful creations. Wikipedia describes him as “somewhere between an  Inspector Morse-type ‘old-school’ British policeman, and a film-noir-esque grizzled, jaded detective” and I think that’s pretty much right.  He doesn’t want to care, he definitely doesn’t want to be The Hero, and yet it just seems to keep happening.  There are eight novels about the Watch – and there’s a TV series that’s been in development since before Sir Terry died, but which seems to be inching closer to being a reality. I’ve got everything crossed that it will materialise eventually.

Cover of Wyrd Sisters

If you like the magic-y type stuff, then go and read Wyrd Sisters.  This was actually my first Discworld book, recommended by a wise librarian when I was at the bottom end of secondary school**.  Wyrd Sisters is twisted Macbeth but with witches running the show.  It’s also the first really big appearance*** of the most beloved characters in the series – as the blurb says witches “don’t have leaders. Granny Weatherwax was the most highly-regarded of the leaders they didn’t have.”  I love Granny and her gang and they’re a great jumping off point for the series in a very different part of the Disc. And once you’ve read them, maybe come back for the wizards.

If you’re still unsure where to go next then try Mort. Mort is a young country lad who ends up apprenticed to Death himself, and it really isn’t what he expected.   Mort was the top rated Pratchett book in the BBC’s Big Read list back in 2003 – coming in at number 65, three places in front of Good Omens and one of five Pratchetts in the top 100 (with 15 in the top 200!).  Mort and Death are an excellent double act, Binky the horse is brilliant and if you like this strand then Soul Music is one of the best take offs of popular music you could hope for.  Death appears in pretty much every book in the series as well as in Good Omens – so Mort is also an excellent place to start if you read Good Omens and want more of him. It’s also the fourth book in the series and is the earliest of alternative starting points.

As well as having read the books, I also own a lot of the audiobooks – the early series are mostly done by Nigel Planer (or Tony Robinson for abridged versions) and the sound quality on audible is described as “vintage” (it’s awful for some of them – I actually returned at least one!) but Stephen Briggs takes over at book 24 and I love his narration  My most listened to are the Moist Von Lipwig books. They’re the next stage of the industrial revolution series that starts with The Truth (or Moving Pictures depending on how you’re reckoning it) and I think Going Postal is my favourite of the entire series, and not just because I was a stamp collector as a child. For me, they’re the culmination of everything that has been going on in the background through the other books with Vetinari’s vision for the city and Pratchett’s satire on modern life. I know some don’t like Raising Steam and get a bit touchy about the latter books in general, but my only really problem with it is that Adora Belle has the wrong accent in the audiobook and that’s Stephen Briggs’s fault not Sir Terry’s.

Usually I would suggest the middle grade part of the series much earlier than this. But although I love Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegles are brilliant, as an adult, if you’re going to read these you need to have read the Witches’ books first so you get the full impact of The Thing That Happens in the final book in the series, The Shepherd’s Crown.  But once you have read the Witches – or if you have a middle grader – The Wee Free Men is the place to start.  One of the other middle grade books, Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, is on offer at the moment but it’s the only Discworld that I haven’t read so I can’t tell you where to fit it in at the moment – but I’ve bought it and I’m gong to fix that!

Cover of The Colour of Magic

And finally there’s Rincewind. He’s the first running character and he comes with the Luggage (I want a Luggage), but he is in at the very start in the highest fantasy the series has. Go discover him once you’re already in love with the series. It’ll work best for you if you’re not a fantasy regular.  Start with the first book – The Colour of Magic – and go from there.  This was one of the ones that Sky turned into a mini series along with Hogfather and my beloved Going Postal (which has early Clare Foy as Adora Belle!) and is actually worth a look. I liked it as a version of the first two books, and they do make them rattle along.  There are nine Rincewind novels – the longest of the strands through the series.

There’s so much more I’ve barely touched on here, but so I don’t turn into any more of a boring fangirl, I’ll leave it here, except for saying that with 80 million book sales around the world you really should give it a try.   If you’re a Pratchett fan, let me know your favourites in the comments and tell me where your recommended starting point for newbies is.  I’ve put a nice graphic in below – but that doesn’t even reckon The Truth is a starting point, so you can see how many different options and opinions there are.  I’m off to read Maurice and watch Good Omens (not at the same time).

Happy Reading!

graphic of the series

*these new editions have proved… controversial with some of the Pratchett fans – because they don’t look like Pratchetts – but that’s precisely the point.  They don’t look like fantasy because there are a lot of people who don’t read books with the sort of illustrated covers that these have previously had.  Think of it as the equivalent of the adult cover Harry Potter books.

**I can remember Jingo coming out (but i’m not sure if it was the paperback or hardback) and being excited about it, which dates the start of my Pratchett reading to 1997ish.

***She’s in Equal Rites too, but don’t worry.

audiobooks, books, fiction, Series I love

Audiobooks

Hello, my name is Verity and I am bad with silence.  I am not good at being left alone with my own thoughts.  No idea why, but the fact remains that I need something to listen to when I’m walking somewhere, or trying to go to sleep, or taking a shower.  As a teenager, I listened to hours of news and sport radio as I did my homework.  When I did my year in France as a student, it took two months for my brain to get good enough at French that I could go to sleep listening to French talk radio.* These days, now I work in news, I tend to want to listen to something that’s not to do with the job when I’m on my way home or trying to go to sleep. So audiobooks have become my friend – I’ve had an Audible subscription since I first started doing the mega train commute, and now my one book a month subscription has evolved into a big old library.

But as I looked at my collection the other day, I realised that it’s mostly made up of books that I’ve already read, and that I listen to the same books over and over again.  And I got to thinking about why that might be.

Firstly I think it’s because I listen for comfort.  Some of my audiobooks are like old friends.  Novels that I love that I can re-read by listening to them at times when I can’t be physically reading a book.  If I’m going to sleep, I don’t want to be surprised, or scared – and I don’t want to lose my place if I fall asleep before the off timer runs out.  So I’ve probably listened to Dorothy L Sayer’s Busman’s Honeymoon (the third audiobook I got from Audible) 100 times in the four years that I’ve had it.  I’m not exaggerating.  When I was little, I had this story tape of Paddington Goes To Town (I can’t believe it’s on YouTube – it’s made me all nostalgic) – and my mum used to joke that if you set her going and then turned the tape off, she would be able to keep going until the end.  I think I’ve got to the same stage with Busman’s Honeymoon.  I’ve listened to the various Peter Wimsey mysteries so many times, that when I read the book now I hear Ian Carmichael’s voice in my head.  I have one (Murder Must Advertise) that isn’t read by him and I’ve listened to it maybe three times – because the voice isn’t right.  Instead I listen to the BBC radio adaptation of it, which is shorter, but has Carmichael in the cast playing Wimsey.

The second reason is because some of the time, I’m not giving my audiobook my full attention.  If I’m listening on the train, I’m probably reading a proper book at the same time.  I’m listening to the book with half an ear – but when I get to where I’m going I’ll stop reading and listen to it properly – and if I already know the book’s plot I won’t be confused because I’ve missed a major plot point.  If I’ve got an audiobook I haven’t already read, I’ll make sure that the first time I listen to it I do it when I can give it my full attention – like when I’m washing up, or doing the housework – or walking somewhere.  Once I’ve listened the whole way through, if I liked it, it’ll go into rotation.

Of course this preference for things I’ve already read brings with it its own problems.  My sister and I hated the first couple of Harry Potter films – because the actors were all wrong for the visions we had in our head and that happens to me a lot with book adaptations on TV and on film.  Audiobooks are slightly better, because I can keep the picture in my head of what the characters look like – it’s just the voice that’s got to be right.  So my Miss Marple audiobooks are read by Joan Hickson (who’s not as good on audiobook as she is on TV, but she’s still better than any of the alternatives) and my Murder on the Orient Express is read by David Suchet (it’s actually the same version that we used to listen to on tape in the car on the way to Bournemouth/Devon for our holidays all those years ago).  But sometimes the voices are Wrong.  In the early days of my audible membership I got a lot of Georgette Heyers – read by various people – and had issues with a few (notably These Old Shades) because the readers were just somehow inexplicably Not Right.

But for all those occasions there are some narrators that are just Right – take Stephen Briggs’ Discworld narrations.  He’s perfect.  He makes the Discworld sound even better on audiobook than it does when you read it on the page.  He gets it right.  Dwarves are always Welsh in my head now.  There was a slight slip in the audiobook of Raising Steam, where Adorabelle Dearheart’s accent has changed slightly from the previous two books she features in – but you’d only notice that if you’re like me and listen to one of the Moist books at least once a month!  I have one of the Nigel Planer Discworlds – and apart from the fact that it’s a really poor cassette to digital transfer (I complained) – it’s just not the same.

I’ve been experimenting recently – with a couple of the Miss Fisher Audiobooks (I get a special rate because I already own the kindle copies) and some of the abridged Inspector Alleyn books.  The jury is still out on the Phryne ones – I’m yet to listen to one with a lot of men in it  – and I’ve discovered that although I prefer Benedict Cumberbatch’s Alleyn narration, the other options are ok too – partly because the series covers so much time and has so may different characters.  I’m debating whether to try the Daisy Dalrymple audiobooks and the Gail Carriger ones too, but haven’t plucked up the courage yet.

I also have a collection of non-fiction books that are helpful when we go on holiday – The Boy is also bad with silence, and on those occasions he’ll demand something to listen to to go to sleep to.  I have a selection of non fiction for that purpose – and some Agatha Christies that he likes.  It’s also become a tradition that if we’re driving on holiday we have to listen to some of the brilliant Cabin Pressure  – which in case you’ve never encountered it is a radio comedy about a charter airline starring Benedict Cumberbatch (again) – on the way. I dare you to resist this level of genius

or this in fact

Anyway.  Back to the audiobooks.  I’m open to recommendations – what else should I be listening to?  Is there anything I should be avoiding?  And does anyone else have a problem with being left alone with their own thoughts?!

Background noise to the composition of this post has been provided by the Overture to Gypsy, Murder on the Orient Express Suite by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, a medley of the incidental music from the James Bond films, Patti LuPone singing Anything Goes and this beautiful version of Ol’ Man River from last year’s Last Night of the Proms:

*Music doesn’t help me go to sleep.  My brain needs something to think about to stop me from overthinking things.  I can’t explain it better than that.

Authors I love, Book of the Week, Fantasy, new releases, reviews, Series I love, Young Adult

Book of the Week: The Shepherd’s Crown

Crivens! This week’s BotW will come as no surprise – it’s the final Terry Pratchett novel, the 41st Discworld book and the fifth to feature Tiffany Aching.  I managed to force myself to read it slowly (for me anyway) and made it last a week. I’m already listening to the audiobook on my walks to work.

 

As you can see I have the others in the series in paperback, but I wasn't prepared to wait this time.
As you can see I have the others in the series in paperback, but I wasn’t prepared to wait this time.

In the Chalk, something is brewing.  Tiffany can feel it coming, the Kelda can feel it coming. An old enemy is gathering strength.  To quote the back of the book, Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.  And there will be a reckoning.

And to be honest, that’s about all that I can say about the plot of The Shepherd’s Crown without giving too much away. I encountered a massive spoiler in the Audible sample a week before the book came out – and my sister ran into the Guardian review which reveals the same Major Event – and I’ve become really concious of the fact that I  don’t want to ruin the story for anyone reading this the way that plot twist was spoilt for me.

What I can say about the book is that it made my cry, repeatedly.  But it’s not a sad book.  As the back cover says, it is a time of endings and beginnings, and they’re handled beautifully.  It is a Young Adult book and there are Serious Issues in there, but it deals with them very well, with Sir Terry’s trademark wit and warmth.  I laughed and smiled and really enjoyed Tiffany’s adventure.

I wish there were going to be more. But as I said earlier this year (in this post), we knew that the end was coming sooner than anyone could have wished for.  I still want the Moist the Tax Collector book.  I am greedy for more from the Discworld.  And the afterword in Shepherd’s Crown drops tantalising hints about what could have been.  But I absolutely respect (and agree with) Rhianna Pratchett’s decision that if her father is not here to write them, there will be no more new Discworld books.

And if the end had to come, The Shepherd’s Crown is a very good place to finish.  There are plenty of old favourite characters and there are some new favourites too.  Of all the Discworld regulars, Mistress Tiffany has more life ahead of her than the others (unless you count Young Sam Vimes) and so it seems fitting that she is the centre of the last book.

The Shepherd’s Crown doesn’t feel like a goodbye, like a world is coming to an end – it feels like the Great A’Tuin is still out there, swimming through space with the elephants and the Disc on his back, it’s just that we won’t get to hear about the goings on there anymore.  And maybe that’s Sir Terry’s greatest achievement – he’s created a fantasy world so real that we can’t believe that it could stop.

The spines of the 5 Tiffany books
It’s not as if I had a matching set to start with, so I’ll cope with the non-matchingness.

I’m planning to re-read the whole series.  If you haven’t discovered Tiffany yet, start with The Wee Free Men and enjoy her whole journey.  If you are a Discworld fan, who’s been hesitant about reading this, don’t worry.  I don’t think this will be a disappointment to you.  It is safe to read it.  It feels right.  You should be able to get hold of a copy of The Shepherd’s Crown anywhere which sells good books – but just in case: Amazon, Kindle, Foyles (sadly no discount), Waterstones.

Enjoy it. Make it last. Raise a glass to it’s creator. And mind how you go.

 

Authors I love, tribute

Sir Terry Pratchett

We all knew that this was how this would end. Ever since Sir Terry announced he had early onset Alzheimer’s, we knew he would be gone too soon. But I had still hoped it was further away.

Alzheimer’s is always cruel, but it seemed particularly unfair that it should hit a man whose mind was so sharp, so bright, so inventive. I’m terrified of death, but I understood his passionate fight for assisted dying. Pratchett created a flat world carried on four elephants on the back of a giant turtle, where dwarves, trolls and golems lived side by side with people. Why would he want to carry on when his mind was no longer capable of remembering what day it is, or recognising people. I hope it never progressed that far for him.

I was introduced to Discworld by my school librarian when I was about 13 – Jingo was the newest book at the time – although the first I read was Wyrd Sisters. I loved Star Trek, but didn’t really see myself as a fantasy reader. Discworld changed that. I had always read a lot, but Sir Terry’s books introduced me to something new and opened the doors to books I would never previously have considered. Even if few other worlds could compare to the Disc.

Choosing a favourite is near impossible, I love Rincewind, Vimes and the Witches. Tiffany Aching is a joy. Any book is improved by the presence of The Patrician. But Moist von Lipwig was a late arriving treat. I’ve listened to the audiobooks of Going Postal and Making Money more times than I care to count. I wanted the Moist the tax collector book – but Raising Steam was brilliant.

I can’t believe there will be no more.

Thank you Sir Terry, for all the joy and pleasure your books have given me and millions of others. I will sit down and read them all again, just as soon as the thought of it doesn’t make me cry.