Tiffany Aching’s Guide to Being a Witch

Rhianna Pratchett and Gabrielle Kent co-authored Tiffany Aching’s Guide to Being a Witch (illustrated by Paul Kidby) On the 20th Anniversary of the publication of Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men, the first book in the Tiffany Aching arc within the Discworld series, Rhianna and Gabrielle joined Nikki Gamble In The Reading Corner to talk about the joint venture.

Listen to the podcast, watch the video, or read the transcript.



Transcript

This transcript is edited for readability.

Nikki Gamble:

Hello and welcome to In The Reading Corner, where today I’m pleased to be talking to Rhianna Pratchett and Gabrielle Kent about Tiffany Aching’s Guide to Being a Witch. I can’t believe that it’s twenty years since Tiffany first appeared in the Wee Free Men Men. It’s a story arc that I’ve certainly grown up with as a parent because my son was a very keen reader of the Discworld series.

I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome both Rhianna and Gabrielle.

You’re joining me from different parts of the world today.

Rhianna Pratchett:

Yeah, I’m in Prague. I’ve just done GDS, a game conference over here, and it’s my first visit. So, I’ve been exploring the city a little bit as well.

Nikki Gamble:

It’s a pretty magical city

Rhianna Pratchett:

 Oh yeah, and it’s full of stories as well. It’s a great place for a writer to go.

Nikki Gamble:

Have you been to the Puppet Theatre? If not, I highly recommend it.

Rhianna Pratchett:

Oh no, I haven’t been. That sounds intriguing and mildly terrifying.

Nikki Gamble:

And also, if you get the opportunity to go to the Chapel of Bones, which is just outside Prague.

Rhianna Pratchett:

We’re off to the castle tonight, something to do with the Prague Castle and Alchemy tour, which should be quite interesting.

Nikki Gamble:

And, Gabrielle, you’re joining me from an equally magical place, the northeast of England.

I hate saying that because I don’t want lots of people to go; part of its magic is that it doesn’t get the flocks of tourists that Devon or Cornwall get.

Gabrielle Kent:

Absolutely, it’s great. You’ve got space to breathe. When I go to any of the cities, it feels quite claustrophobic. And then when I come back to the Northeast, it’s space, fewer people, magical stories.

Nikki Gamble:

We will be talking about a different kind of magic in this extremely handsomely produced celebration of Tiffany Aching, which comes in a lovely hard slip. So, it’s a real delight to hold in your hands.

Tiffaby Aching's Guide to Being a Witch book jacket

Nikki Gamble

Rhianna, it’s obvious where your connection comes from. Tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up with Terry, the writer, and whether you were an avid reader of his books as a child or whether you came to them later.

 Rhianna Pratchett

I grew up with Terry, the father, rather than Terry, the writer.

And certainly, as a kid, I didn’t think about what he did that much because You don’t pay that much attention to what your parents do as a kid because it’s just what your parents do. And maybe you’re a bit grumpy about it because it takes them away, and you don’t get to play with them as much. It was only when I heard that Equal Rights was going to be on Women’s Hour on Radio 4 that I suddenly thought, ‘Oh, my mother listens to Women’s Hour, and I thought, oh, he must be doing something, something cool to be on a Woman’s Hour.’ It was sacred in our household.

I hadn’t listened to The Colour of Magic when it was on, but I decided to record Equal Rights, so I got my little tape player out and recorded it off the radio. I think I’d heard him say that he’d based Eskerina Smith, the young female protagonist in Equal Rights, on me, and I think I was quite intrigued about that as well.

I listened to it over and over again, and I think that’s what got me into the books. I haven’t read all of them. I think Gabby’s read more of my dad’s books than I have, But he never played any of my games, so I think that’s fair.

I should point out that I have read all the Tiffany books. I have read all of The Witches books. It was just some of the early ones that I haven’t read. I’m very well versed on the witches, and I’d actually worked on adapting. Wee Free Men a couple of times in the past, so I was very familiar with it.

I have a few small gaps that I’m going back and filling in. The Witches was where I started, and I think it was my real, kind of first love for them. So, I read most of them, but he was very prolific. There’s a lot to read. I’ve gone back and forth through them as well. And I have my favourites. There were times when I was an avid reader and times when life got in the way, especially when he fell ill; it was much more about daughterly duties.

Nikki Gamble

In those later years when he was writing, were you supporting his writing as well as supporting him as part of your family?

Rhianna Pratchett:

No, I was supporting him as a daughter does to a father. I think there’s always been speculation that I was involved in the writing of the books. No, absolutely not at all. Only in terms of him picking up on things I did and said, particularly as a child. And they would become little jokes or phrases in the books. The little saying the girl with gloves on a string in Hogfather says comes from something that I said about my gloves on a string. There’s a tune that people in the round tops hum to themselves. when they’re trying to boil an egg, called ‘Where has all the Custard Gone?’ That’s something I used to say to cats that used to be fat, had lost weight, and had a hanging undercarriage. I used to poke it and go, ‘Where’s all the custard gone?’ And I think there’s a lot of me in his younger female characters, too.

Nikki Gamble:

Including Tiffany?

Rhianna Pratchett:

Oh yeah, definitely Tiffany. I grew up a lot in Wiltshire because my grandmother lived there. My grandmother was the shepherdess. It was a very rural existence. I spent a long time down there. With her and the sheep and seeing the sheep sheared because she mostly kept Jacob’s sheep for wool. She would spin the wool and make me all those itchy woollen jumpers that stand up by themselves, and they have barnyard animals and things. So yeah, I spent a long time in chalk country until we moved there to be nearer to her when I was about sixteen.

My parents had a small holding. They had goats in the front garden. They had chickens and ducks in the back. They grew vegetables in a medieval graveyard. They had bees. I learned how to spin wool and look after bees and milk goats. And I lived in a valley. And so there was a lot of climbing trees and falling out of them and running around after goats and that kind of pastoral existence.

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Nikki Gamble:

Gabrielle, could you tell us a little bit about Tiffany’s story arc because it spans several books, starting with The Wee Free Men?

Gabrielle Kent:

I was a huge fan of the books, so I read them as they came out. I was a big fan of The Witches, so when Terry started writing the Tiffany Aching books, it was wonderful to discover this little series within that large frame.

You follow Tiffany growing up. She’s nine years old when the books start, and she’s in her late teens by the time of The Shepard’s Crown, which is the final book. So, we grow up with Tiffany as she discovers her call to witchcraft and up training with some of the greatest witches in the Discworld.

Some of the witches That we’ve met in earlier books, such as the wonderful Nanny Og and Granny Weatherwax, become mentors to her from her first adventure when she was nine years old and has to go on a mission into Fairyland to rescue her little brother. Then we follow her training and the encounters she has with the magical entities right up to becoming a fully-fledged witch defending her land and stepping into some very big shoes in the final book.

Seeing Tiffany grow into witchcraft and accepting the hard aspects of it, as well as the magic itself, is wonderful. In the guide, we introduced a new witch, who never actually features in the books because she passed away before the first book. Granny Aching, Tiffany’s Granny, who Tiffany realises was something of a witch herself. She is such a big presence throughout the books without actually being there. And I think both Rhianna and I see shades of our shepherdess grandmothers in Granny Aching.

Nikki Gamble:

You’ve both got shepherdess grandmothers.!

Rhianna Pratchett:

I don’t think we fully realised it until we wrote the book. We knew we had rural upbringings, but not that we both had shepherdess grandmothers.

Nikki Gamble:

What are the chances, seriously? That’s just amazing.

Gabrielle Kent:

I would spend the summer holidays in Galway on my granny’s farm, although I was living on quite a rough little estate in England when I was really quite young. It was wonderful escaping into that magical environment on my granny’s farm.

Nikki Gamble:

Terry’s fans will know these books inside out. So, how much research did you need to do to ensure you were consistent with what he’d written? And how much space did you give yourselves for some originality?

Rhianna Pratchett:

There was a lot of research. There was a lot of back and forth, and we’d occasionally go down rabbit holes. So we would occasionally get lost in the weeds, and we did find a few things that we needed to make a decision on; for instance, we were trying to find what Nanny Og’s cottage was made of.  Because there are books that say it was thatched, and there are books that say it was shingled. We wondered, ‘Is there any point where her roof is being done? Has someone changed her roof? Have we missed one of her sons or multiple daughter-in-laws sorting out her roof?’

Paul has drawn her cottage with thatch, so we just went with that.

Another example is that Nightshade, the Queen of the Elves, appears in Lords and Ladies, which is a book in Dad’s adult witch series. And there’s also the Elf Queen that Tiffany meets in Wee Free Men and again in Shepherds Crown.

But at the time of writing Lords and Ladies and Wee Free Men, they weren’t supposed to be the same queen. We weren’t even sure whether she was supposed to be the same queen in Shepard’s Crown. Obviously, fairy queens last a long time, so it’s conceivable it would be the same queen. But you do wonder whether, if anyone had gone up against Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg in Lords and Ladies, why they’d come back and have another go?

We ended up thinking that it was certainly the same Nightshade, and she’d been riled up in Lords and Ladies. Waiting for an opportunity. So that meant her character had crossed over from the adult books to the junior books like Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax.

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Nikki Gamble:

I should say that the guide is written from Tiffany’s point of view but with some very amusing annotations from Granny Ogg and Esmerelda Weatherwax, which did tax my eyesight a little bit.!

One of the things that I admired in Terry’s writing was that although he undercut high fantasy, He seemed to be able to walk that line between respect for it and also being able to poke fun at it at the same time. I wondered whether that was something that you consciously tried to do in the tone that you adopted for this book.

Gabrielle Kent:

Because we’ve immersed ourselves in the Discworld books, I think we’ve picked up on that on Terry’s style and way of doing things. We also don’t like it when fantasy takes itself a bit too seriously, and we did find some of the little jabs coming quite naturally to us. There’s a bit of a joke that Rhi slid in that Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fans might recognize., you did think your dad would have been very proud of that. Yeah,

Rhianna Pratchett:

He did like a good pun.

Gabrielle Kent:

Finding Tiffany’s voice came quite naturally. I don’t think Tiffany would stand for much airy-fairy nonsense. She’s very down to earth with her third thoughts watching. And I imagine when Terry was writing, he probably had his second and third thoughts watching, pulling him back if he started to get a bit too high fantasy.

Rhianna Pratchett:

I think he worked based on whether high fantasy was happening to regular people or if it was dealt with in a regular person’s way. We were so well immersed in The Witches books that we were able to capture the right tone.

A lot of the humour comes through the narrator’s voice in Dad’s books. So, we wanted that humour to come through even though we were writing in Tiffany’s voice, not just the annotations from the other witches.

It is slightly different to Tiffany’s voice in the books, I’d say, but only very slightly. But it remains very much in the general tone because we’re trying to bring in a little bit of humour from the general narratorial voice.

In terms of what we added, there are a lot of Pratchett life tips, particularly when it comes to the animals. So, I put in a tip that I learned from my parents about how to deal with bad-tempered goats when you’re milking them. That isn’t in the books, but I folded it into some advice that Miss Tick gives.

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Nikki Gamble:

While this is Tiffany’s guide to being a witch, it’s also a guide for a modern young reader. It doesn’t lecture, but there are so many words of wisdom in there, such as ‘Being a witch is about facing your fears and understanding that even if something isn’t your fault. It’s your responsibility.’

What a better place the world would be if we all understood that something doesn’t have to be our fault for us to try and put it right.

Rhianna Pratchett:

Yeah, for sure, and community and looking after people as well. Gab and I remember our grannies doing a version of going around the houses and checking on the old boys and girls in the neighbourhood who were on their own, didn’t have much family around, and just needed a little bit of care and attention.

Nikki Gamble:

More words of wisdom: ‘School, it’s not a place, it’s all places. ’We learn as much from our environment and the people we meet as we do from formal education. Was that true for you, Gabrielle?

Gabrielle Kent:

Absolutely. I learned so much, particularly from my grandmothers. I think this is why I was so drawn to ‘the witches’ books. There was a real sense of magic from just the crazy stories she used to tell me. That’s a whole podcast in itself. The bizarreness. of that region of Ireland. Then, my English grandmother went around houses and cared for a lot of elderly people. It was part of her job to go around and care for them, cut toenails, make them tea,

Nikki Gamble:

You both work in a collaborative industry where teamwork is important for the creative product. That’s not often the case when writing a novel or book. So, how did it work between you? What roles did you take on with this task?

Gabrielle Kent:

It was a surprisingly easy process. I’ve got eight books out; seven were written alone. Now I’m writing a series with my husband but in quite a different way from how I work with Rhianna.

The technology available now is wonderful. Rhi and I were able to put up Zoom so we could talk to each other. So we’d have days where we’d be on Zoom all day while we were working on live documents where we could see each other typing and creating jokes and editing each other’s work.

So, we’d have documents for separate chapters. One of us might be in one chapter, the other in another. We could pop into each other’s chapters to see how we were getting on and or just to spy on each other, writing jokes or passively aggressively highlighting the number of ‘ands’.

Nikki Gamble:

There’s a third person who’s not here with us today, and that’s Paul Kidby. So, how did he fit into the mix?

Rhianna Pratchett:

Paul had done a lot of wonderful work with the witches.] And so we already had some illustrations that he’d done. And we put together a spreadsheet for each chapter quite early on. We had a column with ideas and things we’d like Paul to illustrate. Some could be full-page illustrations like the Witch Fair, and others could be a little piece of page architecture like the butterfly or silver horse.

Towards the end, Paul started suggesting all the creatures he’d always wanted to illustrate and asking if we could write them into the book. The creatures of the fairyland, like the Dromes and the Grimhounds and the Stinging Fey, were at Paul’s request because he wanted to draw them. It was so nice that we got to that stage; we supported each other.

Nikki Gamble

In the guide, everything is covered, from magic to attire to familiars. As I look at you both and myself, I notice. that, by chance, we all seem to be wearing black today.

Regarding witches’ attire, there are two rules. Basically, you can wear black, or you can wear any colour you want. What would your witch attire be, Gabby?

Gabrielle Kent:

Oh, that’s a question, isn’t it? A good pair of boots is probably your starting point, isn’t it? Pockets are very important, more than colour. I want plenty of deep pockets, not these silly for-show pockets. So, pockets and boots. Rhi and I are pretty much drawn to black.

Rhianna Pratchett:

We also have our signature colours as well. So yours would be a more mustard yellow. You wear that a lot and I never wear that.

Whereas I wear quite a lot of red. This is a weekday, so black is a weekday, but in the evenings, I break out with a bit of colour – greens, purples and red. It’s jewel colours, because I’m, as you can see, I’m very pale. Gabrielle tends to be generally more colourful than me.

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Nikki Gamble:

So we get a sense Of your witch attire. What about your familiars? Dog, cat. goat, bird, or amphibian?

Rhianna Pratchett:

We’ve both got cats. I’ve got three cats. And Gabrielle has one cat.

I do have a soft spot for goats. I went out into the Cotswolds recently and saw some goats, and that was nice. There’s a special feeling about a goat’s head. It’s very different from a sheep’s head: quite knobbly, the fur is very coarse, and they’ve got these wonderful big carpet-like ears.

I won’t eat goat meat, and I’m actually allergic to goat cheese now. So, I do have a soft spot for goats, but they do take a lot of looking after, and you can’t have them in London.

We had newts in the pond when I was young.

But I ‘do fish’, as well. I’m starting up a fish tank again, but we never really covered fish as being a possible witch pet.

And, of course, there are tortoises as well. You’d think there wouldn’t be much to deal with tortoises. But yeah, there’s quite a bit of drama with tortoises.

Writers need dogs, but they have cats.  They need dogs to get them out of the house. But as my dad said, ‘Pratchetts have cats like other people have bathrooms. ‘ You just have to have one in the house. When I’m back in London, I usually have a cat on either side of me, keeping me company.

So, yeah. It’s cats for me.

Nikki Gamble:

Gabrielle, what about you? What’s your familiar going to be?

Gabrielle Kent:

We did have a Jack Russell growing up, Zeppelina von Wagtail, who was rather wonderful.

But it’s absolutely a cat. I’ve always had cats. She’s not here at the moment. I think she’s out in the garden. She doesn’t actually leave the garden. It’s quite great. She’s a house cat and a garden cat that doesn’t travel beyond the garden.

Nikki Gamble:

Apart from Tiffany, another character is the landscape:  the chalk –  the land under the wave. You’ve hinted a little bit about that with your West Country upbringing, Rhianna, but can you tell us more about the chalk and why that is such a special place?

Rhianna Pratchett:

 It was my second home because I used to go there to stay with my grandmother.  And then, it became my first home when we moved there when I was 16. Dad liked to walk a lot. We’d often go walking around the chalk.  That was his main form of exercise. We would go for long walks, and he’d often want to talk about what he was working on. Or we’d be singing silly songs like ‘Whose Pigs Are Thess’, which is a song that you sing as a round. Or something like Monty Python’s ‘Rhubarb Tart Song’. And I remember a Christmas when we walked from our house to my grandmother’s house for Christmas dinner, which was a couple of tiny sneezes of villages away. We were singing Monty Python’s rhubarb tart song loudly and joyfully and probably slightly out of tune with the wildlife fleeing before us. It was delightful and Christmassy and Pratchetty all at once.

Nikki Gamble:

Prachetty ought to go into the dictionary. Maybe it is in the dictionary already!

While we’re talking about landscape, here’s another quote from the book about the earth: ‘We fight for it to speak for that which has no voice, only memories.’ It’s just an observation, rather than a question and maybe an obvious one, but I wanted to get the point across that this is very much a book of the here and now, as much as it is about Tiffany’s world.

The book is already published. What sort of response have you had from fans?

Gabrielle Kent:  

It’s been wonderful. I was a bit nervous because Rihanna was born into the Discworld, and I thought fans wouldn’t have an issue with Rihanna taking this on. And obviously, Paul’s worked on Discworld for years as well. But I was quite nervous about how people would feel about me coming in.

We’ve done a few signings and events with huge numbers of fans and queues for signings. Everyone wants to talk about the influence Discworld had on them. It has actually changed people’s lives. Hearing some of the stories from people, it’s wonderful. And they feel we’ve done The Discworld and Terry justice in what we’ve written.

Nikki Gamble:

Talking about that, melting together of book and game. When my son was ten years old, I spent many hours with him playing the original Discworld game side by side. Are there any plans for Discworld games in the future?

Rhianna Pratchett:

Not at the moment. We’d like to get the old games back out there because various places like GOG or Nightdive will make older games playable on new machines. But the trouble is we can’t find out who owns the rights to it.

We own the characters. We don’t have the ultimate permission for it, and we don’t have the source code. It’s been a little bit difficult to find out because the studios were bought and sold over the years, so no one’s quite sure where the original code might be.

We have so many irons in the fire that the games have taken a bit of a backseat.

Nikki Gamble:

So the door is open…

Rhianna Pratchett:

It’s slightly ajar.

Nikki Gamble:

I know that there will be things that you won’t be able to say, but what are the irons in the fire? Can you tell us about anything you will be working on together in the future?

Rhianna Pratchett:

We’ve got another spreadsheet of ideas. We’ve become very ‘spreadsheety’.

Gabrielle works with me to help me alongside the writing I do on my own. And generally helping me be a little bit more efficient. There are definitely things we’d like to work on together, and we’re always bouncing around ideas, but we’ve also got our solo projects as well.

Rhianna Pratchett:

I’ve just recorded a show for BBC Radio 4 called Mythical Creatures, which is where I go around the UK talking to geomythologists, storytellers, folklorists, and cryptozoologists about mythical creatures of the British Isles like silkies and kelpies and red caps and Hobbs and giants and mermaids.

You’ll be able to listen to it on podcast, on RSS and on BBC Sounds. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/brand/m001tgpb

Nikki Gamble:

 What are your solo projects, Gabrielle?

Gabrielle Kent: I was seeing if I had a copy. Here it is, right beside my computer. Rani Reports is the new series that I’ve been working on with my husband. It’s about a British Mauritian girl who wants to be an investigative journalist and the adventure she gets up to with her grandma who’s come over from Mauritius. My husband’s family is Mauritian, so our daughter has a Mauritian heritage. South Asian children are so poorly represented in kids’ books. The latest CLPE Reflecting Realities report has shown that things aren’t changing for South Asian representation. Black representation is getting good now. It’s actually 6 per cent representation in kids’ books compared to 4 per cent population, but South Asian children are something like 9. 3 per cent population, but just 1. 9 per cent representation. So we need to get out a book with a South Asian protagonist that our daughter can recognise herself in. And we got one of the Times Children’s Book of the Year awards. So, that was very nice.

Nikki Gamble:

You’ve got plenty to keep you busy. Thank you both so much for joining me in the Reading Corner today. It’s been a pleasure to meet you and discuss this project with you.