Tuesday 14th February 2012
CAME across the decastich below yesterday, when tidying up some old folders. It was inspired by something Terry Pratchett said at a festival, where I’d been asked to be his ‘minder’ – you know, take him the green room, make him a cup of tea, be affable but not ingratiating.
Good bloke: humanist, astronomer and orang-utan lover; donates generously to several worthwhile causes; has been very open about his Alzheimer’s, which he calls ‘an embuggerance’.
One of my favourite characters of his has to be Ronnie Soak, the fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, who left before the others became famous and opened a dairy.
Asked at that festival event what he thought about writing an autobiography, Pratchett replied…
“Got up. Went to the toilet. That sort of thing?”
…neatly, er, poo-pooing the idea.
“Authors’ lives are nowhere near as exciting as people think. We write, that’s all. Hardly exciting. If I die from a heart attack, at work, I’ll probably slump forward and my forehead will end up on the T key. The last thing I write will be an endless stream of T’s: tttttttt. But that’s what I do. It’s the default state: sitting at a desk, typing.”
Did he any advice for aspiring writers?
“Learn by doing it. Oh… and don’t waste time describing things that aren’t relevant. Characters show themselves by what they do. Say you have a woman, living alone. She makes herself a sandwich, cuts off the crusts and slices it, diagonally. The napkin she uses is kept in the top drawer of the dresser. The reader recognises her immediately. And needn’t be told the colour of the carpet.”
Which led me to write this, several years later:
Cheese, with pickle
Crusts removed, sliced diagonally
Four triangles, favourite china plate
Curl of cucumber, cocktail stick skewered
Marjorie takes the plate into the conservatory
By his chair, a small, circular, occasional table
“Lunchtime, Gordon,” she whispers, smiling long decades of affection
She doesn’t bother with the napkin now that he’s gone