‘When most fathers shuffle away to the great shed in the beyond, their kids inherit things like their LP collection, a carefully curated selection of humorous postcards or a dicky bladder. I inherited a world.’ So says Rhianna Pratchett about her father, Terry. Together with children’s author Gabrielle Kent, a self-described resident of the Disc since her school days, Rhianna has created Tiffany Aching’s Guide to Being a Witch, an illustrated and practical guide to being a witch in Discworld. Here they talk about creating this supplement to the Discword.
Terry Pratchett didn’t just create worlds, he held up a mirror reflecting back the politics, history, personality and struggles of our own – an amazing feat for a comic fantasy series set on the back of a giant space turtle. As well as sending us on incredible adventures, the Discworld novels burn with sharp wit and keen social commentary. In Tiffany Aching’s Guide to Being a Witch, our goal was to honour the spirit of the witches and world Terry poured so much of himself into, while offering our own creative insights as we carefully navigated the lands and characters we love so much.
Throughout writing, Rhianna felt the weight of carrying forward her father’s legacy, while Gabrielle was keenly aware that readers might wonder who this newcomer was, galloping roughshod across the turf of their precious Disc. The chance to write this book was not taken lightly by either of us. People perhaps expected a light guide drawing heavily on quotes from the novels and offering very little new. However, it was always going to be so much more than that. The witches aren’t just amusing figures on the page to us, they are beacons of strength and empowerment. We grew up sharing in their adventures from the swamps of Genua to the grand institutions of Ankh Morpork, and up to the chalk downs and the towering Ramtops. Together, we wanted to celebrate their strength, wisdom, and resilience – and offer some laughs along the way!
As well as thinking a lot about Terry (or Dad, to Rhianna) as we wrote, we also thought a lot about our own grandmothers. We each had our own Granny Aching – a practical, wisdom dispensing Granny who cared for sheep, and a Granny with a certain degree of Oggishness who went round the houses, keeping an eye on the old boys and girls. We have always strongly identified with the witches, both the elderly ones who remind us of the women who helped shape us, and the ones we feel we grew up alongside, Eskarina Smith, and Tiffany Aching.
As women who often finish each other’s sentences, we quite literally got to do that in this guide. We spent entire days talking on the webcam, inadvertently wearing the same colours as we worked together in live documents, watching each other birth both bathos and pathos, editing out too many mentions of ‘nice cups of tea’ and talking a lot about bees. There were tears along the way as we leaned hard into the meaning the witches held for both of us and remembered those who had gone.
One of the best things about writing with a partner is making each other laugh, and those too were plentiful, especially when we took on the voices of our favourite witches as they read over Tiffany’s guide and scribbled down both ‘useful’ advice and barbed comments. Rhianna has gone on to fully embrace her inner Mrs Letice Earwig by voicing her in the Audible version of the Guide.
We dug deep into the books, and found our own explanations for tiny pieces of contradictory information, as well as letting the witches’ learn from their past experiences, such as Miss Level developing a three Ps guide to making shambles after Tiffany struggled with this, and Miss Tick offering her top tips to aspiring witch finders after training Lucy Warbeck. Rhianna’s experiences growing up in a little pink cottage in the Somerset countryside, where her family had goats in the front garden and chickens and ducks in the back, also played a part in tapping into the rural Pratchett wellspring, as did Gabrielle’s adventures on her grandparents’ farm in County Galway.
We cannot overstate Terry Pratchett’s influence on our own writing. He is there in everything we do. The creation of this Discworld guide is, in part, our way of paying homage to his work, while bringing readers back into the magical world he so masterfully crafted.
Tiffany Aching’s Guide to Being a Witch is published by Penguin, 978-0241651995, £25.00.