Rhianna Pratchett was a journalist before moving into the video games industry, writing on titles including Heavenly Sword, Mirror's Edge, and the Tomb Raider reboot and sequel. She has written for DC, Dark Horse and Marvel. She also works as a screenwriter and producer for TV and film. She lives in London with her partner.
Gabrielle Kent, who was a graphic artist on video games before becoming a senior lecturer in games development, is now a full-time author. Her work includes Alfie Bloom, Knights and Bikes (based on the video game of the same name), and Rani Reports. She lives in North East England with her husband, daughter and agoraphobic cat.
Tiffany Aching's Guide to Being a Witch (Penguin Random House)
Authors Rhianna Pratchett - daughter of Terry Pratchett - and Gabrielle Kent tell ReadingZone about revisiting Terry Pratchett's fantasy Discworld series with their new guide, Tiffany Aching's Guide to Being a Witch, which gives a warm, insightful and often hilarious guide into the world, its characters and what being a Discworld witch means.
For new and existing Discworld fans alike, this beautifully-produced guide will encourage you to set out afresh into Discworld, in the assured and capable hands of Tiffany Aching. Read an extract from Tiffany Aching's Guide to Being a Witch
In our Q&A with Rhianna and Gabrielle, find out about their own journeys into Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, how they researched and wrote the guide together, and what to look out for in the illustrations by Discworld illustrator Paul Kidby.
Q&A with Rhianna Pratchett and Gabrielle Kent
1. Hello Rhianna and Gabrielle. We'd love to know more about the place that Terry Pratchett's books have held in your lives. Rhianna, as Terry's daughter, were you a fan of the books when growing up and what did you think of them? Gabrielle, how did you first start as a Discworld reader?
Rhianna: I never really registered what my dad did fully until his books were serialised on Woman's Hour on Radio 4. My mum listened to Woman's Hour. It was sacred. So I suddenly thought 'Hmmm, dad must be doing something pretty cool to be on Woman's Hour.' I recorded Equal Rites off the radio on my little tape player and listened to it over and over.
Dad said he based the young protagonist, Eskarina Smith, on me growing up, which was another draw. I think there's a sprinkling of me in many of his younger female characters, including Tiffany, but I certainly never asked him to put me in there. I didn't really give him feedback on the books (nor did he ask for it) but he'd often want to talk through ideas he was working on when we were together. Particularly when we were out walking.
I really love the witches' series, particularly Witches Abroad and Carpe Jugulum (where the Nac Mac Feegle first appear.) I also have a lot of love for Monstrous Regiment.
Gabrielle: I first started reading in the late 1980's when a friend lent me The Light Fantastic. I had noticed a book with a similar cover, Mort, lying around at home and realised Dad must be a fan too. After I finished the first two books, I borrowed Mort from Dad and remember how delighted he was that I was now reading the same books as him. I adored Mort, but when I realised I had missed one and went back and read Equal Rites I became absolutely hooked and desperate for more witches stories.
I love so many of these books, Equal Rites, Mort, Small Gods, Witches Abroad, Monstrous Regiment and Nightwatch, are among my favourite Discworld books. The whole Tiffany Aching series is wonderful, but if I had to pick a favourite from among those, it would be I Shall Wear Midnight.
"We can make corrections, joke around, and edit the other's words safe in the knowledge that we each
just want to make the other shine."
2. You have both worked in gaming - is that how you know each other? Why do you work well together?
We first met at the very first Women in Games conference in Portsmouth back in 2004. It was the first time either of us had encountered more than one or two other women working in our industry. Our first exchange went something like this:
Gabrielle: "Hey, you're Rhianna Pratchett!"
Rhianna, raises eyebrow warily: "Yes." Waits for Gabrielle to start raving about her dad.
Gabrielle: "You write for PCZone! I love your game reviews."
Rhianna: "And you look like Evil Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
Gabrielle: "I love Buffy!"
Rhianna: "Who doesn't?"
At that point we linked arms and skipped off into the sunset. We work great together as we know and understand each other so well. We can make corrections, joke around, and edit the other's words safe in the knowledge that we each just want to make the other shine. We cast light onto each other, not shade.
3. How did you come to work on Tiffany Aching's Guide to Being a Witch together? What have you each brought to the book?
We're not even sure how it came about as it happened so organically. The publisher wanted to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the first Tiffany Aching book somehow. Dunmanesfestin, the literary arm of the Pratchett Estate, were very aware of our love of the witches. It has always been said that the novels themselves would not continue, but it felt natural to revisit Tiffany and what she has learned from her many tutors in a guide for other witches.
Gabrielle is already an established children's author, Rhianna has written a lot for games, comics and screen, as well as a non-linear book as part of the Fighting Fantasy series, and contributed to several others. We felt we each had a strong writing tool kit, and our skills and styles really complemented each other.
In writing, Rhianna tended to lean more towards the more fun and light hearted subjects, while Gabrielle leaned more into the serious, however, we both wrote plenty of serious and silly moments and learned a lot from each other along the way.
© Paul Kidby 2023
7. Why did you decide the book should be narrated by Tiffany, and how did you arrive at her voice? Who writes the additional witches' notes?
The book is to celebrate 20 years since the first Tiffany novel, Wee Free Men. As the most powerful up and coming witch on the Disc, it made sense for Tiffany to be the one writing this book, drawing on the knowledge of all of her former tutors.
As a lot of Tiffany is based on Rhianna, and the two of us have so many similarities and such a close bond, Tiffany's own voice came fairly easily to us. A little warmer than Granny Weatherwax, and able to be both light and serious.
The additional notes are written by Nanny and Granny, who couldn't help bickering now and then. Also Miss Tick, Miss Level and Eskarina Smith, all of whom get their own little section to write, as does Tiff's apprentice, Geoffrey. Rob Anybody's writing ability is coming along well, so he wanted to show it off here and there. While she wasn't sent a copy, Mrs Earwig managed to wrestle a few pages from Greebo as she attempted to raid Nanny Ogg's letterbox, and has supplied her own passive-aggressive notes on those sections.
"While we needed to be true to Terry's style and vision, we didn't need to go too far in imitating his voice
- this is Tiffany Aching's book, told in her voice."
5. How did you decide what would go in the book? How is it arranged? And how much research did you need to do in terms of re-reading the Discworld books to make sure it was all covered and as true to Terry's original writing as possible?
We are both pretty knowledgeable on Discworld, particularly the witch books which we have re-read quite a few times. The first thing we did was to list all of the key things about witches and witchcraft we have learnt across all of the Discworld novels and decide on the rough order it should be taught in. Things moved around on the way, and new chapters appeared.
While it may seem that it was easy to write, we had to double check absolutely everything we put in there and revisit every conversation Tiffany had ever had on the subject of witchcraft. In some chapters almost every line required us to go back and search for information or fact-check our statements.
One thing that made writing a little easier was the fact that, while we needed to be true to Terry's style and vision, we didn't need to go too far in imitating his voice - this is Tiffany Aching's book, told in her voice.
6. So how did the process of planning and writing the books evolve, with both of you working on the book - and the logistics of the writing?
It is probably easier for writers to work together now than ever before. As one of us is in London and the other in Middlesbrough, we started out having a number of Zoom calls to establish what we were doing and to talk through exactly what we wanted this book to be. We then spent some time writing alone in shared live documents which the other could check at any point.
As we began editing each other's work, we started to have day-long Zoom sessions where we could see each other on screen as we wrote and edited together. We spied on each other's writing, editing, and birthing jokes, dropping in comments from Nanny and Granny and highlighting overused words. It was amazing to work in such a close, personal way, despite the distance between us.
On the final read-through, we each sat with a glass of good whisky as we took turns to read through the chapters. As we tearily finished reading On Journeys, the last piece in the book, we raised our glasses to each other, and to Terry, and felt we'd created something really special.
© Paul Kidby 2023
7. Why did you want it to be illustrated by Paul Kidby - who do you think fans will be especially looking out for? Any favourite illustrations?
It wasn't that we specifically requested Paul Kidby, it was more that we never considered it ever being anyone else. Paul has been with the series so long, and he knows and loves the characters and world deeply.
The art director, Alex, worked closely with Paul so that we could focus purely on writing. He fed Paul our chapters and Paul responded with swathes of stunning illustrations. In some cases, Paul's desire to illustrate characters influenced our writing, such as the creatures of Fairyland which he had wanted to illustrate for some time.
It's very difficult to pick favourite illustrations, there are so many wonderful ones! We both particularly adore the picture of young Eskarina Smith holding her broom and staring in defiance as the creatures of the Dungeon Dimensions snap their jaws and wave their claws behind her. The page that features ZakZak Stronginthearm's shop assistant Brian as a wizard, frog, and pink balloon full of organs is a lot of fun, as is the picture of Tiffany's coven, the page of hats, Rob Anybody reading a book and adding dragons… we could go on all day!
We also worked with Paul to ensure a bit more diversity among the witches, such as Miss Tick who appears more South Asian and Hilta Goatfounder, on top of illustrating witches such as Mrs Gogol and Marchesa - a female wizard who briefly appeared in Colour of Magic and about who Mrs Earwig has a lot to say.
"Hopefully it will act as a gateway into the wondrous place that is Discworld
and produce a new generation of fans."
8. Do you expect the book to be picked up by loyal fans, or new readers? Will it make sense to those who are new to Discworld?
We think that this book will particularly appeal to fans as there are so many references to little things throughout the entire Discworld series and lots of in-jokes throughout the witches' annotations. However, there is a lot in the there for new readers too and hopefully it will act as a gateway into the wondrous place that is Discworld and produce a new generation of fans.
9. Having completed the guide, how does it feel to be so immersed in Discworld? How do you feel Terry would have reacted to the guide? Do you have other Discworld guides or novels planned or in the process of writing?
We do feel as though we have completed a PhD in the Witches of Discworld. It was wonderful to revisit characters we love so much and to write in their voices. We have ideas for more guides and have already had some really fun discussions on how they would work. However, publishing is a business at the end of the day, so hopefully fans will enjoy this guide enough for us to get a knock on the door from our publisher with an invitation to write another book. This one has been a blast!
We'd like to think Terry, or 'Dad' to Rhianna, would have laughed out loud at some of our humour, and felt the emotion behind the more serious subjects. Most of all, we'd like to think that he appreciated the respectful way we approached his characters and world, and enjoyed the fact that we had given the witches life beyond their adventures.
© Paul Kidby 2023
10. Where are things with the Discworld screen adaptations?
We've been working on a number of projects over the years. Both internally and externally. But finding the right partners and those who really get Discworld has always proved to be a challenge. Being able to say 'no' is one of the most powerful tools we have at the Estate, but it's important for protecting Dad's legacy.
And finally ... what do you enjoy doing when you're not involved in work projects? Do you still have time for gaming?
We do still play videogames when we have the chance. Though Gabrielle is pretty tied up with her very energetic six-year-old, who Rhianna is Oddmother to, and has a number of other books in progress. While Rhianna is very busy writing for games and screen. Maybe one day we'll make time for hobbies again, but writing is an all-consuming beast, especially when it is both your passion and your job.