Crackin’ Characters is my semi-regular feature where I (or a guest blogger) get the chance to wax lyrical about one of our favourite bookish characters, and hopefully convince you to love them too!
Today I welcome Stefan Mohamed to the blog, as part of the tour for his new book Stanley’s Ghost. I have to say, when I got the email containing Stefan’s post, and seeing who he’d picked to talk about, I could not have been more pleased!
It’s dangerously easy to take for granted the frankly ludicrous quantity of memorable characters gifted to us by the late Terry Pratchett. We’ve lived with them for so long – Death, Sam Vimes, Granny Weatherwax, I could fill this entire post with just a list of names – that they’re part of our shared psychic furniture. All the myriad colours of humanity, our triumphs and foibles and bad and bizarre habits, reflected back at us with such warmth, wit and, when necessary, bite. As a writer, it’s an intimidating call sheet.
But of all the memorable, brilliantly-defined figures to stride between the pages of his books, Tiffany Aching is my favourite. Star of a sequence of five Discworld books ostensibly for younger readers, witch-in-training Tiffany lodged herself in my heart in a very particular way, even though I was probably slightly above the intended age of consumption when I read her first adventure, The Wee Free Men.
One of the most masterful aspects of Tiffany and her stories is Pratchett’s persistent focus on the everyday mundanities of being a witch. Sure, there are epic battles, terrifying enemies, incredible feats of magic, tiny angry blue people. But there are also far less glamorous, more prosaic challenges to face, and wrongs to right. Women needing to be guided through childbirth. Ill villagers requiring medicine. And, in one of the sequence’s darkest scenes – more brutally real in its way than many of Pratchett’s supposedly ‘adult’ books – an abusive father needing to be taught a lesson, and tragic consequences to be dealt with.
There is a very matter-of-fact, sleeves-rolled-up feminism integral to Pratchett’s depiction of witches, often played against the highfalutin, impractical eccentricities of the wizards to hilarious effect. These witches get on with it. And Pratchett himself said that when conceiving the character of Tiffany, he wanted to place her and the role of the witch in a very specific, grounded place in relation to the community around her – ‘the village herbalist, the midwife, the person who knew things’. It’s low-key and lived-in, yet still mysterious and mythic in its way. And while some might see it as women simply following the gender roles they’ve been assigned – doing the looking after, the unsung domestic heroism – if you ask me who I would prefer on my side in a crisis, a Discworld wizard or a Discworld witch, I know who I’d pick.
Stubborn and determined yet frequently uncertain, Tiffany never seeks glory. And she’s no preening princess, swooning over a fairy tale romance. She is a character who gets down to business. She is difficult, sometimes troublesome. She doesn’t always get the answers right. She makes mistakes. But she knows right from wrong and her moral compass remains unshakeable, even as the world conspires to throw ever more difficult obstacles in front of her.
Reading her adventures, I always wondered if Pratchett felt differently about her than he did about his other characters, and it doesn’t surprise me that he described her as ‘very close to my heart’. The warmth and care with which he told her stories (not that warmth and care were ever lacking from his other books, of course), it was as though he knew from the beginning how important she was. Being a male reader, I’ve never been short of identifying figures, role models adventuring through the pages of the books I’ve read. I’m sure that Tiffany has a significance and specialness to female readers far beyond that which I found in her.
Full disclosure – as desperate as I am to find out what happens to Tiffany, I’ve not yet been able to bring myself to buy her final adventure, The Shepherd’s Crown, in the same way that I haven’t yet been able to buy Iain Banks’ final novel. I just don’t quite feel ready. It’s the last one. Definitively, absolutely, the last Discworld novel, the last Tiffany Aching novel, the last Terry Pratchett novel. I’m still very much getting used to that idea.
The time will come, though.
About Stanley’s Ghost
Cynical, solitary Stanly Bird used to be a fairly typical teenager (apart from the fact that his best friend was a talking beagle named Daryl). Then came the superpowers. And the superpowered allies. And the mysterious enemies. And the terrifying monsters. And the stunning revelations. And the apocalypse. Now he’s not sure what he is. Or where he is. Or how exactly one is supposed to proceed after – hopefully – saving the world.
Then came the superpowers. And the superpowered allies. And the mysterious enemies. And the terrifying monsters. And the stunning revelations. And the apocalypse. Now he’s not sure what he is. Or where he is. Or how exactly one is supposed to proceed after – hopefully – saving the world.
Now he’s not sure what he is. Or where he is. Or how exactly one is supposed to proceed after – hopefully – saving the world.
All he knows is that his story isn’t finished.
Not quite yet…
Stefan Mohamed is an author, poet and sometime journalist. He graduated from Kingston University in 2010 with a first class degree in creative writing and film studies, and later that year won the inaugural Sony Reader Award, a category of the Dylan Thomas Prize, for his novel Bitter Sixteen. He lives in Bristol.