An Unexpected Legacy
Assistant Editor, Holly March veers into another genre to explain why Sir Terry Pratchett influenced her writing and became part of her romantic heritage.
With Georgette Heyer having been snapped up last month, I’m sure a lot of us nodded enthusiastically. Like Austen, Heyer’s legacy lies in millions of regency romances. Sooner or later, someone would have chosen Heyer, and Lara Temple did an amazing job of explaining why she is so necessary to our ancestry, even if we learn from her mistakes and zeitgeist.
My choice may not be as universal, but I know that every romance I write owes a great deal to Terry Pratchett.What? But he didn’t write romances, I hear you cry, he wrote fantasy.
To which I reply, Pratchett wrote fantasy, but he wrote people. He wrote their rises and falls, and he wrote their loves with a perfection which always lingers in my mind. I never start a romance without thinking of this excerpt:
“Sam Vimes was an uncomplicated man when it came to what poets called ‘the lists of love’. He’d noticed that sex bore some resemblance to cookery: it fascinated people, they sometimes bought books full of complicated recipes and interesting pictures, and sometimes when they were really hungry they created vast banquets in their imagination – but at the end of the day they’d settle quite happily for egg and chips, if it was well done and maybe had a slice of tomato.”
For me, happy ever after has to make sense. For me, the characters have to be believable enough to accept ‘not tonight, dear’, or ‘can you go on top, my back hurts’. For me, characters have to be enough in love that they’re happy with egg and chips, and do not demand sumptuous banquets.
So long as there is a slice of tomato on the side.
While I do not remember the first Pratchett I listened to (while I was still very young, Tony Robinson reading the abridged versions was how long journeys went, as my mother abhors I Spy), it is Guards! Guards! which stole my heart. I grew up on the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon and adaptations of Robin Hood. So the dedication, to those who burst in and get killed by the hero, appealed to me.
The love story between Vimes and Lady Sybil is deliberately a white knight and damsel antithesis. They meet because she is a dragon breeder, and the only noble virgin in Ankh Morpork, and he is an alcoholic guard who ends up rescuing her. Their marriage is one of badly cooked breakfasts, him going teetotal, and her understanding that the city comes first. It is real and hearty and is one of the pillars of Pratchett’s world.
Love does not have to be for teenagers. Love is eternal, and love means knowing flaws and damn well loving them too.
In the case of Magrat Garlick and King Verence, the love happens almost in despite of the characters.
Both are portrayed as rather pathetic. Magrat is new-agey by witch standards and Verence is at the time the court Fool and unaware of his royal ancestry. When he becomes King, they edge around each other, each convinced the other does not love them in return.
“It was just that she had preferred him when he’d been a Fool. There’s something about a man who tinkles gently as he moves.”
Magrat loves him. She does not love the King, she loves Verence. She is intimidated, but considering she ends up fighting the invading Elves in full armour for him, I think we can say she gets past it.
Because she loves him.
Imagine me waving my arms around in flailing enthusiasm.
I am struggling to find a fit quotation for Angua and Carrot (what are non-Pratchett readers thinking right now. Please do comment and tell me!) because their love story evolves slowly. From him panicking when she transforms into a wolf when the moon hits her (in his defence, they had just had sex and she was in the bed next to him), to him challenging her old boyfriend Gavin to a fight (Gavin was a wolf by the way), to her anxieties about the relationship while he remains oblivious as only Carrot can.
It is real, it is organic, and not all of it is done in dramatic moments. It is little gestures and mannerisms. It is her jealousy and possessiveness, and his constant faith that she will get stuff done. It took decades to write.
Pratchett writes with heart. Even when love goes awry (the YA Tiffany Aching series), you feel every moment like grit in your eye and twisting pain in your chest. Poring over the pages in search of the secret might not help - I have tried, believe me – but while reading your heart is wholly engaged.
Pratchett classically did not use chapters. There was no point. One does not read a chapter of Pratchett. One reads a book of Pratchett and then groans because one has work tomorrow and how is it four am?
While he did not write “romances”, he wrote love with absolute accuracy in all its forms. He wrote equality in relationships and anyone who knows me knows how important that is. Pratchett is so much of my ideal of relationships: my parents frequently refer to each other as Vimes and Sybil. (I, by the way, am Agnes Nitt, and I will fight you on this!)
It is a comfort to think that when we are older, we will still have romance. It is a comfort to know that even if you are only in the mood for egg and chips, someone will still have you with the tomato on the side.
And also that if one is kidnapped by an evil elf queen, one’s other half will rescue one.
Holly March believes in Happy Ever After The Couple Has Been Separated For A While And Missed Each Other Angstily (preferably with a side of the man grovelling and begging to be taken back). For more about Holly's work, check out her website and follow her on Pinterest, and Twitter.
What other genre authors have influenced your writing and become part of your romance ancestry? Comment below with your favourite fantasy couples, canon or not!