8 Things I Learned From the Discworld

April 28th is Terry Pratchett Day – in honour of the late author’s birthday – and on the day itself I wrote a little thread on Twitter.

Now, of course, it’s May, and the lilacs are blooming. Remember the smell of lilac? You thought about those who died.

So, here’s that thread, reproduced for posterity…

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For #TerryPratchettDay, here are some writer things, and life things, that I learned from Discworld books. There are 8. It was my favourite number before I ever found Discworld. 7? Yuck. It’s all… prime and sticky. 8 is all factorable and curvy. Octarine? I love it.

Let’s go…

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Learn the bloody rules. AND THEN break them, if you must. Break rules deliberately, knowingly, because you want to. Not, if you can possibly avoid it, by accident. This applies to spelling, grammar, story structure and, most importantly, life in general.
1
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There are few things more delightful to read than a sharp left turn. Why not write a beautiful, literary description of, oh, say, dragons, and then segue to sardines? And finish with a gently implied threat? It’s jolting, and it’s wonderful.
2
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People are never one thing. No one is all bad or all good. Everyone is a complicated, messy mixture. Everyone is capable of causing pain, and of doing amazing good, and they might not always choose the course of action you’d like. But that’s people for you.

When the Dragon Visited the Knight

It had been a long and tiring week, so I ordered a Chinese takeaway.

The dragon brought it to my door. He didn’t look like a dragon, not today. But then, I found myself thinking, he often doesn’t. Not these days.

He wore jeans and a hoody, dark hair streaked silver at the temples, more creases in his skin than before. The amber eyes behind his round, wire-rimmed glasses were still clear, though. They’ve never changed.

He held up a white plastic bag that smelled deliciously of oil, salt and sweet tartness. ‘Hello, Sir William. May I come in?’ he asked, pointedly not looking at the suit of armour in the hallway.

‘Don’t you have other deliveries to make?’ I replied, archly.

‘I don’t. This isn’t a career change. Funny thing. I was passing and I found a delivery woman looking rather lost. She asked if I knew this place, because she simply couldn’t find it. And I said, why yes, let me take that for you. And here I am.’

‘I see. She just agreed to that, did she?’

The dragon grinned. ‘Well, you know, I’ve always been very persuasive.’

That grin has never changed either. Damn him. ‘Oh very well,’ I said eventually, stepping aside.

In the kitchen, I got out two plates. There was more than enough food for two.

The dragon speared a satay mushroom. ‘I helped a farmer burn a couple of fields the other day. It made me think of you.’

‘I’m so glad flame and smoke and destruction puts me in your thoughts,’ I said, picking up a dumpling.

He chewed thoughtfully. ‘It had to be done. Clearing away old, broken stubble and weeds to make space for new growth. You know.’

My eyes drifted to the door. From where we sat at the table, I could just see the slightly dusty suit of armour. And the sword. ‘Did everyone get out alive?’

‘I made sure it was safe.’

I looked at him then, to make sure myself. There was nothing in his face but gentleness. ‘I’m pleased to hear it.’

I scooped chicken fried rice onto my plate, and added sticky, red sweet and sour sauce. As inauthentic as it was possible to be, and as delicious. Sometimes you have to enjoy things for what they are.

The dragon ate a few bites himself and pretended not to watch me over the edge of his glasses. The smile at the corner of his mouth gave him away.

‘I appreciate…’ I started, and stumbled. Gave up. Started again. ‘I realise you knew I’d probably see the smoke. That…” I sighed. ‘Do you really care what I think?’

‘I do. Very much.’

‘Well, thank you.’ It was my turn for the corner of my mouth to twitch. And it did.

He looked away then. ‘I never, ever meant to hurt you,’ he said, quietly.

I swallowed, and in that moment, more than just food. I reached across and touched his hand, which was large, but very, very human.

His thumb stroked the back of my hand, pressing skin which was looser than it had been, once, but which still had all the same nerve endings.

Those eyes will be the death of me.

If I’m lucky.

‘I know.’ I said after a little while. ‘I know you didn’t. I mistook youthful over-enthusiasm and foolishness for malice. Because… I wanted to see enemies everywhere. It seemed easier that way, then. I’m sorry.’

‘I was foolish. I did do a lot of damage. You had every right to be angry.’

For a moment, the house felt very quiet, and the world seemed a great deal simpler.

‘Would you like to stay?’ I asked.

‘Really?’

‘I think I have some old treasure knocking about. You could probably scrape together a hoard to sleep on.’

The smile was back. ‘You know… as I get older, I’m starting to appreciate something a little softer.’

‘I might be able to manage that, if you’d prefer.’

‘If you’re sure, I think I would,’ he said, pushing the shiny fortune cookie packet towards me. There was only one. I pulled it apart.

We ended up leaving the takeaway things on the table because, after all, they could wait until tomorrow. In amongst the mess was a tiny slip of white paper, printed with purplish-blue words.

Someone you’ve been missing will knock at your door.


Author’s notes
Happy Valentine’s Day x

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© Kat Day 2022

The Magician’s Christmas Tree

The distant sound of carol singers caused the magician to look up from the silver bauble he was holding. Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly

He smiled. He liked that one.

The old man huffed on the sphere and rubbed in on his robe, then held it close to his face. The curved surface distorted his reflection, making his hands seem huge and his head tiny. Something inside the ball made a sound like a fox in the night.

Still smiling happily, the magician hung the bauble carefully on a branch.

A log hissed and popped in the grate. He paused in his tree decorating to stir the liquid in the cast-iron pot hanging over the fire. The smell of oranges, cinnamon and peppery spices filled the room. He sniffed appreciatively and added a generous measure of clear liquid from a glass bottle.

Returning to the tree he examined the lights which he’d wound around the branches. One sputtered and he flicked it impatiently with a fingernail. It squeaked faintly, then returned to producing its greenish light.

Humming fa-la-la-la-la he rummaged in the dusty wooden crate on the rug next to the tree. Over several branches he hooked curved, white objects which might have resembled candy-canes, although they lacked the traditional red stripes.

He let out a happy exclamation when he discovered the string of pearlescent, squarish objects with curiously sharp edges. These he draped all around, so that they shimmered in the firelight.

Then came a series of miniature figures. Reindeer with branching antlers twisted on their strings and butted at pine needles. The magician wagged a finger at them.

A selection of elves with curling shoes hung rather brokenly. At these, he sighed and shook his head sadly.

Another figure drawn from the box was an ugly thing; two pointed horns had been stuck to its forehead and it was dressed in dark, coarsely-woven clothing. It had baleful, light-brown, almost amber, eyes and carried a switch of wicked-looking branches. It hissed as the magician gently stroked it. He stared at it for a moment, looked back at the crate and then, cocking his head to one side, placed it towards the back of the tree.

Last was the figure of a man, dressed in red and white and carrying a lumpy, hessian sack. This one made a soft sound that was almost a groan. The magician gazed at it as if it were a much-loved grandchild, and then hung it carefully on a branch at the very front.

He took a few steps back and examined his work. The figures swung gently on their strings and the lights twinkled most prettily. Faint groans and hisses filled the tree like the wind winding its fingers through a forest. It was, he decided, almost perfect.

Almost.

He reached into the box and drew out a silver star. He turned it over in his hand, frowning. What were stars, after all? Huge balls of flaming gas, seen from such a distance they were nothing more than dots. He would, he mused, much rather have a fairy on the pinnacle of his tree. He glanced at the string of squarish objects he had draped through the branches.

Yes, a fairy with pretty golden hair and glittering wings. That would be so much more in keeping with the true origins of the mid-winter festival.

The magician cocked his head. The singers had started up again, and they were louder. Very loud, in fact. Almost as if they were just outside his door.

They fell silent and their song was replaced by knocking.

Fa-la-la-la, hummed the magician.

He opened the door. Three women stood there, cheeks flushed from the cold. The middle one pushed a lock of blonde hair away from her eyes as they all burst into song.

The magician listened, a beatific smile on his face.

He clapped his hands as they finished. ‘Oh, that was wonderful. Wonderful! Why don’t you come in for a moment? I’ve got some mulled wine warming in the other room.’

They smiled at the kindly old man with the eyes that spoke of warmth and safety, and thought how bitterly cold it was. The carol singers agreed that, yes, it would be lovely to come inside. Just for a moment.

The magician ladled the dark, cinnamon scented liquid from the pot over the fire into cups and passed it to the singers as they admired his beautiful tree.

Yes, he thought, as they sipped. A fairy with beautiful golden hair. Perhaps she would even sing.

And he could always find room for more elves.


Author’s notes
COVID-19 has probably put an end to door-to-door carol singers this year, but just in case, beware kindly old men with strangely active Christmas ornaments… 😉


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© Kat Day 2020

The Trickster

Said the trickster, here’s the game, if you’re able,

remember all the things upon the table.

I’ll take one and hide it away, he explained,

and if you can tell me what I’ve obtained,

then you’re the winner! And I’ll return it,

and I’ll also give you this nifty outfit.

 

He held a dress, midnight black and glitter,

belonged to a witch, he said–never fit her.

I admired it, imagined how it would look,

And if I lose, I said, you keep what you took?

That’s it, he replied, are we in accord?

Very well, I agreed, consider me on board.

 

It was my desk, after all, I knew it well:

Skull, wand, phial and ball. Cards, scroll, mirror and bell.

Turn your eyes, then, said he, and I’ll make my choice,

and I faced away, only hearing his voice.

A handful of moments, he bade me return,

Well, he said, eyes flashing, what do you discern?

 

Skull, wand, ball and phial. Cards, scroll, bell and mirror.

Seemed untouched–moved neither further nor nearer.

He was a trickster, though, and so I thought hard.

What was gone? A drop from the phial, a lone card?

A word from the scroll? The swirl inside the ball?

The blank smile of the skull? The bell’s ringing call?

 

It was none of these, and I heard his laughter.

He had me, I’d lost, and what would come after?

I looked in the mirror and saw my own face,

bright, sharp and clear and… it fell into place.

My mouth curved then, and his attitude shifted,

cursing as he understood he’d been grifted.

 

I reached out my hand, nails sharp, pale skin blistered,

Give me what you took from the glass, I whispered.

He tried to argue, deny, make demands and lie,

I gestured; he produced the walnut with a sigh.

Cracked it and nestled within that dark, dry space,

my fingerprints, took from the mirror’s surface.

 

Did you expect to bind me, foolish trickster?

I’m older than old, and my blood’s a mixture,

my magic is human and infernal, too.

Now begone, before I use your bones for glue.

And he ran, but of course I did keep the gown.

Monster I may be, there’s no need to dress down.


Author’s notes
One last poem from the Victory in Verse contest at the Codex Writers’ Forum (check out D. L. Davitt). I enjoyed playing around with rhyming couplets, and I think we could all use a bit of fun right now. Speaking of which, if anyone would like to see any particular type of story over the coming weeks, hit me up. I’ll do my best.


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© Kat Day 2020

Proud

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, pinched the bridge of her nose and turned over the page in the grimoire she was studying. It was bound in human skin. It smelled funky.

She muttered words to herself, trying to fix them in her memory. She left careful pauses, of course— it wouldn’t do to accidentally summon the undead hordes— but she had to know her spells. There would be a battle tomorrow, and Lord Alstaz would expect things to work.

The words slid away from her, slippery as freshwater eels. A ball of black anxiety settled in her stomach.

The magical garnet of Ifera set in the heavy gold bracelet on her left wrist glowed red and emitted a cheerful chiming sound. Jorininki sighed and tapped it.

A voice spoke. ‘Jori, is that you? Can you hear me? Hello?’

‘Hi, Dad.’

‘Can you hear me?’

‘Yes, Dad, I can hear you. Are you okay?’

‘Oh, that’s good. We’re fine. How are you?’

‘I’m fine. Look, Dad, I’m kind of busy here… big thing tomorrow, you know. Is it urgent? Can I call you back tomorrow evening for a proper chat?’ That is, she thought to herself, if Lord Alstaz hasn’t thrown me into his dungeons because the undead hordes turned out to be three tatty skeletons with missing bits and a couple of zombie rabbits.

‘Yes of course, darling. But before you go. Um,’ her father paused.

‘What is it?’

‘I know you’re busy, I expect you’re working. You work so hard. Very important stuff. I know I couldn’t do it.’

‘Dad, you have no idea what I do.’

‘No, no, I know. Protecting a kingdom. It’s a lot of responsibility. I can’t imagine. Me, I’ve been a farmer my whole life. I don’t know anything about politics—’

‘Dad, I really am busy…’

‘Yes, yes, of course. Anyway. Look. We were at your aunt’s funeral on Tuesday.’

‘I know. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it.’

‘No, it’s fine. Everyone understands. They all asked after you. It just made me think, you know, it does, doesn’t it? A funeral. Everyone saying things they couldn’t say, you know, before.’

‘Mmm-hm,’ said Jorininki, turning the page back on the grimoire.

‘Well, I just wanted to tell you that we’re very proud of you, Jori. Very proud. You’ve achieved so much. You work so hard. We love you very much, your Mum and me. That’s all, really.’

Jorininki pushed the heavy book away before the tear could splash onto the yellowing paper. ‘Oh, Dad.’

‘I don’t say it enough, I know that. I wasn’t brought up to talk about these things. It’s different these days. Anyway. I just wanted you to know that even if I don’t say it all the time, I do love you.’

‘I love you too, Dad.’

‘That’s good, that’s good. Well, bye, bye, sweetheart. Don’t work too hard. You need your sleep.’

‘I’ll do my best.’

‘All right then. I’ll talk to you tomorrow?’

‘I promise.’

‘Bye, bye.’

‘Bye, bye.’

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, smiled as the red light of the magical garnet of Ifera blinked out.

Then she wiped her eyes and pulled the grimoire back towards her, the words now seeming that much easier to remember.


Author’s notes
It’s a trope of fantasy fiction that the parents of heroes and bad guys are dead. This piece came about after I wondered: what if the evil necromancer still has a Mum and Dad, who like to chat to their daughter every now and then? (And what about grandparents, that’s what I always want to know — maybe that’s for another day.)


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© Kat Day 2019

Jin 1 – the beginning

Breathing hard, Rina looked around the room she found herself in. Its walls had been painted plain white, and it was lit with bright spotlights. The air was dry and cool. There were no windows, and no furniture except for a single pedestal in the centre which held some sort of brass antique thing.

There was only the one door, and she’d come through it. No other exits. Outside, she could hear the ear-slamming sound of the alarm, mercifully muted in here, and the sorts of bangs and thuds made by, say, people opening and closing doors quite violently whilst running around in heavy boots. They were not, on the whole, friendly sounds.

On the other side of the room, Jin smiled. Rina had thought she was… elderly when she’d first met her. A little slow on her feet. Perhaps a touch of arthritis here and there. Now, standing with one hand on her hip, she seemed considerably more sprightly. Old, yes, but more the kind of old person who ran marathons at weekends, waving cheerily at youngsters who were puffing and throwing water over their heads as she passed by without even breaking a sweat.

There was no way she’d ended up in this room by mistake. “So, how do we get out of here?” asked Rina.

Jin shrugged and nodded at the door. “You can always go that way,” she said.

Rina noticed the emphasis. “And you?”

The woman said nothing, but the wrinkles around her eyes twitched.

“Come on, you have to help me! I can’t go out there! I’ll be caught, arrested! I can’t have a criminal record!”

“You should not have followed me.”

“There was a huge dog about to rip my arm off!”

“I taught you the whistle.”

“You taught me the whistle to make the damn thing attack me so that you could get in here!” Outside the door, Rina thought she could hear raised voices. It had clicked when she’d slammed it behind her. Had it locked?

“Perhaps. But you had a choice. You could have run the other way.”

“Funnily enough, I had the idea that the very fast dog with four legs might catch up with me!” There were bangs from the door. Rina thought she heard someone say something about a key.

“They’ll be in here in a minute! How are you going to get out?”

Jim grinned again. “I have a way.”

“Are you going to tell me what it is?”

“I am not.”

“Come on!”

“But,” said Jin, slowly, appearing to decide something as she spoke, “there is one thing you could say.” Her eyes flickered to the pedestal in the centre of the room.

“Oh, god, it’s not please, is it?” said Rina in desperation. The door behind her rattled.

Jin shook her head, looking a little disappointed. Her long fingers reached for the brass object on the pedestal. It had a loop of a handle attached to a wide section that tapered to a narrower spout. It was sort of shoe-shaped, if a shoe were placed on a small, upturned saucer and had a handle stuck on its heel. Rina thought she’d seen something like it before, somewhere. This was larger, and probably older, but…

Several things clicked into place in her mind. It was a lamp. An ancient, brass lamp. And the woman she’d followed into this room had said her name was Jin.

The lock rattled in the door behind her. “I wish you would take me with you!” she said.

Jin threw her head back and laughed. The door flew open and someone shouted something, but the sound dropped away. Rina’s skin tingled, her vision turned first black and white, and then, just black.

***

“Where am I?” said Rina, pushing herself into a sitting position.

“Welcome, child!” said Jin, cheerfully. “This is my craft. I call her The Slipper!”


Author’s notes

Unlike the other pieces on this site this is not a complete work. It’s something which starts here, with this first scene between Rina and Jin. These characters had been bouncing around in my brain and my notebook for some time, and I decided to let them out. And then, once they were out, they started clamouring for more.

You can read the next part of their story here.

© Kat Day 2017