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What Neil Gaiman And Terry Pratchett Can Teach Us About Friendship: Personally And Professionally
By Hannah Smith, Legends Report Writer
“We wrote it together and that was ‘Good Omens’. It was done by two guys who didn’t have anything to lose by having fun. We didn’t do it for the money. But, as it turned out, we got a lot of money.”
― Terry Pratchett.
The Power of Relationships
There is nothing better in the entire world than companionship. As people, we engage in an eternal search for company, to share in the joy and sorrow of life with others. When we boil down all of the wants and desires that we may have throughout our lives, the root of it all is that we just want to muddle our way through our existence with somebody at our side to share in the success we seek.
It sounds like a simple enough need, to want friendship and companionship. But it is not that simple. As our population gets bigger and bigger and there are more and more opportunities to reach out and meet others, through education opportunities, nightlife (for those who are old enough) and social media, this is great. But as there are more routes to meet others from a larger pool of people, it is inevitably harder to find the right people.
We are all people, right? We are all just trying to find our way through things and be happy. But we are all different, and it is hard sometimes to find people who we can truly resonate with on a deeper and more significant level than simply a relationship for the sake of not being alone and lonely.
Furthermore, when these relationships are forged for the purpose to avoid loneliness or to serve a similar surface-level reason, such as for professional gain in the workplace, they can have an entirely opposite effect on us -- they can be truly damaging.
Myself and fellow article writers have recently been attending a weekly writing group arranged by the lovely people at ‘The Legends Report’, where we have been discussing relationships, both the damaging kind and the kind that benefit us. Our first sessions covered the idea of interdependence, described by Stephen Covey in his ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ as:
“Capable of building rich, enduring, highly productive relationships with other people.”
― Stephen Covey
This idea of using relationships to elevate our own personal growth is an essential part of our writers group, as well as with authors in general. We discussed the importance of the writers club that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis held, without the weekly meetings they had, the worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia may not have been nearly as impactful to our modern world as they are. Tolkien and Lewis took the time each week to meet up and read their work, help one another to be the best version of the writer they feel they are. Moreover, to truly have a successful interdependent relationship one must have independence in their own intentions and actions, as Covey explains:
“The most important ingredient we put into any relationship is not what we say or what we do, but what we are. And if our words and our actions come from superficial human relations techniques [...] rather than from our own inner core [...], others will sense that duplicity.”
― Stephen Covey
Stephen Covey highlights that the key to achieving fulfilling interdependence with others is through rooting your own independence. The inspiring aspect of author relationships, like the one between Tolkien and Lewis, is that they are supporting one another from a solid foundation of personal independence. Tolkien didn’t rely on Lewis when constructing Middle Earth, he made the decision to trust another writer with his work, and engage with the fresh new angle that this would provide.
It is not just clubs and correspondence that has defined the interdependent relationships that successful writers seem to keep. There are two writers who took this one step further and reflected their professional and personal interdependent relationship in a wildly successful novel that they co-authored together, immortalising their friendship. They are Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
Pratchett And Gaiman - A Different Face of Fantasy
For those who may not be familiar with these two writers, they are primarily known for the literary worlds they shape by harnessing and uprooting common mythological and fantasy elements (incidentally both were lovers of Tolkien and Lewis) and blending them with dry wit and Monty Python-eske humour. Pratchett immortalised his dedication to worldbuilding in over forty novels he has written in the whimsical Discworld (Hogfather, The Wee Free Men, The Colour of Magic) and alongside novel and short story writing (American Gods, Stardust, Coraline), Gaiman is known for his comic book and screenwriting credits too (Doctor Who, Princess Mononoke). The book they wrote together encapsulates their shared influences in a tale of an angel and a demon, unlikely friends, banding together to save the earth from the upcoming apocalypse since they have both become comfortable living amongst mortals. This book is called ‘Good Omens’, which has recently seen a surge of popularity due to the release of the recent Amazon Prime Original series of the same name starring David Tennant and Martin Sheen.
Apart from being a beloved bestseller and hilarious story, what struck me about ‘Good Omens’ was how it reflected Gaiman and Pratchett’s working and personal friendship. For me, when reading the book I felt their appreciation of one another’s unique talents and voice, the limitless potential they presented one another in this collaboration. To have a fulfilling and meaningful professional relationship with somebody does not mean you have to collaborate together, of course, however, I felt this book was so special because it can serve as a map of the practises I am trying to maintain, to share my art with another, and most importantly to trust them with it.
Through ‘Good Omens’ we can see how Pratchett and Gaiman’s writing relationship is one of synergy. In ‘The 7 Habits’, Stephen Covey explains the importance of having synergy in relationships:
“The person who is truly effective has the humility and reverence to recognise his own perceptual limitations and to appreciate the rich resources available through interaction with the hearts and minds of other human beings.”
― Stephen Covey
Essentially, to synergise with others is to pool each person's individual talents and approaches to life without limitation in order to reach an outcome that could not be achieved without each unique vision. Gaiman and Pratchett are a good example of this, Gaiman relates how throughout the writing process of ‘Good Omens’ they both had the freedom to write how they felt most comfortable:
“I’d write late at night. Terry wrote early in the morning. In the afternoon we’d have very long conversations where we’d read each other the best bits we’d written, and talk about stuff that could happen next. The main objective was to make the other one laugh.”
― Neil Gaiman
This is an example of a professional partnership using synergy. Gaiman and Pratchett could write when they wished, without having to focus on a particular schedule. For them, it was all about what they wrote in order to make their friend laugh. Their friendship fuelled their art and their profession. Another aspect of Pratchett and Gaiman’s writing process was their agreement to writing certain characters and plot points for the first half of the books, and then completely turn this by swapping the characters they wrote. In many artistic collaborations, it perhaps would suit better to stick to certain characters or plotlines for each writer, so that the text does not suffer from inconsistency in tone and character development. But for Gaiman and Pratchett this was an opportunity to discover the quirks and humour in all of their characters and plots. Switching which characters they were writing might seem disastrous to an outsider, but for them, it was an opportunity to synergise and approach their book from an unusual angle.
On some level, even the protagonists of ‘Good Omens’, the indulger-in-creature-comforts angel Aziraphale and the not-particularly-evil demon Crowley, emit the ethos emitted by their creators. The two embrace their differences when aiming towards their common goal of preventing the apocalypse and work so well together due to their own unique approaches to solving this problem. Their relationship in ‘Good Omens’ also displays how people in an interdependent synergetic partnership are successful because they are open to learning from the other. Aziraphale and Crowley have spent thousands of years getting to know one another whilst living on earth, and their friendship is so deeply significant to both of them because they have learnt from one another. The two have come from the opposing moral authorities of heaven and hell and for this reason, their friendship should not work. But like Gaiman and Pratchett, the two use their differences to learn from one another about what is defined as good and bad from entirely different angles, and because of this, their friendship is one that is deeply cherished by the two of them. As Lidija Haas from the Guardian says:
“At the heart of ‘Good Omens’ is a platonic love affair between two blokes”
― Lidija Haas
Finding Like-Minded People
Although it is always good to try and get along with everybody and attempt to form relationships wherever we can, it is also important to find the right people with who we are able to form bonds like the one between Gaiman and Pratchett. It is harder to make fulfilling and interdependent relationships if you are trying to make them with people who have a different purpose and intent in their actions and end goal:
“To associate with other like-minded people in small purposeful groups is for the great majority of men and women a source of profound psychological satisfaction”
― Aldous Huxley, author
The power of Gaiman and Pratchett’s professional and personal bond is rooted in their like-mindedness. Would they have been able to achieve the synergy that they achieved in order to create ‘Good Omens’ and its lasting legacy without having similar intentions? In recent interviews following the death of Pratchett in 2015 Gaiman has asserted that the root of the success of ‘Good Omens’ and their friendship as a whole is that they both entered both with the same intentions in mind for their end goal:
“The pleasure is taken in constructing something that does what it’s meant to do -- to make people read the story and laugh, and if possible even think.”
How to Apply This:
This article has covered the process of two writers synergising in order to create a bestselling novel. However, the lessons we can learn from Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett can be applied to all areas of life, in both a professional and personal setting. Their friendship is one of two writers inspiring one another to write as well as they could, but inspiration is only one factor of the interdependent relationship.
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman teach us that the key to a fulfilling, intimate and entirely meaningful friendship and professional partnership is to have trust. Trust to the point that when Pratchett passed away due to his early onset Dementia, Gaiman took it upon himself to show run and screenwrite the Amazon Prime adaptation of ‘Good Omens’, as mentioned in Lidija Haas’ Guardian article:
“You’d never know from watching ‘Good Omens’, Neil Gaiman’s effervescent apocalyptic comedy of errors, that he started writing it fresh off the plane from the funeral of his friend Terry Pratchett [...] Gaiman promised to adapt their co-written 1990 novel himself; and when Pratchett died in the spring of 2015, “suddenly it was a last request”
― Lidija Haas
In a way, the Amazon Prime adaptation is a monument of the trust that Gaiman and Pratchett shared, in his grief, Gaiman honoured the promise to his friend who trusted in him.
This aspect of their relationship is something that has truly impacted me when reading the novel and learning about their friendship. Showing somebody your writing, your art which is a reflection of yourself, requires a great amount of trust. I think that most people would agree that trust is one of the fundamentally difficult aspects of relationships in any form. To put trust into another is to allow them access to the parts of yourself that they can use to hurt you and for this reason, we shy away from it. For me, writing is a wonderful way to express my feelings, and figure out how I feel about the world around me. But the thought of putting trust into others to read those thoughts and use that against me is still a difficult fear to overcome. Since writing for ‘The Legends Report’ and knowing that reflecting on my own insecurities through writing could help somebody else, it has been easier. But that fear of trusting another is something that will take a long time for me to overcome, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Learning about the relationship between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is inspiring for me personally. Aside from using their shared prowess and talent to compose a brilliant novel, they have shown the positive results that can come from putting that creative and personal trust in another. Pratchett had enough trust in Gaiman to leave their novel in his hands to adapt to television, and that is something special. This in turn makes the Amazon Prime adaptation very poignant in this context, as it serves as an expression of their friendship now that Pratchett is no longer alive, as Gaiman relates:
“There were times when I would get stuck and would want to ask Terry for advice and he wasn’t there. And there would be times when I would do something very, very clever and I would want to call up Terry and say, ‘Hey I’ve fixed this sentence,’ and he wasn’t there for that either. [...] But making [the Amazon Prime ‘Good Omens’ series], I did feel his presence”
― Neil Gaiman
Learning about Gaiman and Pratchett and the relationship they shared has inspired me personally to keep learning how to trust one another and search for like-minded people to build up interdependent relationships, inside and outside of my writing. Writing for ‘The Legends Report’ and taking part in their weekly writing group where I can learn about these interdependent relationships that successful writers have has helped me get started. If you would like to learn more about the workshops offered by ‘The Legends Report’ then get in touch and we can all help one another to find the independence and interdependence we can use to find whatever success we are searching for.
Lastly, Gaiman shows that interdependence does not leave us when our friends do. Although Pratchett is sadly no longer here to continue writing, he is still inspiring Gaiman to follow his own path and have artistic integrity in the story they created together. Gaiman explains this here in an interview about the ‘Good Omens’ Prime series, which shows the depth of his bond with Pratchett, a truly special professional relationship, and most importantly, a lasting friendship:
On a roll with these awesome articles! An extremely uplifting tale that has left a smile on my face for sure. All the while brought back around to relate to Stephen Covey’s work and interdependent relationships in such a graceful way.
I enjoyed learning about this pair in more depth, and the heartwarming relationship between the two, the whole article really inspired a hope within me, and I enjoyed it throughout, keep up the good work!
Loved it! Really interesting to learn more about these two individuals, and not just through what they’ve written, but through who they are. I feel like the article is also a really good reminder for us all that it’s what’s on the inside that counts!