07/09/20 (Thief of Time)

This is my second post about my Read More selection for Alchemy Film & Arts. See the full list here.

For those of you out there who don’t know who the great Sir Terry Pratchett was, it’s kind of hard to explain. With a cult-like following globally, his Discworld series of fantasy novels may seem frankly ridiculous to the casual reader comparing them to more boring normal um, usual? books.

The series has proved difficult to televise, so his work is maybe not as widespread as it could (should) be. Like how it’s impossible to turn the galaxy spanning vast scenes in an Iain M. Banks book, the imagination is the only processor in the world that can begin to cope with life on the Disc. Fan art and merch are varied and… weird, although my favourite (this is an unpaid plug for a pal’s excellent business) is Lyndisfarne Cross Stitch’s range of Discworld designs, based on illustrations from the books. Fully licenced and meticulously designed, you too can create your own needlepoint tribute to Sir Terry’s colourful characters. Check them out here.

I took Thief of Time with me when I went on residency for a month in Morocco (Café Tissardmine, check it out). I wasn’t really sure what kind of reading material was appropriate to take, but it was one I hadn’t read yet, and didn’t need to worry that I wouldn’t enjoy it. I also took Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, which I did read, and a book that was actually about art, which I didn’t.

I’m trying to figure out what to say about the book – do I tell you about Susan, about Death, about the monks and the clock and the Igor and the auditors and the monks and the spinny wheel time things and Ankh Morpork and did I say monks twice and chocolates? and and and…
The best way to explain is to say just read the book.

The book is half a philosophical look at time, and the question of whether the only time that really does exist is the present, and if a truly accurate clock were to be made, would it break everything? The other half is a martial arts adventure of master and apprentice, and the self-discovery of auditors, the mysterious entities that seem to exist to keep the world running. And other things. Read the book.

I think I found it as a kind of how-to in structural film during the residency. Just lying in the lounge at Tissardmine, waiting for dinner and reading and thinking about what it means to slice up time, what even is accuracy, what does chocolate taste like, and how we identify as individuals. The thought, that time can be cut and sliced into smaller and smaller pieces, it can be paused and restarted by a masterful monk practising faster than fast martial arts rings a bell, doesn’t it? Slicing up a month’s worth of clips of plastic bottles, and sticking them together again, I attempted to deal with the anger and frustration of being sexually assaulted by a stranger in a crowd. I’m still angry, when I think about it, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t help. Cutting and pasting and working with time and objects through the clock of my own voice re-assembled my time in the desert on my own terms. (Read slightly more about Sixty Three Plastic Bottles and One Aluminium Can here.)

Of course, on a residency that lasts more than a couple of weeks, time turns into something else. Although there’s structure to the days – meals, sessions in the studio with the projector and fellow residents, little challenges we were given… time isn’t the same. Alarm clocks don’t matter; when the sun rises, the dog starts barking. After a week it’s like you’ve been there forever, and like you’ll never leave. When you’re ill, it feels like you’ve been thrown into a terrifying place and it will stretch out in agony and terror for forever again until it’s done. To have time and space, and to lie in the shade knowing there’s nothing to do but think is wonderful. Everyone should try it. When I think about writing in my notebook now, I sometimes picture myself seated on the verandah, gazing at small clouds and palm trees and a riverbed. That moment right there, some time in October in 2017, seems to have been cut out and inserted in my head permanently.

Slicing up time and putting it together again could be a definition of all arts. Film being one of the most obvious, but then everything else is becoming more and more obvious the more I think about it.

At a gallery in Edinburgh with my Dad a few years ago we saw a Van Gogh painting. I’m not sure if it was his first Van Gogh, but it might have been my first, and I can’t even remember which painting it was. We were thrilled by the beauty and the colour and everything his work is loved for of course, but what struck me was when Dad told me he’d seen a blob of red in this painting, and thought, Vincent Van Gogh put that there, that tiny bit of paint, that’s right in front of us, right now.

Is all art just time travel? I’m not quite awake enough to think this through… and it’s past my bedtime. Night night 🙂


Here’s an article attempting to explain… many things about Thief of Time: https://discworld.fandom.com/wiki/Thief_of_Time


you can learn more about Sir Terry and his work here: https://www.terrypratchettbooks.com

Terry Pratchett Thief of Time