Tag Archives: Terry Pratchett

Why do I set my books in Lyonnesse?

Yes, it’s another one of the questions that comes up in the author interviews, “why did you chose the setting that you did for the book?” or some such. “Why there? And what was the reason behind it?”
In my case it is simple, because my Lyonnesse is the world I would very much like to inhabit. It is a place where life is simpler and where magic and mystery still exist, and on the whole people are kinder to one another. Money isn’t the be all and end all and life is respected and held sacred. Not just the people, but everything that lives there, animal, plant and fungus. Things aren’t done quickly because it saves a few pennies (or cents). Things are done properly with love and attention.
I have been criticised as being anti-establishment and anti-capitalist. Not true, well not in the conventional sense anyway. Probably because I make a big thing out of everyone bartering in Lyonnesse. I fully understand that money is the ultimate, and in some ways, logical tool for bartering with. However I do object to the way it is used in our society. It is used to coerce the poor into unfulfilling and mind-numbing jobs, whilst the gap between rich and poor grows ever larger. The mathematics is simple, if everyone gets a 10% pay rise then the man at the bottom earning ten thousand a year get an extra thousand to take home. However, boardroom man earning one hundred thousand gets an extra ten thousand a year, the equivalent of an extra man doing the work at the bottom. I could go on and I know that this is simplistic but it is still true.
Also, because boardroom man is keen to meet targets and because labour and wages are the single greatest expenditure for most companies, if a few seconds can be shaved off of the time it take to do something, so much the better. As a result everything becomes just good enough at best, and pride in the work you do goes out the window. Take roads for example. Yes, alright, I have a bugbear about roads, but they make a good example. Years ago councils used to have their own road building/maintenance departments to look after the roads. And for the most part they did a good job and took pride in their work. They had to because their foreman of works would come along during and after the job to make sure it was being done properly.
Then, in an effort to save a few pennies, it was decreed that all works commissioned by councils had to go out to tender, and council work gangs were laid off. Many of the recently laid off workers organised themselves into small companies, often with the same managers they had had before. They still did a good job of repairing the roads and the council saved a little money because the small company didn’t have to support tiers of management and could therefore do it cheaper. The councils still had to pay someone to inspect the work after, but all was well, and the men still had pride in their work.
Enter big business. Why? Because the contracts for road repairs are very lucrative and there is money to be made. So many of the small business either had to reduce their prices to compete for the tenders or they were bought out by bigger firms. Since the costs of the materials used were fixed the only way to reduce the price was to do the job quick and therefore with less care. This reduced the number of companies vying for the tenders, seen as a good thing because it generates competition. The councils are still happy because they are still saving money, and they can save even more money by nor replacing their inspectors as they retire or leave because they are confident that a good job will be done because it was last year. The workers aren’t as happy because they no longer have the time to do the job to the standard they are used to.
Years pass as they have a habit of doing. All the small companies that were started when the work first went out to tender have now either gone out of business or been bought out by big business. This reduces the number of companies bidding for the tenders. The council is still under pressure to save money and goes for the lowest bid. (Yes, I’m not going to say anything about the backhanders that go on to get contracts.) The big companies have to save money, somewhere because they have the tiers of management to support that the small companies didn’t. But that’s ok because the old work gangs are getting to retirement age and are fed-up with the half arsed job they were doing. Instead of having the expense of hiring and paying wages, all new recruits are taken on as self-employed subcontractors. This not only saves the expense of employing staff but also means they don’t have to pay them if there is no work for them to do. The workers are only happy in the fact that they have a job and are earning a wage. The council still haven’t hired any more inspectors because they can’t afford it. Big business realises this and starts cutting corner in the work they do. This saves them even more money.
A short time later big business is happy because they are making lots of money. There is no one left in the gangs who knows how to repair the roads properly because they have all gone. Instead, the workers have to work to a tick box minimum standard and do it as quickly as possible using the least amount of materials as possible. They have no job satisfaction because not only are they self-employed and have no rights in the company and no say, but also they know they are doing a half arsed and how much the management is getting paid.
In the end the workers have no job satisfaction, council is paying more for the job that it would if it was doing the work itself, and the roads are in a terrible state because they have been poorly maintained and work is no longer inspected.
Big business is happy because there is an endless supply of work repairing roads that they didn’t repair properly before, and they are still getting paid for it.
Alright, alright, this is highly simplistic, but it is still true, and not just for roads, for everything that was subcontracted out and put to tender. Everything is now done to a tick box minimum standard. Excellence and pride in a job well done have become too expensive because there is no profit in it. Communism does not work because there is always someone who wants a larger slice of the pie. However, capitalism can only exist where there is a poorly paid underclass.
As usual please feel free to comment or rant at my rantings.

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Extrapolation of the “Captain Samuel Vimes Boots theory of socio-economic unfairness”.

In 1993 Sir Terry Pratchett published Men at Arms and with it the Sam Vimes Boots theory. It goes something like this:
A really good pair of boots costs the equivalent of more than a month’s wages, and an ok pair cost about 1/5th of the price. And whilst the ok pair may last for six months if you are lucky, the good pair will last for years. Thus the poor man who buys the ok boots will, in the long run spend more on boots and still have wet feet.
Whilst in the most general of terms it is probably one of the truisms of life, I believe it misses out a few points that need to be considered. Also, because I am a motorcyclist who actually uses a bike for the daily commute in all weathers and because I have been employed for most of my adult life in one workshop or another, I have been wearing boots rather than shoes since before I left school. Thus I have a soft spot for boots. Particularly ones that don’t leak and last for a more than a few weeks. Oh, and don’t cost the earth.
Now, if you are not already fed up and have read thus far then there is probably not a lot of point in asking for your permission to continue.
So, first let us consider the boots. Here I’d like to re-categorise slightly. Now have boots “A” the really good boots, handmade and tailored to fit your feet by craftsman, using only the best materials. The real cherry on the top type boots, that will not only last for years but also, provided they are looked after, can be re-soled and heeled ad infinitum.
Next we have boots “O” the good boots. These are well made on a produced basis with good materials. These boots generally have an all in one sole and heel that can be replaced perhaps once or twice before the rest of the boots gives up.
And at the bottom of the pile we have boots “X” the mass market, mass produced boot. It is made from the cheapest of material in poorly equipped workshops, by hard pressed workers trying to scratch a living in whichever country currently has the lowest wages. These boots either tend to fall off of your feet after three days, or if you are lucky, will last six months. They are often sprayed with a rubber polymer that seals them and makes them waterproof but also makes polishing them a waste of time. However, once they get the slightest scratch the floodgates will open and you’ll have wet feet all day at work.
Boots “A” cost £1000 and last 10 years
Boots “O” cost £250 and last 2 years
Boots “X” cost £75 and last ½ a year
Thus as stated in Sir Terry’s well-grounded theory, in the 10 year life span of boots “A”, you will have spent £1250 on boots “O” or £1500 on boots “X”. Clearly the poor security guard on £12,000 a year will have to spend half as much again as the man in the boardroom earning £1,000,000 a year plus bonuses…
Buts life isn’t that simple. Boardroom man is all too aware of this fact. And since everything he owns falls under the boots “A” category, he is able to save all these savings and buy up the high-street chain that sells boots “X”. Now because boardroom man very quickly becomes the largest retailer for said boots, he is either able to demand an exclusivity clause from the Far East producer of boots “X”, and/or demand a lower wholesale price. He has Far East producer over a barrel because if he takes his business elsewhere then Far East producer will have no one to buy his boots and he will go out of business. Unfortunately, Far East producer now has no option but to reduce his cost. He already pays the lowest wages, and his factory has seen better days so he has no option except to use even cheaper materials.
Now boots “X” still look like boots “X”. They still cost security guard man £75 but fall apart in 1/3rd of a year so he has to buy even more boots or, if he can afford it, save his pennies and buy boots “O”.
Boardroom man is happy to start with because he is selling more boots “X” to begin with. Then starts getting complains from his customers and, more importantly to him, his sales begin falling. Therefore he needs a way to hide the fact that the boots are rubbish. How can he get customers to want to replace their boots every few months? Enter the idea of fashion, a la mode, the in thing, the where it’s at now.
Boardroom man now gets far east producer to change the style every three months, add a line of stitching here, a sequin there, coloured laces etc. etc. He then carefully advertises to the masses that he has the latest style in his shops. His new fashionable boots become popular, the must have for the season. All he has to do is sits back as the money rolls in.
Poor old security guard isn’t part of the masses and just wants the plain old boots he has bought for years. His need isn’t influenced by fashion and he is now forced to save up and buy boots “O”.
This is fine to start with, as boardroom man’s empire grows, people stop buying boots “O” because they want the cheaper fashionable boots “X”. Soon the factories making and the shops selling boots “O” become fewer in number. They either have to adapt and start producing and selling cheaper and more fashionable boots or they will go out of business.
Boardroom man is happy because he can still buy boots “A” and have dry feet, oh and he has made lots of money in the process as well. But poor old security guard is stuffed because not only is he a lot poorer having spent more on boots, he now can’t buy the boots he needs and has wet feet.
Confused? So am I. I realise that this is a highly simplistic view of things and someone will usually fill in any gaps in the market, but only if the gap is large enough. And it is only a matter of time before Far East producer’s prices become too high and he is replaced with South American producer and eventually African producer. But what happens when there is no new cheap labour force? We will all be buying boots “X” but at boots “O” prices except for boardroom man who will always be able to buy boots “A” because quality never goes out of fashion.
Please feel free to comment or rant. Your thoughts and opinions have as much right to exist as mine. I may not agree with them but that is what makes the world what it is.
If you are interested in my further musings then please visit my website http://www.lyonnessetales.co.uk or read my book first book, Bubble of Time which is available from Amazon at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00BNWH4KI.
R.J.Trivett

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