When Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett published Good Omens in 1990, Gaiman says, they decided to tell people only a little bit about how exactly they collaborated on the beloved fantasy novel. But now, tied to the broadcast of the Good Omens radio play, Gaiman shares an in-depth look at the writing process, from his and Pratchett’s first meeting in a Chinese restaurant in 1985 to who is responsible for which characters.
There are long phone calls we wish we could have listened in on, character genders getting swapped, details borrowed from one of the authors, and doves. Yes, doves.
Inspired by The Omen and Richmal Crompton’s “Just William” stories for children, Gaiman came up with the first 5,000 words of what would eventually become Good Omens in 1987. But the book didn’t really take off until Gaiman shared the pages around and got a call, a year later, from Pratchett. The two had met in 1985 when Gaiman was Pratchett’s first interview (aww), and had quickly become friends. According to Gaiman, they had the following exchange about his burgeoning story:
“It’s Terry,” said Terry. “’Ere. That thing you sent me. Are you doing anything with it?”
“Well, I think I know what happens next. Do you want to sell it to me? Or write it together?”
“Write it together,” I said, because I was not stupid, and because that was the nearest I was ever going to get to Michaelangelo phoning to ask if I wanted to paint a ceiling with him.
Gaiman takes us through the amazingly condensed time period in which he and Pratchett traded pages back and forth, talking plot over “gloriously long phone calls” and eventually meeting in person to tackle the second draft. Other fun things we learn:
- When Gaiman came up with the character of Crowley in his very first draft, the demon’s name was Crawleigh: “He drove a Citroen 2CV, and was ineffectual. Proper demons like Hastur and Ligur loathed him.”
- When Pratchett rewrote that character, Gaiman explains, he had “borrowed all the things about me that he thought were amusing, like my tendency back then to wear sunglasses even when it wasn’t sunny, and given them, along with a vintage Bentley, to Crawleigh, who had now become Crowley.”
- They wrote the first draft in nine weeks, and the second draft in four months.
- When Gaiman stayed at Pratchett’s house, doves flew into his bedroom from a nearby dovecote.
- It was Gaiman who came up with the title Good Omens, while Pratchett chose the subtitle The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch.
- Neither really remembers who wrote which part, but they made a point of trading characters back and forth so that each got a stab at the main players.
You can read the whole thing at the BBC’s site; and if that doesn’t sate your appetite for Good Omens, check out our trying-mightily-hard comprehensive reference guide to the book, plus who we think should play Crowley and Aziraphale.
The Good Omens radio play will be broadcast from December 22-27; you can listen on the BBC’s iPlayer.