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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Diana Wynne Jones, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Behind the Green Door - Cathy Butler

There’s an old piano and they play it hot
Behind the green door,
Don't know what they’re doin’ but they laugh a lot 
Behind the green door,
Wish they’d let me in so I could find out what’s 
Behind the green door.

So sang Jim Lowe in 1956, in a song that epitomizes the experience of the excluded, of the Outs who wish they were In. It’s a universal aspect of the human condition, no doubt, this feeling that someone else is having a better time than you, and that if you could just get beyond the Green Door – whatever form it takes – then your happiness would be complete. Writers experience it quite starkly, for every published writer was once an unpublished writer, pressing his or her nose up against the glass and pining for recognition; but human discontent assumes many shapes. C. S. Lewis wrote  a very insightful essay on this subject called “The Inner Ring”, and if you only have time to read either this post or that essay, I recommend you choose the latter.

Well then; last Sunday I went to the Cheltenham Literary Festival to take part in an author session. It was only my second visit to the Festival – to my shame, for it’s less than 50 miles from Bristol, an easy trip up the M5 or by direct train. But small efforts can be more daunting than big ones, as you know.

My first visit was a few years ago, to hear Alan Garner. On that occasion I was very much a fan, standing happily in the signing queue with my copies of The Owl Service and Elidor. In fact I found myself next to another author in the shape of both halves of Tobias Druitt. Garner’s a writer’s writer, I think, so meeting other authors there was not surprising, but because he signs in a careful calligraphic script his queues move slowly. There was plenty of time to chat.

Last Sunday was different. This time I was a stand-in for Ursula Jones, who was herself a stand-in for her sister Diana Wynne Jones. When Diana died in 2011 she left a not-quite-finished novel, The Islands of Chaldea, which Ursula was asked by the family to conclude – and conclude it she did, quite masterfully in my opinion. The plan had been for Ursula to do an event “in conversation” with the Australian fantasy writer Garth Nix, who’s on tour promoting his excellent new book Clariel, but unfortunately she had to pull out at short notice. I was suggested as a replacement, since I know Diana’s work well and had been consulted about The Islands of Chaldea in the early stages.

The event was a success: Garth Nix is a fascinating and funny speaker, and Julia Eccleshare made an excellent host. I hope the audience weren’t too disappointed at having me there rather than Ursula, but if they were they hid it well. But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about the Authors’ Tent (otherwise known as the Green Room), where speakers at the various events are able to relax and take refreshment. I’ve been in Green Rooms before, at fantasy conventions and the like, and have helped myself to coffee and trail mix by the bucket, but none has been quite as prestigious or luxuriously appointed as the pleasure dome decreed by the powers that be in Cheltenham. (I am as yet a stranger to the Edinburgh Festival's fabled Authors’ Yurt, though in my personal mythology it’s on a par with Arthur’s Seat.)

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to spend much time in Cheltenham's Authors' Tent, and since I was driving I was unable to indulge in the free beer and wine, but I did stop for a few minutes to eat a scone and take in the scene around me. Writers sat here and there, chatting merrily. Some I recognized, some I felt I ought to recognize, but all looked entirely comfortable – and who wouldn’t, in a setting that was in itself a comforting reassurance that, “Yes, you have arrived”?  In one corner a crèche of authorial children frolicked, and everywhere the tireless employees of the Festival served, cleared up, replenished and gave a general masterclass in the anticipation of whims. They were all fantastically cheery and helpful. They were so helpful, in fact, that I began to feel a little suspicious.  Could they really be that anxious for my happiness? Anyone who’s spent as much time as I have pondering “Hansel and Gretel” knows that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Might the scone be drugged? Would I wake to find myself chained to a gang of midlist authors in one of GCHQ's notorious data mines?

But no such calamity ensued. “Ooh, a bowl of miniature chocolate bars!” I exclaimed as I was getting ready to leave. “May I take one?” They were Green & Black, after all. “Take several!” they exclaimed. “We’re so grateful you were able to come!” Though I peered closely, I could detect no trace of irony in their expressions. They really seemed to mean it.

I was delighted with my visit, brief though it was, and my temporary access to the Inner Ring of lionized authors. Except that, just as I was leaving, I caught sight of another door – I could have sworn it was green – slightly removed from the main crush of the Authors’ Tent. Approaching it, I was turned brusquely away by an unsmiling guard: “Man Booker Winners only,” he informed me. With a sigh I set off back to Bristol, but not before I had briefly glimpsed the scene within through the green door’s tinted glass. And now, when I sleep, my dreams are haunted by the memory of Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie and Hilary Mantel splashing in their exclusive Booker Winners’ hot tub, chinking complimentary champagne flutes, and laughing, laughing, laughing…

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2. Listen To Commentary On Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones' Reflections On the Edge of Writing includes a transcript of literary critic Colin Burrow's BBC essay, Fantasies for Children, which you can listen to. Burrow just happens to be Wynne Jones' son.

Burrow says that Wynne Jones fused the ordinary and the magical, which may be why I've liked what I've seen of her work. I can only take so much magic. He also says that Fire and Hemlock is her best book. What!? Not Chrestomanci?

Burrow talks about Wynne Jones' feelings about her childhood and how they impact her writing. If you read Reflections On the Magic of Writing, you hear a lot about that from her, too.

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3. The Islands of Chaldea

One generally fears for posthumously completed versions of an author's unfinished work, but fans should rest easy knowing that The Islands of Chaldea is a sweet middle-grade adventure that sparkles with trademark Diana Wynne Jonesian wit (not to mention vivid characters, cantankerously loveable magical beasts, and slippery magic). Books mentioned in this post The Islands [...]

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4. Why children’s books are the opposite of tragedies - C.J. Busby

I was thinking the other day about how, in so many children’s books, the hero finds they have hidden powers. I think it’s one of the aspects of children’s books I love the most, and loved especially as a child myself – the sense that, however ordinary you felt you were, there might be this magical ability hidden inside you, or some unexpected aspect of your character, just waiting for the right opportunity, the right trigger, to reveal itself. 

In one of my favourite books as a child, Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones, Cat Chant discovers, after many trials and mix-ups, that he’s an enchanter – from being a child who could do absolutely no magic, he becomes one who can make almost anything happen by just telling it to. In Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, Will discovers he’s an Old One, and learns to use his new powers to fight the Dark. And Harry Potter, ordinary downtrodden child, finds he is really a wizard, and a very special one at that. 

But in more mundane ways, many children’s books chart the ways their protagonists learn to draw on hidden strengths or find reserves of bravery, intelligence, compassion, understanding, or determination to overcome obstacles and win through in difficult or challenging circumstances. 
In The Lord of the Rings, for example, it is the 'children' of the book, the hobbits, who really save Middle Earth - and they do so by finding in themselves the sort of courage, grit, compassion, confidence and ability to survive that they'd never have dreamed of in sleepy Hobbiton. The change in them is made gloriously manifest in their final return to the Shire and the battle with Sharkey.

In essence, these sorts of stories tell their readers – you can be amazing! It’s a great message for children – indeed, for any reader. It says, nothing about you is fixed, you don’t have to accept that you are only ever going to be this person or that person. Round the corner, an adventure might be waiting that will draw out of you all sorts of things – that will change you into a kind of hero, with new and unexpected powers. No matter that you are not top of the class, or ‘gifted and talented’, no matter that you think of yourself as ‘ordinary’ – there’s always hope.

This kind of transformative possibility in children’s books seems to me to be the very opposite of tragedy. In tragedies, most often, it’s the inherent flaws in the protagonist’s character that lead to the inevitable tragic outcome. Hamlet’s total introspection, his inability to stop dithering; Othello’s insane jealousy; Coriolanus’s pride; or in the classic Greek tragedies, the hero’s hubris, or their rigidity, or the inevitable repercussions of one terrible action. There’s a feeling of watching a slow motion train crash – nothing stops the slide towards mutual destruction because none of the characters are capable of changing who they are. When I was in my twenties, life sometimes felt exactly like this, and when it did, my best friend and I used to wail: ‘Aargh - I’m in an Iris Murdoch novel!’

In much adult literature events unfold in this way – the characters, like Martin Luther, ‘can do no other’, they react to each other and to events in ways that drive the plot forward, and it’s not very often that one of them finds a hidden power that solves the tangle they’ve all got themselves into. For me, then, tragedy is a quintessentially grown-up (‘literary’) form of literature, about people working through the consequences of who they are, who they have become. But children are always becoming, and so children’s literature seems to me in its purest form the very opposite of tragedy – characterised not by comedy, but a kind of positive hopefulness, an expectation of finding some new, positive aspect of yourself which explodes into the plot and turns it on its head.

This seems especially important to me now, when schools – even primary – are riddled with exams and tests and gradings: children, according to Ofsted good practice, should know exactly what National Curriculum Level they are (a 3a, or a 4b) and why they aren’t yet at the next level up. There is only one path allowed: three points of progress in academic work per school year. Ofsted is not interested in whether you might, in the meantime, have fought dragons, or learnt to conjure a whirlwind.

As with all generalisations, I’m sure people will find exceptions and caveats, and I don’t at all mean to be prescriptive. It’s not that I think all children’s books must conform to this model – but for me, the ‘ideal type’, if you like, of a children’s book, is that it has this sort of transformative hope at its centre. And the ideal anti-type is the tragedy.

C.J. Busby writes funny, fast paced fantasy for primary age children.

Her latest book, Deep Amber, is a multiple worlds adventure for 8-12, published March 2014 by Templar.

'This is an adventure... here are runes and swords and incredibly stupid knights in armour – enjoy!' (ABBA Reviews: Read the rest of the review here).

Website: www.cjbusby.co.uk

Twitter: @ceciliabusby

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5. Rereading for the wrong reasons? Lari Don

One of the most wonderful but most troubling things about being a writer is that books become work.

Not just writing books, but reading them too.

This can be wonderful, when I tell myself that wasting (spending, investing) a whole day reading a novel that I’m desperate to finish, is in fact legitimate work. But it can also be troubling, when I realise that something I used to love is now something I HAVE TO DO.

This changes my relationship with books. Having to read books, having to think about and talk about books, not because I want to, not because that’s the book I want to spend time with, but because I’ve committed myself to an event or an article or a blog post which makes reading that particular book right now a necessity.

I live in Edinburgh, and I’m doing various events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival next month, mostly in the children’s and schools programme. But I’m also leading a reading workshop on Diana Wynne Jones, a writer whose books inspired me as a child, whose books still inspire me now, whose books I love to read.

But this summer, I have HAD to read them. I have had to reread the ones I am committed to discussing. (Books that, to be fair, I suggested and wanted to discuss, but even so…)

And suddenly I found myself resisting rereading them. I love rereading my favourite books. Mostly because I enjoy them, and am happy to reenter their worlds. And partly because, especially with books by Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman and others who are inspired by tales of old magic, I recognise more references every time I read them. But that’s when I choose to reread. When a book calls to me and says, come on over here and visit me again…

This summer, there’s been a pile of DWJ books on my study floor, which I knew I had to reread, but which I kept stepping round. Even though The Power of Three is my favourite ever children’s book, and Howl’s Moving Castle is in the top five, and Fire And Hemlock radically changed my relationship with my favourite Scottish fairy tale, and Chrestmanci is the most perfect wizardly wizard ever created… I’ve been resisting. Because I felt that I had to read them, that it was my job, that it was homework.

a small fraction of the DWJ pile!
And this has made me consider how, to some extent, every book I read is work. That everything I read leaves something behind, like a wave on a beach, which changes and inspires and shapes everything I will subsequently write. That I learn from every book, whether I love it or not. That the reader I am creates the writer I am.

But I also know that if I am conscious of what I’m learning from a book, then I haven’t truly lost myself in it. And the books that I just thoroughly enjoy, that I don’t read as a writer, that I just read as a wide-eyed reader, desperate to find out what happens next (and not noticing how the writer is making me care) those are the books I love the most. Probably those are the books that influence me most. And certainly those are the books I happily and enthusiastically reread.

And so. I took a deep breath. I started with Dogsbody, and The Ogre Downstairs, and Howl and those castles. And I have had the most glorious weekend rereading Diana Wynne Jones. To be honest, most of the time, I forgot why I was rereading them (workshop, what workshop?) and just lost myself in the wonderful magical world of her imagination.

Lari Don is the award-winning author of 21 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers. Lari’s website 
Lari’s own blog 
Lari on Twitter 
Lari on Facebook 

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6. Diana Wynne Jones, My Spiritual Sister

Last week during my tai chi class, I trained with a more experienced student. At the end of the class, my instructor informed me that I should tell my classmate, "Thank you, older sister" (in Chinese), not because Susan is older than I am, but because she's more experienced. I will spare you the details of how meaningful I find this in terms of the distinction between taekwondo and tai chi culture. I'm just mentioning it to explain why I was dwelling on the sister issue while reading Reflections on the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones this past week.

Reflections is a collection of Wynne Jones' short nonfiction pieces written for magazines, speeches, and professional groups over several decades. She collected them herself a few months before she died, meaning these articles were ones she felt had particular significance. One of the things I like about this collection is that because it isn't written and edited all in one piece, there is repetition here. The repetition creates recurring themes related to Wynne Jones' attitudes about her work.

But I really like about this collection is that so many of Wynne Jones' attitudes are ones I share. She talks about creating experiences with her writing. I've thought of writing as creating worlds. She objects to writing that is supposed to instruct. Dear heavens, how I hate that. Over and over again I'm finding things in this book that make me feel that I've found some kind of soulmate.

Oh, and though there are a couple of chapters here on heroes, if Wynne Jones even mentions The Hero's Journey, I missed it.

And, finally, the book concludes with an address one of her son's gave at her funeral in which he talks about the tweets they'd seen recently about his mother's books being comfort books for this one or that one. Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci novels are my Number One comfort books.

There's just been an amazing amount for me, personally, in this book, making me feel an incredible connection to this woman I will never know.

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7. More On The Diana Wynne Jones Celebration

A Virtual Celebration of Diana Wynne Jones in Publishers Weekly has much, much more on the DWY on-line events I wrote about last Friday.

Turns out there is Wynne Jones' publishing news, too. A reissue of Fire and Hemlock, a book I just became interested in last week, came out earlier this month. And there will be a book of Diana Wynne Jones essays this fall. I am fond of essays.

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8. rgz Newsflash: Wynne Jones and Rock the Drop in PW

In the awesome effort to remember and celebrate Diana Wynne Jones, folks are posting favorite lines from her works at #dwj2012. You can use Tumblr to share photos and further remembrances This is all the heartfelt brainstorm of Virginia Duncan and Sharyn November. Rock on, ladies! We heart you as well!

On April 19th, PW had this to say, which included a Rock the Drop recap:

In another instance of fortuitous timing, the Wynne Jones tribute’s April 12 launch coincided with this year’s Support Teen Lit Day, which followers of the Readergirlz blog and others celebrated by taking part in “Rock the Drop,” the guerilla-style book distribution scheme in which YA fans leave copies of favorite books in public spaces for readers to pick up and enjoy.

Diana Wynne Jones books were used in the recent "Rock the Drop" campaign on Support Teen Lit Day.
Judging from the #rockthedrop Twitter postings, quite a few of Wynne Jones’s books found their way into new hands. Greenwillow’s Duncan shared the account of one Rock-the-Dropper: Lois Adams, the copyeditor and proofreader for many of Wynne Jones’s books in the U.S. “I walked up to a public atrium on 56th Street with Enchanted Glass,” Adams said, “and as I walked in I saw an 11-year-old girl with her dad, eating an ice-cream cone. I told her that I was part of a daylong book giveaway project, and that I had to photograph the book first but then she could have it. She watched me taking the pictures, and when I walked away she headed right over to

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9. Earwig and the Witch

Earwig is used to getting her own way. An orphan left on the doorstep of St. Morwald's Home for Children, Earwig knows how to make others do her bidding. At her request the cook prepares her favorite lunch of shepherd's pie, the matron hurries to keep her supplied in  red sweaters, and her fellow orphans indulge her in dimly-lit games of hide-and-seek, even the kids who are scared of the dark. Earwig is not among them. "Earwig was never frightened. She had a very strong personality."

This strong personality seems to meet her match when a strange couple visit the orphanage looking to foster a child. Till now Earwig has managed to fend off potential parents. For Earwig has no interest in leaving the orphanage. Why would she? She's got everyone in the joint under her thumb.

The couple choose Earwig, despite her best efforts to look unlovable, and take her home to their bungalow at Thirteen Lime Avenue. From the start, Earwig suspects the couple of being not what they seem. She's right. The "raggety, ribbly" woman in the big red hat is a bona fide witch and the man who has fiery eyes and what appear to be horns growing from his head is you-guessed-it. Earwig is put to work as the witch's assistant and spends her days pounding rat bones into powder and picking nettles from the garden. Her days of getting her own way are apparently over.

Or not. Earwig is a plucky child and she doesn't give in to despair. Refreshingly, she finds the odd situation she's in a challenge and one to be overcome not endured. Determined to learn magic, she pairs up with the witch's familiar, a talking black cat named Thomas, and together the two manage to turn the tables on the couple. By book's end Earwig is once again firmly in the driver's seat. How she gets there makes for a fast, entertaining read.

Knowing this is Diana Wynne Jones' last book made reading the story bittersweet. Although I can't know for sure, many signs pointed to this book being the first in a series. The question of Earwig's lineage (she was left at St. Morwald's with a tantalizing note pinned to her shawl) is left dangling, as is her friendship with Custard, a timid boy at the orphanage.

Earwig and the Witch
by Diana Wynne Jones
illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky
Greenwillow, 128 pages
Published: January 2012

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10. BOOKSELLER SUNDAYS: What greater pleasure? – Eve Griffiths at The Bookcase, Lowdham

The second in our new series of Sunday guest blogs by booksellers who work with children’s authors. These guest blogs are designed to show life behind the scenes of a crucial but neglected relationship – the one between a writer and a bookseller. These days, such relationships are more intense and more important, as increasing numbers of authors go on the road to promote children’s books – a goal shared by the booksellers who will contribute to this series.

The Bookcase is a ‘small independent bookshop with a big imagination’ situated in the village of Lowdham, eight miles north of Nottingham. The Bookcase’s proprietor is Jane Streeter (second from right), who runs the shop with a friendly team: Louise Haines, Jo Blaney, myself, Marion Turner and Kendall Turner (pictured left to right above).

Three years ago I (as one of the assistants) began a reading group at our local village school. This coincided with our 10th Annual Book Festival. So, to celebrate, I went in once a month until we had read 10 books. The 12 children read each book and then wrote a review, which formed the basis of a display at our book festival. We read all sorts – from contemporary authors to Enid Blyton and Richmal Crompton – and one poetry book. I have used a few different poetry books, but the first was Carol Ann Duffy’s The Hat, which was very timely as I’d handed it out to the children just before she was announced as the Poet Laureate! We’ve also used Gervase Phinn’s There’s an Alien in the Classroom, and others over the three years we’ve been involved in the project.

Each month I went into school so that we could have a discussion, which made the youngsters feel very grown up!

The idea became so popular that I have been approached by other schools, so this year I am working in four schools – always with Year 6 children. The group is aimed at the more able readers. (The thinking behind this is that so much is done to encourage the less able readers: those who are keen readers need some sort of outlet for their enthusiasm.)

This year, I have found a real difference in ability from one school to another. Not only is the reading ability markedly higher in one school, but the children are much more mature. This makes it harder for me to choose appropriate books, so I’m always keen to hear of the experiences of others who work with children of a similar age.

Michael Morpurgo is, of course, unfailingly popular, but I’ve also had real success with Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother and Morris Gleitzman’s Once. In both cases, several of the children have gone on to read the sequels. We have offered a discount to reading group members who have ordered sequels.

After Christmas I will be discussing David Al

7 Comments on BOOKSELLER SUNDAYS: What greater pleasure? – Eve Griffiths at The Bookcase, Lowdham, last added: 6/11/2012
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11. Constructing Complexity - Cathy Butler

Fiction for adults, fiction for children – which is more complex?

The obvious answer is that books for adults are generally more complex than books for children. They use a wider vocabulary, more sophisticated language, deal in “adult” concepts and experiences, are fluent in abstract ideas and thoughts, and assume a familiarity with literary genres and devices that cannot be counted on in the average child reader.

Once we look carefully at this list, however, some of its items appear rather less solid. First, not all books for adults are in fact particularly sophisticated. Literary fiction of the kind that makes the Man Booker shortlist represents only a small percentage of the adult fiction published and sold, and it would misleading to take Hilary Mantel and her peers as representative of “adult fiction”. Moreover, if the vocabulary of (some) children’s books is limited, this need not imply simplicity: ask Hemingway or William Blake. Nor are sophisticated post-modern devices such as intertextuality, frame-breaking, genre-mixing and mise en abyme the preserve of adult literature: in fact, they are probably found more often in picture books for young children, from Lauren Child’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bookto the Ahlbergs’ Jolly Postman.

It’s true that children’s books don’t generally deal with specifically adult experiences such as old age or marital infidelity (although some do); but equally, adult books don’t in general deal with the specific experiences of children, such as going to school for the first time. None of these experiences is more, or less, deserving of treatment in fiction than the others.

What about plots, though? Are the plots of adult books more complex than those of children’s books? Here I’m reminded of an article written by Diana Wynne Jones shortly after she started writing adult fiction in the early 1990s, having already been a children’s writer for almost twenty years. She explains that her assumptions were in fact the opposite – that a point she would have explained only once in a book for children she felt the need to repeat several times for adult readers: “These poor adults are never going to understand this; I must explain it to them twice more and then remind them again later in different terms.” This idea derived from her experience of being told by adults that they found the plots of some of her children’s books hard to follow (and that therefore they must be "too difficult for children"). Children themselves, however, never seemed to have any difficulty. Jones’s explanation is an interesting one:

Children are used to making an effort to understand. They are asked for this effort every hour of every school day and, though they may not make the effort willingly, they at least expect it.

Adults, by contrast, are used to knowing things already, and their tolerance for uncertainty – negative capability would be a good term, if Keats hadn’t already nabbed it – is correspondingly less. All of us, when we read a novel, will encounter unfamiliar ideas and unexplained facts. I suppose we must have a kind of mental “holding pen” in which to place such items, in the hope that they will be clarified and resolved at some later point. But perhaps children’s holding pens have a greater capacity than those of adults, simply because they are more accustomed to dealing with new experiences? If so, we might expect them to be more able to deal with complex plots – and, in that sense at least, to be more sophisticated readers.

I don’t think that’s a complete answer to the rather silly question with which I started – because of course complexity is multifaceted – but I do find it an intriguing idea. In any case, if I ever see an adult book with as complex a plot as Jones’s Hexwood I'll be very surprised.

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12. The Logic of Magic - C.J. Busby

I have always loved the idea of magic, ever since I was read my first fairy tales. It didn't matter whether they were twinkly ones with fairy godmothers and wonderful pink ball-gown confections, Ladybird books with powdered Regency princes, or the dark, tangled, thrilling tales in Andrew Lang's collections, illustrated, preferably, by Arthur Rackham.  All of them had magic, and so all of them had something that fed my strong desire for the unknown, the extraordinary.

As I got older, I graduated to C.S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones - wonderful, glorious books that made it seem entirely plausible that there was magic in the real world, or at least held out the chance of slipping into other worlds where magic existed. As an adult, I veered away from fantasy (mainly because most adult fantasy conforms too closely to the model lampooned so hilariously by Diana Wynne Jones in her Tough Guide to Fantasyland) but I never really lost the sense that magic was out there, just out of reach, visible in the corner of your eye.

So, when I started write my own books for children, I knew they'd have magic in them. The question was, what kind? What would be the logic of the magic I wrote? Fairy-tale magic is mostly based on cauldrons, spells, witches and waving wands, although there are some strange and wonderful ways that magic works, too - feather cloaks that turn their wearers into swans; geese that lay golden eggs; combs that, thrown behind you, turn into mountain ranges. My first and best guide to magic in older fiction, though, was Diana Wynne Jones.  

In Jones's Chrestomanci series, there are witches, warlocks and potions, ingredients like newt's eyes, snake's tongues and dragon's blood, and spells that are made by grinding, heating and muttering, as in all the best fairy tales. But she also has more powerful and exciting magic, magic that happens when someone with the right sort of power simply tells the world to be different - and it is. This is the magic that belongs specifically to enchanters, and when you realise that someone in a Diana Wynne Jones book has it (and you nearly always find at least one) you know you are in for some seriously delightful mayhem.
There's another, very different, magical logic at work in Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus books. Here, magicians lord it over the non-magical commoners, but their dark secret is that none of their magic is really done by themselves. Wizards' only power is the ability to raise afrits, imps, djinni and demons from the 'other place', and all their apparently wonderful spells are carried out by the sweat and toil of these enslaved and invisible beings. It allows Stroud to have a lot of fun with the quarrelsome, vain and power-hungry magicians of his alternative London, while also giving us possibly the best fictional depiction of a djinni ever - Bartimaeus himself.

Perhaps the most technically minded inventor of magic for children is J.K. Rowling. I thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter books (despite being slightly bemused at how much attention they received) but I find magic in her books to be very 'National Curriculum': once spotted at 11, you just have to learn how to do it the right way, and pass exams, and then you are a proper witch or wizard. Despite the constant reiteration that some wizards are more powerful than others, we never really see much evidence of this. Hermione Granger is said to be 'the best witch of her generation', but we get no sense of any raw power that is simply part of her very being - instead, we get the impression that she's just very precise and has a good memory. The witch as swot, rather than enchanter.

 So when I wrote 'Frogspell', which is set in the mythical time of King Arthur, I decided to go with the cauldrons, spells and potions of fairy-tale and legend, but I also wanted a sense that magic was something not just anyone could do - there had to be a special part of you, a power you had that others didn't. As the stories progress, my novice wizard, Max Pendragon, discovers more and more about the logic of magic, learns to tell one person's magic apart from another's, and finally realises that he doesn't need potions or spells, he can (like his hero, Merlin) do spells with his mind. Max, in fact, is an enchanter, of sorts - and it's a power that is crucial, in the end, to his defeat of the icy sorceress, Morgana le Fay.

In the process of writing the whole series, I found myself discovering and exploring more and more about how magic in this world worked, and I realised something else that gave me a huge thrill. Writing is a little like doing magic. Finally, I am a kind of enchanter!

C.J. Busby is the author of the Spell Series (http://www.frogspell.co.uk)

5 Comments on The Logic of Magic - C.J. Busby, last added: 4/1/2013
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13. Advice that helped me

I love to read writers' autobiographies, for many reasons: the differences between their lives and their books,  the experiences they've had, the descriptions of their writing processes. But I don't think I've ever picked up any advice that I followed until Diana Wynne Jones's Reflections -- not an autobiography, but a collection of essays and talks and interviews.

These are the things that  helped or inspired me or just really interested me.

She thinks about her books for a long time before she writes them, but doesn't plan them out. Usually when she begins she knows only the beginning, the end, and something in the middle -- until she can see this scene in vivid detail, she doesn't start writing. Part of the fun of writing is learning how the characters got from the beginning to the middle.

She knows ALL her characters -- even the minor ones -- really well before she starts. She says that if you do, you'll rarely get stuck: when you need a character to be somewhere doing something you will remember that someone else, say, owns a grocery store and...You don't tell the reader NEARLY everything you know -- she, for example, knows exactly what all her characters look like, but rarely describes them: if you know, she says, their looks will come through to the reader.

She writes her first drafts in what she describes as a "white heat" -- just pours them out. Then in the second draft she gets very analytical and critical.

This was especially helpful to me -- I often get bogged down in being critical, and it really hampers the flow of ideas. The more the two processes can be separated, the better.

She advises  modeling villians on people we know; there is no need to worry that they will recognize themselves, she says, because few people think of themselves as bad...unfortunately I was unable to do this -- none of the people I wanted to use were quite right for the things they had to do -- but it's a good idea.

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THE ISLANDS OF CHALDEA, a new, stand-alone novel of magic and adventure, is the last book from the beloved Diana Wynne Jones. Almost finished upon her death in 2011, the manuscript was completed by Diana’s sister Ursula Jones, a popular author and actress.

The Islands of Chaldea

Read on for some lovely thoughts from Ursula on growing up with such a talented storyteller for a sister and on the challenges of finishing her sister’s work . . .

Dear Readers,

When I first read this lovely, searching, last novel by my sister, Diana Wynne Jones, it stopped short where she became too ill to continue. It was a shock: it was like being woken from sleepwalking or nearly running off the edge of a cliff. It had elements of a much happier time in our childhood, too.

Diana wrote her first full-length novel when she was fourteen years old. It filled a series of exercise books, and she would read the newest section to us, her two younger sisters, in bed at night. When she suddenly stopped reading, we would wail, “Go on, go on. What happens next?” and she’d say, “Don’t you understand? I haven’t written any more yet.” And we would go to sleep, agog for the next section. It always duly turned up the next night, which is where the present day diverged so unhappily from our childhood past. This time, the next section couldn’t turn up. Her book had ended without an ending.

Diana Wynne Jones was such a masterly storyteller that it was impossible to imagine where she planned to take it. She left no notes: she never ever made any. Her books always came straight out of her extraordinary mind onto the page, and she never discussed her work while it was in progress. There was not so much as a hint of what she was up to, and it seemed The Islands of Chaldea was lost to its readers.

Then the family suggested that I might complete it. I was nervous. Diana was my big sister, and big sisters notoriously don’t like kid sisters messing with their stuff. Particularly when the big sister in question is very good at her stuff. Nevertheless, her family and friends had a meeting to pool their ideas on how the story might continue. We were all steeped in her work. We’d all known her well. Everyone was sure that, by the end of the afternoon, we would come up with something. We didn’t; she had us all stumped. Eventually, Diana’s son closed the session with, “Well, Ursula, you’ll just have to make it up.”

It took months. I scoured the text for those clues that Diana always dropped for her readers as to where the narrative was headed, and which I’d always unfailingly overlooked until I’d read the final page. I hadn’t changed. I found nothing.

Initially, I was working at the National Theatre in London, too (I’m an actress when I’m wearing my other hat), and the play I was in was full of eerie happenings and second sight. I would catch the bus home across the river after the show and dream weird and often frightening dreams as I tried to break into my sister’s thinking. I believe I got even closer to her at this point than I was during her lifetime. But although I hunted and pondered, nothing came to me. Then, just as I was beginning to feel like a sous chef, endlessly producing flat soufflés under the slightly disapproving gaze of the Chef, I found one of her clues. I found it near the beginning of her manuscript. And we were off!

When I started to write, it came easily. It was almost as if Diana were at my elbow, prompting, prodding, turning sentences around, working alongside—and then it was finished, and she was gone again. That was a terrible wrench. But her book was there—complete.

So far, no one who has come to The Islands of Chaldea freshly has spotted exactly where Diana Wynne Jones left off and I begin. Perhaps you will be able to, perhaps you won’t. It doesn’t really matter. It is intrinsically and utterly her book, and I hope you and all its readers love it as much as I do.

Ursula Jones

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15. Being Alive. Mostly about Diana.

posted by Neil
I'm in the UK right now, in the middle of nowhere, working on Monkey, about to go offline for a few days.

I came over to do three things: to give the BBC a day to promote Episode Four of the next season of Doctor Who, which I have written; to see Hilary Bevan Jones, a wonderful producer with whom I've been working for years, about a couple of things; and to see Diana Wynne Jones.

Thursday I was interviewed about Doctor Who all day. Mostly the interviews would go like this:

Them: "So, can you tell us the title of the episode?"
Me: "No."

It was a fun but sometimes frustrating day.

(This is a photo of Diana Wynne Jones around the time I first got to know her.)

Diana's been my friend since about 1985, but I was a fan of hers since I read Charmed Life in about 1978, aged 18. I've loved being her friend, and I'm pretty sure she loved being my friend. She was the funniest, wisest, fiercest, sharpest person I've known, a witchy and wonderful woman, intensely practical, filled with opinions, who wrote the best books about magic, who wrote the finest and most perceptive letters, who hated the telephone but would still talk to me on it if I called, albeit, always, nervously, as if she expected the phone she was holding to explode.

She adopted me as a 24 year old writer for magazines of dubious respectability, and spent the next 25 years being proud of me as I made art that she liked (and, sometimes, I didn't. She'd tell me what she thought, and her opinions and criticism were brilliant and precise and honest, and if she said "Yee-ees. I thought you made a bit of a mess of that one," then I probably had, so when she really liked something it meant the world to me).

As an author she was astonishing. The most astonishing thing was the ease with which she'd do things (which may be the kind of thing that impresses other writers more than it does the public, who take it for granted that all writer are magicians.But those of us who write for a living know how hard it is to do what she did. The honest, often prickly characters, the inspired, often unlikely plots, the jaw-dropping resolutions.

(She's a wonderful author to read aloud, by the way, as I discovered when reading her books to my kids. Not only does she read aloud beautifully, but denouments which seemed baffling read alone seem obvious and elegantly set up and constructed when read aloud. "Children are much more careful readers than adults," she'd say. "You don't have to repeat everything for children. You do with adults, because they aren't paying full attention."

She dedicated her book Hexwood to me, telling me that it was inspired by something that I'd once said about the interior size of British Woods, and I wrote a doggerel poem to thank her.

(Hang on. I bet I can find it. There.)

There's a kitten curled up in Kilkenny was given a perfect pot of cream
And a princess asleep in a thornwrapped castle who's dreaming a perfect dream
There's a dog in Alaska who'll dance with delight on a pile of mastodon bones
But I've got a copy of Hexwood (dedicated to me) by Diana Wynne Jones<

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16. Diana Wynne Jones Has Died

Science-fiction writer Diana Wynne Jones (pictured, via) has passed away. She was 76-years-old.

Jones wrote several bestselling children’s books including Chrestomanci, Castle, and the Magids series. The first novel in the Castle series, Howl’s Moving Castle was adapted by filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki into an Oscar-nominated animation movie. Throughout her writing career, she also published picture books, short story collections, and fiction for adults.

Here’s a tribute from Neil Gaiman on his site: “She adopted me when I was a 24 year old writer for magazines of dubious respectability, and spent the next 25 years being proud of me as I made art that she liked (and, sometimes, I didn’t. She’d tell me what she thought, and her opinions and criticism were brilliant and precise and honest, and if she said ‘Yee-ees. I thought you made a bit of a mess of that one,’ then I probably had, so when she really liked something it meant the world to me). As an author she was astonishing.”

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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17. We Will Not See Their Like... Celia Rees

I was shocked, as I expect many who read this blog will have been, by the death of Diana Wynne Jones. I'm not a devoted fan, I will confess that now, so anyone who was planning to write their own obit. can feel free, but nevertheless, I mourn her loss. She was one of those writers that one simply thought would always be there, somewhere, a necessary presence, there to remind us of what fantasy should be like, can be like if you know enough, think enough, write hard enough, a reminder to fantasy writers of what they should be trying to attain. She was a writer of endless inventiveness, originality and imagination, an inspiration, acknowledged or not, to later generations of writers. She knew fantasy inside out and the mythos on which it is largely based, because of that, she knew how hard it is to be original. For me, originality is the hallmark of really great fantasy and Diana Wynne Jones had it in spades.

Taking a leaf from the Bookwitch's blog and adopting a bit of serendipity, going off at a bit of a tangent, I'll admit to another shock this week, with the death of Elizabeth Taylor. Again, I've never been a great fan of hers, but like Diana, I just always thought that she would be there, somewhere, being impossibly beautiful and sultry, a last reminder of a lost world of Hollywood glamour when stars were stars. I read Camille Paglia's article in yesterday's Sunday Times, mourning the loss of 'Hollywood's last great goddess of erotic power' and found myself wondering with her at the contrast between Elizabeth Taylor, the 'pre-feminist woman', and the 'skeletal, pilates-honed, anorexic silhouettes' of modern female stars, like Gwyneth Paltrow, Keira Knightley and most others that you could name. As though, somehow, Hollywood has rejected the depiction of real women in favour of androids.

I don't suppose that Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Wynne Jones will appear together anywhere else, but isn't that what ABBA is for? Nostalgia is probably just another word for getting old, but for me the world will be much the poorer for the loss of these two very different women.

7 Comments on We Will Not See Their Like... Celia Rees, last added: 3/29/2011
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18. Diana Wynne Jones: Best Loved Books - Ellen Renner

This post is a tribute to Diana Wynne Jones, who died last month. I discovered her books nearly fifteen years ago, just at the moment when I had realised I wanted to write for children, and promptly fell in love. She is my favourite of favourites; one of only half a dozen writers whose books I can re-read and enjoy as much each time. She could do it all: elegant prose, big themes, clever plotting. But a clever plot is mere problem solving. Magic rests in characters. That is a gift of imagination and ear. To write characters who live off the page, a writer has to become her characters as she writes, and no amount of intellect will make up for a deficit of empathy. Diana Wynne Jones understood pain. All her main characters are flawed or damaged, and that's what makes them interesting.

I knew it would be no simple task to pick only three books by Wynne Jones to write about here, and so it proved.

I have to start with Charmed Life, the first book of hers I read and still, probably, the one I love most. Charmed Life illustrates a repeated theme in DWJ: a young person in search of their identity, coming to terms with their unique gifts. The young Cat Chant, orphaned, bewildered and stubbornly gullible, must come to terms with who and what he is. Why is Cat such an attractive character? Wynne Jones revisited him twice more: in the deliciously dark novella, Stealer of Souls, and the long awaited sequel to Charmed Life, The Pinhoe Egg. In neither of these does she quite pull off the magic Cat has over the reader in his first outing. And that, I think, is because in the later stories he knows what and who and what he is. Cat's magic in his first adventure is that he is running from himself as fast as he can, and we wait with bated breath for his destiny to catch him up.

My second choice has to be Howl's Moving Castle. Here it is another orphan, Sophie Hatter, who in classic fairy tale mode sets out to seek her fortune. Like Cat Chant, Sophie seems almost wilfully blind to her magic ability, her identity, until forced to accept her powers. And again, it is this avoidance of the obvious, this refusal of talent, which drives both plot and characterisation. But the real star of the book is the slippery, vain wizard Howl (that ultimate slitherer-outer) who is, like Sophie, hiding from himself. In the turn-upon-twist denouement, a real tour-de-force of plotting, both hero and heroine are forced to accept their gifts and use them honestly.

It was difficult to choose a third title. So many vie for next loved: Dogsbody, Fire and Hemlock, The Lives of Christopher Chant, The Homeward Bounders, Deep Secret (and its sort-of sequel, The Merlin Conspiracy), Hexwood, Black Maria, The Ogre Downstairs and A Tale of Time City. I especially enjoy the fact that, although Wynne Jones revisits certain character types and themes, each book is different.

But in the end, I chose The Magicians of Caprona, partly because of one, perfectly realised scene. An enchantress known as the White Devil turns the two children, Tonino and Angelica, into a living Punch and Judy and they are forced to re-enact the puppet show, with all its violence, before an audience of adult

14 Comments on Diana Wynne Jones: Best Loved Books - Ellen Renner, last added: 4/15/2011
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19. Mary Norton’s The Borrowers and Studio Ghibli’s Arietty

First, there’s the book and then there’s the movie.  Where to encounter the narrative first is always the question!  Most of us ‘older’ folk tend to encounter the narrative first in a book, and then later in the movie version.  But for today’s children and for me — especially in the case of Japan’s Studio Ghibli movies at any rate — it’s often the movie first.    When I first got wind of Studio Ghibli’s movie release, Arietty (it came out in Japan in 2010, DVD release July 2011) I noted quickly that it was based on Mary Norton’s The Borrowers (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1953).  The directors at Studio Ghibli — notably Hayao Miyazaki and son, Goro Miyazaki — have occasionally gone to British children’s books for inspiration for their movies.  Their previously released Howl’s Moving Castle was based on Diana Wynne Jones’ book of the same title (published in 1986) and it was through that movie, that I was introduced to Wynne Jones’ writing.

Thanks to Studio Ghibli again, my daughter and I have had a chance to experience The Borrowers by Mary Norton.  I picked up a hardback edition of the novel at a used book sale in Nishinomiya where I lived and began reading it at night to my daughter.  The Borrowers are little people who live under a house in England, and who ‘borrow’ things from the much larger humans that dwell above them.  The family in the first series of the Borrowers books is a small one comprising of the father, Pod, the mother, Homily, and their fourteen year old daughter, Arietty (on whom the movie title is based.)    My daughter and I got about halfway through the novel before she got to see the movie (we rented the DVD in Japan just before the day we left) and it was clear from the snippets I saw of it that the Studio Ghibli team was well into animating the tiny world of the Borrowers with its signature, detailed and colorful animation for which it is famous.  I hope Arietty makes it into the North American viewing market soon, but barring that, The Borrowers still make a great read for parents and children alike.

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20. Fusenews: She could be Fuse #8.1

Okey-doke. So today we begin with an addendum.  I believe that it was not long ago that with the announcement of the new Printz Award blog Someday My Printz Will Come I mentioned its existence without acknowledging that there may have been another and previously existing Printz Award blog out there.  Well slap my sides and call me sally, my fellow co-author on an upcoming Candlewick book Peter Sieruta (who’s post delves deep into that moment when as an adult reader you discover that you are older than the parents in a children’s book) points out that there was already a Printz blog out there of venerable character and infinite wit called Printz Picks.  I can only claim ignorance, not being particularly familiar with the world of YA . . . but I think we all know that’s a bit of a cop out on my part.  Mea culpa, Peter.  I shall now read every entry on that blog to make suitable amends.

  • I do know enough about YA to concede that this news is big news, though.  Also, how amazing is it that her editor told her to rewrite it from scratch?  Now THAT is editing, my friends!  Well played, Kathy Dawson.  Well played, indeed.
  • Trend Alert: Well, it had to happen eventually.  I’ve been rendered obsolete.  Back in the day when I started visiting publisher previews and blogging about them I admit that I felt pretty clever about the whole thing.  No one else was blogging them, after all.  Here we had a brand new untapped resource for interesting blog fodder.  And from 2006 until today I was still one of the very few bloggers to do this.  It took roughly five years before a publisher thought to themselves, “Hey . . . Betsy’s not the only blogger in town, is she?”  No she is not.  So it is that Simon & Schuster has taken what I am regarding as the logical next step.  They’ve engaged the group Buzzing Bloggers (seen here:  http://twitter.com/#!/buzzingbloggers) to round up a group of NYC parental, toy, and gift bloggers for their very own preview, sans librarians.  I was invited to both the blogger preview (complete with childcare services) and the librarian preview (not so much) this season.  I am unable to go to either of them, sadly.  That’s okay, though.  I suspect that this is one preview that will be getting plenty o’ coverage.  Don’t be surprised if other publishers begin to follow suit.
  • Speaking of which, I attended a Penguin preview the other day that I need to write up.  Until then, some of you may be interested to know that there will be a new edition of that old Tam Lin takeoff Fire & Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones on the horizon. As editor Sharyn November tweets, “Yes — Spring 2012, along w/ A TALE OF TIME CITY and DOGSBODY, all w/ stellar introductions. These will be the definitive editions.”  You heard it here.
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21. Creative Differences - John Dougherty

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to be thoroughly alarmed by the late Diana Wynne Jones.

I went to see her at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. In response to the inevitable question about her next book, she said that it would be published in February and was about a child who goes to visit relatives in Ireland only to find that strange things connected with Celtic mythology begin to happen.

"Eeek!" I thought; and at the end of the session I approached her with a question of my own.

"How do I tell my publisher," I asked her, "that my next book, about a child who goes to visit a relative in Ireland only to find that strange events connected with Celtic mythology begin to happen, is going to bomb because Diana Wynne Jones's book about the same thing comes out a month earlier?"

Well, she was absolutely lovely. She told me that this sort of thing was always happening, and that she was sure my book would be completely different from hers. Which, as it turned out, was completely accurate: I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Game, and my Bansi O'Hara and the Bloodline Prophecy was - thankfully! - nothing like it.

I'm thinking about this now because I've just read a terrific book about a boy who accidentally summons an ancient deity. The deity accepts as a prayer something which wasn't intended to be a prayer at all, manifests before the boy, and asks for worship and sacrifices. In the story that follows, the gods are shown to be capricious, self-centred and arrogant, with little regard for the rights and feelings of mere mortals.

If you're familiar with my work, you might think I'm describing my first Zeus book, Zeus on the Loose. But many of you may guess that I'm talking about Wishful Thinking by Ali Sparkes - and if you haven't read it, I can thoroughly recommend it. It's very different from Zeus - much more of an adventure and less of a comedy, though it does have some genuinely funny moments - and is clearly aimed at an older readership. It's also beautifully structured, and includ

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22. Interesting Aspects Of A Lesser Known Work

Wild Robert, which I stumbled upon at a library a few weeks ago, is one of Diana Wynne Jones books for younger readers. I have to say that I found it rather plodding, myself. It seems like an idea that could have become something much more sophisticated than what it ended up being.

However, there were a couple of aspects to the work that are interesting for someone who has read other of her books and has some superficial knowledge of a later fantasy bestseller.

First off, Wild Robert, which was originally published in 1989, provides another charming, childish, male character similiar to Howl in Howl's Moving Castle, which was published three years earlier, and even to Christopher Chant as he appears in some of the Chrestomanci books, which were published from the 1970s onward.

Secondly, in Charmed Life, originally published in 1977, Wynne Jones has figures in stained glass windows come to life and fight with one another. In Wild Robert, (published in 1989, remember) she has figures in paintings in a castle gallery do the same thing, in a much more elaborate scene.

The whole paintings-come-to-life thing was used regularly in the Harry Potter books, the first of which was published in 1997. Whether Rowling was influenced by Wynne Jones or simply hit upon the idea independently (which definitely happens), it's interesting to see two writers using the same detail in their work.

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23. Diana Wynne Jones Celebration

A Diana Wynne Jones blog tour is under way. You can follow it at Celebrate Diana Wynne Jones and see other material relating to her. I have a particular fondness for her Chrestomanci books, so  I was interested in the portrait of Chrestomanci  posted there. The blog tour begins at Chasing Ray (a blog I just haven't been able to visit much this past year), and I will be trying to keep Wynne Jones' Fire and Hemlock in mind as a possible read after seeing what Colleen had to say about it.

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24. When the Wynne Jones

Generally speaking I don’t do much in the way of blog tours.  They’re a-okay for other folks but a heckuva lot of work when all is said and done.  Really, it takes someone particularly spectacular to get me to participate in one.  Someone divine.  Someone extraordinary.  Someone, let’s face it, who’s dead.

Diana Wynne Jones fits the bill, wouldn’t you say?  I am one of those pitiable souls who discovered her not as a child or teen but as an adult in library school.  If I’m not too mistaken I think my roundabout reading list at that time caused me to read her books in the order of Howl’s Moving Castle (before the movie, mind you), Dogsbody, Archer’s Goon, Fire and Hemlock, Castle in the Air, and many others.  Of these, I’m one of those freaks who prefers Archer’s Goon to anything else she wrote.  I acknowledge that it’s one of her weirder plot twists but I don’t care.  It had a goon.  Ipso facto, awesome.

I was told that I could write about any aspect of Jones’s life for this post today, and I did have an inkling of an idea.  What always struck me funny about her was that she led a far more interesting life than most of the fantasy writers out there.  You see, she had this strange propensity for falling in with other great writers for children.  Few can say they’ve made connections to the authors of the 19th, 20th, and 21st century but Jones was one of the few.

Right now I’m working on a book for Candlewick alongside fellow bloggers Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (did you see that marvelous post she did on Jan Thomas and Anita Lobel?) and Peter from Collecting Children’s Books (if you grew up near a famous author or illustrator you should tell him now!).  The book we’re all toiling away on is about the true stories behind your favorite children’s books and writers.  As you might imagine, DWJ features prominently.

Now the trouble with this post is that on the one hand I want to tell you all the juicy tidbits involving Jones.  On the other hand, I want you to buy our book when it comes out (next year?).  So let’s settle on a compromise.  I’ll tell you which authors and such she came in contact with.  The details are easy enough to find out there if you’re desperate for them but I’ll not say too much.

And now . . .

Famous Folks and Diana Wynne Jones

John Ruskin – Actually his story is closely tied to that of Kate Greenaway (and what a tawdry affair that was!) but Ms. Jones did have the distinction of personally destroying some of his art when she was a kid.  A fine beginning!

Arthur Ransome – Yelled at Diana’s mom.  And he was probably right to have done so, though he did not seem a very jolly fellow.

Beatrix Potter – Reportedly yelled (or worse) at one or more of Diana’s sisters (yelling at the Joneses was cl

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25. The Other Half

by Diana Wynne Jones

This is not about my own school. I prefer to forget that. This is about how a large part of the job description when you write for children is the remorseless visiting of schools. When I was young and strong, I was required to do this almost once a week. Half of the time, the visit was entirely rewarding: the children, as always, were lovely; the staff, enthusiastic; and I could find the school entrance. Even when I lost my way (or, on one memorable occasion, when a silly old man jumped off the moving train and someone had to pull the emergency cord) and I arrived late, this kind of visit was always wonderful. On the occasion of the man jumping off the train, one of the boys actually gave me the idea for my book Howl’s Moving Castle.

These visits kept me going for the other half of the time, in which there was never any problem with the children, but the adults behaved atrociously. At the very least, the Headmaster would rush at me as I arrived, wring my hand in a crunching grip, and say, “I haven’t read any of your books, of course.” I was always too busy shaking my right hand and wondering when I’d recover the use of it to ask the obvious questions: “Why haven’t you? And why of course?” Headmistresses were less predictable. Here the common factor was that they regarded me as an intrusive nuisance and were liable to have arranged for the whole school to do something else. I would arrive at the school at the stated hour, having allowed time to hunt around the buildings for the way in, to be met by the School Secretary saying, “The Headmistress has them all in Maypole Dancing practice. Do you mind waiting an hour and a half?” It often took strong resolution not to simply turn around and go away.

The visit which caused me eventually to decide not to visit schools anymore was arranged as part of a citywide book festival. All schools in the city were supposed to participate. I was escorted to this particular school by two nice but nervous librarians in a small old car. As we chugged up the forecourt to the dark and forbidding school buildings, an obvious School Secretary came rushing toward us, holding out one hand to stop us. We stopped. “No Supply Teachers today,” she shouted. “We don’t need any extra staff. Go away!” Somewhat shaken by this welcome, we explained that we were not in fact spare teachers but an Author Visit arranged by the city. “Oh, then come in if you must,” she replied, “but the Deputy Head won’t be pleased.” The said Deputy Head, whom we encountered at the entrance, seemingly standing by to repel visitors, was indeed not pleased. She told us brusquely that we had better get ourselves to Room Eleven then. After some hunting about, we found this room. It was large, anemically lit, and full of empty desks. Scattered about at the desks were seven or so depressed-looking girls and boys. The skinny, angry-looking teacher in charge said to us, “The rest of the class have gone to a Latin lesson. You wouldn’t want them to miss their Latin, would you?” I suppressed a desire to tell him that, yes, I thought they might miss their Latin just this once, because the librarians by now both looked as if they might cry. Instead I sat where the man told me to and started to get on terms with the remaining children. After six or so minutes, we were beginning to loosen up and enjoy ourselves and the kids were starting to ask questions when the door burst open and the Deputy Head reappeared, energetically ringing a large brass bell. “Everybody out!” she shouted. “Children, go home. The rest of you go away. We’re on strike from this moment on!”

There was nothing to do but go. The librarians and I went and had coffee and stared at one another limply. Schools, I thought, would be fine if it wasn’t for the adults running them.

Diana Wynne Jones’s latest book is The House of Many Ways (Greenwillow).

From the September/October 2008 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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