Saturday, 26 March 2011

Queen and Huntress


I am off to Bologna tomorrow and will report back from the Fair on my return. I was going to blog about the Michael Gove's "50 books" farrago but something happened today that knocked that off the top of my list. Early this morning I got an email telling me that Diana Wynne Jones was in a hospice and fading fast. By then she had already died, as I found out in seconds from Twitter.

So this blog post is dedicated to Diana - like her Roman namesake, fearless, peerless, worshipped and unpredictable.

I think I first came across her work when my oldest daughter, Rhiannon Lassiter discovered it. Knowing what I like almost as well as I do, she told me to read Archer's Goon. I did and then I think found my all-time favourite, Fire and Hemlock, before starting on the Chrestomanci novels, Howl's Moving Castle and the hilarious Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

What an output! Eight Days of Luke, Dogsbody, The Homewardbounders ... anyone would be proud to have produced just one of these. And she had a way of getting under your skin and into your everyday life. I still say under my breath at bus-stops, "Hathaway send a bus," a habit developed when the children were young, because Hathaway "farms" transport in Archer's Goon. And we have a cat that says "Wong" just like Throgmorten.

I was thrilled when she reviewed my fantasy novel Special Powers for the TES, less so when she didn't much like it! Sarah Prineas was luckier with The Magic Thief and got a splendid puff from this generous older writer. But all was made better when the three of us shared a panel at the Bath festival a few years ago.

In the green room before the event, where Diana arrived a bit flustered after a bomb scare on her route, she spontaneously told me she had read and enjoyed The Falconer's Knot and that there really was a friary where I had invented one, between Gubbio and Assisi.

I got her to sign my copy of Fire and Hemlock and she did the same for Rhiannon's A Tale of Time City - that's another wonderful book. Her signing queue after the event went on and on ....

I was furious that it took a revival of interest in wizards after a certain Hogwarts pupil to bring some of her books back into print; they should never have been allowed to disappear in the first place. But Diana's fans were loyal, all over the world, and they had the satisfaction of seeing the re-jacketed Harper Collins versions spreading the word to lots of new readers.

She had an extraordinary childhood, was wildly anarchic in her use of themes and ideas, was always generous to new writers and to critics and was by all accounts a splendid person to know and work with. Imagine having her for a grandmother!

Diana Wynne Jones was taken far too soon, while she was still full of ideas, and had to suffer far too much. But the creator of Chrestomanci, Howl, the Goon, Mr Lynn and Christopher Chant and many others was so prodigal with her genius that she has left much to remember her by.

I hope she is now in one of the parallel universes she so richly imagined, laughing and free from pain, and able to read the countless tributes on the Internet and enjoy the fact that her name was trending Worlwide on Twitter. I think that would amuse her.

14 comments:

Jan Jones said...

Archer's Goon was my first Diana Wynne Jones book too! And like you, Fire&Hemlock is my favourite one of all. As soon as I'd discovered her, I read them all greedily. I was - and still am - so constantly surprised that every book is different, is anarchic in its own way, is so damned GOOD.

I sprung my kids from school the day DWJ was giving a world book day talk in Cambridge. my daughter was so eager to get a front row seat that she knocked Diana sideways as she rushed to the front. I explained, apologised, and got a grin and a twinkle as she gravely commended me for bringing up my children to appreciate the really important things in life.

All of us today are re-reading Diana Wynne Jones books.

Carole Anne Carr said...

Thanks for that, my favourite is Arthur's Goon, so very well written.

Ellen Renner said...

I stumbled across Charmed Life quite by chance in my 30s and fell deeply and permanently in love. I'd just discovered I wanted to write for children, and her imagination spoke to me in a way no other writer's has before or since. Thank you, Diana, for giving us so many worlds; so much imagination; so many idiosyncratic, courageous, original stories.

catdownunder said...

Oh yes, oh yes! And the wonderful, marvellous, amazing unpredictability of Howl. How can teenagers not like him!

Linda Strachan said...

I was also introduced to her books by my daughter and was delighted, but also dismayed that I had not found them sooner! Lovely tribute, Mary.

Heather said...

And what about The Ogre Downstairs - so funny and exciting, and with such realistic characters. Magical.

Savita Kalhan said...

She was inspirational, and possessed an imagination that I'm truly glad she shared with us all. A sad loss. Thank you for a lovely tribute, Mary.

Celia Rees said...

What a sad loss. Children's books will be much the poorer for her going.

Emma Barnes said...

I'm so sad to hear this. Her books are such a solace - dependable bringers of joy whenever the world is looking bleak. My favourite at the moment is The Ogre Downstairs, which I read at least once a year. But I also love Howl's Moving Castle (Howl and Calcifer in particular) and Charmed Life.

One thing about her best books - you never want to them to end. Even when rereading them for the twentieth time I shut the cover with reluctance that the experience is over.

Nicky said...

I love her writing. I always read her when I'm stuck because she had a gift of making the fantastically complicated clear and compelling. What a gift!

Marjorie said...

She has been one of my favourite writers ever since I firsst found 'The Lives of Christopher Chant' in a library, 22 years ago.

She was one of the few writers whose books I will automatically buy the second they come out, becasue I know she won't let me down.

I only ever met her once, briefly, at a signing, but her writing haas been such an important part of my imaginative life for so long I feel as though I have lost a friend.

Ali said...

I read Charmed Life when I was 11. She confirmed my love for fantasy that has gone from being a secret pleasure to now being my area of academic study (funnily enough, her sister, Professor Isobel Archer, was a contributing lecturer on my MA programme in Victorian Studies!). A wonderful, generous writer and a great loss. Neil Gaiman's blogpost and yours are tributes to a fabulous lady, in every sense of the words.

Katherine Langrish said...

I adored and adore her books, and so have and do both my daughters, now grown up. tThankyou for this, Mary, and for leaving me with the image of (perhaps) Diana free to roam the universes she imagined so wonderfully for us.

Lucy Coats said...

Another thank you from me, dear Mary. I am liking the idea of DWJ roaming the universes very much too. My abiding sadness is that I never met her and told her how much her books have meant (and still mean) to me. She was indeed taken far too soon.