Diana Wynne Jones Inter­view

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(Fire and Hemlock print avail­able from the shop, along with the zine)

A couple of years ago I inter­viewed the children’s writer Diana Wynne Jones, my favour­ite writer grow­ing up. I was compil­ing a zine of articles about her work. Unfor­tu­nately I didn’t finish the zine before she died of cancer, because I’m a terrible procras­tin­at­or, and she never got to see it. When I get a chance, I have anoth­er entry to add about attend­ing her funer­al (edit- you can read it here).

1) You always base one char­ac­ter in each book on a real person to keep the other char­ac­ters in line, and you’ve said in previ­ous inter­views that your moth­er never seems to get that a lot of the female villains are based on her. Has anyone else ever twigged that a char­ac­ter was based on them, and what was their reac­tion?

People only very rarely seem to recog­nise them­selves in my books, although a lot of other people recog­nise them instantly!  The only one who did – and worried about it – was one of my grand­daugh­ters, who did see that she might have had some­thing in common with the Izzies in The Merlin Conspir­acy.  I hurriedly poin­ted out to her that I had two sisters and that the Izzies also owed a lot to them.  My husband was always convinced that he was the origin­al of the Ogre in The Ogre Down­stairs, even though I assured him he was not.  The Ogre was in fact a compos­ite of How-not-to-do-it as a parent.

2) A lot of people like to play fantasy cast­ing with imagin­ary film versions of books. With yours, Chris­toph­er Eccle­ston from Dr Who seems a partic­u­lar favour­ite for Mordi­on. Do you have any favour­ite actors to play a partic­u­lar char­ac­ter?

I’m afraid I’m very out of touch with actors these days.  One thing I will say, though, and that is if a real life actor were to play Howl in Howl’s Moving Castle, I would not chose someone pretty, like Howl in Miyazaki’s anim­a­tion: I would choose a Welsh actor with a long, bony face, hand­some enough in his way, but not pretty.  I think the fans’ choice for Mordi­on is a very good one.

3) You’ve said in older inter­views that vari­ous things you made up for books have come back to hit you like Tom Lynn (like acci­dent­ally break­ing your neck and not noti­cing like Chris­toph­er Chant). You’ve been pretty prolif­ic with new books in the last few years (Merlin Conspir­acy, Conrad’s Fate, Pinhoe Egg, the Game, House of Many Ways), have any things from those come back at you?

No, none of these books have yet come back to hit me.  It makes me quite worried, because the longer it takes, the harder it hits when it does.  I can’t help spec­u­lat­ing about what might happen. Would I vanish away into the mytho­sphere, switch to anoth­er world where I was a maid­ser­vant, or simply get lost in a house of many ways?  About The Pinhoe Egg I can console myself.  People have showered griffins on me, in pictures, as stuffed toys and as clev­er puppets.  Just as the book was being published, one of my Japan­ese trans­lat­ors sent me a marvel­lous music­al box made of a real duck’s egg, which plays ‘Over the Rain­bow’ when you twist the top.  The trans­lat­or meant it to commem­or­ate A Tale of Time City, but it was equally appro­pri­ate to The Pinhoe Egg.  While I wait for the other books to hit me, I tell myself that this mani­fest­a­tion from The Pinhoe Egg is relat­ively benign and I might, with the other books, have a pleas­ant exper­i­ence for once (prob­ably in my dreams!). But not, I think, when The Merlin Conspir­acy comes true. It means, at the least, a gammy hip.

Actu­ally, it’s no good trying to second guess these things.  This jinx is as cunningly vari­ous as my travel jinx, which springs a new surprise any time I go anywhere beyond Bris­tol.  Last time the build­ing next to the place I was due to talk in burst into flames just as I crossed the city bound­ary. It was prob­ably also The Sage of Theare coming true out of Mixed Magics.

4) From all accounts, your parents didn’t both­er to provide you with many children’s  books. What children’s books do you desper­ately wish you had been able to read as a child?

Oh, I do wish I had been able to read C.S.Lewis’s Narnia books as a teen­ager.  They were all getting published from the time I was thir­teen.  As it was, I came upon them when my own chil­dren were quite young and I read them aloud at bedtime, with a curi­ous double vision: on the one hand as my adult self, and on the other seeing and being very impressed by the reac­tions of my chil­dren.  I learnt a great deal from this, but it was not the same as read­ing them as a child.

5) In previ­ous inter­views you’ve said that you’ve got a whole draw­er full of rejec­ted bits from books that never quite went right. Have you ever rescued any of them at a later date, and managed to make a book or short story out of them? If not, do you think you ever will?

I have more than a drawer­ful of writ­ings that never made it: I have half a cupboard­ful as well. It is not exactly that I rejec­ted any of them.  Mostly they just stopped being inter­est­ing after two pages, or two chapters, or some­times even halfway through – and if a story doesn’t interest me, there’s no chance it will interest anyone else.  Some­times, though, events have inter­vened to stop me writ­ing some­thing.  Quite recently, last year in fact, I turned out my cupboard, which is some­thing I look at much less frequently than the draw­er, and I came upon Chapter One of a book that startled me by need­ing to be contin­ued so much that I had to go on with it with a sprained arm.  I couldn’t think why I hadn’t contin­ued it before.  After think­ing it over care­fully, I real­ised that I had been snatched off into hospit­al (I think with my second broken neck) before I had done more than the first chapter.  Surgery very much stops everything in its tracks /​and/​ impairs your memory.  So I went on with it and it became my latest book, now with publish­ers, which is called Enchanted Glass.  I have no idea if it went on the same way as I had planned, but I suspect not.  It just rushed on to the page.

6) What’s the best book you read this year?

The best book I read was sent to me as a prin­tout by a writer called Kage Baker, from Amer­ica, who wasn’t sure if it was any good or not and wanted me to tell her.  It was called The Hotel Under the Sand and it was excel­lent.  It was the most unusu­al book I had read for a long time.  As you can prob­ably tell from the title, it is utterly origin­al, but it is also wonder­fully well writ­ten and full of amaz­ing ideas.  I wrote back at once to tell her it ought to become a clas­sic, like Alice in Wonder­land or The Wizard of Oz.  I think she was surprised.


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