Each book is an experiment, an attempt to write the ideal book, the book my children would like, the book I didn’t have as a child myself. I have still not, after twenty-odd books, written that book. – Diana Wynne Jones
I’ve been reading about Diana Wynne Jones on her official website, prompted by the sad news in Ansible that her oncologist fears she “has ‘months rather than years’”. I have loved Diana’s work for years. I still vividly remember reading Howl’s Moving Castle at age ten and laughing myself silly but even that wasn’t the first DWJ book I’d read. I’d found Witch Week a couple of years earlier but hadn’t made the connection. From age eleven I was following her work compulsively. My mother and I both loved Fire and Hemlock but I was particular found of her more sf titles: A Tale of Time City and The Homeward Bounders. I’ve recently been re-reading my collection of her books for the umpteenth time and noticed that the more I read it the better I like The Time of the Ghost and how clear it is to me as an adult and a writer myself how much of her own childhood experience she puts into her work.
There are so many of her books I love. For sheer hilarity and imagination I don’t think books come much better than Archer’s Goon. I think overall I prefer the novels where she uses her own vast store of creativity to imagine beings who are mysteriously magical to the ones in which she draws on mythic themes and resonances. (Eight Days of Luke employed the norse gods, Hexwood an assortment of mythic figures and Fire and Hemlock and Enchanted Glass the seelie court.) I do appreciate a good mythic reimagining but Diana can create powerful characters and strong ideas of her own without relying on borrowed power. In her Chrestomanci series she created a central character, a surrounding world and an expansive multiverse which is iconic in the fantasy genre and has doubtless influenced a number of other YA writers.
My own writing has definitely been influenced by Diana’s work. The relationships and dysfunctions of families is a strong theme in her work and has become so in mine. I’ve also endeavoured to emulate her smooth transitions between the magical and the mundane: in settings, plotting and the way my characters think.
Having read Diana’s words quoted above about her attempts to write the ideal book – the one she wanted as a child – I feel a strong empathy with that impulse. I also have not yet written my ideal book although I feel that I am getting closer to it. But my conception of what the ideal book is comes from Diana Wynne Jones’s work. She and Margaret Mahy have set the standard I aspire to and drawn the map of of the fictional landscape I inhabit.
I have never met Diana but I feel as though I know her through how much of herself she has given to her readers. My thoughts are with her and her family in this difficult time and I hope very much that she will surprise the medical profession. With all that she has given us, she still has more to give. Meanwhile I’m returning to reread the rest of my collection and to fill in the astounding gap. I think there are two whole novels of hers I inaccountably don’t possess.