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AN INTERVIEW WITH DWJ


Diana Wynne Jones is a prolific author who has, during the last twenty years, produced an astonishingly varied collection of books that, due to their exotic mix of bizarrely comedic fantasy and dark drama have ensured a devoted following by readers of all ages.

Diana Wynne Jones has been writing all her life but only professionally since 1973. “I write because I enjoy writing more than anything else really. It really is tremendously fun and I just love doing it. You can get to feel as if you haven’t seen anyone for weeks and it’s all your fault and nobody loves you. I don’t enjoy that aspect but the way things come alive under your hands and start to work as if they’re completely independent is endlessly fascinating.”

She admits to having problems with researching for her stories. “Researching puts me off enormously. I’ve discovered this because I was all set once to write a book about Iceland in the time of the sagas because it was a very exciting time. Then, researching, I discovered that there are no trees in Iceland. Now it’s absolutely impossible for me to imagine - I don’t know about you - a place where there aren’t any trees. It just doesn’t seem to work right. I couldn’t write the book and then I realised I simply couldn’t work that way. My ideas come in most peculiar ways from things people say, things that happen, or you just suddenly turn round in your head and there it is. Or else little habitual phrases suddenly start meaning things. For instance, I realised when I’d written ‘Archers Goon’ that it was based on an awful pun ‘urban guerrilla’ and that’s how the seed of the ideas come to you really.”

Not all of her ideas come this way. Some seem to come from nowhere. “It’s like when you have an extraordinary dream and you try to think what put that in your head, it’s the same when you’re writing a book. You can’t think how you came to think of some of the things. It’s almost as if the book did it itself.”

Apparently, people often ask her if she based one of her recurring characters, Chrestomanci, upon anyone in particular. “I don’t think I did, no. He sort of appeared fully born and I don’t know where he is from.” At one point Chrestomanci appears in the middle of a field, clothed in a magnificent dressing gown and suffering from a streaming cold. “He just walks in like that. I didn’t sort of sit down and hammer my brains to think about it.” She confesses to liking that bit, “but I take no credit for it, it just happened.”

In ‘Archers Goon’, Mr Sykes sends 2000 words to Mountjoy every month, in an attempt to beat his writers block. Diana Wynne Jones doesn’t seem to suffer from this common complaint herself. “I’ve known people who do. I feel I’ve got writers’ block every time I finish writing a book and I’m not actually writing one, so I know how people feel. It doesn’t happen in the middle of a book. If I’m finding difficulty writing it’s because I’ve done something wrong.”

Her first attempts at books didn’t get published. “It took about ten years. When my children where small I didn’t really do very much because you don’t have the use of your brain. When they started going to school I sat down and started trying. There were lots of things I wrote that got turned down; there were rules that publishers had in those days that were strict and rather strange. To some extent it was my fault because I was determined to break most of these rules.”

She didn’t specifically aim her books at a certain market. “It came out that way. It’s partly the kind of book that I particularly didn’t have as a small child.” Most people start their career with short stories but she doesn’t find short stories that easy to write. “They take as much in a slightly different way as writing a long book and I’ve always preferred to write long books. Usually a book sort of divides itself into chapters. It’s quite fascinating actually, some books demand short, crisp chapters and others, like ‘Fire and Hemlock’ most of the time, seem to want enormous chapters. And all grades in between. It really is the needs of the book.”

Some of her books, like ‘Wild Robert’ are more for younger children. “When you’re writing something, as a rule, it doesn’t sort of aim itself. When you’re finished you think, ‘Oh, yes, this is really for the younger end’. It doesn’t apply to real tiny’s who have not quite learnt to read yet. That’s different because you really to settle down and make sure that what you’re doing is in the kind of words that people can read when they’re just learning.”

Her children provided a ready-made audience while they were growing up. “They always demand copies and used to read the typescripts, except the youngest who wouldn’t read it until it was a proper book. He said typescripts - which is right actually - turn themselves inside out if you don’t watch it and he didn’t like that. They always gave me terribly good advice too. Now they’ve grown up it’s not so easy.”

Doesn’t she find her books as entertaining for an adult as for a child? “Yes, now this is what I’ve discovered, actually. In fact, tremendous numbers of adults turn out to read them. I think what happens is that they start at the age of about eleven and they go on. It really does seem to work that way and I was terribly surprised about six years ago when I discovered this."

‘Archers Goon’, has been dramatised by the BBC. “I was quite closely involved, actually, because the producer, (Richard Callanan) was a very nice man and he wanted to get it as close to the book as possible. Both of us had to sit around the table and persuade the scriptwriter (Jenny McDade) to make it close to the book. When she started it couldn’t have been further from the book. It got closer and closer and closer and they got most of it in. They couldn’t get some of the stuff at the end in but they did a fairly good job - I think the scriptwriter actually didn’t enjoy herself at all. They asked me whether I’d like to write scripts but, so far, I haven’t found it appeals. It’s a very different way of thinking, of telling a story. I was talking to somebody who is, primarily, a scriptwriter but who’d also published his scripts as novels and he says he has to write the script first and then the novel from the script. I would have to do it the other way around, I think.”

Nothing further has come from her brush with television. “I think ‘Charmed Life’ would go absolutely wondrously on television. There have been various people who have said this but so far, nothing’s happened. Another one that would actually go rather well would be ‘Eight Days of Luke’. Somebody’s actually done a script for that but he’s got nowhere with it. I suspect that another one that would go pretty well, the way that they’re so good at doing special effects nowadays, is ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. Most of the set would actually be in this one room with exits to different places so, in fact, it would be quite easy to televise.”

Events have recently slowed down her work, although that hasn’t stopped her ideas coming. “I have, however, got a book coming out this month, actually, which is quite my weirdest yet. It’s called ‘Hexwood’ and it’s very strange but people who’ve read it so far say that it’s absolutely fascinating, I mean it’s really weird - I couldn’t begin to describe it. It demanded to be written back to front and sideways.”

When not writing, she gets on with everyday living and her cat, very jealous of her writing, returns to “his place” - her knee!

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