Tuesday, March 5, 2013

DWJ March: Guest Post from Kerry


I was one of those lucky people who discovered Diana Wynne Jones as a child. I don’t remember which book of hers was my first, but going on emotional memory alone, I suspect it was either Dogsbody or Eight Days of Luke, both of which remain favourites to this day.

Looking at the publication dates of her books, I feel like I can almost chart my childhood, in fact, most of my life. I was six when those two books were published, although I was older than that when I read them. I remember Power of Three and Archer’s Goon especially as a pre-teen/teen, but my next major memory is Fire and Hemlock coming out when I was 15. This is the first of DWJ’s books I remember buying and reading when it was published. I still have my US paperback (odd in itself since I live in New Zealand) with its strange and almost simplistic cover that I still don’t think has ever been beaten, no matter how many reprints there have been since.

I bought A Tale of Time City new in a children’s bookshop at 18. A friend came back from an overseas holiday with a brand new copy of Aunt Maria so I know I read that one when it came out. I would have been 22. A year later I borrowed A Sudden Wild Magic from the library and couldn’t decide whether I liked Jones as an author for adults or not.

I remember visiting a friend in Christchurch and finding Minor Arcana in a specialist bookstore there. I don’t remember much else of that visit but I know I sat on their doorstep to read (DWJ and Doctor Who) and sat on my glasses, breaking the side arms. I learned my lesson – I don’t necessarily notice my surroundings when I’m reading – and I’ve never bought such fragile frames again, no matter how pretty they are. (But I’ve definitely sat on my glasses again many times over the years.)

I bought Deep Secret new, but I was 28 by then and moving in other directions. I know I bought The Merlin Conspiracy when it came out, but I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never read it. Diana Wynne Jones and I parted company for a decade or more.

And then, at the grand old age of 41 and now a mother, my eye was caught by the beautiful colourful cover of Enchanted Glass while exploring the children’s section of Borders for books for my son. I ignored the little voice saying I couldn’t justify the price (it was a brand new trade paperback and books are expensive here) and took it home with me. I dived into it and loved it. I was in love with DWJ all over again.

But when it comes to Howl’s Moving Castle, in many ways the iconic DWJ book, I have to admit that I don’t remember that one. I have no idea when I first fell for Howl, but I loved it all over again when I reread it a few years ago (in 2010 actually, right after I finished Enchanted Glass).

To kick-start the next generation, I read Dogsbody with my son last year. He adored it. There were a few things that had dated (it was surprisingly difficult to explain the Irish Troubles in a context a child of the 21st century could understand) and I changed up a few words here and there where meanings have altered, but that was all. He has since gone on to read The Ogre Downstairs for himself and I hope there will be many more DWJ books in his future.

But since they’re coming off Mummy’s bookcase or through her Kindle, I don’t suppose he’ll be able to chart his childhood by her books the way I did. That’s okay. Times change. But I can’t help feeling maybe he’s missing out on something.

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About Kerry: I’m a wife and mother of one, living in New Zealand, who has ME/CFS (which tends to rule my life a lot more than I would like). I only manage to blog sporadically, but you can find my bookish posts at Too Many Books, Too Hard to Choose (http://rocalisa.wordpress.com) and stitching stuff at Sometimes Stitching (http://lahaylia.wordpress.com). Points to anyone who can guess one of my favourite authors from the URLS of my blogs.


  1. What a wonderful post! You should really read "Deep Secret"/"Merlin Conspiracy" — they are two of my favorites and "Conspiracy" has an ending that will Blow. Your. Mind. (In a good way.) Also, it has an elephant. (C'mon, an ELEPHANT!)

    Your son sounds like a very lucky kid! He may not get to discover DWJ like you, but I know from experience how influential the books your mother reads to you as a child become. Much as I love DWJ, I think the foundation of my literary world is built on "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "The Sword in the Stone"—the books MY mother loved as a child and read to me as soon as I could understand words. That your son will be building his on DWJ makes me insanely happy.

  2. This is a beautiful post. I have only read a handful of DWJ's books, but I'm going to start reading them again, as many as I can with my son. It will be nice when he gets to the stage where he'll read them on his own!

  3. Goldeen - I'll be reading them, don't worry. I'm slowly working my way through all DWJ's book (or most of them, anyway) in order, so I'll get to them.

    Belle - I'm sure your son will love them. They're so meaty, they're great for kids and adults both so ideal for reading to our children.

  4. Thank you for this post, Kerry! I definitely think you were lucky. I adore DWJ now as an adult but I would have been even happier to have found her books as a child. I wish I could go back and see if they were on my library shelves and I just missed them or if they weren't there and I couldn't have helped it. I'll never know!

  5. Kerry, I really enjoyed your post. I wish I had grown up with DWJ. Somehow I didn't get to see any of her fantasy, and you and I are of the same age, so possibly our libraries didn't carry it then. I would have loved it. As it is, when I did discover her as an adult, I have been buying her books over the years, both for myself and for my children. I loved Howl's Moving Castle - I believe that was the first one by her I read - and I have a copy of The Writer's Tough Guide to Fantasy land by her, which is so funny!! All about the cliche's to avoid when writing fantasy (which I do). I loved Witch week, and sadly have so many still to read. Your post makes me glad so many are still out there to discover - and happy I am passing the love on to my children. My son read the Christomanci series when he was young, and I've given a copy of Earwig and the Witch to my daughter for Christmas, though she hasn't read it yet. I love DWJ for making books my son would read, and for making fantasy fun and deep and wise.