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Diana Wynne Jones, RIP

Behind me on my bookcase are thirty-seven books by Diana Wynne Jones; over on the paperback shelves by the door there are nine more. I have her first published book, Changeover from 1971, and her last (at time of writing), Enchanted Glass from 2010, and nearly all that came between. Most came to me at random over the years, to be read (or reread) as soon as seen: a mix of editions, hardback and paperback, second-hand and new. Some came only in adulthood when I could afford collectors prices: Changeover; her first children’s book, Wilkins’ Tooth; and the NESFA press special, Everard’s Ride, published to celebrate her as Guest of Honour at Boskone in 1995.
            The six books she published between 1974 and 1977 are the first two Dalemark books, Cart and Cwidder and Drowned Ammet; the first Chrestomanci book, Charmed Life; and the standalones: Dogsbody, The Ogre Downstairs and The Eight Days of Luke. I think I read Dogsbody first, and then the rest quite quickly. Those early books of hers turned out to be incredibly important to me, and I read and reread each of these six many times.  I then bought and read every book she then published for the next thirty years, and reread many of them, too – particularly The Spellcoats and The Homeward Bounders. From time to time I reread them still.
            Her books are powerful and unsettling. Children, and childlike adults, find themselves in strange and difficult circumstances. Members of their families betray them, or are absent, but families are nevertheless fundamental. They meet with gods and strangers, or are gods themselves unknowing. They must make journeys, they must act, and they must learn; but journeys do not have final destinations, and actions and lessons are often ambiguous. Lost things are sometimes found, but the finding is rarely a solution. Battles are fought, but not always won, and sometimes it has to be enough just to have survived. Some of her characters do not even manage that much. For the survivors, the ends of books are not the ends of stories, but places where characters stand still for a while, and look forward to dealing with altered realities.
            I don’t know how or why books with these characteristics can remain challenging but become comforting at the same time. Perhaps to reread such stuff is to recognise that one has survived or is challenged by another round of one’s own uncertainties, one’s own ambiguities. Perhaps it is significant that I particularly remember rereading them in times of emotional difficulty and worldly uncertainty: I reread my way through the Chrestomanci books when I lost a job in 1993; and picked up Howl’s Moving Castle and its sequels when I lost a child in 1998. While thinking about writing this, I started rereading Dogsbody again. Witch Week and The Time of the Ghost are looking at me from the shelf…
            I don’t want to make great claims of friendship or personal knowledge of Diana. We were friendly acquaintances for many years, meeting and talking at conventions, and we have – had - some mutual friends. But I have some specific, personal memories.
            She took a writer’s workshop at the 1994 Eastercon, and told me – quite correctly - that it was obvious from my story that I had never had a child.
            My friend Roger bought a Catamaran and named her Chrestomanci. Diana came to Portsmouth for the day to launch the boat, and claimed her travel jinx was responsible for stranding us on a sandbank.
            She came to one of our parties at the Asylum, once, and at one point sat on the spare bed signing books, while we talked our way along the titles on my shelf. (The inscription in Power of Three says, prosaically: “To Caroline with all best wishes (this took 8 years to write).” In Archers Goon she says: “This one, the characters all did as they wanted – I had nothing to do with it.” And in Changeover she says: “With lots of love – very drunken”!)
            At Boskone in 1995 Brian and I helped to provide some social buffering for Diana against the vicissitudes of being Guest of Honour in a strange land. And I remember a conversation in the lobby with Diana and Neil Gaiman, talking about James Branch Cabell and the legacy of books.
            And one summer day in 2003, when our daughter was not quite three years old, walking in a flowering meadow in the morning, we picked a posy of forty different wild flowers to give Diana when we visited in the afternoon. We were welcomed, and drank tea at her kitchen table, and talked, while our daughter rearranged the cushions in her living room and thumped the keys on her grand piano. We had a lovely afternoon, but before we left the flowers had wilted in their vase.

Diana was ill for a long time before she died, but I was too preoccupied by my own mother’s illness to pay proper attention to hers. Mutual friends kept me informed, and I sent verbal messages of goodwill, but I couldn’t – wouldn’t? – find time in busy days to write to her while she was alive. Diana died on 26th March, of liver cancer. On the internet and in the press and in private conversations there has been an incredible outpouring of grief and remembrance from people who loved her and loved her books. It is too late, but I have a little time, now, to write. So here is mine.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
la_marquise_de_
5th Apr, 2011 10:19 (UTC)
This is a lovely tribute. Thank you.
coth
5th Apr, 2011 11:01 (UTC)
Thank you.
anef
5th Apr, 2011 11:04 (UTC)
I met you and Diana's books at the same time, I think, at a Joms in Exile meeting in Chessington in 1982. Both the friendship and the books have endured.
coth
5th Apr, 2011 14:25 (UTC)
Yes. Brian and I were discussing that. I had met and talked to Tim and Colin Fine at Denvention, which is how I knew about Jomsborg in Exile when I moved to London. I went to that meeting having read most of her books published to that date. And I am glad both the books and the friendship have endured.
bohemiancoast
5th Apr, 2011 11:34 (UTC)
I am loving reading all these tributes.

But I did not write either, which was quite wrong of me. I do not believe this is about busy-ness, or even about time management; such letters do not take long to write.

I am coping with my guilt, and I will do better in future.
coth
5th Apr, 2011 14:27 (UTC)
Me too. But I couldn't cope with other people dying at the time. I won't necessarily have that factor in future.

intertext
5th Apr, 2011 15:42 (UTC)
This is lovely. I'm envious of your having known her.
coth
5th Apr, 2011 16:13 (UTC)
Thank you. I am glad and privileged to have known her. British fandom was the richer for her life and her books.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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