Thursday, 12 April 2012

Diana Wynne Jones: a fantastic author

Yesterday, I found out that Tumblr are running a blog tour for one of the greatest fantasy writers of the age, the late Diana Wynne Jones. As she’s one of my favourite authors, I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate this blog post to her work!

The first book of Jones’s I read was Witch Week, at the age of nine. It’s set in a world where magic is illegal, punishable by death, at a boarding school for witch-orphans (children whose parents have been burnt for practicing witchcraft). It follows several pupils as magic starts to break out in the school, and the hapless teachers’ attempts to find out who is responsible- before the Inquisitor finds out… It’s a brilliant story, and the grim boarding school setting was great (yes, a boarding school story- published over a decade before Harry Potter!). I went on to read the other books in the Chrestomanci series- Charmed Life was a particular favourite. What I love most about Diana Wynne Jones’s writing is the sheer inventiveness of it. Everything is invested with a unique personality, from demanding broomsticks to obnoxious siblings! And of course, there are the numerous alternative worlds. I confess that that this has been a significant influence on my writing- nearly every story I write seems to involve another world in some way!

But in my opinion, the best other-world novel I’ve read is Deep Secret- one most people (except die-hard Jones fans) probably won’t have heard of. I found out about it when reading an interview with Diana Wynne Jones, and upon learning that it was set in the same universe(s) as The Merlin Conspiracy, determined to get my hands on a copy. I was lucky enough to track one down on Amazon….good job, too! I first read The Merlin Conspiracy at the age of 13, and loved it. I never get tired of rereading it, and it’s lodged itself in my imagination amongst the best books I’ve ever read. Whilst The Merlin Conspiracy is a fantasy adventure for young adults, Deep Secret is one of her earlier adult novels, set in the Multiverse, where Magids deal with otherworldly affairs, many working undercover on Earth. But something starts to go wrong, something that threatens to unravel everything. Plots converge, twists arrive unexpectedly, and characters reveal startling secrets. For me, the highlight is that the finale takes place during a fantasy convention at a hotel- so naturally, the arrival of a centaur doesn’t attract too much attention! Jones’s imagination seems to have no bounds, and the painstaking planning that’s clearly gone into her writing results in worlds that are entirely plausible- and in which we can recognise elements of our own, often in unexpected ways!

I could go on all day about Jones’s other novels, the majority of which I’ve read- Fire and Hemlock being a particular favourite- but I want to end with Howl’s Moving Castle, which inspired the brilliant anime film. I love almost all the characters- even the Witch of the West, and of course our cowardly hero. I think what I find most inspiring in this book, and in Jones’s writing in general, is that it’s just a plain good story. With a dazzling imagination and a wicked sense of humour, Diana Wynne Jones taught me that fantasy doesn’t have to be generic and same-y, that you can break the rules and be different- you just need to tell a great story.

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