#MarchMagics2024: Talking about Diana Wynne Jones and the magic of writing

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There’s nothing more satisfying for a booklover who happens to have offspring than to find them growing up to love the same kind of books. And so when my son chose to do a school project on Diana Wynne Jones, it felt as though one part at least of my task on earth had been completed.

What’s more, as he was supposed to interview someone as part of the assignment, he decided to talk to me! (While I’m honored by the compliment, I think this was also largely a matter of convenience.) And the timing was just right to post the interview as part of March Magics, the celebration of Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett currently taking place over at Calmgrove.

It was lovely to get to talk about one of my favorite authors, and one of my favorite activities, writing, with one of my favorite people. And now, we are happy to share it with you. Here you go…

Brendan Widmer: What can you say about your experience with Diana Wynne Jones’ work?
Lory Hess: Well, I first heard of her when I wrote a letter to my favorite author at the time, who was Robin McKinley, and I asked her to tell me what were her favorite books, and she said she loved Diana Wynne Jones, and (Diana) had just published a book called Fire and Hemlock, which (Robin) thought was brilliant.
BW: When did she publish Fire and Hemlock?
LH: 1986, I believe.
BW: So you were studying?
LH: I was in high school. And then I was in the bookstore and I saw a paperback of her book Charmed Life, which had a quote in it by Robin McKinley, and I thought “Aha! I’ll buy this.” And this was before the internet, where you could get books easily online, before Ebooks, so it was very exciting to find a book you wanted in the bookstore. And that’s how I started reading her.

BW: And so what do you really like about Diana?
LH: Well, I like that she’s really imaginative, and funny and has kind of wild, interesting ideas that nobody else would come up with, but her books are also really about people, and relationships, and growing up, and finding your power. Often (they are) about children or young people who need to find their way. They need to fight these various evil magic forces, but it’s really all about them finding their own power of imagination or their own moral center or changing their relationships. I like that they have a certain amount of depth, but at the same time they’re entertaining and hilarious and they go by in a flash.
I also enjoy sharing her with people a lot, so I shared her with members of my family, with my husband and with you; I’m very happy that you have discovered this interest. When I was teaching, I read Witch Week to my class. Reading books was always my favorite part of teaching, and I think the kids liked it the most too.
BW: Yes, my teacher also read aloud to us, but she never read DWJ.
LH: I also found that in my blogging hobby, I enjoy connecting with other people who like her, and we exchange reviews and comment on each others posts, and we just enjoy spreading the love.

Diana Wynne Jones and Caspian

BW: So what’s your favorite book?
LH: I don’t like to pick a favorite, but I think that Fire and Hemlock is her masterpiece; it’s so good in so many ways and also I think brings up themes that she had’t written about up until that time. This was one of her mid period books.
BW: I was never quite sure what Polly’s relationship in that book was with Tom: did they end up being lovers, or were they just friends.
LH: When she was older….
BW: But at the beginning he seemed to be an old man.
LH: That was because she was because she was much younger, and I think he had blond hair, and he was also worn out with his fight with Laurel, so he looked old to her. But he wasn’t actually that old, maybe ten years older.
BW: Yes, that is a touching turn of events.
And I found it very hard to picture that scene in the water basin, or the fountain.
LH: I know, that was a confusing scene. Everyone says that: “What happened at the end?”
BW: And with the horse coming, and his cello, whatever he was doing with his cello.
LH: Yeah, well, it’s kind of like whatever strength you have will get used against you, so when he summoned those things they were coming at him, they were going to crash into him, so the only way Polly could save him would be to give him up completely. Because he depended on her to save him, but that meant that she could be used against him. And so she had to say “I never want to see you again.”
BW: But if she didn’t mean it, how does that work?
LH: She did mean it. She had to mean it.
BW: Well that must be difficult to do.
LH: It was.

BW: I agree, that’s a very good book. But I also agree that I can’t single out any single books that are my favorite. I really like Charmed Life, and I really like Stealer of Souls, but they’re both totally different.
LH: That’s the thing, she doesn’t keep writing the same book over and over like some authors.
BW: J.K.Rowling, for example.
LH: Not to mention any names…
BW: Did you write anything to Diana Wynne Jones?
LH: I did.
BW: And did she reply?
LH: Yes.
BW: Oh cool, and what did she say?
LH: I was asking her about the Dalemark books, because at that time there only three, and there were supposed to be a fourth one, but I wanted to know if it would ever be published. And she said yes, she was working on it and it would come out eventually. It wasn’t a very long letter. Oh, and I also told her how I recommend her books to everybody and she said thank you for being such a distributor of my books.
BW: Well [when reading about DWJ’s childhood] I was quite disappointed to find out that Beatrix Potter was rather–well, she hated children, apparently.
LH: Yes, that’s not the image you have of Beatrix Potter.
BW: But why did she write books for children in the first place?
LH: I think she had nieces or something, you know, she had relatives and she liked them, but she didn’t like random children coming across her land. And when she got famous, people would come and try to see her house, and she probably was annoyed by that, because she wanted to be a farmer.

Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm

BW: In The Wand in The Word, Diana says she doesn’t research specifically for a book, researching rather much broader, and then letting it all simmer at the bottom of her mind until it comes up as a book. And she says she can feel the chunks falling into place when she’s really going.
So what would you say your creative process is?
LH: Well, I don’t usually write fiction, so the process is a little bit different.
BW: You write poetry.
LH: Right, so with that, there’s been thinking or observing, or some kind of experience, and then I get an idea and then, yes, I would agree that it’s kind of like a seed that grows from there, and might have to be adjusted of revised later, but usually the original seed still is there. And yes, that about chunks falling into place, that’s kind of how it works.
BW: And what gave you the idea to write your autobiography based on the stories of healing in the bible?
LH: Well, I didn’t set out to do that in the beginning, what happened was I had these poems based on the stories of healing in the Gospels, and I didn’t start out with all of them, I started out with three. That was the three people who were raised from the dead. So I studied these three stories one year, because I was having a hard time in my life, and I ended up writing poems about them. Then some years later I had the idea to write some more. So I ended up going through all the stories, and I just would read the story and sort of think about it and imagine it, and an idea would come.
BW: Are they all free verse?
LH: They’re all free verse, yes.
And then the book came about because I had this bunch of poems, and I thought wow, these are not bad, and maybe I could share them, and they might help other people, because they helped me get through a hard time.
BW: And so did you connect the poems with the happenings in your life?
LH: Right, so then what I did was I had the idea that each poem would have an essay that would be about the background and the thoughts going into it, and a piece from my own life. First, I actually wrote a whole memoir for myself, that I couldn’t publish for personal reasons, separately from the poem project. But then I thought, well, I can’t publish all of this, but maybe I can take parts from it and put them with the healing stories and it turned out they fit together quite well.

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

BW: Do you plan to write any fiction in the future?
LH: I might try again in the future. I always find that when I write fiction it never feels real, it just feels like I’m making things up. But I might try again someday.
BW: So you’ve tried once?
LH: Yes, I’ve tried to write stories.
BW: So what was the experience there?
LH: As I said, I can kind of come up with something but it doesn’t really satisfy me. I also feel like my imagination isn’t so strong. Some people can just imagine things that they haven’t even experienced, or their imagination transforms into these imaginative scenes.
BW: Well, it’s good that you know what you’re not satisfied with when it comes to writing.
LH: I wanted to be a writer since I was young, and I thought that meant I wanted to write fantasy novels like Robin McKinley and DWJ, and when I couldn’t, and it didn’t seem to come out, I thought I couldn’t be a writer. So what I’m glad about is that finally I could write something else.
BW: That’s great.
Well, it’s been nice talking to you. This has been a great talk. Even for your son it’s been educational.

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11 thoughts on “#MarchMagics2024: Talking about Diana Wynne Jones and the magic of writing

  1. What a fun interview! I’m very happy to be one of the readers you connected with DWJ’s books, Lory. Then have enjoyed sharing them the next generation– my sons, and nieces, and even a ranch employee this winter with a big white dog named Sirius. Naturally I had to give her a copy of Dogsbody! What I also love about DWJ is her warmth toward her protagonists and by extension to her readers– I get the sense, right at the beginning even of one of her books, that I’m in good, skilled hands, that I can relax and trust this authorial presence to take me on a rewarding, enriching journey.

    1. Yay! The legacy continues. I agree about the warmth, that’s a wonderful way to put it.

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  2. That was lovely to read; how nice to be able to share the same love for the same books–it happens with me and my mom too–since I’ve grown older, both ways. How nice that you discovered DWJ in school–I would have loved the books then, but I’m glad I have at least now.
    Like you I love to write but fiction seems something that I can’t really handle (at least not at this point)–as for the future, who knows?

    1. We always have to remain open to new possibilities. I’m very glad to have discovered the joys of creative nonfiction, anyway.

  3. What a lovely interview, one where I got to know not just about DWJ but about how and why her writing might appeal, about passing on the literary torch, about how she continues to appeal to new fans, and of course about your relationship with your son (and vice versa!). And wonderful to know it coincided with March Magics. 😊

  4. What a lovely interview, and what a special memory this will be for both of you. And yes, it’s so satisfying when you are able to share your favorite books with your favorite people (especially your children), and they come to love the books too.

Please share your thoughts. I love to hear from you!

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