DWJ at Bath

Chris Dollin eh at electric-hedgehog.net
Mon Mar 10 15:36:52 EST 2003

Dear All,

I was fortunate enough to hear DWJ at the Bath Literary Festival
yesterday (Sunday 9th) with her friend of 60 years Nick Tucker. 
I've done my best to reconstruct stuff from my notes; errors are
mine, or perhaps enim if I've got them backwards.

She started with a reading from the beginning of _The Merlin 
Conspiracy_ and survived despite her cold ("aLISia!"). More on tMC 
in another message. Nick asked her questions and we got to hear 
about her childhood (the one-per-year Ransome books, her parents 
active disapproval of fantasy, etc). Would Diana describe herself as an 
"inspirational" writer?

It's the outcome of several years of characters and things happening
in her head until IT MUST BE WRITTEN NOW, mother-in-law or
no. When she comes to write it, she knows the (outline of) the end,
the beginning "of course", and scenes from the middle. Part of the
writing is how did they get from the beginning to the middle, and 
from the middle to the end? She doesn't work with story notes: for
her, they kill the story.

Nick mentioned CS Lewis's attitude to fantasy (as opposition to any
view that fantasy might be "bad" for you, especially for children).
Fantasy allows us to reach more than the "journalistic facts" that
realism leads to; it lets you look at ideas & situations "from all round"
so that you're prepared for them when you meet them. [My notes
don't quite untangle CSL from DWJ here.]

CS Lewis lectured to a packed hall; Tolkien mumbled in a small one.
Nevertheless Dianna was fascinated by what he had to say about 
stories transforming. She knew she wanted to be a writer well before
she went to Oxford, even though she was dyslexic when younger.
But it was when she had children that it took off, because they told
her what was wrong with things she wrote. And especially: "there aren't
enough funny books, Mum. Can you write something funny?"

Questions from the audience prompted: 

she thinks of the ending of _Fire and Hemlock_ as "uncertain" and 
doesn't know if Tom and Polly can make a go of it. 

sometimes things come to a full stop and she can't work on them any 
more. If it's because they're only one idea, they might turn up later as 
part of something else.

titles: she's hopeless with titles, when she's done she writes up a
multi-column A4 page with lots of options and appeals for help.

the Tough Guide: she had come out of hospital and was helping a
friend edit _the Encyclopedia of Fantasy_. They wrote NONSENSE
in the margins a lot and spoke in chorus (presumably when yet another
book had the same annotations). "NUNNERIES are for ransacking
and there can be only one survivor ..." DWJ said "and I said *I* could
write the guide book for that country!". Snippets read out at a US 
con (fans rolling in the aisles; "you forgot *glass* swords!" DWJ observed,
"well, you would, wouldn't you ..".)

Although _the Merlin Conspiracy_ isn't officially out for another month,
they had advance copies. About 450 pages (exactly how many will
depend what you count, the last text page is 473). Yum yum. I had to
burn a half-hour of work time, but I read it by 9am this morning, and
I shall attempt to do a non-spoiler review in another message ...

Chris the Hedgehog
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