[DWJ] Living Famously

Gili Bar-Hillel gbhillel at netvision.net.il
Mon Nov 21 02:53:33 EST 2005

Judith wrote:
> The fact that Isobelle gave you her mailing address means she genuinely
> would be happy to hear from you. Authors don't give out their addresses
> lightly! As to what kind of letters they "take notice of", I would say
> anything that shows an intelligent response to their work and a respect
> their person is likely to go down well!

There haven't been many authors I've dared send letters to, and one of the
few was actually Diana Wynne Jones. (huh! on topic!) Someone on the Wizard
of Oz mailing list wrote that he had met with her "and eaten her
strawberries and cream" in Bristol. This, to me, was the most outrageously
unbelievable statement. But when I met him in person at an Oz convention, he
blithely copied DWJ's address out for me on a little slip of paper. I still
have that little slip of paper - it must have been pinned up on my notice
board for at least two years before I actually dared use it. Finally I
mustered up the courage to send something. I couldn't think what to write. I
basically wanted to put all of myself into the envelope so I could stand in
front of DWJ, awestricken and speechless. I wanted to give her the world. I
wrote something about how much I've always loved her books and how I read
them over and over (like the mother in the story about the fluffy pink
toadstools rereads "Mill on the Floss") and how I've been searching for
several titles that I read long ago in libraries and can't find them
anywhere because I'd love to read THEM over and over too, and for lack of
any better gift to send, I sent along a packet of these terrific bookmarks I
had fallen in love with ("bookdarts") - and to my utter astonishment she
replied! Not only did she send me a postcard, with a picture of Bristol,
but - beyond my wildest dreams - one of the books I had been searching for
in vain, "The Power of Three", and it was SIGNED. I don't know if I'd ever
gotten anything as lovely in the mail, and I've had some lovely things over
the mail. I was so immensely pleased that I frantically searched for
something to send back as a gift, and hit upon what in retrospect was a
rather stupid idea but at the time seemed perfect: I had just translated
into Hebrew an abridged edition of "James and the Giant Peach", with
illustrations by Lane Smith, and I sent her a copy. What I thought DWJ would
do with a Hebrew copy of an abridged edition of a book she doesn't need I
don't know. But, again, I just wanted to put all of myself into that
package, and that was the best I could come up with at the time. There was
no response to the second package, I suppose DWJ was worried that if she
responded again, the next thing to come in the mail would be a pink
elephant, or something equally awkward.

I've also written to J.K. Rowling, who responded to my first letter but not
to the next three or four letters or emails (via her agents), but I had
something actual to write ABOUT as I was (and am) translating her books. And
I've had some very brief rights-related correspondence with several other
authors in recent years, but I'm not sure that counts: Jane Yolen, Bruce
Coville, Martine Leavitt, Garth Nix. Turns out that it's much less
embarassing and therefore easier to write "I'm thinking of buying the
translation rights to your books, could you please direct me to your agent"
lly-writing-to-you-omigosh-omigosh-omigosh" - also, guaranteed to get a
response.The sad truth is that I get starstruck around authors who've
written actual books that I've actually enjoyed reading; so starstruck, that
I end up putting on this act like I'm totally blase and oh, I couldn't care
less, this is all rather boring, yawn. Which is sad, actually, because
inside it's all gushing-goshing authormania, and I think some of the authors
might actually enjoy that kind of response for a change. I once shook hands
with Saul Bellow, I was babysitting for a family who had him over for
dinner - apparantly I was SO composed when I did this, that they thought I
didn't know who he was. But I did.

And I've met plenty of authors at conferences, conventions and signings
(Ob-DWJ: and pubmeets). I've probably met the large majority of Israeli
authors writing in Hebrew today, in one constellation or the other. As for
how many of them would come over to say hello to ME if I came walking down
the street - some would. At least two Nobel prize winners would (more
accurately, Bank of Sweden Prize for Economics winners). Enough to give me
the sense, that people are just people, even when they're famous authors who
have written the most amazing book you've ever read. Just people, really.
Which doesn't mean I don't still get starstruck and/or snooty about


P.S. come to think of it, I've had people lining up to ask for MY signature,
and perfect strangers regularly stop me on the street to ask me about my
work. This always baffles me when it happens, but it does happen. It's the
mad Potter effect at work, nobody gives two figs about translators in the
normal course of things.

More information about the Dwj mailing list