[DWJ] Bristol Reader's Day part III -- NB slight spoilers for Pinhoe Egg

Ven vendersleighc at yahoo.com
Wed Jun 28 18:57:48 EDT 2006

And finally to the reading and question session
with Diana. The best bit of course!

It took place after our lunch-in-a-box, sarnies,
apple, crisps, juice and a lucious chocolate
brownie type cake that was almost worth the price
of admission in itself. I ate mine on top of a
very hot roof in the blazing sun, talking to
fellow Dwj fans, some from the Homeworld 8 live

Later I went to find some more water and came
across Diana who was having a fag outside the
main doors. She remembered me from the list meet
of 2003 and we had a little chat covering the
beneficial effect of smoking on her writing and
the wonderfulness of Bujold inter alia. Oh and
I've just remembered telling her I read Conrad's
Fate for the first time waitng for a missing bus
in a snowstorm.

The reading was from near the beginning of The
Pinhoe Egg, which is set in the countryside 
around Chrestomanci Castle and follows Charmed
Life and Stealer of Souls. There are no serious
spoilers, I shan't even give away the outcome of
the passage read. Nonetheless here is a spoiler
warning for those who don't want to find out
anything at all. Also be warned that the
discussion that followed also touched on aspects
of TPE.


So the afternoon session began with a reading
from The Pinhoe Egg. I very much regret not
asking Diana to pose for a photograph holding up
the cover, what was I thinking?! The passage she
chose was very funny and rather
pointed. A large extended magical family were
to move their ancient matriach from the ancestral
home into a smaller house more suited to her age
and infirmity. She was a very powerful witch,
going somewhat senile, possessing a great
resevoir of malice, and just plain didn't want to
go. Her first act of defiance against her well
meaning children, siblings and grandchildren was
to grow herself into the bed (I
could do with italics for that -- she grew
into the bed!). The cotton fibres of her
nightdress mingled with those of  the sheet. Her
long hair twined around and into the bedhead and
her long, yellow, curling toenails had fused with
the bars at the end. Eeeeeeeuw! Of course it's
this kind of telling attention to detail that is
one of the things I love about her writing! 

At first I found Diana a somewhat hesitant reader
and was finding it hard enter into the story, but
from the toenails on  she had us in the palm of
her hand. I'm looking forward to this book more
than ever now.

After the reading came the questions, begun and
moderated by Ika Willis. There was some more book
news: the reissue of The Skiver's Guide and a
novella called The Game (and I can't find
anything more about this). The first thing Diana
talked about was the very issue of returning to a
world or characters one had written about before.
She said it was only possible where there was
outstanding business. Usually she has said what
there is to be said in a given book so to return
there has to be a bit sticking out. Often this
will not concern the major characters from the
previous work as she is done with them. She said
Conrad's Fate came about from wondering about
series 7 and the Merlin Conspiracy from having
more to say about Nick. With the Pinhoe Egg it
was curiousity about the countryside around
Chrestomanci Castle -- who lived there, what was
their relationship to the people of the Castle?
Apparently the answer is that they keep
themselves very private  and are not keen on the
Castle people at all (though they do have spies).

Taking questions from the floor Diana said she
didn't have any difficulty  writing Chrestomanci,
she knows what he will do. However Millie gave
her trouble because  she didn't seem to want to
use the power her destiny gave her(as an
enchantress in her own right and a former
incarnation as a goddess). Someone asked whether
Gammer (the matriach of the Pinhoe Egg) was
really a baddie and Diana said emphatically
"Yes". This led onto a discussion of who were the
real villains in the books. Gwendolen was
suggested but Diana seemed inclined to excuse her
somewhat. She *was* a selfish little bitch but
she had never really had a chance between her
parent's folly and her so marvellous little
brother. This was an unexpected perspective
really, but I guess the parents, Francis and
Caroline are filled in as pretty useless people
in TLOCC. Diana went on to say that she finds
Janet insipid whereas Gwendolen is a doer.
Janet's parents had perhaps paid her too much
attention so she had gotten into the habit of
hiding herself (as with the secret diary). She
went on to say a little about nature and nurture
and how the nine girls had developed differently.
She also, irrc, said that Gwendolen had actually
chosen a rather rotten fate for herself as no one
paid any real attention to her and she was
nothing but a figurehead. 
The next question from the floor was
gobsmackingly rude. Introducing herself as a
teacher this person said she had not read any of
Diana's books but would like to know what other
authors she would recommend for children.
Obviously she was attending the Reader's Day as
part of her job. Diana managed to be rather
unhelpful in the most grand and gracious way. She
said that she didn't read contemporary children's
literature as she no longer has children or
grandchildren of the appropiate age. Then she
unbent sufficiently to praise Bujold (again!).

Asked what keeps her writng in the fantasy genre
she said it is the most mind stimulating and  she
said that she likes books which see what's new in
the everyday. My next note says "rollover of
norm", I cannot remember the exact context but it
seems to mean something! Diana went on to say
that she feels contemporary children's fiction
dates by the minute. Talking about her passion
for fantasy she thinks parental opposition had a
lot to do with it. There was a lot of stuff her
mother thought was bad for her. Reading Wind in
the Willows for example she would leave out the
"silly bits" like the Piper at the Gates of Dawn
chapter. So naturally the young Diana sought out
those bits to read for herself and was thrilled
(though not so much by the other forbidden
section on the old sea rat). She also pointed out
that as a child the very bits her mother approved
of struck her as being the silly ones --  Toad
changing size to suit the plot and the general

After this we got back to baddies. Somebody said
Diana's villains  were growing more villainous
and  getting scarier and scarier. Joel and Japeth
from TMC were cited as prime examples. Diana said
this seemed to be a feature of growing old --
seeing how nastily people one had known as
children could turn out. My note here just says
"Ouch". I suppose it becomes less possible to see
goodness residing in children and badness in
adults if you look at it like that. It's funny
because as a child I was quite conscious of the
villainy of my fellow children but it does seem
to be something one forgets. I wonder if it comes
back to us all later.

I asked about Joel and Japeth -- had they planned
their killing of the Prayermaster at all? Diana
said she doesn't know (I do like that she doesn't
know everything that happens in the interstices
of her books). However she thought it had been
brewing for some time  and that the PM must have
done something specific to precipitate his own
murder. (I can nearly believe the Prayermaster
deserved it). My take on it is the whole thing
was a misstep on the part of the Prayermaster
from the beginning. He took the boys out of the
environment in which he had total control over
them only for them to see him thwarted and
humiliated by Nick and Mini. Possibly they saw
his weakness for the first time. Hence when he
did whatever it was that pushed them too far they
had the nerve to push back.

More male villains followed. In light of the
recent discussion about Big Bad Read and the
apparent dearth of really good male villains in
Dwj how could we have forgotten these?

Spoilers for Who Got Rid of Angus Flint

The next villain we discussed was Angus Flint. He
is based on a real person who tried to turn an
unwelcome visit into an even more unwelcome
permanent arrangement. Apparently when she told
him that was not on the real life Flint really
did strand Dwj at a teashop to walk four miles
home in unsuitable shoes.  From the account in
Who Got Rid Of Angus Flint he was a selfish,
loathsome, wife abuser who invited himself to
stay when his long suffering spouse had finally
had enough and kicked him out. The next thing
Diana said was one of those "Wow" moments -- this
horrible man was also the model for Al in Drowned
Ammet. This kind of doubles and redoubles the
villainly of both of them for me. Oh, he was
*that* bad, I said to myself!

Apparently people Diana puts in her books as
villains never recognise themselves, her mother
certainly never did. I feel fairly certain that
bits of her have gone into Gammer, the matriarch
of TPE (especially as Diana said yes, Gammer  is
truly bad).

We then talked a little about heroes and how many
of Diana's are unlikely and or unwilling heroes.
They include, after all an assassin besides the
likes of Howl and Venturus. They are people who
have power they are reluctant to use or power
that they do not know they have otr power that is
blocked by some force unknown. She said that in
general they are being manipulated or have to
learn how to manipulate themselves and above all
come to realise something about their own

Next a question  on the Howl's Moving Castle
film. She was initially stunned when she heard
the film proposal. She had loved Miyasaki's films
ever since the first pirated copy she saw at a
convention. However she soon realised how
different film was to the written word -- they
would have to  make concrete things she had left
vague (for the reader to fill in the detail). 

The first location finding crew were sacked when
Miyasaki  decided he would animate the film
himself after all. It was his decision to base
the setting somewhere in France.
Initially, seeing the film in a cinema with
Miyasaki  and crew, her relations, including the
grandchlidren and some solemn folk with notebooks
she really really liked it. However she has 
since cooled off somewhat. Her Grandkids keep
reminding her about stuff that had been changed
and left out. She seemed particularly disgruntled
that the  scarecrow was more comical than

A particularly good question was what book was
the most fun to write. Diana immediately named
Charmwed Life. As seems to happen quite often she
started writing during a miserable time. It was
half term, her eldest son was being difficult and
she was ill. She went to lie down and the central
scene in which Cat discovers Janet just unfolded
in her head.  

Unfortunately the next page of notes make no
sense. I'll give you a couple of them mainly in
the hopes of jogging Ika to write her account!  I
have "put sun bits on the sunny side of the desk"
Which book is this? Power of Three? Next I wrote
"Derk pig in pigsty" is this about hard bits to
write? Finally "How do people get together, it's
a mystery for Dwj" which  I do remember is about
how she manages the romances in her books.

At this point I asked a slightly cheeky question
about Howl: in view of the fact that Howl was
published in 1986 (when Diana was about the age I
am now) and that I found myself looking
differently at the aged Sophie now that I'm
twenty years older what did Diana think now that
she was um twenty years closer to the age Sophie
became. And she said "I think I got it right!".
The issue of romance when one is older was
touched upon and the liberating effects of age.

Finally somebody asked about how she researches
her books. She said that she doesn't do specific
research on the whole because that can be off
putting. Inconvenient facts may get in the way,
She told us about an idea she had for a book set
in the early days of Icelandic settlement. She
did loads of reading and it was all coming
together when she discovered such a crucial fact:
there were no trees on Iceland at the time.  She
couldn't imagine her story taking place there
anymore nor did she feel able to invent an
alternative "Iceland" with trees. What she does
like to look at is place names and new
superstitions. To a supplementary question about
whether Sir James' garden in MC, with it's sacred
wells and fountains was based on a real place she
said yes, the Chalice Garden at Glastonbury. 

I'm sure we could all have gone on thinking of
new questions into the night (well, maybe not the
"never read your books" lady) but it was time to
wind things up. I took a few photos of the
following brief signing session. 

Absolutely finally here is a link to the pictures
I took on the day

It's easy to join up (especially if you already
have a yahoo id) to leave comments. I'd be
grateful to find out people's names!

Once I've posted this I'm going to allow myself
to check out what was said on the live journal --
I wanted to keep my impressions pure as it were.
No doubt I'll discover some mistakes I've made.
As I said earlier I really hope I haven't put any
words into Diana's mouth and any errors will be
my own.


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