[DWJ] Interview with DWJ's son

Kyra Jucovy arykiy at gmail.com
Mon Jul 11 04:39:18 EDT 2011


Yes, thank you - it may well be something I can look at to cheer myself up
when I'm feeling stressed ;-)

---Kyra

On Mon, Jul 11, 2011 at 12:29 PM, Deborah Meghnagi Bailey <
deborah at brightweavings.com> wrote:

> Ah, well it makes sense that I didn't think of Jamie. I've only read the
> Homeward Bounders twice, and the last time was probably seven or eight
> years
> ago. I just find it too sad to read - so I don't remember it very clearly.
>
> You're welcome everyone! I really wanted to read it properly myself, and
> knowing it would be offline soon, plus the kid in bed and the husband
> tutoring at the exact moment I discovered that meant I had the time and the
> impetus to do it.
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: dwj-bounces at suberic.net [mailto:dwj-bounces at suberic.net] On Behalf
> Of
> jstallcup
> Sent: Monday, July 11, 2011 4:18 AM
> To: dwj at suberic.net
> Subject: Re: [DWJ] Interview with DWJ's son
>
> Wow!  Thanks for doing this!
>
> I listened to the talk earlier today and it's funny--the first person I
> thought of when I heard that line about writers was Jamie from Homeward
> Bounders.  I think someone mentioned him earlier as a "kind of" writer,
> but he's definitely a writer--he's the one writing (or at least speaking)
> the whole story and he does have to go through despair to set someone
> free.  Totally made sense to me.
>
> I also loved the bit about Seb:  "well, thanks mum!"  really cracked me
> up.
>
> And I loved the ending--it's so interesting to think about the "dark
> Arcadias" that writers from the past have created and how we will never
> know exactly how those sprang not from their politics but from their own
> real, lived lives.  Wow.
>
> Jackie
>
> On Sun, 10 Jul 2011 22:49:59 +0300 "Deborah Meghnagi Bailey"
> <deborah at brightweavings.com> writes:
> > Well, it took me well over an hour to transcribe a fourteen minute
> > talk, but
> > I did it! The recording did keep freezing every so often so I had to
> > refresh
> > and restart.
> >
> > I copy it below, hoping that the formatting will be visible in the
> > email.
> > Elizabeth if you'd like to check through it that would be great,
> > there may
> > be small mistakes and there is a word I missed early on - I just put
> > xx
> > there instead of it.
> >
> > Enjoy! I'll be intrigued if anyone has more to say on this, now that
> > it's
> > easier to refer to. I still don't really see this, for example:
> > "Repeatedly,
> > in the fiction of DWJ, a writer is a person who has to give up
> > everything
> > and go through despair, in order to set other people free."  The
> > only person
> > I can really see in that light is Nan in Witch Week, and I'd say
> > that while
> > she goes through despair, she also achieves catharsis and grows into
> > her own
> > person.
> >
> >         My mother died earlier this year. She was the children's
> > author DWJ.
> > She wrote more than 30 novels. Some of them are set in mythical
> > worlds which
> > have their own completely convincing mythologies and histories, all
> > of which
> > she made up. Others blend magic into our own world. Dogsbody, which
> > appeared
> > in 1975, was perhaps the book in which she really worked out what
> > she wanted
> > to do as a writer. In Dogsbody, the Dog Star Sirius is banished from
> > the
> > heavens and is brought to earth as a puppy. He becomes an extremely
> > doggy
> > dog, who can't resist either a bitch in heat or a dustbin. He is
> > unmistakably modeled on our family dog at the time, who was a
> > serial
> > Lothario and bin-raider. Sirius the dog, though, also happens to be
> > a
> > celestial hero, on a quest to recover a tool for mending the stars.
> > That
> > fusion of the completely ordinary and the completely magical was
> > entirely
> > typical of my mother's way of writing. It was also how she looked at
> > reality; normality could never just be normality, so if she got
> > caught in
> > traffic on the M25 it wasn't because it's one of the busiest roads
> > in
> > Europe, it was because she had her own particular travel jinx.
> >         The obituaries all said nice things about her work, though
> > I'm not
> > sure they got her quite right. Most of them said that DWJ was the
> > person who
> > made Harry Potter possible; this is probably true, but she would
> > hate to be
> > remembered like that-she had a very low view of J.K. Rowling.
> > Because my
> > mother read English at Oxford while Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were
> > lecturing
> > there, the obituaries also said that they were the main influences
> > on her
> > writing. Lewis and Tolkien played their parts, but the biggest
> > literary
> > influence on DWJ was, I think, a woman, E. Nesbit, the E stands for
> > Edith,
> > whose books Mum read to us from a very early age. E. Nesbit was
> > described by
> > George Bernard Shaw as "an audaciously unconventional lady." She
> > smoked
> > cigarettes and cut her hair short, she was a Fabian and a socialist,
> > and had
> > a very odd love life. Her children's books wove together sand
> > fairies and
> > ginger beer, magic and experiences from her own life in a way that
> > anticipates the mixture of magic and reality in a lot of
> > contemporary
> > children's fiction. She was the main spirit behind DWJ's fiction. In
> > my
> > mother's best novel, Fire and Hemlock, which re-tells the story of
> > Tam Lin,
> > but which is also about her own love for my father, the heroine
> > Polly is
> > sent a series of children's books which her admirer, Thomas Lynn,
> > says
> > nobody should grow up without reading. They include E. Nesbit's
> > Five
> > Children and It and The Treasure Seekers. When Thomas sends her
> > Tolkien's
> > Lord of the Rings a bit later on, it's something of a disaster,
> > since Polly
> > starts to imitate Tolkien in her own writings, and Thomas tells her
> > off for
> > doing so.
> >         Writing for children is often regarded as escapist, and
> > fantasy in
> > general is often sneered at as the simplest kind of Utopian fiction;
> > you
> > create a world in which everything works out as if by magic, and
> > that's the
> > end of it-Arcadia without darkness, without death. Children's
> > writing and
> > fantasy in the line descending from E. Nesbit is not at all like
> > that. E.
> > Nesbit had an unhappy childhood, she often directly wrote about
> > people she
> > knew in her fiction. Her most utopian writing, particularly her late
> > work,
> > The Magic City, is not simply escapist; it imagines a new and better
> > world
> > because of what's wrong with the present one. E. Nesbit created a
> > kind of
> > children's fiction which was always aware of the bad things it was
> > trying to
> > escape from-fathers in prison, parents who were absent, worlds that
> > are
> > wrecked. As a result, her followers, including DWJ, created a kind
> > of
> > fantasy which doesn't simply run away into ideal or magical worlds,
> > but
> > which uses those ideal worlds to work out real problems from their
> > own
> > lives. This can make the worlds they describe serious and dark. Dark
> > is
> > perhaps an odd word to use about DWJ's writing since it's full of
> > fun -
> > where else could you find a description of a griffin going to the
> > vet, or xx
> > of a griffin cracking itself out of its egg, but her books are
> > profoundly
> > serious despite all the humour. They are quite consistently driven
> > by rage
> > against unfairness. Very often characters in her novels discover
> > that they
> > are being manipulated or controlled by people who have no right to
> > do so and
> > they cry out, as my mother did, rather often, and usually at high
> > volume,
> > "that's not fair!"
> >         DWJ repeatedly embodied evil in people who were unfair in
> > one
> > particular way. She hated exploiters; people who tried to suck the
> > magic and
> > vitality out of others. Her books repeatedly represent acts of
> > rebellion
> > against anything or anyone that makes people ordinary and grey when
> > they
> > could be imaginative and alive. Much of that comes from E. Nesbit;
> > some of
> > it also comes from the poet Shelley, whom DWJ much admired. But her
> > fiction
> > was also underpinned by a profound sadness which was all her own.
> > Many of
> > DWJ's heroes and heroines are writers. Repeatedly, in the fiction of
> > DWJ, a
> > writer is a person who has to give up everything and go through
> > despair, in
> > order to set other people free. That's a profoundly strange idea,
> > and anyone
> > who saw DWJ actually writing a book would be particularly amazed by
> > it. When
> > she wrote, she was a picture of complete happiness. She'd sit, with
> > a fag in
> > one hand and a pen in the other, a dog or a cat at her feet, and
> > coffee
> > nearby. She regarded the people and worlds she created with real
> > love; when
> > she signed away the film rights to Howl's Moving Castle, so that
> > Miyazaki
> > could make it into a wonderful animation, she said that she felt
> > like she
> > was selling her characters into slavery. And yet, clearly, she
> > regarded the
> > process of imagining new and magical worlds as an exercise in
> > loneliness, so
> > profound that it was almost a kind of sacrifice.
> >         Many of the obituaries of DWJ dwelt on her early life, or
> > rather,
> > her early life as she described it in an autobiography she wrote for
> > her
> > website. This tells how she was brought up in the village of
> > Thaxted, in
> > Essex. Thaxted was, through the 1920s and beyond, a centre for
> > communism,
> > Morris dancing, hand-thrown pots, and eccentric living of all kinds.
> > She
> > always said how much she hated the village, but her particular brand
> > of
> >  fiction is actually quite hard to imagine without that bizarre
> > social and political background. Her autobiography also says that
> > DWJ and
> > her sisters spent much of their childhood living on their own in an
> > annex
> > with a concrete floor, where they were deprived of books and were
> > neglected
> > by their parents. Her mother repeatedly called her a "clever but
> > ugly
> > delinquent." Her sisters don't remember their childhood in quite the
> > same
> > way. I obviously wasn't there, so I can only say that she needed to
> > remember
> > her childhood in this way, even if that wasn't quite how it was.
> > There's no
> > doubt that this gives her fiction its characteristic darkness. Old
> > women and
> > failed mothers do not fare well in her stories. The central
> > character of
> > Black Maria is an elderly suburban lady of high respectability. She
> > turns
> > out to be a witch who uses magic to control a whole town full of
> > zombie-like
> > conformist men. This particular witch is clearly based on my own
> > grandmothers and they are represented so cruelly that one of DWJ's
> > own
> > characters might well cry out, "it's not fair," if they read about
> > them. My
> > mother's mother was herself a formidable woman. She grew up in a
> > very modest
> > background in Sheffield, she became a scholarship girl, went to
> > Oxford, and
> > transformed herself into a speaker of impeccably cultivated BBC
> > English. She
> > probably did not much want to be a mother, she certainly could be
> > cruel, and
> > very much liked to be admired by men. She runs through my mother's
> > novels
> > like a dark base note; she's there in the wicked witch of the west
> > in Howl's
> > Moving Castle, who turns the young Sophie into a crone and who
> > preserves her
> > own beauty by magic. There's no doubt that my grandmother is the
> > principal
> > reason why DWJ's arcadias are so dark, and why her fictions so
> > often
> > associate imaginative children with lonely defiance, and with
> > sadness.
> > One of the most obvious but most profound truths about fiction is
> > that it
> > does not paint things as they are. Fiction is often, as a result,
> > not fair.
> > People who make up imaginative worlds; Arcadias, utopias, often do
> > so
> > because they feel wronged, or because they feel that there is
> > something
> > wrong with the world around them. Fiction allows them to create a
> > world with
> > its own set of values in which punishments can be handed out
> > according to
> > the rules of the imagination and emotion rather than the rule of
> > law. People
> > who knew Dante and who saw him put people who he hated into his
> > representation of hell probably had exactly the same response I do
> > to some
> > of my mother's writing. DWJ wrote fiction partly to create worlds
> > which were
> > happier or more equal than our own, but she also could use fiction
> > to take
> > revenge on people she felt had injured or offended her. I liked my
> > grandmother and I got punished for this in several of my mother's
> > books.
> > When I was a teenager, I listened to The Doors and was fond of
> > photography.
> > No doubt in my mother's eyes I was a chilly kind of thing. In Fire
> > and
> > Hemlock, there is a chilly public schoolboy called Sebastian, who
> > likes The
> > Doors and does a lot of photography. He also happens to be in league
> > with
> > the glamorous and unageing Queen of the Fairies, with whom he tries
> > to erase
> > the heroine's memories and perform a human sacrifice. Well, thanks
> > Mum. But
> > fiction isn't meant to be fair; my mother needed to tap some of her
> > darkest
> > experiences in order to write, and she gave moral values to
> > different
> > characters according to a profoundly idiosyncratic emotional
> > language. Her
> > fictional worlds were not straight transcriptions of the world she
> > saw, but
> > of the world she felt, and she said what she felt about people, more
> > readily
> > through fiction than she did in person.
> > I'm a literary critic by profession, and most of the people I write
> > books
> > about-Milton, Spenser, Sidney and Shakespeare-lived around four
> > centuries
> > ago. It's therefore particularly odd for me to read my mother's
> > novels and
> > see at once where so much of the fiction comes from. My old dog,
> > Lily, is
> > effectively the hero of The House of Many Ways, for example. This
> > gives me a
> > quite different perspective on the poems and plays I think about on
> > my day
> > job. Many of the writers I work on created dark Arcadias of one kind
> > or
> > another; pastoral or fantastical worlds which are marred by some
> > problem.
> > It's often said by literary critics that Shakespeare and Sidney and
> > Spenser
> > and Milton created Arcadian and pastoral fictions in order to
> > reflect on
> > their own worlds. If those Arcadias are dark, if kings are no good,
> > or if
> > queens are evil, if life in the forest becomes violent, critics
> > usually end
> > up saying that it's because Sir Philip Sidney, or whoever it might
> > be,
> > didn't like the foreign policy of Elizabeth the First. We say that
> > because
> > we know a fair bit about the foreign policy of Elizabeth the First
> > but we
> > don't know much about the intimate lives and aversions of authors
> > from that
> > period. I learnt many things from my mother and her books, but
> > perhaps the
> > principal thing I learnt was that dark Arcadias, like all fictions,
> > almost
> > certainly come from places in the imagination which are very
> > private.
> > Fictions are so tightly tied up in the lives and emotions of their
> > creators
> > that readers, even the author's own children, can only see by
> > glimpses where
> > they really came from.
> >
> >
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: dwj-bounces at suberic.net [mailto:dwj-bounces at suberic.net] On
> > Behalf Of
> > Elizabeth Bentley
> > Sent: Sunday, July 10, 2011 10:28 PM
> > To: Diana Wynne Jones discussion
> > Subject: Re: [DWJ] Interview with DWJ's son
> >
> > If you need to check the wording after it has gone off-line, I have
> > been
> > able to record it on my iPad!
> >
> > Elizabeth
> > On 10 Jul 2011, at 18:59, Deborah Meghnagi Bailey wrote:
> >
> > > I just tried it and it's working ok for me. But you've inspired me
> > - if
> > it's
> > > going offline tomorrow, I will attempt to transcribe it now. If I
> > manage
> > to
> > > do it all, I'll post it here for everyone.
> >
> > ---------------------
> > Elizabeth Bentley BA MCLIP
> > Librarian
> > CILIP's School Libraries Group national committee
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