I may draw something if I have the time and the right inspiration. Who knows. I’ll be coming back to DWJ sooner or later, she’s never that far away from me.
But for now I can share my story about her.
I discovered Howl’s Moving Castle when I was 19 (eight years ago). I wrote her a letter when I was 21, when I was getting very deep into her other books, especially Chrestomanci. The year when I was 21 was very, very awful, I went through some pretty brutal events, but her books were a great comfort and a great inspiration. They helped sort out a lot of understanding and tangled knots in myself. Naturally, I drew a ton of fanart, which a lot of people probably still know me by. It’s pretty old now. So I sent her some of that fanart, and a really embarrassing letter sharing what I appreciated about her books (her family dynamics, the lessons in them, how to deal with people you love and trust who disappoint you, among other things) and asked some questions about her characters that were plaguing me.
I honestly didn’t expect her to write back. So when I got a mysterious envelope with no return address and opened it up and saw what it was, I legitimately dropped it on my desk and went to go hide under my blankets. eventually I crawled out and read it.
Thank you very much for sending me your fan pictures. The finished ones are awfully good and all of them show that you have really got inside the characters and their relationships, as if you knew them personally. You seem to be as interested in family dynamics and personal relationships as I am. I discovered I was while writing a story when I was fourteen (a long time ago now) about a large group of kids who, for various reasons, kept splitting into smaller groups - where upon the dynamics among them changed markedly and kept surprising me. I always like to be surprised by people in my books, as well as other things. For this reason I never actually plan what it is to happen in any detail. Teachers are always surprised and disapproving when I say this to kids, but it is really the best way. The story then becomes a living thing, going its own way.
It is good to think you are searching out my books and reading them. Have you read my Dalemark Quartet yet? I think you’ll enjoy those. The relationships in the earlier books took me totally by surprise in the last one, by more or less standing on their heads. And if you read the books in the right order, they build into something more, in a way that I am quite proud of.
As for Cat, it is fairly obvious that he has been damaged by his sister and slowly healing. There is certainly going to be another book with him in it. But I am not sure about Chrestomanci’s earlier life, largely because I suspect his knighthood was a boring matter of government endowing him with it for Services to Magic. But it may not be. We shall see. You have probably put ideas into my head.
Thank you, and best wishes,
Diana Wynne Jones
I only wrote her one other letter after that, a couple of years later. I put it off for so long because I wanted to draw her something more worthwhile. I don’t think I managed, but I accumilated a lot of sketches and art, and hearing news of her sickness I decided better now than never, so I bundled all that together and sent her that.
I received a reply about half-year before she died. In it she mentioned how she had stopped responding to letters because of how difficult the cancer was, but she handwrote one to me anyway to tell me she hung up my pictures on her fridge and her family had wonderful things to say on it. I would say that it’s an honor (I mean, it is) and that she was so considerate of me (she was), but I was grateful my art could delight her even a fraction of the way her writing delighted me.
I’m a little sad I never got to draw an illustration for her I felt was worthwhile, but that’s why one of my great dreams is to do an art fanbook on her bibliography, but I feel I still need to learn a thing or two first, about art and myself. Her stories are still helping in that regard. I still haven’t finished reading all of them (I have about eight or so left). I imagine the day I do is the day I start working on that artbook.
And I spend a lot of time wondering about that first letter, and the stories she ran out of time to tell. I’m less sad about that, though. I can’t really say why. Maybe it’s because she told so many already. Or maybe because she’s always had a healthy respect for the imagination of her readers to carry things out where she didn’t.
Diana Wynne Jones’s books are so precious and important to me and reading this just made me tear up, so I want to gush a bit about it.
My mum bought me a copy of Charmed Life when I was about 11 and I feel in love instantly. It wasn’t until a few years later I learned she lived in my city, on the same road as a friend of mine. I never reached out to her, I was far to intimidated. But I would walk past her house and could hardly believe that the creator of the magical worlds I spent most of my time buried in could be so close and real.
In retrospect I’m sad I never had the nerve to at least send her a letter.
I think her 80th birthday is a good excuse to re-read some old favourites and draw some fan art. :)
My sexual orientation is girls who look like they could beat me up and boys who look like they wouldn’t stand a chance
Does anyone else ever get so obsessed with something you actually have to avoid thinking about it because it PHYSICALLY HURTS your brain?
… so yeah, I saw dofp yesterday. Just inscribe “death by cherik feels” on my headstone.