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SPOTLIGHT: Diana Wynne Jones

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Yesterday would have been the 80th birthday of the great children's writer, Diana Wynne Jones, if she had lived to see it. 



When I heard - three years and five months ago - that Diana Wynne Jones had died, I grieved as deeply as if I had known her. Part of my sorrow came from the thought that there would be no more Diana Wynne Jones books ... no more funny, wise, magical stories that never fail to enchant and surprise.

I was 11 years old when I read Charmed Life, which has remained my favourite book of hers ever since. It was published in 1977, and was commended for a Carnegie Award and won both the Guardian Award and the Preis der Leseratten in Germany.

The hero of Charmed Life is a boy called Cat Chant. Her and his sister Gwendolen are sent to stay at Chrestomanci Castle after their parents are drowned in a steamboat accident. The castle is the home of the Chrestomanci, a powerful enchanter with nine lives whose job is to manage and control the use of magic in all the many worlds. 



Cat thinks he is a very ordinary sort of boy, but his sister Gwendolen is a talented witch. However, as the story progresses we learn that Cat is indeed a very special boy, with strong magical powers of his own which his sister has been using for her own gain.   

Diana Wynne Jones has gone on to write a number of other books about Cat, the Chrestomanci and the castle, all of them with her own particular brand of warmth, charm, wit and unpredictability. 


Diana Wynne Jones wrote: ‘Why do I write for children? There is one good reason. I would hope to encourage some part of one generation at least to use their minds as minds are supposed to be used. A book for children, like the myths and folktales that tend to slide into it, is really a blueprint for dealing with life. For that reason, it might have a happy ending, because nobody ever solved a problem while believing it was hopeless. It might put the aims and the solution unrealistically high – in the same way that folktales tend to be about kings and queens – but this is because it is better to aim for the moon and get halfway there than just to aim for the roof and get halfway upstairs. The blueprint should, I think, be an experience in all the meanings of that word, and the better to make it so, I would want it to draw on the deeper resonances we all ought to have in the other side of our minds.’


(I originally wrote this blog post for Michael Pryor's wonderful blog Narrative Transport - check it out there, or read this brief review of one of my favourite SWJ's books Cart & Cwidder)

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BOOK LIST: Books Read in March 2014

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I was away for two weeks in Singapore and Hong Kong this month and so did a lot of reading on my e-reader. I also only read 8 books - but it was such a busy month, I didn't get much time for reading!



The Caller – Juliet Marillier
This is the third and last book in Juliet Marillier’s gorgeous YA fantasy Shadowfell trilogy. I have really enjoyed these books, which are, as always with Juliet’s books, filled with wit, warmth and wisdom. You must read them in order – Shadowfell, Raven Flight, then The Caller – as the books tell the story of the continuing adventures of Neryn and her journey to understand and control her magical talents as a Caller. Set in a land very much like ancient Scotland, with all manner of extraordinary faery creatures, the Shadowfell books weave together history, fantasy, folklore and ancient wisdoms to create a beautiful and powerful story. These books are a perfect read for a dreamy, romantic teenage girl – I love them now but oh! How I would have loved them when I was fifteen. 

Dance on the Volcano: A Teenage Girl in Nazi Germany – Renata Zerner



Children of Terror – Inge Auerbacher & Bozenna Urbanowicz Gilbride



As part of my research for a novel I am writing that is set in Nazi Germany, I am reading a great many memoirs of people who lived during those terrible times. Although neither of these memoirs has the poetic intensity of Elie Wiesel’s heart-wrenching Night, they are nonetheless poignant and distressing, particularly Children of Terror which is written by two concentration camp survivors. It seems impossible that such things can have happened. Yet they did. It’s so important that we read these stories and make sure that such atrocities can never happen again. 


True to the Highlander – Barbara Langley 
After reading a few emotionally harrowing books, I felt in desperate need of some light romance. True to the Highlander was perfect. Utterly predictable, but done with flair and humour, and I always love a medieval Scottish Highlands setting. 


The Paris Affair – Teresa Grant
Teresa Grant has written a series of historical mystery novels set during and just after the Napoleonic Wars. Her French heroine Suzanne is married to an English attaché and spy, and together they negotiate their way through murder, intrigue and passion. The stories are always a little slow, but the historical detail is spot-on and the interaction between the characters and their slowly unfolding relationships makes up for it. 



The Fault in Our Stars – John Green 
I have had this book on my shelf for over a year now and have been avoiding reading it because I knew it was going to be a harrowing read. And it is! However, it is also utterly brilliant. It deserves every bit of praise it has garnered. I urge you all: READ IT! Another book which I am insanely jealous about and wish that I could have written. 


Cart & Cwidder – Diana Wynne Jones
Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourite writers from my childhood and Cart & Cwidder is one of my favourite of her books, and so it was the one I chose to re-read for DWJ-month in the blogosphere – a global celebration of her books and writing. This is the story of a family of musical travellers in a world divided between North and South, and has DWJ’s trademark mix of the ordinary and the magical. A truly delightful children’s fantasy.  



The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater
I really enjoyed this book by Maggie Stiefvater, which re-imagines the Scottish fairy tale of the kelpie, or water-horse, into what feels like a fairly contemporary setting  (it actually felt like the 1950s but the time of the setting is left intentionally vague). The result is a beautiful, dark, poignant book of danger, magic and love that feels very true. I have previously read Maggie Stiefvater's book Shiver  and really enjoyed that too, so I'm now hunting down a few of her other books. This is a wonderful read for anyone who loved Margo Lanagan's Sea Hearts (The Brides of Rollrock Island). 


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!



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