Chrestomanci Castle

The Diana Wynne Jones Homepage

or Travels in the Land of Ingary

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July 25th 1996

Dear Deborah,

Forgive my being so long responding to your 'interview'. When it came, I had just discovered that my computer had somehow lost half of each chapter of the book I was trying to finish and I couldn't think of anything else. This is now straightened out (though I still don't know what happened) and I can now think again. Meanwhile, my American publisher has sent me a printout of Chrestomanci Castle and a colleague of my husband's has mentioned that there might be another page on the same lines somewhere in the net (but this may not be true: if it is, I had better do what I can to make sure you stay ahead).

Anyway .... Cluelessness of adults? My children are now long grown up and probably joined the adult league, so I can't ask them, but they still seem to find their own parents pretty clueless. This was part of deliberate policy on my part, as you probably surmised. Most adults are far too fond of squinching children's initiative by the heavy 'Mother/Father/teacher knows best' line. When I started writing, there was an absolute rule in children's books that 'good' adults were not to be questioned or cnticised. I was out to abolish that rule, on the grounds that even good adults were wholly fallible in many circumstances and that children should be told they were. For this reason, at least one adult (and usually one child) in each of my books is drawn from life - naturally they are real: they are real people. There is a further advantage here. A character who has actually existed tends to keep all the other characters behaving like folk who have really existed too. But I also make a point of knowing my people seriously well, whether they actually exist outside my head or not. I usually know things about them (such as the shape of their feet or hands) that never get into the book directly.

'The True State of Affairs' was a very early piece. At that time I hoped that adult fantasy would be possible and eventually become as various as fantasy for children, bat - this was in the Sixties - nothing came of it. I was told by an agent that no one wanted this kind of nonsense. Adults had to wait for at least fifteen years - and then most publishers seemed to think that Fantasyland (as in The Tough Guide) was what they all wanted I think adults are getting a raw deal. I am now trying to write a few books specially for them.

No book is any good without a point of some kind, but no book (particularly for children) should start with that point. That way is preaching. I mostly start with the story - which I don't know and so I need to know what happens too - and with substantial characters and - this is equally important - the sort of feel or taste-in-the-head that this particular book (and only this one) has to have. Once all those three things are there, I wait to find out what point they are combining to make. And I find it important too to visualise in enormous detail any surroundings to any action. That way I don't have to waste everyone's time describing things. People see what I see.

Having done all this, I then find that the darned book come true at me. You wouldn't know to ask this, so I put it in. For instance, after writing Witch Week I had to spend Halloween in a huge old-fashioned school, where I was given worms in custard to eat; I now live in the house in The Ogre Downstairs; Fire and Hemlock began manifesting around me as I wrote it; Drowned Ammet caused me to be in a boat marooned on a sudden island and then be suspected of being a terrorist; and I am still recovering from the broken neck I got out of writing The Lives of Christopher Chant.

The Tough Guide arose through helping a friend who was working on The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. We found we were chorusing things like "nunneries are for sacking!" and then falling about with laughter. After a while I said I could write the guidebook for this country. So I did. And you are right. I have read far too many fantasies of the kind the editors of the Encyclopedia referred to privately as 'rote fantasy'. This is partly because I always hope one of them might be different, and partly because everything you read teaches you something, even if it is only how not to. And I like fantasy. Of course much of the stuff in the Guide will apply to Tolkien, who invented most of it and is still head and shoulders above any other, and to the Beigariad which is a pretty good reworking head and shoulders above most of the others, in fact. As for the others .... ! Well, at one point I must have got onto a computer list for a publisher who dealt in Fantasyland Bundles of them kept coming and of course I read them. I have read thousands, I think, from that source and others. Those are the ones that keep all the Rules in the Tough Guide. Quite a waste of trees really. But there are always people who have flu or a broken leg and have to read something.

I also like reading books on the theory of magic. Most of them get something wrong. I have never worked out if this is deliberate or just due to ignorance.

I am not FC Stone. I invite you to guess who she is.

There will probably be more Chrestomanci books. There may be more Castle books. But Dalemark is closed until I get round to discovering what Tanaqui did after Hem became king.

My travel jinx is infinitely inventive. Most of my family have declared their intention of never travelling with me again - this was when the electric wires fell down over the train we were in and stranded us under live cables for most of an afternoon. A lot of the trouble is electrical - under that heading you can count sudden thunderstorms and flash floods - but cars and railway engines break too in a other ways, doors fall out of planes and if all else fails there is always a vast agricultural machine proceeding very slowly in front when everyone needs to be somewhere in a hurry. There is also Birmingham. Birmingham bobs up in front of me when I try to go anywhere in England and I find myself in that city instead In America I just get Birmingham on the phone, and the jinx resorts to loose horses and suddenly falling trees. And cars driven by wild Chinese cut across in front all over the world In Europe there tend to be wasps or giant ants, or deep ravines under the back wheels of the bus I am in. A magician once offered to buy my jinx - very correctly, at midday in a marketplace - because he collected curses, but to tell the truth I find it too interesting to part with. I always wonder what it will think of next.

I bet the Queen does so eat pizza.

Actually I drink coffee, not tea. I hate tea, probably because it is unpleasant without milk and I have a very fierce milk allergy. And I used to play the cello. I like encouraging plants to grow.

As a child I had parents. They were worse than anything in my books. If I put in anything out of my childhood, I always have to reduce it to a tenth of what was actually true, because people wouldn't otherwise find it credible. Example, my sister tied knots in her hair to keep it out of her eyes. This was not noticed for more than six months. Then I got the blame. In The Time of the Ghost I found I had to reduce the six months to days or nobody would have believed it.

When I can get them, I read good fantasy. The trouble is, there are only about twenty of them. Yes, then I re-read them.

Plays for children never got published. They don't seem like much anyway, except on the stage. They were written for a particular children's company in the sixties.

My birthday is August 16th. My favourite colour is of course red.

There were some recordings of panels made when I was GOH at Fourth Street Convention in Minneapolis. People who are interested might ask the committee if someone still has them. There is a rather strange picture of me in the Boskone book for 1995. NESFA might still have that.

I hope this answers the main questions at least. If you have more, please write again, and I will do my best to answer.

Oh, perhaps I should say that when I am writing - first draft anyway - I am not really with this world Luckily this part (unless I hit problems) usually lasts for no longer than six weeks, usually less. During this time, I not only laugh aloud insanely but forget to eat. Worse, I forget to feed the humans in my family.

And I have taken eight years writing one book, and thirteen days writing another.

That has to be most of it.

Best wishes,

Diana Wynne Jones