The opening and closing of doors

Recently I've been having a little sentimental think-back to the books I read as a child. There are some books that I think completely defined how I write, what I write about, and what I love to read. There are others that I know defined some of my childhood ideas and I am not sure I'll ever really be able to forgive Enid Blyton for getting the all-girl school environment so completely wrong. But whereas I'll write about death and chaos visiting all the places I hated, perhaps she just re-wrote everything as a nicer, jollier, friendlier place*. I probably need to read her biography.

Anyway - I digress. The author who had the biggest impact on me as an aspiring writer was Diana Wynne Jones. If you've never read any of her books then GO AND FIND SOME IMMEDIATELY. Ignore the fact that they may be aimed at children, or teens, or YA. A great book is a great book, no matter who it is marketed to. She is top of my "read and read again" list.

Some people will only read a book once. For me that would be like meeting an amazing person, starting a beautiful friendship, and then never seeing them again. I am an avid re-visitor of books. They are there so that if I encounter a new work that summons the dreaded DNF**, then I know I have some sensible and reliable people to turn to.

Diana Wynne Jones is top of my "books as old friends" list. I won't list them all - you can find them on Wikipedia - but rest assured that apart from the rarities I cannot find, I have read everything by her more than once.
The person I have to thank for inadvertently bringing the wondrous DWJ into my life is my Mum.

I was ill at home one day and my Mum, presumably tired of my moans about illness and boredom, offered to go to the library and get me some books. She asked me what sort of thing I wanted and I remember replying "Oh, anything about witches."

And back she came with "Witch Week" (and, I think, "Which Witch" by Eva Ibbotson, and two others that didn't make that much impact, because I can't remember them) and I was hooked. After that the first thing I would do on hitting the library would be to go straight to the "J" section and trawl for new DWJ books. If there weren't any I would take a little stroll to the "W" shelves, just in case she'd been mis-filed. If I couldn't find any in the kids section I'd check the adult racks - you never know. And if there was nothing new I would take out a book by her that I'd already read. Harlow library's copy of "Cart and Cwidder" was almost permanently on loan to me, and nothing matched the delight I experienced at finding "The Eight Days of Luke" in their "for sale" section. In the days before Abebooks and Amazon, before J.K. Rowling brought Fantasy back to children's bookshelves, books by DWJ were remarkably hard to find. Finding one to borrow (or - most excitingly - one to buy) was like finding 300 pages of gold.

Diana Wynne Jones conjured the literary arms that would draw me close, give me a soft and mysterious hug, and then open the doors to new worlds. And she was the best kind of door-opener: the kind that closes it behind you.
There's nothing like being utterly transported by writing, and it's my goal with my own books to do just that; perhaps not as magically and beautifully as she managed it, and perhaps with more of a cackle and a slam, but if I can open and close doors then I will have mastered something that she managed with almost every thing she wrote.

Diana Wynne Jones passed away in 2011 so we have no new adventures to look forward to... Not unless someone finds a hidden trunk of unpublished miracles somewhere. But she was a caster of quality and lasting spells, and so every time I pick up a familiar and beloved book, I know that I'm in ingenious hands and an amazing journey will begin.

*Whilst a certain amount of tragedy strikes an all-girls school in "Hiding The Smile" that isn't really based on any of my school experiences, which is weird, because a number of family members and close friends have assumed that it's a direct hit... I have saved my personal school for ghosts, suicides and demons. Just so you know.

**Did Not Finish. I made a vow not to slog my way through a book I'm not enjoying, and the older I get and the more I read, the more books waste my time. I know. I am hard to please.