Thursday, 26 April 2012

Remembering Diana Wynne Jones - Cathy Butler




Last Sunday found me at St George’s in Bristol, a deconsecrated church now used as a concert hall, and frequently the venue from which BBC lunchtime concerts are broadcast. What brought me there was not music, but a celebration of the life and work Diana Wynne Jones, who died last year, and who was both one of the best British children’s writers of her generation and, I’m proud to say, a friend.

I’d had some part in organizing and publicizing the event, but we weren’t sure how many people were actually going to turn up. We knew we could count on fifty or so family, friends and fans, but it was gratifying to see something close to two hundred people in the hall. Downstairs in the crypt there was a sale of spare copies of Diana’s books, accumulated over the years from her many publishers. The translated editions were made into a tottering Babel Tower, from which I was able to claim a rare German copy of The Skiver's Guide, published as Handbuch zum Wegtauchen. Proceeds went to St Peter’s Hospice, where she died in March 2011 (and it’s still not too late to contribute!). In the next alcove, Blackwells were selling advance copies of Reflections, a collection of her essays and lectures that’s being published in a few days by David Fickling. I contributed an introduction, and also conducted an interview with Diana for the book just a few weeks before she died, so perhaps I’m not altogether impartial when I tell you to rush out and buy a copy. But you really should.

The event itself consisted mostly of short talks by those who knew Diana well, in her personal or professional life (and often both): her sisters and her sons; her editors and agent; fans, friends, translators...  There were also clips from the adaptations of her work: Miyazaki’s animated Howl’s Moving Castle, the BBC dramatization of Archer’s Goon, and even an excerpt from the ballet of Black Maria written by her nephew, Tom Armstrong. As is the way of such events, laughter and tears were never far away or far apart. In the end, I believe we approached Diana from enough angles that we managed by a process of - not triangulation, perhaps, but polygonization? - to conjure her, if in a fitful way like a Star Wars hologram. It was the kind of event where one thought, "I wish Diana could see this - she'd really enjoy it!"

We still have her books, but I’ll miss her. I’ll miss her, but we have her books.

10 comments:

catdownunder said...

And here I am trying not to buy myself any books at present - really the pile I am sitting on is terribly unstable but...I must hunt out Reflections!

Sue Purkiss said...

Wish I'd known about it - it sounds a really good event. I haven't read nearly enough of her books, bit I did see and enjoy a talk she did a few years ago at Bath.

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Lucy Coats said...

I so wish I could have been there on Sunday, Cathy. Sounds as if it was a wonderful celebration. I think I have everything Diana ever wrote and am looking forward to adding Reflections to the collection. I'd say Diana was one of my biggest influences as a writer. It's one of my great regrets that I never met her.

whispering words said...

Sounds like it was a wonderful event in memory of a wonderful lady :) Her books were loved by so many and I think she was an Inspiration to all!

Book Maven said...

I was with you and Diana in spirit but in the flesh looking after my sister who also has cancer. I hope both of you understand.

Catherine Butler said...

Of course, Mary.

Katherine Langrish said...

Wish I could have been there. wish I could have net her. Will be buying the book, of course, Cathy!

Emma Barnes said...

What a wonderful writer! I don't know how many times I've read Howl's Moving Castle, the Ogre Downstairs or Charmed Life - it must be at least once a year since I first came across them. I'm on second copies for all three: the first copies actually fell to bits.

I know that they won't grow stale, and they will always be a standby and solace in gloomy times. I always hate getting to the last page.

Cathy, can you advise whether I should get the kindle version of "Reflections" - my first impulse - or the book? Are there pictures in the book but not the e-book, for example?

And thank you for sharing this event in your post.

Catherine Butler said...

Emma, I don't have a Kindle, and am not sure what's included in the ebook version, but the hardback (which is a very handsome object in any case) has quite a few black and white photographs of Diana and (mostly) her family, taken at various times in her life.