• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:

    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!



Farewell Diana Wynne Jones

Late on Saturday night, I saw the news that Diana Wynne Jones had died. She had been diagnosed with cancer some time ago, and her official website said that she had stopped chemotherapy, so I think all her readers knew this day would come. Over the past two weeks I’d had a nagging thought about one of her stories. Which one was it? There was a fete and a girl and a mean wizard and possibly a pig. I’d kept meaning to look it up but hadn’t. I looked it up today and it’s ‘The Fat Wizard’. Her stories have a habit of doing that, popping up and nudging you, for whatever reason. And I had reread Archer’s Goon just a couple of weeks’ ago.  I was thinking of Howard bounding up those steps and becoming seven feet tall and realising himself.

Diana taught me a number of things about writing and about life.

The thing that lingers most in my mind is Polly and Laurel in Fire and Hemlock; Polly needing to ignore her own embarrassment over her feelings for Tom in order to not forget the situation and stop being a hero. In fact, at a pivotal moment in the book, she succumbs to a perceived embarrassment over her actions.  I hadn’t thought before then that a hero must overcome their own preoccupations or sense of what is decorous. After all, most of us sit and squirm through difficult situations rather than risking standing up and speaking out, because what if we’re wrong? A true hero, a New Hero, must let the adrenalin flow and forget about going red in the face and assume they are doing the right thing as they leap into the fray.  And perhaps train by lifting up their bed every day, at least three legs off the floor.

One of the most wonderful and endearing things in Diana’s writing is that she writes the everyday and familiar but with a twist. In Archer’s Goon the Sykes family’s most pressing frustrations are the lack of electricity, lack of sleep because of noise, lack of food. The fact that megalomaniac wizardy types may be running their town takes a backseat to their everyday needs. A lot of the story circles around getting the basic necessities so they can live. And Howard, again, has moments of cringing and shame that he has to fight against to get things sorted out. Diana notes all those idiosyncrasies that make up a family, whether it’s Quentin stealing Howard’s boots or Awful salting the tea. In Castle in the Air Abdullah finds his elaborate daydreams are not so wonderful when they interfere with his everyday life, thanks to the great djinn, but he’s more annoyed by the fact that everyone seems to be getting the better of him. In Dogsbody, Sirius realises that Kathleen loved his ordinary dog-self, the creature with boundless enthusiasm and a clumsy tail, not this towering, powerful celestial being.  Diana made me realise that fantasy and magic wrap around the everyday and that the everyday likewise wraps itself around magic. You can find both things everywhere.

Diana’s writing brought magic into thousands of people’s lives, and you can see this in the outpouring of emotion that has come with the news of her death, as well as the many discussions boards and websites where readers discuss the threads running through her amazing books and characters. Thank you, Diana, for the magic that continues to live on in your writing.

I’d love to hear about how Diana has been a part of your life, please share any comments you’d like.

Natalie (Editor)

15 Responses

  1. She was my grandmother. a great author, a great inspiration and a loving friend.

    • One of my lifes regets will always be that I never got to meet Diana, her books are a wonder, and her tough guide to fantasy land was the best lesson in fantasy writing I’ve ever had.

      I am so sorry for your loss johnny.

      She was loved by a world of readers

  2. What a lovely post, Natalie! I had never actually thought of how well she uses embarrassment and other seemingly “mundane” concerns to make her characters real, but it’s absolutely true. Diana was the queen of domestic fantasy, and she wrote families so very well. Quite awful, mean relatives were dotted through her books, but she was also so good at warts-and-all-but-redeemable family relationships, such as Howard and Awful in Archer’s Goon (and that Other Family in the book) and the sisters in Time of the Ghost.

    It always drove me nuts that she seemed to end every novel about half a chapter too soon, with these tantalising hints of what wasn’t being said, and yet when I look back, so many of her books have perfect endings. it’s just that I never WANTED any of her books to end.

    I last had a mass reread of all my DWJ books when I was pregnant with my now-six-year-old and it gives me great pleasure to think that in a few years, I can share them with her.

    I blogged an image of my collection here – http://tansyrr.com/tansywp/thanks-and-farewell-to-diana-wynne-jones-1934-2011/ – as I felt as if I had run out of words to say what her books meant to me. Apparently not!

    • Thanks for sharing, Tansy. And I love the photo on your website. I must go and do the same! I’ve just realised I gave away my copy of House of Many Ways, meaning to replace it via work, and I haven’t yet done so!

      You’re absolutely right about her finishing every novel just before you were certain of the ending. She left it up to us, every time, and in that way again underlined the every day part of life, that happy endings are not straight forward final chapters of a book … I think the ending of Fire & Hemlock shows that most strongly! And the end of Charmed Life, where Cat is still unsure of how he feels. And yet they work, every time!

      I love to share her works with my friends too – and certainly hope there will be a day when I can share them with my children :).

      PS. The relatives are spectacular – Aunt Maria is just awful but so is Himself in Time of the Ghost.

      • Thank you Natalie for the beautify remembrance of Diana. Was it last year you suggested to me I read Fire & Hemlock? She is a wonderful writer indeed! And yes to those everyday details that lull you into the story. I was so intrigued I looked up her astrology and sure enough, her sun in Leo opposite Saturn in Aquarius. Saturn is very much into the practical, step-by-step intricacies of life and put that with the creative spark of her fiery sun, it’s not surprising she wove this into her stories.

        Tansy, I love the photo of DWJ’s books on your blog too. It really speaks volumes. What greater honour than to appreciate her work?.

        Thank you both!

      • Yes, I suggested you read Fire & Hemlock – it’s an amazing book and it plays with one of your favourite concepts – time. I am sure you’d love her work!

  3. Diana Wynne Jones was the absolute best writer in the world. I’ve been reading her books avidly for pretty much all my life. 20 years ago she wrote to me encouraging my idea of getting Fire and Hemlock turned into a film someday. 3 years ago she tried to help me get Chrestomanci off the ground. It never happened and my one sole regret in life is that I never met her. But I’m sure across one of the many other worlds one of the Diana’s is reading these comments and realising just how much she was loved by us. She never got the attention she deserved whilst alive – I hope everyone realises what they’re going to miss.
    RIP my favorite storyteller.

    • To have exchangd ideas and thoughts with her is still wonderful, even if you didn’t meet face to face. She answered a question for me on the leemac website once, and it was one of my great moments with an author. I do hope you might still realise the films some day.
      Thanks for sharing your Diana moments with us.

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  5. Such a lovely post, Nat.

    You’re right about the embarrassment factor, there are so many scenes in her books that show characters cringing with embarrassment: Sophie in ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ (although sometimes she causes it in others!), David in ‘Eight Days of Luke’ is frequently ashamed of himself and of his relatives… there are lists and lists.

    For me, Diana’s books were always my comfort reads – and still are. I grew up with them and adored them. As you so eloquently say above, they contain so many life lessons. None of her characters are perfect. All of them are believable. They’re all so terribly human. Now I’m older I can appreciate the incredible skill in the writing and story weaving – I can see the writing lessons therein as well.

    I will always love her for giving us those characters. ‘Charmed Life’ was my first and I adored Chrestomanci (and once had a school librarian who looked just like the depiction of the character on my ‘Charmed Life’ copy) and dear, lost, Cat – who I identified with as a child for no other reason than that he was left-handed.

    I too wrote about Diana on my blog here: http://www.bothersomewords.com/blog/2011/03/27/diana-wynne-jones/
    Like Tansy, I took a photo of my collection, but looking at the titles I strongly suspect that’s not all of it. I know, for I have always regretted, that some books are forever gone. Second-hand copies, culled and intended to be replaced when we we moved here from the UK. A sticky and battered ex-library blue-and-yellow hardcover of ‘Wilkin’s Tooth’ didn’t make it. Others may be in storage or perhaps were always part of another family member’s collection.

    My annual reread is due. And I think it’s time I visit a bookshop and plug the gaps in my collection.

    Farewell, Diana, and thank you for everything. If it wasn’t for you, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do.

    • I think it’s time to plug the gaps too! And I loved your picture and Tansy’s of your collections. One of the things that still amazes me about Diana’s writing is the fact that I can read them now, twenty years after picking up my first one and I find them even better, even funnier, even deeper than I did as a child. Surely she must be a magid, and she’s simply stepped ayward or nayward.

  6. It’s so lovely to see others proclaiming their love of DWJ’s writing. I’m getting all teary. Her stories are so wonderful. I only discovered them in my early 30’s crazily enough, but it was like finding a kindred spirit. Her writing is kind of wild and seat-of-the-pant-ish feeling, it has a breathless, flowing quality, a daring-ness that I love. And like Neil Gaiman says – she really writes magic like no-one else can, so tangibly, so believably.
    Natalie, like you, I’ve had a couple of weeks of her stories being in the back of my mind, strangely enough. Brrrr! Witchy woman that she was! Bet she’s off to have some awesome adventures in some other dimension as we speak!
    The story that’s been niggling my mind is one I can’t put a title to, I just have some really vivid images that keep coming back. In particular, a world with a city that’s built into a cliff face? I think it’s the same story that also has a strange sort of rocky, dark in-between place between realities, a bit like in the Chrestomanci series, but a bit different. There’s a boy protagonist. I’m thinking maybe it’s The Power of Three but I’m not sure. Will have to see if I can find it.

    • Hi Sally,
      I hope her travel jinx is now a thing of the past. The story you’re thinking of (I think) is The Merlin Conspiracy. During that book, Nick (whose character is loosely based on Neil Gaiman!) goes through a number of cities, and one of these is built into the cliff face. In fact I think it’s the one where at the top layers of the cliffs there are people weaving beautiful tapestries and carpets, but they have suffered radiation poisoning from the sun because they are so exposed by being at the top level. Does that sound right?
      Thanks for sharing your story :).

  7. Sadly, I did not grow up reading these books. I had to wait until my husband introduced me to Chrestomanci as an adult. A great author, and I look forward to introducing her to my kids when they are a little older.

  8. I’m from Australia and have known her books since youth. I had to order nearly half of them from overseas. It is heart breaking to think that after this last story there will be no further adventures to wait hopefully for!

    Her stories will live on for ever.

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