Tag Archives: Diana Wynne Jones

Howl’s Moving Castle

I have found a witch after my own heart in Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle. What’s more, Diana knows what it’s like to be old(er), to have creaking knees and how to say what you think. Whether this works with young readers I have no idea, but the book was based on a suggestion from a boy at a school event, and even the dedication is wonderful.

Sophie is 17 (I think) when she is cursed by a not very nice witch, and ends up feeling and looking like 90. She leaves home and tries to find a new life, where a girl can be 90 and still manage.

She moves in with Howl in his castle, which as the title suggests never stays in one place. Two other males live there, and Sophie soon drives them all a little crazy. She cleans and she scolds.

There are puzzles to solve and spells to deal with. Sophie’s two younger sisters also get mixed up, in more ways than one, and there is witchcraft and wizardry seemingly everywhere. While Howl irritates Sophie (now what does that make you think of?) she needs to work out who the dog is, why the scarecrow seems so scary, and whether Howl really eats pretty young women. Perhaps that is why she is better off as an old crone?

This book seemed to take a long time to read, until I got to the end, and then I was very surprised it had ended. I feel there is more that needs saying. Luckily Diana thought so too, and there are two sequels.

I’m slowly feeling my way with Diana’s books, and this trilogy seemed like good company to take on holiday. I need stories that allow old women to be difficult and cantankerous.

Reflections of DWJ

Once I get going on a topic, there is not stopping me. I was happy to find that there is a new book featuring talks and essays by Diana Wynne Jones, all of which she chose herself during the last months of her life.

It’s a bit like when I read obituaries of people I might have heard of, but knew little about. They sound so interesting that I am furious they had to die before I found out. I’m beginning to favour living obituaries, heaping praise on someone while they are there to enjoy it.

I did know Diana was special, because everyone said so. I just procrastinated. So not only am I rather belatedly setting off on a DWJ-readathon, but I have these marvellous little pieces as well.

Because I wanted to bring Reflections to your attention, and because I want to slowly savour her reflections on the magic of writing, I haven’t yet read every single piece. I am dipping into the book, little by little. And I’ve only now realised I didn’t start where my adviser suggested, with ‘Why don’t you write real books?’

But then, I am quite happy with where I did start. And also with where I went after that.

Neil Gaiman was a fan. Obviously. Diana was very much a writer’s writer, which is why so many admired her so much. Neil has written the foreword to Reflections, while Charlie Butler – another DWJ fan – reflects on this collection. Diana wrote the preface. It’s good that she was able to.

There is a hilarious tale of when the 9-year-old Diana ended up babysitting half the village’s children. And, not too far from that topic, there is an amalgam of school visits that rings so true. (They ought to be ashamed of themselves!) Vomiting at Halloween, children playing in the woods, the mumbling of J R R Tolkien, and how to appreciate your talents all get their own ‘chapters.’

Even if you’ve never heard of Diana, this makes for first class reading.

Earwig and the Witch

This is my very first Diana Wynne Jones book, and sadly, her last. I was relieved to find it’s a nice little story, and for something so short and aimed at younger readers, it is also an intelligent, easy read.

Diana Wynne Jones, Earwig and the Witch

Earwig is chosen to move from her orphanage to live with a ‘foster mother’ who turns out to be a witch. Because Earwig isn’t an ordinary child, she isn’t scared by this turn of events, and stipulates that she is to learn from the witch.

Not surprisingly the witch goes back on her word and uses Earwig only for hard work. But I did say that Earwig is no ordinary child, so she sets about arranging her new life to suit.

The witch’s cat is rather nice, and quite useful. The ‘foster father’ however, is not nice at all, and nor are his demons. But, as I mentioned before, Earwig is no ordinary child.

I suppose I wish the witch had been nicer.

Nominations for the 2010 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

The ALMA people have a long longlist of 168 nominations for next year’s award, and I won’t write them all down here. I had a little look for individual authors that you may know and be interested in:

David Almond, Quentin Blake, Aidan Chambers, Morris Gleitzman, Margaret Mahy, Michael Morpurgo, Walter Dean Myers, Axel Scheffler, Kate Thompson, Tomi Ungerer, Jacqueline Wilson and Diana Wynne Jones.

There are absolutely masses of Scandinavian writers, as well as others from countries we rarely pay attention to in the English speaking world. And then there are the organisations. Boring as it may seem to vote for a group that brings books and reading to many children, I wonder whether that is what they should do after all.

The above writers are all good and worthy, and as Sonya Hartnett found last year, five million kronor will do a lot for a person. But the good the money will do through an organisation is very different.

I also wonder why these particular authors are on the list. Presumably because they have someone who campaigns for them and who are allowed to nominate. I need to find out who does get to nominate. I can see myself nominating, you know.