Books, influences, writing

Influences: Diana Wynne Jones

Even though I only discovered her a few years ago, DWJ has ended up being an enormous influence on my writing, especially right now.

Every time I would pass her books in the store or library, I’d see the edition of one of the Chrestomanci books that has a cat on the cover, and I would think, “Ugh, feline fantasy. BORING.”

(Note to publishers – if a book is not, in fact, about cats doing magic, you might not want to imply that on the cover.)

Then, in recent years, more and more of my friends started recommending her books. I was getting desperate for good YA Fantasy, since Lloyd Alexander was gone and my list of favorite authors was growing smaller and smaller. Finally, I picked up the very volume with the cat on the cover, and gave it a try.
You can imagine my indignation when I discovered this wonderfully witty, clever, pithy writer, with a delightful story that had pretty much nothing to do with cats! I felt so cheated. I could have been reading her for years, and I’d missed out just because of a dumb cover. Her twisty way of turning plots around kept me tearing through the stories, and then going back and re-reading them so I could pick up the little nuances I missed the first time around.
Even better, for me, than the Chrestomanci books was Howl’s Moving Castle (I think it’s that way for a lot of people, yes, no?), with the delightful Sophie who only figures out who she truly is when she’s transformed into an old woman and no longer cares about society’s conventions and her family’s expectations.

I had already starting writing The Eldest Sister before I read DWJ, but I admit to being a little concerned about some of the superficial similarities between it and HMC. I didn’t let it worry me too much, though, since TES was such a different story and different tone.
Then I re-read HMC just a few weeks ago, and realized that I would much, much rather read that than TES. The similarities were just enough to show me how far off I had gotten with my own story. And that was what prompted me to ultimately pick it up and start from scratch again, changing a few of the basics so that it wouldn’t seem to be copying too much from DWJ, and determining to make it me, my voice, E Louise Bates as distinctly as all Diana Wynne Jones’ books are hers. 
I freely admit that I am nowhere near as witty or talented as she is, but that’s okay. I have my own voice, and thanks to DWJ, I am remembering how to use it.

6 thoughts on “Influences: Diana Wynne Jones”

  1. Wow, my overwhelming love for Sophie is totally overpowering me at the moment just reading your brief description of her here (and it's Anne of Green Gables day over at Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a-Day Almanac! It's Salute My Biggest Fictional Girl-Crushes Day all over the Internet!) Anyway…I think that's one of the most amazing things about reading Diana Wynne Jones– she makes me feel like I CAN write, and I SHOULD write, and I NEED to write, even though I shall never write anything remotely as brilliant! Other brilliant writers sometimes almost scare me off from writing, but she makes me want to dive right in!

  2. Oh, I know what you mean about the brilliant writers who scare you off. There are so many that I read and just hang my head, because really, what's the point in even trying when they have already done it so well? But writers like DWJ and Lloyd Alexander, and Patricia C Wrede (another favorite of mine), remind me that while I might never be one of the genius writers, I have stories to tell, too, so I'd darn well better tell them to the best of my ability or I'm wasting my gifts.And Sophie. I like Sophie a little bit more with each re-reading. She's just plain great.

  3. It's funny how one lukewarm cover can throw you off a writer. I haven't read any of these books, but I was a huge fan of Lloyd Alexander, so from that perspective, your recommendation is pretty fabulous.

  4. Lloyd Alexander has been the single biggest influence on my writing, and has also tremendously impacted how I view the world. So any writer who even comes close to him, for me, is definitely a winner!(One of my friends has an absolutely hysterical story of how she tried three or four times to visit his grave to leave a tribute, and how she kept getting turned around or blocked, until she was pretty sure Lloyd's ghost was sitting somewhere nearby chuckling at her. It's the kind of tale he himself would have written!)

  5. Yes! Imagine if I had been a big FAN of cat fantasy, and been hoping to find that, and then I would have been terribly disappointed and might have really hated Diana Wynne Jones – unjustly – ever afterward!

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