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.