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Reflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones

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    Long Ago When I Was Young by E. Nesbit (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: Another memoir by a popular children's author reflecting on the influence of childish experiences.
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Fascinating collection of essays from one of my favorite fantasy authors. Fans of Jones will really appreciate learning her ideas about the importance of fantasy as a way to nurture imagination and practice problem-solving. She even theorizes that her grandparents' generation didn't read enough fantasy and that had something to do with their inability to avoid two world wars (!). It was also fun finding out about her writing process. As noted in another review, there is quite a bit of repetition, down to Jones using the same phrases to describe her thoughts -- which maybe could've been avoided by using excerpts when possible instead of reprinting the full text of every single article. Still a very worthwhile book for anyone who loves Jones or fantasy books in general. ( )
1 vote bostonian71 | Aug 1, 2013 |
Reflections is a collection of things Diana Wynne Jones wrote or used as speeches/lectures during her lifetime. There's a good range of stuff, including her fantastically clear academic work on Tolkien as well as her meditations on her own writing. Definitely worth reading -- I excitedly texted my friends with some facts, like the fact that Diana Wynne Jones was a left-handed dyslexic, and I really have the urge to reread The Lord of the Rings again thanks to her (not helped by Ursula Le Guin, who also writes wonderfully about Tolkien in several of her essays).

There's also a lot to discover about Diana as a person, about her family life, and about her side of what comes across as horrendous parental abuse by her family. There are also two pieces by her sons, included at the end, which jolt one into remembering real people are not simple, when one son complains that his mother made real people the bad guys in her books, including him, simply because he actually rather liked her mother...

Glad I've got a couple of Diana Wynne Jones' other books out of the library at the moment. Definitely in the mood for them. The only thing with this book is that isn't written as a continuous piece, so there's a fair amount of repetition. ( )
2 vote shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
This will certainly be more of a required reading book if you are a big fan of Diana Wynne Jones (I am) - it gives insights not only into DWJ's writing methods but also into the origins behind some of her characters, storylines, and recurrent themes. Even if you are not a DWJ fan, though, this is an immensely interesting, readable, and fun book about writing and creativity as well as about fashions in publishing (especially children's publishing). If you are an author or would like to be one, or if you are an attentive reader of children's fiction in particular, this will be well worth picking up. It is a romp: funny, insightful, and inspirational.

Another reviewer has pointed out that there is some repetition: the book consists of various pieces written by DWJ at different points in time, and including a number of re-told anecdotes or stories as she outlines certain aspects of her writing or personal history in slightly different ways. I would say this doesn't mar the book but others may disagree to some extent, particularly if not avid DWJ fans. It is I think a minor point, however. ( )
  comixminx | Apr 5, 2013 |
Where to start? Diana Wynne Jones was a very individual and distinctive voice within British fantasy writing, highly regarded and rightly so, though that recognition was perhaps long coming: for example, though I was aware of the name I only first read her work in 2004, on a strong recommendation, beginning with The Merlin Conspiracy. However, from then on I was hooked. She had a growing loyal following from the mid-seventies onwards, but perhaps the fillip to her popularity came with an audience keen for more fiction along the lines of the Harry Potter books, aided by the success of the Japanese animated film of her Howl’s Moving Castle. Sadly, within a relatively little time she discovered she had cancer, dying just two years later in 2011.

So, I’ve made a start. If you’ve read any of her books you’ll understand the appeal; if you haven’t then you are missing a treat. But what if you’re an adult, and especially an adult with an antipathy to fantasy? It’s all make-believe, isn’t it, not serious enough for grown-ups to bother with as it’s not about real life? Well, let’s put aside the fact that all fiction is made-up and, offering neat conclusions, not messy like reality, and that even writing non-fiction has to be both a selective and creative process: true fantasy is about the interface between daydreams and everyday life, and acquaintance with that starts at a very young age. As Diana writes (‘Fantasy Books for Children’),
Writers of fantasy for children have a heavy responsibility: anything they write is likely to have a profound effect for the next fifty years. You can see why if you ask ten adults which book they remember best from their childhood. Nine of them will certainly name a fantasy.

Crucially, she goes on to say, “If you enquire further, you will find your nine adults admitting that they acquired many of the rules they live by from the book that so impressed them.” These ‘rules’ about appropriate behaviour, recognising character, responding to crises or a general outlook on life stay with you and largely determine the way you live that life in the decades to come. And, as Diana notes, this is a heavy responsibility for any children’s writer.

Those notions implanted at an early age by books are every bit as important as the oral lore you get from family or friends or society at large, from personal contact or through the media. As adults we shouldn’t belittle these early brushes with ‘virtual life’, and indeed we should be revisiting them to re-experience and re-assess how our world-views are formed and what validity they have. This is not to say that we should censor childhood fantasy to conform with our ossified adult world-views, as some pedagogues are wont to do. Instead, we should re-immerse ourselves in that childhood world where monsters exist under the bed and behind the curtains, and bullies of all ages lurk to make our lives miserable, and models of courage and cowardice and resourcefulness and helplessness are presented for us to help us learn to cope with ‘real’ life. And, yes, a childhood where we can believe that magic exists, as something to be in wonder and awe about, to prepare ourselves for the miracles of nature and the universe.

Reflections: on the magic of writing is a wonderful collection of writings, mostly by Diana herself, for magazines, conferences and lectures. As discussed above, she discourses widely on the responsibilities of the writer, and the perils of visiting schools, the value of learning Anglo-Saxon and the craft of writing; she reflects on the creation of the fantasy worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia, particularly interesting as she attended lectures by both Tolkien and C S Lewis when she was at Oxford. Nearly all her addresses are peppered with recollections of singular incidents from her childhood, and while several anecdotes are repeated in different contexts, they are always apposite and telling. Her upbringing was unconventional, to say the least, but like all children she somehow thought it was ‘normal’ until she matured and discovered otherwise, thus not only highlighting how childhood experiences form the adult character but also underlining that however different all our childhoods are in specifics the generalities are what we have in common.

Edited by Charlie Butler from the University of the West of England in Diana’s home city of Bristol, the pieces (nearly thirty of them) have self-explanatory titles like ‘A Day Visiting Schools’, ‘Advice for Young Writers’ and ‘Creating the Experience’. Butler, author of Four British Fantasists (a study which includes Diana Wynne Jones), provides an insightful introduction and an interview with her, and there is a Foreword by fantasy writer and DWJ fan Neil Gaiman, plus contributions by two of her sons, Colin and Richard Burrow; and the whole is rounded off by notes, a bibliography of her published writings and an index. Even if you’re not a fan, or have never read a word of her writing, there is much to enjoy; but if you are and you have, then, mitigating the sadness of her passing, Reflections is full of the joy of living in both the exterior ‘real’ world and the no less valid inner world.

http://calmgrove.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/reflections/ ( )
3 vote ed.pendragon | Dec 13, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Diana Wynne Jonesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Butler, CharlesIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gaiman, NeilForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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"This collection of more than twenty-five critical essays, speeches, and biographical pieces written and/or chosen by Diana Wynne Jones will be required reading for the author's many fans and for students and teachers of the genre. Reflections includes insightful literary criticism alongside autobiographical anecdotes about reading tours (including an account of the author's famous travel jinx), revelations about the origins of the author's books, and thoughts in general about the life of an author and the value of writing. The longest autobiographical piece, "Something About the Author," details Diana's extraordinary childhood and is illustrated with family photographs. Reflections is essential reading for anyone interested in Diana Wynne Jones's work, fantasy, or creative writing. With a foreword by Neil Gaiman, introduction and interview by Charlie Butler, bibliography, and index. "Various threads run through this collection, but by far the strongest is that of the need for fantasy in all its many facets and its value for children and adults alike. It is my hope that some of these items will be of use to people."-Diana Wynne Jones "Her writings assembled in one place tell us how she thought about literature and the reasons for literature, about the place of children's fiction in the world, about the circumstances that shaped her and her own understanding and vision of who she was and what she did. It is ferociously intelligent, astonishingly readable, and as with so much that Diana Wynne Jones did, she makes each thing she writes, each explanation for why the world is as it is, look so easy."-Neil Gaiman"--… (more)

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