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The Magic of Writing

Predictions (or manifestations?) by Diana Wynne Jones: 1974, '82, late '83, early '84, and '87.

Introduction

This is a set of snippets from Reflections: on the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones, 2012. This book, her last, will fascinate writers (or wannabes)--her views on the craft, on character development, on mythic layering behind surface events, on Tolkienesque foreshadowing and echoes, and on the delusion that writing's a neat, sane process when the truth is a white-hot altered state.

If you haven't read her sharp, funny, erudite, unclassifiable novels, try

It turns out that when Jones says "the magic of writing", she means it. Jones refused to pigeonhole her books as realism, surrealism, fantasy or science fiction--because she lived in a magical world. Let's follow one sample thread: how her writing-trance often predicted (or perhaps, she worried, even caused) events she pictured so feverishly. Writer as wizard!

And what if non-writers do it too--wish up the madness we see? Except minus the paper trail.

--Chris Wayan

from Foreword by Neil Gaiman (Reflections p. xii); undated

...She was polite, unless she was being gloriously rude, and she was, I suppose, relatively normal, if you were able to ignore the swirls and eddies of improbability that bubbled and crashed around her. And believe me, they did: Diana would talk about her "travel jinx," and I thought she was exaggerating until we had to fly to America on the same plane. The plane we were meant to fly on was taken out of commission after the door fell off, and it took many hours to get another plane. Diana accepted this as a normal part of the usual business of travel. Doors fell off planes. Sunken islands rose up beneath you if you were in boats. Cars simply and inexplicably ceased to function. Trains with Diana on them went to places they had never been before and technically could not have gone...

--Neil Gaiman

from The Halloween Worms (Reflections pp. 61-2); 1974 and 1982

This is a true story, even though it came out of a book. You see, what I write in my books and think I have made up has a creepy way of coming true. I noticed it first over The Ogre Downstairs. When I wrote that book, we were living in a new house with a flat roof and almost no stairs. The roof turned out to dissolve in rain, the lavatories every so often flushed boiling water, and we had an electric fountain in the living room, because the builders had got confused about which were electric cables and which were heating pipes. I was so sick of that house that I invented a quite different one for The Ogre Downstairs--a tall, thin house with lots and lots of stairs.

Now I live in a tall, thin house with lots and lots of stairs. I didn't do it on purpose. It came about by accident, in an awful hurry But the house is almost exactly like the house I put in that book. After that, things out of other books started coming true too. It was quite frightening. Imagine meeting the most sinister baddie you have ever invented (or thought you had invented), and hearing him say exactly the things you had put in the book for him to say. That happened. I asked other writers whether anything like this had ever happened to them. "Oh, yes," they said. "Isn't it creepy?" It was.

I decided that in the next book I wrote I would put in so many things from real life that it couldn't come true because it had happened anyway. Ha, ha. I decided to write about my schooldays.

The book was called Witch Week. It takes place in a very old-fashioned school at Halloween...

[Six pages follow--how she wrote into Witch Week her childhood memories of harsh school staff and sickening dinners. She found herself changing one detail--instead of "fishes' eyes in glue" and "dead daffodils and mashed caterpillar" for dinner, her character's served "worms in custard"--well, seafood cocktail, but that's what her character calls it. Soon after Witch Week came out, Diana was talked into a reunion. It got relocated to a school, at Halloween, where they served, yes, worms in custard. Bad worms. She spent all night puking. While little witches knocked on the door shouting "Trick or treat!" Ha, ha. Don't write about your schooldays--Ed.]

from Lecture Two: Negatives and Positives in Children's Literature (Reflections pp. 157-8); late 1983 & winter 1984

There is one bizarre and creepy fact about my books which never gets onto the backs of jackets or into reviews--that is that they come true. This usually happens after I have written them... [her example is, again, The Ogre Downstairs]

Sometimes, however, the book comes true while I am actually writing it, and this can be quite upsetting. Fire and Hemlock was one of those. One of the many things that happened while I was writing it was that an eccentric bachelor friend from Sussex University, who stayed with us while he was lecturing in Bristol, insisted on my driving him to some stone circles in our neighborhood. There, he began having mystic experiences, while I kept getting hung up astride the electric fences that crisscrossed the site. My outcries, he said, were disturbing the vibes, so he sent me to the local pub to wait for him. As soon as I got there, the landlady and the other customers began talking about these same stone circles and related the local story about their origins. This story is called "The Wicked Wedding": the bride, who is an evil woman, chooses a young man to marry, but at the wedding, the devil comes, kills the young bridegroom, and marries the lady himself. This is the story behind Fire and Hemlock and, believe it or not, I had never heard it before--I thought I'd made it up.

Well, after various other strange experiences, my eccentric friend went back to Sussex and I finished the book. I then started, immediately, to write Archer's Goon. Just picked up a fresh block of paper and began. Now those of you who have read this book will know that it hinges on a man called Quentin Sykes discovering a newborn baby in the snow. I had just started the second draft of this book when my eccentric Sussex friend went for a walk in the middle of a winter's night and discovered a baby. He found it a very moving experience--but I felt acutely responsible. It is all very well my books coming true on me--it is a risk I take--but when this starts rubbing off on other people it is no joke. The trouble is, a book demands that certain incidents are present in it, and to deny this is to spoil the book...

from Something About the Author (Reflections pp. 297-8); 1987

... Another thing that stops me living a quiet life is my travel jinx. This is hereditary: my mother has it and so does my son Colin. Mine works mostly on trains. Usually the engine breaks, but once an old man jumped off a moving train I was on and sent every train schedule in the country haywire for that day.

And my books have developed an uncanny way of coming true. The most startling example of this was last year, when I was writing the end of A Tale of Time City. At the very moment when I was writing about all the buildings in Time City falling down, the roof of my study fell in, leaving most of it open to the sky.

Perhaps I don't need a quiet life as much as I think I do.

photo of author Diana Wynne Jones with her dog Caspian, 1984.
Diana with her faithful dog Caspian, who inspired Dogsbody,1984



LISTS AND LINKS: writers & writing - meditation & altered states - prayers & wishes - magic & mages - shamanism - prediction (mostly dreams) - ESP in general - telekinesis or manifestation - It's not just Jones: Jo Equinity misses her old horse, and tries Summoning Shadow - Wayan, writing of a broken axle, discovers that What You Imagine Happens - Years before the Titanic sank, Morgan Robertson wrote of The Titan

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