Diana Wynne Jones 1992 Interview
This is the full transcript of the interview I did with Diana Wynne Jones at the Wharf Theatre Restaurant in Sydney on Wednesday August 26 1992. At the time, I was working on a Master's thesis on Diana's books; I didn't end up finishing the thesis, but I have left in some references to it because it brought up discussion about the writing process that is of interest, I feel. My comments and questions are in blue. The edited interview, first published in SCAN, can be read here.

I'll start with fantasy, the "big picture", Janet and Rosa (from Diana's Australian publisher) sent us a bundle of really wonderful articles by you and also about you, and in a lot of those you talked quite firmly about the importance of fantasy and your difficulty with "problem novels" and that sort of thing...

Yes, yes...

I have a lot of sympathy with a lot of what you've said, and fantasy was always my preferred reading as a child, but when I was teaching I actually found a huge resistance to fantasy...

A lot of kids think it's sissy.

Mmm! and babyish and silly. I came to the conclusion on some occasions that some of the realist novels that they read and espoused as being "real" were in fact fantasies for them.

Well I think this may well be true, yes, rather as I was saying last night, you know that fantasy for me as a kid was real, and I had a fantasy about what life was, whether it was sort of wicked and dire, or wholly normal, or whatever.

I can remember reading books like Go Ask Alice and thinking that this was earthy gritty real-life stuff, and of course for me it was completely anything but. I mean, you know, drug- addicted American teenagers were completely out of my experience...

I know, you could imagine yourself in another world almost with that lot, yes, that's true.

And yet they do perceive it as real.

Yes, what I suspect you wouldn't have liked so much was something about the way your life was actually at that time, you would have just regarded it as boring.

Mmm, quite likely.

And that's really the kind of point I was trying to make, that anything really close to home is not, it seems to me, what a good book should be about.

Do you read much realist fiction?

Not really, no, I just don't get on with it. I mean, I gave another talk in Adelaide actually, in which I sort of went on about this bit, because I find you know, my childhood was so appalling really, one way or another, that realist fiction seems to me direly horrible. I find it just simply takes me right back to those times, and I really can't take it, I don't want to, I mean, why should I face up to it? What good does it do me?

It happened...

I know it happened, and that's it.

I just wondered if you'd come across that attitude in kids, and how you responded to it.

Oh, yes, I have, and I think really, it's just in the (inaudible), I mean if you call whatever it is they're about to read science fiction, they will read it quite happily. I mean, this is one of the many reasons I spread over genres, because, you know, so that people can cheerfully call it science fiction.

If it makes them happy!

If it makes them happy, they can be fed all the rest too!

We were talking in the car about the lack of respect for children's writing from the adult literary community, and that sort of thing, and I'm going to waffle a bit I think, 'til we sort of work around to where I'm getting at! Last night also you touched on issues of censorship and so on, and it's something I think about a lot, because generally I find that when children's books are given any sort of discussion, it's in this very censorial and protective tone from adults about what is...

Isn't it just, yes, yes, I do agree. I really don't know quite how to get 'round it, except to make them read the books. There was a dreadful woman called Mrs Finkelsteen...

Oh, great name!

Yes, wasn't it. Naturally she was an American at a dreadful book fair in Philadelphia, where I was supposed to sit behind a little stall with Robin McKinley, we were supposed to alternate, and she was just like this. She arrived at the stall, and glared at me, and said "I do not read these kind of books." And I said "why not?" and she glared at me again, and I thought "God damn it, you are going to!" And I don't know what I did, I mean, the girls who were working on the stall with me said after she'd gone bearing two of my books, "what did you do?" And I said, I don't know, I somehow, I mean, it was force of will, or something, I made her by two books and I said "go away and read these." She certainly didn't recur as a fan, or anything like that, but I think it probably did her good.


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©Judith Ridge 1992