DIANA WYNNE JONES was born in August 1934 in London, where she had a chaotic and unsettled childhood against the background of World War II. The family moved around a lot, finally settling in rural Essex. As children, Diana and her two sisters were deprived of a good, steady supply of books by a father, ‘who could beat Scrooge in a meanness contest’. So, armed with a vivid imagination and an insatiable quest for good books to read, she decided that she would have to write them herself.
She was extremely dyslexic, so when she told her parents she wanted to be a writer, they just laughed. However between ages of 12 and 14, the young writer completed two epic tales scrawled in a total of 20 copy books. This taught her from an early age the invaluable lesson of how to finish a book.
Her higher education began in 1953 when she went up to St Anne’s College Oxford, and attended lectures by CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein. It was here she met her husband, John A Burrow, who is Professor of English at Bristol University. They married in 1956 and have three sons.
She has written both children’s books and plays (mostly performed at the London Arts Theatre) and her first book was published in 1973. Since then she has written over 40 books. Her enviably fertile mind has allowed her to write prolifically, even when her three boys were small, and quite a handful! When writing, she is totally absorbed in the book and on one never-to-be forgotten occasion, her sons returned from school ravenous to find she had shoved a pair of muddy shoes in the oven for their tea! She says, ‘I am an inspirational writer. I forget meals and write with ever-increasing speed.’
Diana Wynne Jones first conjured up the enigmatic and embroidered dressing-gowned enchanter Chrestomanci in 1977. The adventures in his magical worlds – for, as every budding sorcerer knows – there are many series of parallel worlds – continue to enthral readers all over the world.
‘Charmed Life’, the first book in the Chrestomanci series, won the 1977 Guardian Award for Children’s Books. Diana was runner-up for the Children’s Book Award in 1981, and was twice runner-up for the Carnegie Medal. In 1999, she won two major fantasy awards: the children’s section of the Mythopeic Award in the USA, and the Karl Edward Wagner Award in the UK – which is awarded by the British Fantasy Society to individuals or organisations who have made a significant impact on fantasy. JK Rowling was runner-up on both occasions.
Meeting Diana you wouldn’t be surprised to find she has second sight (though she hasn’t as far as I know). You’d think it quite natural that she should be a writer of fantasy, a connoisseur of witchcraft, a creator of parallel worlds. For her, magic isn’t something that floats about unrooted in human nature. ‘Things we are accustomed to regard as myth or fairy story are very much present in people’s lives.’ She says, ‘Nice people behave like wicked stepmothers. Every day.’