Last Sunday found me at St George’s in Bristol, a deconsecrated church now used as a concert hall, and frequently the venue from which BBC lunchtime concerts are broadcast. What brought me there was not music, but a celebration of the life and work Diana Wynne Jones, who died last year, and who was both one of the best British children’s writers of her generation and, I’m proud to say, a friend.
I’d had some part in organizing and publicizing the event, but we weren’t sure how many people were actually going to turn up. We knew we could count on fifty or so family, friends and fans, but it was gratifying to see something close to two hundred people in the hall. Downstairs in the crypt there was a sale of spare copies of Diana’s books, accumulated over the years from her many publishers. The translated editions were made into a tottering , from which I was able to claim a rare German copy of The . Proceeds went to St Peter’s Hospice, where she died in March 2011 (and it’s still not too late to contribute!). In the next alcove, Blackwells were selling advance copies of Reflections, a collection of her essays and lectures that’s being published in a few days by David Fickling. I contributed an introduction, and also conducted an interview with Diana for the book just a few weeks before she died, so perhaps I’m not altogether impartial when I tell you to rush out and buy a copy. But you really should.
The event itself consisted mostly of short talks by those who knew Diana well, in her personal or professional life (and often both): her sisters and her sons; her editors and agent; fans, friends, translators... There were also clips from the adaptations of her work: Miyazaki’s animated Howl’s Moving Castle, the BBC dramatization of Archer’s Goon, and even an excerpt from the ballet of Black Maria written by her nephew, Tom Armstrong. As is the way of such events, laughter and tears were never far away or far apart. In the end, I believe we approached Diana from enough angles that we managed by a process of - not triangulation, perhaps, but polygonization? - to conjure her, if in a fitful way like a Star Wars hologram. It was the kind of event where one thought, "I wish Diana could see this - she'd really enjoy it!"
We still have her books, but I’ll miss her. I’ll miss her, but we have her books.