Fame. Sort of.
So I spent yesterday visiting Diana Wynne Jones. I wasn’t going to mention it till Neil Gaiman went and made us all famous on Twitter last night. Yes, Neil was there too. Or rather he arrived as I was leaving. And I wouldn’t have still been there at all if I hadn’t spent an hour sitting in a dead train outside the station two stops from Diana’s. Alternately I would have been there if my hellhound minder hadn’t dumped me last week. Except a week ago I didn’t know Neil was coming. Are you confused yet?
I’ve known Diana almost forever. I changed publishers after my first book, and almost the first thing my new editor, Susan Hirschman of Greenwillow Books, did was thrust a copy of CHARMED LIFE at me (which had come out a year before BEAUTY did) and say, Read this. You’ll love it.
I was an instant and complete sloppy and slavish fan. That was in 1980, I think.* There was nothing like Diana then—well, there’s nothing like her now either, but in those days I can’t even begin to describe how amazing CHARMED LIFE was,** as well as adorable and hilarious*** and so frisky and exuberant just reading it (still) makes me breathe harder to keep up. I don’t know what my favourite Diana Wynne Jones book is—feels a bit like saying, so, what is your favourite body part? Left arm? Right leg?—but I often say it’s CHARMED LIFE because it was my first, and it blew me away. Blew. Me. Away. Greenwillow in those days was a smallish imprint. It wasn’t impossible to put yourself in the way of meeting a fellow Greenwillow author. . . . †
I assume a lot of you know that Diana’s been seriously ill. She’s doing enormously better than the medical establishment, in its somewhat less than total wisdom and foresight, predicted,†† but she’s still a bit frail. A lot of you will I fear know about this too: how easy it is to neglect friends who clearly have rich happy lives and don’t need you cluttering up the landscape.††† That would be me about Diana. I finally received the necessary prod to get back in touch last spring from Firebird editor Sharyn November.
I went to see her again yesterday. Diana has determined that the reason why so many Weird Things happen to each of us in various aspects of our lives is that we are simply from another planet. I feel this does explain a great deal—probably including why we are both compelled to write stories this world calls fantasy—but it also tends to mean that the time-space continuum risks becoming dangerously warped when we are in contact. I am privately convinced, for example, that the reason why my hellhound minder chose last week to dump me is because I was trying to visit Diana this week.
I went anyway. The new train station for my new improved route was unsettlingly easy to find and there was even a parking space for Wolfgang‡. It was so easy to find I had time for a cup of tea from the friendly station café and sunlight to sit in while I drank it. I should have known this meant trouble.
Three-quarters of the way there the train rumbled to a stop in the middle of a field and did not rumble to a start again. BLAT BLAT BLAT WILL KEEP YOU BLAT INFORMED BLAT AS SOON AS WE BLAT KNOW ANYTHING BLAT BLAT crackled out over the PA-facsimile system. Every fifteen minutes or so we got a crackly-blat non-update to the effect that yes, we were still sitting here. Did I mention the sunlight? The temperature in the frelling car was getting on toward Ralph Richardson in THE FOUR FEATHERS. And meanwhile . . . I couldn’t get a signal on Apocalypse. All around me people were making calls on their compliant, tractable mobile phones, saying they were going to be late to a variety of appointments. Apocalypse kept saying, those bars in the upper lefthand corner of your screen are a mirage. I can’t get a signal. No. Can’t. Won’t. Don’t want to. And you can’t make me.‡‡
We sat, parboiling gently, for an hour. It was not a good hour.‡‡‡ I learned all kinds of things about the sub-sub-sub menus of the iPhone 4, but none of them was what I WANTED.
So. Okay. Train finally started up again. Finally got to Diana’s. Panting and semi-hysterical.§
Meanwhile . . . Diana had emailed me the day before saying, could I stay later, because Neil Gaiman was coming. Neil?
I met Diana because we had the same publisher. I met Neil because we have the same agent. I am a major, major wuss and have therefore never read SANDMAN, but I have been a dedicated, not to say drooling, Neil follower since AMERICAN GODS which still makes me weak in the extremities on rereading. It’s like CHARMED LIFE: I wouldn’t want to pick a favourite Gaiman book either, but I sometimes say it’s AMERICAN GODS because it was the first one that blew my socks off.
I no longer remember how these things were engineered, but Neil and I crossed paths a few times, and I do remember having One of the Worst Breakfasts of My Entire Life in a New York City hotel with him and Merrilee. Fortunately the company made up for the food. This was before he became Mega-Neil the Phenomenon. If it weren’t I have the proof of his notice in the shape of a killer quote for SUNSHINE§§ I wouldn’t actually expect him to remember who the hell I am. When I read Diana’s email I thought, Late! No! No late! Can’t do late! Must get home to legs-crossed hellhounds! Frell! Author of AMERICAN GODS, STARDUST, ANANSI BOYS, GRAVEYARD BOOK—frell!
It was still a kind of twenty-minute semi-collision rather than a meeting, but it is true, as reported on Twitter, Neil Gaiman, Diana Wynne Jones and Robin McKinley did inhabit the same small piece of mundane ground for nearly half an hour and nothing exploded. I was only even still there because I’d arrived so late and was failing to tear myself away to catch the train I’d planned to catch—I had assumed I was going to miss Neil entirely. Maybe the evil travel-jinx/earth-detonating fairies were a victim of their own success and caught off guard.§§§ But there was Neil coming in the front door slightly before I was running out the back door for the taxi, which was late, and I made my train going home with three minutes to spare, having spent the taxi ride frantically murmuring, let me make this train let me make this train pleaseIreallyhavetomakethistrain.
Wolfgang was where I left him, although the sense that I’d just wandered into THE HOMEWARD BOUNDERS was stronger than ever in the dark.# And clearly we brought otherspace with us because when we got to Mauncester it was closed. I swear the grinning creature in the overalls and hard hat behind the carefully disguised to be invisible till just before you run into the traffic cones ‘DETOUR, back the way you just came’ sign had six limbs, which is no doubt very efficient for digging holes in the roadway but disconcerting to a fantasy writer just back from what she suspects was a narrow escape from triangulating the end of the known universe.## Furthermore this was not the side of Mauncester that I know. I saw a lot more of HOMEWARD BOUNDERS, possibly with lashings of AMERICAN GODS, before I finally found the road to New Arcadia. . . .
And the hellhounds, bless their tightly crossed little legs, were very glad to see me.
* * *
* Forever. Yes.
** Note that Terry Pratchett’s first novel was 1983. Diana invented funny British fantasy.
*** And infinitely rereadable. I lost track at around thirty.
† THE DARK LORD OF DERKHOLM is dedicated to me^, although the dedication went in late and doesn’t appear in the American edition. It appears in the British edition, however, and also in the Finnish. Sic. One of my prize possessions is a copy of the Finnish edition, gloriously entitled DERKINHOVIN MUSTA RUHTINAS, and in which the dedication appears: Robin McKinleylle. I’m not sure why this is quite so pleasing, but it is.
†† AND SHE’S WRITING
††† A robust sense of self worth has never been one of my defining characteristics.
‡ Although located in so manifestly a between-worlds inter-dimensional leak, complete with implausible flora like something out of a Diana Wynne Jones novel, I did wonder if he’d still be there when I got back.
‡‡‡ One of the purposes of train journeys is to catch up on your reading. I had however by then discovered that when Peter printed off his new manuscript for me to read HE’D LEFT OUT TWENTY PAGES. I’d also forgotten to bring the book I’d been reading in bed the night before with me . . . which meant I only had one book left. I had to borrow a fresh book from Diana to get me home again. Fortunately she’s equipped in terms of books rather the way I and most of you are.
§ To be met with fresh sweetcorn and smoked salmon. Suddenly I felt a great deal better.
§§ Just in case anyone’s forgotten, it says: ‘SUNSHINE is a gripping, funny, page-turning, pretty much perfect work of magical literature that exists more or less at the unlikely crossroads of CHOCOLAT, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, MISERY, and the tale of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.’ ::BEAM::
§§§ I will add there was a further party to the festivities, Dave Devereux, who writes thrillers which are much too thrillery for me, a bit perhaps like the thriller version of SANDMAN, but is very good at making his iPhone do mesmerising tricks. And yeah, maybe I dazzle easily but Dave is very slick.
# And the local bell tower was ringing some remarkably well struck Grandsire Triples. Very disconcerting when you’re still reeling from not having destroyed the universe.
## Unfortunately you don’t get to ask if the new universe would be more fun.
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