A Seed of Hemlock

Diana Wynne Jones has passed away.

I deeply regret, as I knew I would, that I didn’t make it to the special Diana Wynne Jones convention in Britain a few years back. It was my one real chance to meet her, and honestly? If I could meet any writer in the world, I probably would have chosen her. Possibly even if “any writer in the world” is expanded to “in history, too,” because Shakespeare’s cool and all, but what would I say to him? His plays may be awesome, but Diana Wynne Jones is the one who made me into a writer.

It was Fire and Hemlock that did it. Polly and Tom telling their story, within the story about them, and the blurring between the two — it’s a story about stories, in many ways, because among other things the book is about “Thomas the Rhymer” and “Tam Lin,” too. I was nine when I read it, and when I put the book down, one thought stood out clearly, for the first time in my life: I want to tell a story.

I did get to tell her that, at least, via the proxy of Sharyn November, when her (I think) seventy-fifth birthday rolled by. Sharyn was collecting birthday messages, so I typed up the tale of how Fire and Hemlock turned the nebulous storytelling impulses so many children have into a firm intention, and lo and behold I am now a writer. But I would have loved to shake her hand, and to thank her for inspiring me to my purpose in life. I don’t think I write anything like her — I don’t think I write anything like most of the authors I really admire — but it all grew out of the little seed of hemlock she planted in my mind.

. . . to heck with the part of me saying, “um, this would be a huge project and I’m not sure you really have the time.” I think I will undertake to re-read her complete works, and to blog about them as I go. It’s the best tribute I can think to give.

That, and to keep on writing.

0 Responses to “A Seed of Hemlock”

  1. Marie Brennan

    I’ve got this little voice in my head saying you should have tried harder to meet her. You have no idea how much I envy you those occasions.

    • la_marquise_de_

      Most of my meetings with her were in the late 80s and early 90s: after that, her health was so fragile that she rarely travelled and had to limit her contact time. But I understand how you feel: I fluffed my one chance to meet Zelazny and have regretted it every since.
      Next time you’re due to come over, you’ll have to let me know if there’s a British writer you really want to meet, though, and I’ll see what I can do.

  2. kythiaranos

    I loved Fire and Hemlock, and I was so sorry to hear the news of her passing.

  3. jorrie_spencer

    Oh no! She’s been a very important author in this family. Read by all of us, though different books resonated with different family members.

  4. lanerobins

    Oh, very sad news. She’s one of my all-time favorites. I loved the way she wrote siblings. The Time of the Ghost is one of my constant re-reads. I’m looking forward to your project!

  5. marycatelli

    It was a shock, running across that name as having died.

  6. wshaffer

    I never met her, and I haven’t read as much of her work as I really should have, but I’ll miss her too.

  7. moonandserpent

    It’s funny. I’ve never read any of her work, but have had opportunity to be exposed to her a decent amount of times over the years. She always seemed to be the nicest person int he room – and smart, and funny and kind. Not in the way that invites a description of her actions “that was kind of her” but in the way that describes the person themselves, a deep-rooted kindness that is vanishingly rare and deeply cherished.

    I think that what you’ve said here, that she infected you with the spark of writing – is the greatest tribute I could think of.

  8. cloudshaper2k

    I just read all of the Howl’s Moving Castle books in the last month. Very sorry to lose her.

    I know what you mean about not getting to meet someone. I passed up my one chance to see Rich Mullins in concert. However, in the last year, I taught the last song he ever recorded to our AWANA kids. I can think of no more fitting tribute to him than hearing a hundred kids singing his songs.

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