Monday, 6 July 2009

I spent this weekend in Bristol, at a conference devoted to Diana Wynne Jones. It is not common to have a whole scholarly conference on one single writer, at least not a living writer (there are surely tons of conferences on Shakespeare). The huge advantage is that everybody knows what everybody is talking about. You don't have to give a plot summary or explain who is who and how the story is constructed. You are not concerned about spoilers. The disadvantage is the same. Everybody knows what everybody is talking about. Everybody has read every single book - or almost. Everybody has an opinion on every book. Mostly, opinions are the same. Occasionally slightly different. In some rare cases, a new angle is taken. But everybody loves the author. Most people refer to her as "Diana" as if she were their best friend (in some cases it is true). Half of the conversations go along the lines of: "And which is your favourite? Which was your first?" It is inconceivable to confess that you actually don't like this or that book. You could be lynched.

I give my paper toward the end of the conference. I have chosen to talk about one of the most recent books, TheGame, that hasn't yet been discussed extensively. There is only one more paper on the same book. The other presenter and I have been in contact to make sure we don't overlap. We do. I speak after her and have to add every now and then: "As you have just heard..." Generally, I feel very much like walking out, because every aspect of my paper has in some way already been touched upon. On the other hand, the audience is engaged and asks clever questions. No awkward silence when the moderator says: "Any questions?"

Otherwise, Howl's Moving Castle is the most popular book at the conference. I wonder why. Can it be the movie? It is not my favourite book by Jones, and I don't find it particularly gratifying to discuss, as compared to many others. A lot is published on it already. And nobody even talks about the film adaptation as such. But apparently the movie effect is there.

Speaking of movies: in the evenings, we watch a BBC series of Archer's Goon. With Korean subtitles.

If I have learned something at this conference it is the fault of my usual neglect of writers' biographies. I have missed a very important dimension of my favourite author. Diana Wynne Jones spent her childhood in Thaxted.


Cornelia said...

I liked "Archer's Goon", parts of the Chrestomanci series and parts of the Dalemark quartet (not meaning that I have read everything D.W.J. has ever published), mostly for some plot twists I remember finding very clever when reading those books for the first time. I can imagine, though, that a conference of this kind can be - somewhat disconcerting ...

Maria Nikolajeva said...

My favourites are "The Homeward Bounders" and "Fire and Hemlock"