Reflections: On the Magic of Writing (book #135)

Diana Wynne Jones, 2012.

Talks about her son, aged 12, reading Kim repeatedly, and confessing aged 15 that he had thought it was a fantasy set in an alternate world. “It’s possible that many children regard historical novels as this kind of fantasy. In which they are not exactly wrong.”

Describes, during her terrible childhood spent partly in a conference centre her parents ran in Thaxted, “The Other Garden”. This was kept locked, but “whenever things got difficult for me … I would go and beg the key of this Other Garden from my father. … Eventually, if I didn’t get hit, I got the key, and could go into this amazing, deserted, utterly beautiful garden”. “It was crowned with well-pruned standard roses and apple trees of every kind, and soft fruit and vegetables in rows behind espaliered pear trees. Every so often you came across strange little shrines of broken pieces of Venetian glass that had been built by the gardener”. There were bees: “I told them things. They never seemed to mind”.

This garden strikes me now, though it didn’t at the time, as a perfect analogue of what a good book … should be … A good book should be another place, beyond ordinary life and quite different from it, made with care and containing marvels. But although it is beyond ordinary life, it is by no means unconnected with it. You have to beg the key. And … you can tell the bees things. The bees don’t solve your problems. You have to do that. But the mere fact of having taken your mind to another place for a while, if that place is sufficiently wonderful, means you come back with experience. I know I always came back from the Other Garden much more able to deal with what was sometimes truly frightful pressure.

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