A few weeks ago, as you might remember, I read and reviewed a pretty cool fantasy novel for kids. I originally spotted this novel at my local library, just begging to be picked up and read. While the book’s title didn’t immediately ring any bells, the name of the author did. The novel was The Islands of Chaldea, the last novel from acclaimed fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones, who sadly passed away in 2011. You can read my review of The Islands of Chaldea here, if you’re so inclined.
Over the years, Jones published many, many works that we all know and love. My personal favorite is Howl’s Moving Castle. I saw the movie first, fell in love, realized it was a book, and completely geeked out. Jones was an amazing author, creative and innovative, and is terribly missed. At the time of her death, she was working on The Islands of Chaldea. Instead of publishing the novel in an unfinished state, her family decided to place the book’s fate into the capable hands of Ursula Jones, Diana’s sister. After reading Chaldea, I immediately sought out more of Ursula’s work, because she’s that good.
I’ve been fortunate enough to get to chat a bit with Ursula over email, and she agreed to answer a few of my burning questions for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
1. From reading your bio and exploring your website, it seems that you are a jack-of-all-trades, particularly for the creative arts. You’ve written picture books, performed Shakespeare, and opened a shop. What’s been your favorite experience so far?
I don’t really have a favourite experience. All the different things that I’ve done have their own special joys and horrors and one never knows which is coming next. That certainly keeps me on my toes! Perhaps that’s my favourite thing: being on my toes.
2. I just finished reading The Princess Who Had No Kingdom and The Witch’s Children. I love that your characters are smart, mischievous, a little stubborn. Are your characters based on people that you know in real life?
Some people have suggested that the three Witch’s Children are based on my sisters and myself. I’m not so sure. They just came to me one windy day after I’d been walking in Hyde Park in central London with my dog, Stubbs. Stubbs was a very good actor and kept the family finances going when everyone else was out of work or ‘resting’ as the English used to call it politely. Not that the cats would have dreamed of working. That’s not what being a cat is for, dear me no. Being a cat is for sleeping and sitting on your owner’s keyboard so that they can’t type this email or popping out for the night on private business.
3. I also love the humor that you just infuse into your books. I was laughing out loud at the outlandish situations the witch’s children got themselves into. They are so unique as characters. What’s your process for character creation?
I don’t have a process for creating my characters – or not one that I’m aware of. They just arrive and demand my attention.
4. You completed The Islands of Chaldea after your sister passed away. Was there reluctance on your part? Did you ever consider not finishing it?
I didn’t think Diana would want her work finished by anyone else because I knew I wouldn’t have liked someone completing a book of mine. However, the family was very keen to give Diana’s readers her final work. Had it been a book for adults it might have been published unfinished but I felt that young readers would be disappointed and think they had been cheated if the story were incomplete. I would have thought so when I was a kid so I took on the task.
5. Do you think the intended ending of Islands was different than your ending?
I have no idea. Sorry.
6. Islands seemed like it could have been a successful series. Any plans to write more Islands books?
As far as I know, there are no plans for an Islands series. Your question has made me wonder whether Diana intended to do more, though. Who can tell? She was very private about her writing while it was in progress.
7. Final thoughts?
By the way, have a look at Google UK home page doodle today, 16th August, which would have been Diana Wynne Jones’s 80th birthday had she lived. It’s a lovely tribute to the most wonderful writer and the most marvellous sister you could ever possibly have.
About Ursula Jones
When I was little, I wanted to be an actress. I still wanted to be one when I grew up, so I became one!
Having trained at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) I worked in what was called ‘weekly rep’. The actors put on a play every week, performing one at night and rehearsing the next one during the day. It’s hard work. I shed kilos. Then I took a banana boat to Jamaica where I helped research a frog that hatches baby frogs and not tadpoles. I moved on to New York where I did some exciting, experimental theatre. Back in England, I was lucky enough to join the Unicorn Theatre for Children in London.
It was there that I discovered I wanted to be a writer, too. And so that’s what I did. I wrote lots of plays for the company, and I haven’t stopped writing for children since.
*Author photo and biography courtesy of the official website for Ursula Jones. Learn more about her here!