World Fantasy Award Acceptance Speech
On November 3rd 2007, the World Fantasy Association gave me a Lifetime Acheivement Award, in conjunction with another lady. It is almost unknown for them to give this award to a woman, let alone two. As I was unable to go to America to receive it, I sent my speech of thanks to my friend and editor, Sharyn November, to deliver for me.
This is it:
Thank you everyone, and thanks too to Sharyn November for agreeing to read this. (How is that for getting a person to thank herself? It can be done).
I am really very grateful for this Award. It is one of the first given to a woman, and to two women at that. When I first started getting work published, I used to have wistful thoughts at the way all important awards were given to men. Women, I used to think, could be as innovative, imaginative and productive as possible - and women were the ones mostly at work in the field of fantasy for children and young adults - but only let a man enter the field, and people instantly regarded what he had to say and what he did as more Important. He got respectful reviews as well as awards, even if what he was doing - which it often was - was imitating the women. But you have changed all that.
Thank you for being so enlightened.
Women, large-minded, formidable women, have played an almost exclusive part in helping my career. I have hardly ever dealt with a man - at least, when it came to publishing: when it came to personal help, I have always relied heavily on my husband, John Burrow, who has come unfailingly to my rescue during those times when I walked despairingly about the house, saying I would never manage to write another word. (This tends to happen to me a lot). And he was always the only person who could convince Susan Hirschman of Greenwillow that what she was proposing was illiterate. He is a professor of English, and she respected that. I need to thank him, and also my three sons, who, as children, read my stuff and gave me very frank criticisms.
Richard was always very sensitive to places where I had got things *emotionally* wrong ('You should make this a bit *nastier*, Mum') and Mick never said much, but when he did, I fell over myself to put whatever-it-was right, because he was always spot on. Colin was helpful too, when he was young, but on reaching his teens, complained that typescripts always went back to front on him and that he disapproved of happy endings on principle.
Whatever, I have to thank them all.
As for these formidable ladies I spoke of, the first I have to thank is my agent, Laura Cecil. Before I was introduced to her, I had been trying to get published for ten years, and publishers' responses ranged from 'Who you?' to 'What do you mean, breaking all our rules and protocols?' right on to - this was over EIGHT DAYS OF LUKE, whose plot depends on someone striking a match to summon Luke/Loki - 'We can't publish this: children shouldn't play with fire.' ! The moment Laura came on the scene, I struck gold at Macmillan, London, and I have to thank her for that, and for about forty more years of the same.
Laura introduced me to the formidable Marni Hodgkin at Macmillan. Every other member of her family has won a Nobel Prize for something, and I often felt that Marni should have won one too, just for being herself. Robert Westall once phoned me tremulously, after Marni had had him in her office about his latest book. 'It's like being brainwashed,' he said. 'She pulled every part of the book to pieces and made me put it togwether differently, and I found myself adoring her for it. It - it's unhealthy!'
Now I don't do being brainwashed, so my relationship with Marni was always rather stormy.
This is where I learnt what literary agents are *really* for: they are for pulling you off the throat of your publisher. Marni always had to make a change in every book, regardless of whether it was necessary. Laura had to do a lot of work on me there, until the solution came to me. You see, in those days, there was only the one typescript - you couldn't just do another printout as you can with computers - and I would take the typescript meekly home with me, find the places where Marni was insisting on changes, and cut those places into irregular strips. Then I would stick them together with tape in just the same order, utterly unchanged, and send it back. 'Oh,' Marni would always say. 'Your changes have made such a difference!'
And, like Robert Westall, I adored her. She published three of my books in one year. She encouraged me, simply by wanting to pay all that attention to those books. And all writers need this kind of encouragement. It is the best kind there is. So I have to thank Marni quite devoutly.
The other person I have to thank is the redoubtable Susan Hirschman at Greenwillow. Susan published everything I ever sent her, promptly and efficiently, and was thereby my other main encouragment. If I was slow with the next book, there would be a gentle, steely enquiry, and that was all. That was all it took. Nevertheless, Laura had to wrork on me here too, not on plot changes, because Susan always loved stories and didn't tamper there, ever. With her it was all about *words*. It goes without saying that there was the matter of translating from British English to American, which always made me restive; but the main things were often quite absurd. I remember particularly the Great Muesli Row, in which Susan stated categorically that there was no such thing as Muesli in the United States; while I tried indignantly to draw her attention to the shop across the street from her office, where the window was filled with Muesli. I think she must have gone and looked in the end, because Muesli was not replaced with oatmeal.
Actually, I loved Susan for her categorical ways and wish she hadn't retired. She flew hundreds of airmiles to hear me speak, and if she couldn't get there, she alway demanded a copy of the speech. What better encouragement can a person have?
Actually Sharyn herself gave me encouragement of a different kind the day the news about the award was leaked. It was the day before my birthday - which was both joyful and gloomy, because there is nothing like a *Lifetime Acheivement* Award to ram it home to one that one is now seventy-three and decidedly getting on in years. And people have lately been writing books and learned articles and student theses on my work, which makes me, frankly, feel as if I might have died without noticing the fact, or else that they mean some other Jones.
They always call me 'subversive', which in a way I am, although, looking back on my relations with Marni and Susan, I think that 'intransigent' is a better word. One learned article, however, described me as 'rooted in fluidity', which took me aback a little. 'Good Lord!' I cried out. 'That sounds as if I'm a hydroponic lettuce!'
Anyway, Sharyn said to me,'This is only an award for your lifetime *up to now*. Don't you dare go and *die*!' And I don't intend to, thanks to Sharyn. I intend to go on and write the perfect book, which I know I haven't done yet. Meanwhile, you can all feel very proud and pleased that you have given this award to a woman who is the world's first hydroponically grown writer.
Thank you very, very much.
Diana Wynne Jones
Copyright © Diana Wynne Jones 2007
(Editor's note: The other Life Achievement Award went to editor and publisher Betty Ballantine, co-founder of Ballantine Books. Full list of winners at http://www.worldfantasy.org/awards/.