Friday, 25 November 2011

Did Coriolanus play league?

Possibly one of the most surreal conversations I've had in recent weeks was in a debate with a PGCE student, naturally enough about the respective merits of union and league. (We're talking rugby here. If you didn't get that, don't bother reading on.) His main line of argument was 'Macbeth would have played league.' Then he upped it to 'Coriolanus. Coriolanus definitely played league. So did Titus Andronicus.'

Union or league is not really the question.* The real question is what position did they play? Macbeth's a hunky warrior to start, but turns out to be a bit of a flash in the pan, with power going to his head. Sounds like a centre to me. Macduff, slogger, slow to start, but makes it in the end? Classic prop behaviour. Julius Caesar, live fast, die young? Must be a winger. This is definitely my new favourite game. Along with the 'what would any given Shakespeare character be listening to on his iPod?' game.

* Because of course, the answer's union. No-one has ever seen the Aire Valley FM dancing girls in a Shakespeare play, and it's not a rugby league match without dancing girls in jewel coloured lycra and furry yeti boots.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Gendered language

This is just a quick post to point you in the direction of an up-to-date reading list from Deborah Cameron herself about gendered language.

Language and gender specialists rarely now consider women and men to speak in different ways just because they are men and women - it's much more specific, localised, and contextualised. But many teachers are still drawing on the same tired old stuff from the 1970s, so Cameron wrote this list of recommendations for bringing your knowledge on the subject up to date. Highly useful. And brought to you by E magazine, one of my favourite resources for Language and Literature A level students. They have such good taste they employ me to write for them from time to time.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

An almost entirely unrelated post

A laugh out loud sentence from an article on the BBC News website about 'mini-figures' which are apparently the new childhood craze. The writer comments:
The grammatically abhorrent question mark in Playmobil's Fi?ures set is the clue that these toys are sold in blind packs.
'Grammatically abhorrent' eh? Appropriate for the morning after Halloween: beware of those horrifying question marks. The world seems to be dividing into those who stress about grammar ('the Grammar Snob') and those who don't know and don't care ('everyone else'). I was particularly amused to get an email this week from someone who had ranted to me on a number of occasions about the use of apostrophes by others, and referred to "Julian Barne's new book". Oops. Let he who is without sin, etc.

I'm spending a wee bit of time at the moment teaching grammar to trainee English teachers. Some of them have never really learned the difference between the colon and the semi-colon before, and so now's the time to find out. This shocks some people, that I have to teach them grammar. But actually language is one of the most frightening aspects of English (and English teaching to a lot of literature grads). And better that they should learn now, because of an accepting attitude, than try to hide it because we're judging them for not knowing what a split infinitive is.

I've written before about the intrinsic split personality of the language teacher re descriptive/prescriptive grammar. But I remained a grammar snob for a long time. I do think it's important. I still correct people, and I still teach the right answer. But I've given up on the judging. Grammar shouldn't be the enemy.

Appalling neologisms from marketing executives, however? They might just be the enemy.

Friday, 16 September 2011

The raven himself is a horse

It's just a brief note, to draw your attention to an interesting opinion article, written by the head of AQA's research unit, Chris Wheadon, for the TES, discussing the results of modularisation. It's likely to be a bit of a backwater of history, since the situation has been reversed and modularisation is on its way out for GCSE.

Of course even without modularisation there is no reason why students can't be entered early for the whole qualification - it's been customary in some places for years to enter some students for the whole of their English GCSE in November, which is a re-sit session: the reasoning goes that the overall standard of the candidature is lower, because it consists mostly of those who failed, so candidates who are expected to pass will look better by comparison. Also, as with A level marking in January sessions, it is often thought that the marking is better - because only 'good' markers (and there's a whole can of worms you can read about in my DPhil thesis if you must) are asked to return for those sessions which require many fewer markers, because there are many fewer candidates. It used to be official advice from AQA that candidates for the Editorial Writing module of A2 English Language should be entered early, so they could use the January exam as a 'mock' for the summer (and let's not get into the matter of exam fees on that one, eh?).

So does it demoralise and demolish fragile self-confidence? Is that a necessary evil for those getting through it with better marks, or getting a qualification at all? Have you taken any modules or qualifications at a different time than usual? How did it feel?

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Literary Endeavours

Oxford may be full of literary links, but there's one that rules supreme. No, not C.S. Lewis, despite my many blogs on his garden. Not even Tolkein, his drinking mate in the Bird and Baby (memorably misheard by one of my friends as the Burning Baby, which really seems unrelatable to its official title of The Eagle and Child), famously meeting place of the Inklings for over 20 years. And certainly not Pullman, like Tolkein my fellow Exonian (and, incidentally, Will Self).

No, the one that reigns supreme also has connections to Exeter College. It was a location in the final book in a very long series, or to be more accurate, in the television adaptation of the final book. That's right. Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse casts his long shadow over so many Oxford locations it's hard to escape his influence. Walking over Port Meadow today, to Wolvercote, and then back along the canal, my friend and I constantly expected to round a corner and find another murder victim awaiting the tender ministrations of Morse or Lewis. ("It's always the joggers that find them," my friend said darkly.) It's the bucolic idylls, the domestic suburbs and the academic Cotswold stone colleges that make the detective series what it is. They colour the tourist's eye view of Oxford (I always point out the Randolph Hotel to visiting friends, which has been the scene of more arrests, murders, and murder victims' last nights than any one place has a right to). On my single trip up the tower of the university church, I looked over the dreaming spires and found myself reminded of the aerial setting shots that provide the local colour for the adaptations.

I'll miss being in this city, despite taking so long to become used to it, and even, horrors, to become fond of it. But when I'm in the countryside, ensconced in my tiny thatched cottage, I'll be able to put on a dvd and find myself right back in Oxford, solving murders and remembering walks on sunny July afternoons, chatting aimlessly about research and academics and rugby and ducks, not being pounced on by murderers.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A bloat of hippopotamuses

"You haven't posted anything recently." Apparently my mother doesn't think the pressing matter of 100000 words to be written for my thesis is much of an excuse. And luckily while in the car this lunchtime the return of Radio 4's Questions Questions gave me a subject to pontificate on.

One of their listeners had rung up to ask about the source of the strange collective nouns for birds (a 'descent' of woodpeckers, for example). Tracked to the British Library, the Boke of St Albans, printed in 1486, had a compendium of collective nouns, including the skulk of foxes and the rather delightful 'rascal of boys'. The consensus seems to be that the author was making them up as he went along, and so whoever wrote the Boke, came up with most of the weird ones we still use today, and some that we don't. A 'knee of pheasants' anyone? Apparently related to the Norman French for 'nest'.

Interestingly the modern 'deceit of lapwings' was recorded in the Boke as a 'desert of lapwings' - apparently referring to the lapwing's habit of leaving its nest when it spots a predator, and feigning an injury some distance away to decoy the predator away from its chicks. At some point a misunderstanding of the etymology of 'desert' as coming from 'to desert' transferred the phrase to one which refers to the trick the lapwing is playing.

This all turned out to be strikingly relevant to the thoughts I'd been having at the weekend. Lying in bed, awake at 4am because of the (extremely loud) peacocks who live at Ellingham Hall, where I was staying for the wedding of my lovely friends David and Felicity, I was contemplating transferring the noun 'murder' from crows to peacocks. But on reflection, I think a 'throttle' of peacocks* is closer to the action that was crossing my mind.

* Of course, the Boke got there first. A 'muster' of peacocks is the canonical term, although there's a rival faction promoting 'an ostentation.'

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Like, really interesting.

A very brief post, just directing you to this article, which combines two of my favourite things, feminism and language. Thanks to Sarah Hutchinson, Oxford student and county councillor, who brought it to my attention. Its basic premise is that women use 'like' as a filler as a means of making themselves more socially acceptable, as it makes them sound less aggressive (i.e. assertive). Now you might also want to read Deborah Cameron on the subject, an Oxford linguist who has debunked the male/female language myth. Or you might want to consider it in the light of the research that shows that using fillers actually makes our listeners pay more attention, as they have to work hard to filter out the ums, ahs, and ers. Does 'like' count? You may not want to listen to someone who can't string a sentence together without all those little time-wasting syllables, but your brain knows better.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your words

Yes, yes, I know. You wait ages for a blog post and then two come along at once. Which reminds me of a Wendy Cope poem ("Bloody men are like bloody buses") which I won't quote in full, because really you should go and buy a book of her poems instead.

The point is, however, entirely different, and relates to Hubert van den Bergh's latest book, How to Sound Even Cleverer: he's looking for your words, as he tells us in this Telegraph article. I'm not sure personally that I would describe Pippa Middleton as Promethean, but he's got some points. Anyway, I merely post this to urge you to contribute to his quest for those all important impressive sounding words. The kind of words that people in Oxford seem to trot out all the time to keep you thinking they're clever, even though they don't really know the meaning of them. It's the way I use 'Vygotskyan' and 'Socio-Cultural Activity Theory', although I have clever friends who do know what they mean and can explain them in words of two syllables with reference to Harry Potter.

Personally, I prefer people to use shorter and less clever sounding words that they know and understand. But if being a post-grad has taught me anything, it's that the more syllables, and the more confuscated and obtuse the writing, the better, and the more clever people will think you are. Alternatively you can just use statistics. It has the same effect, since readers can't understand you either way.

The future is now...

Well this is an exciting but not entirely English related post. I'm creating it on my mobile phone. It's going to take a while, given the one-fingered typing it requires.

I'm not the first to do this, and in fact Neil Gaiman has been doing it for years. And more and more people are using their phone as one of their main ways to use the internet, let alone to read e-books. Surely all this mobile reading and writing is going to have an effect? Internet writings are going to get shorter, and people's attention spans will shrink with them? It's alleged that one of the effects of the National Literacy Strategy, with its snippets-based approach to literature, created a generation of children who couldn't manage an entire book, because as far as they were concerned, English came in units of a couple of paragraphs.

I don't know. What I do know is that kids reading and writing what they want to read and write is a Good Thing (see earlier post on texting). In a recent job interview I was asked what the potential use of mobile devices in the classroom was: they have enormous potential for a school and teacher brave enough to swim against the tide of public opinion, and with students sensible enough not to abuse the privilege. Instant internet facts, or YouTube clips of poets reading, or photos for animations or recording of presentations, or even mobile blogging. The possibilities will surely increase and increase; this little palm-sized thing I'm writing on is exponentially more powerful than that first school BBC acorn computer I learnt to type on twenty years ago.

Meanwhile I must get back to the present and marking my final 50 KS2 reading scripts. I wonder if I could upload the marks using my phone...

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Dane-jà vu

If there's one Shakespeare play you can guarantee to find on stage at some point during the year, it's Hamlet. I think I've seen it on stage four times (Michael Maloney, Sam West, David Tennant (both RSC) and, last week, the Northern Broadsides). Every time I'm staggered again by the fact that so many of our everyday phrases and sayings come straight from the page. All Shakespeare plays have contributed something to the English language. Hamlet did it by the shovel-ful.

But, is it really necessary to put on quite so many versions of it? I saw the RSC production in January of last year (and it really blew me away - far and away the best production of any Shakespeare play I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot!) and then, as I said, last week I went to see the Northern Broadsides production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. And for the first time, it fell a bit flat. It wasn't a bad production - in fact it was good, and the girl playing Ophelia did a fantastic job with one of the hardest female characters to pull off, without the madness going over the top, or being too silly, or being too soppy or just requiring a good slap, which she usually does. There was a young actor in the main role, who was a lot better in the second half than the first, which might have been part of the problem. Rosencrantz and Guildernstern were creepy and practically Tweedledee and Tweedledum like in their similarities - played by real life brothers. I think on the whole. But really, it was just suffering by comparison to the clearest, most thoughtful interpretation I'd ever seen. Too soon to see it again, apparently, though I could have been to see two other versions (including Jude Law in the title role), if I'd so desired.

The reason I went to see it was the Northern Broadsides. I've blogged before about them, and their greatness, so I shan't repeat myself here. They are one of two companies whose productions are reliably brilliant. The other is Propeller - an all male Shakespeare company who always do two plays at once, touring with them, either alternating or doing one then the other for a solid block.

I discovered them last year when they were performing at Oxford Playhouse. Having watched The Merchant of Venice open mouthed, at the end of the performance I went straight to the Box Office to buy a ticket for the following days A Midsummer Night's Dream. This year just before Easter I had to traipse out to the Watermill Theatre near Newbury - a lovely and slightly surreal theatre that is basically in the middle of nowhere - to see their Richard III. Richard Clothier in the title role gave a wonderfully creepy and magnetic performance, that left the audience in reluctant sympathy for the murdering, conspiring, ambitious villain. Propeller pride themselves on the vitality (ironically) of their performances and this one was no exception - the murder by chainsaw, with spurting blood and lumps of flesh was probably the highlight of the violence in this play. It reminded me strongly of the King Lear a couple of years ago that saw an eyeball bitten out on stage then spat out into a trough directly in front of the audience. Propeller made an ultra-creepy production, with the actors not involved in the specific scene disguised with white coats and stretched white masks to act as attendants, torturers, and passersby. At the end of the interval one be-masked man craned over the shoulder of the woman at the end of my row to read her programme, coming closer and closer until she jumped a mile. If you want Shakespeare that grabs you, Propeller is my bet. I'm off to Hampstead in June to see A Comedy of Errors, since I couldn't get to it in Newbury. I hope their Pocket Propeller productions manage to hook a new generation of Shakespeare audiences. And even better, they keep doing plays I haven't seen done to death!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Promised Poetry

So, having broken radio silence, I feel compelled to actually blog about poetry, as promised.

1) (Going back three days later to find this article was quite difficult - the Guardian has had five articles about poetry since then. Impressive.) This Guardian review of two collections of poetry aimed, one each, at boys and girls, was much more balanced than it needed to be. It does beg the question whether poetry is gendered. My hunch would be that more women read - and write - poetry than men (and now is not the time to get into a deep discussion on the dominance of men among published poets), so perhaps there's a case to be made for a Boisterous Boys' Book of Verse to get them enthused. And I suppose if you're a publisher, it seemed like a good idea to include a companion for girls.
But I'm in wholehearted agreement with the reviewer that soppy verse with flowers and nature is not inherently girly, while many boys would view the Charge of the Light Brigade with equal disdain.

In the Good Old Days, which, I hasten to add, were actually before I was born, the gem in the UCLES (University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, which eventually became OCR) crown was something called the Plain Texts Syllabus, which was all about letting people have actually responses to texts, and tended to involve setting examination questions like 'So, how do you respond to this poem?' Great for openness, less easy for quantifying Assessment Objectives. Famously this syllabus set Thomas Hardy's anti-war poem 'Drummer Hodge' the year after the Falkland War (entirely unintentionally) and then watched the fireworks, which were somewhat more spectacular than the gentle furore over Carol Ann Duffy's 'Education For Leisure'. The emphasis in teaching it was less on learning a set of points about the language of the poem, and more about experiencing and enjoying poetry. I can't say that I've ever felt any really good poem was gendered - I think Plain Texts might be more pointful than Great Poems for Specific Group. In fact I suspect that picking poems that speak to stereotypes of gender might well be counter-productive. I can imagine the response if I'd presented my all-girls' classes with something about lambs because it was 'great for girls'...
2) I've read two things recently from organisations in which I have a vague interest, both of which are serious mainstays of British poetry, lamenting the loss of their Arts Council funding and begging for support from anyone who might be interested, in order to keep them open and doing the good work that they do. One is the Poetry Book Society, who send members 4 poetry books a year, chosen from the pick of the crop, and give them a 25% discount on other orders (and who are doing a new, free student membership, which gives you access to the online version of their bulletin, and the discount, though sadly not the free books). The other is Salt Publishing, who are one of the biggest poetry publishers in the UK, and whose Just One Book campaign managed to keep them afloat - just - through the recession so far, but who are now faced with cutting back a lot of their intended work.
The Arts Council has a lot of demands on it, and has lost a lot of central funding. It's no surprise that it's had to make hard decisions about where to spend its remaining dosh. I'm quite sad that both these organisations, both of which make a substantial contribution to keeping the poetry scene in the UK live and vibrant - the printed one, anyway - didn't make the cut. Vast numbers of people in the UK write poetry, for their own private benefit, or with the intent to try and publish themselves. Nowhere near as many read it. Some people are afraid of it or think it's too intellectual, or too snobbish. There is a poem (and a poet) out there for everyone.
In the interests of saving an endangered species, can I make a plea that you consider buying someone in your life a book of poetry? Possibly not '100 Great Poems for Car-drivers', but Just One Book goes a long way.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Useful link

I've intended to blog several times in the past week - about gore in Shakespeare (Richard III with a chainsaw - and flying fleshy bits) or Poetry and also poetry funding from the Arts Council and even the changes to teacher training. And maybe I will do one of these days - almost certainly about poetry anyway, because it's important.


This is a useful link to a BBC page where you can listen to dozens of interviews with authors that have been on various Radio 4 programmes over the years. What a brilliant archive and brilliant thing to use the internet for. Good old BBC.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Oh just give her a slap and get over it

I'm writing notes on Wuthering Heights at the moment, for a certain well-known broadcaster's well-known revision website. I had them partly written and then someone broke into my house and stole my computer, so I had to get to work reconstructing them.

There's only one problem. I hate Wuthering Heights. With a passion. Probably a passion only matched by Heathcliff and Cathy's self-obsessed, self-regarding, entirely selfish and completely destructive passion for each other. And if writing about it the first time was hard enough, the second time it's purgatory.

At the same time I am drawn into a kind of grudging admiration for the book. Because in the past knee-jerk hatred has made me throw it across the room in a Becky-Sharpe-in-Vanity-Fair-throwing-the-dictionary-out-of-the-coach-window kind of way (Speech and Drama exam Grade 4) and that is not conducive to examining its finer points and therefore understanding the book or the characters any better. But teaching it last year and writing notes this year has forced me to re-read the wretched thing and - horrors - to think about it. So for the first time I'm realising that the fact that Hareton regards Heathcliff as his father makes more meaningful and precisely parallel the fact that his marriage to Catherine is the happy ending that was denied to the first Catherine and Heathcliff himself. I still don't see how anyone could love either Catherine and Heathcliff, who are both badly behaved and selfish people - especially Catherine - but I do see the careful crafting of the novel, and its thoughtful exploration of the Romantic ideal. (I still prefer the rather more sedate exploration in Austen's Sense and Sensibility, but I can bear to be in the same room as Wuthering Heights now).

There are two lessons to be taken from this. One is that even if you hate a book, author or character, there's no reason to reject it outright and not find something good about it. Even if you hate it, figure out why, and look at why the author has done that thing, because presumably they weren't aiming for their work to end up in your compost heap/ recycling bin. Especially because one day you might be able to make some money from tutoring someone about it or writing notes on it for a certain well-known broadcaster. And the second is that if there's one thing writing notes on GCSE texts makes me do, it's blog.

Friday, 8 April 2011

The BBC says it best: LOL's in the OED.

There's been a little concern over the last few days from various sources, both individuals I know, and internet articles such as this one from BBC News, about the fact that LOL has made it into the dictionary. Before I add my ha'penn'orth, the real reason I was moved to blog is this opening paragraph from the BBC article:

"OMG! LOL's in the OED. LMAO!"

If you find the above string of letters utterly unintelligible, you are clearly an internet "noob". Let me start again.

Golly gosh! The popular initialism LOL (laughing out loud) has been inducted into the canon of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary. Blimey! What is going on?

What I find interesting is that they are happy to print 'OMG' but can't bring themselves to write it out in full, because that would be offensive. Presumably if you're young enough/ l33t enough to understand what OMG stands for, the thinking must go, you wouldn't be irritated by the blasphemy. Very strange.

Anyway, LOL. The Oxford English Dictionary is a record of all the words in the English language. In its full version it runs to twenty odd volumes, I believe. The Shorter OED is two vols. So there's plenty of room for a new word, which isn't even very long. It's a record of how we use language. And LOL gets used a lot (although when I used it on Skype to my trendy young sister the other day - well, okay, trendy from my point of view merely by virtue of being young - she thought it was hilarious that an old fogey was using the term). It's not as if the inclusion of LOL has meant that some other word has been forced out. The English language is not a nightclub. We are not operating a one-in-one-out door policy. Although it's a thought. Votes for what to get rid of so LOL can be used? I'll start you off: how about 'abaft'? It's not as though we use it much...

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Hope triumphing over experience

I've blogged before about adaptations of favourite books (here) so I won't rehearse those thoughts again. I'm quite surprised to discover that I haven't mentioned Lucy M. Boston, however.

The adaptation in question is From Time to Time, adapted by Julian Fellowes from The Chimneys of Green Knowe, which is the second book in the Green Knowe series.* A little history lesson follows: in 1988-9 I was in Group 2 at St John's College Choir School in Cambridge. Two things are pertinent: one is that Diana Boston was my history teacher and the second is that in my English exam I wrote a story about a child who made friends with an escaped leopard (I think - the details are sketchy). My form teacher, who taught us English among other things, was Mrs Cairns, a termagent of the first water and one of the two most inspirational teachers I've ever had (Mrs Gadd is the other one, and the reason I became an English teacher. If someone reminds me, I'll blog about the reasons why another time.). Mrs Cairns suggested that my story had been heavily influenced by a book called A Stranger At Green Knowe (the link is to the cover I remember - it's in print in a different edition); what book? I asked.

One week later I'd read all of the Green Knowe books, by Lucy M. Boston. They were magical, and whimsical, and best of all, they were written by a local author, whose daughter-in-law just happened to be my wonderful history teacher and the woman who ran the school stamp club. Mrs Cairns showed Mrs Boston my story. I was very unusual among John's pupils in not having heard of the Green Knowe books because Mrs Boston was one of the Transition teachers, and usually arranged for that year group to visit the Manor in Hemingford Grey, which was the house in the books. I joined the school too late for this privilege. So that summer, Mrs Boston very kindly arranged for me, and a child who'd missed the trip because of chicken pox, to make the visit just the two of us, instead of as a school trip.

It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. Lucy Boston was a tiny, white-haired, bent over old woman, with the brightest, most alive eyes you've ever seen. She was 97 when I met her, and died a year later, but she was incredible, as was her house and gardens. Diana Boston now keeps the house open to show Lucy's quilts as well the extraordinary objects of her collected life. I went back there last year, with my mother and sister, to see Diana, and revisit the house, and see if I remembered any of it correctly. You too can visit the house - check the website . Read the books first. Every object in them is also in the house.

This is Emily with the yew deer in the garden of the house.

This has all been a very long prelude for the fact that last week I watched the film. It was most odd seeing a story that I knew so well, so firmly located in a real place in my head, moved to a much larger and very different house. And then suddenly one would be transported back to the Fens, as Timothy Spall rounded a corner and walked past the statue of St Christopher which rests against the Manor wall.

This is my mother with that statue last summer. The film wasn't so bad, in fact it was pretty good, though it wasn't quite right. But very satisfactorily, Diana Boston was an extra, playing a dinner guest in a very spectacular feather, and escaping through the window, leading to shouts of 'there!' and then rapid pause and rewind of the DVD to let everyone get a look in. I do recommend the film, which features Dominic West as the dastardly butler, as well as Hugh Bonneville being lovely, and the wonderful Maggie Smith as Mrs Oldknowe, who in the books is clearly just a cipher for Lucy herself. Buy it from the Green Knowe shop (for that matter, buy the books from there too) and help keep this wonderful building, and its dual life of fiction and reality going.

* I am aware that I spend most of my time blogging about children's fiction. It happens to be the thing I like best. Deal.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

If anyone was a Chrestomanci, it was her.

A week ago, on March 26th, Diana Wynne Jones died. She was one of the best and most influential children's writers of the 20th century, and she will be sadly missed.

Diana Wynne Jones is probably my favourite writer, and certainly the author of my best book, Howl's Moving Castle. I thought I first discovered her aged about 18, but then as I read my way through her canon I kept finding books which had been treasured childhood favourites, that I'd never known were by her. Archer's Goon (also a brilliant BBC tv series that couldn't match the brilliance of the book); Dogsbody, in which Sirius, the dogstar, was confined to the body of a Labrador here on Earth (school bookfair purchase); The Magicians of Caprona (children trapped as Punch and Judy puppets, at one point - scary scary); and Fire and Hemlock - I'm not sure anyone has ever managed to figure out what was going out in that one. And of course, the wonderful, magical Howl's Moving Castle. And the ones which I hadn't read still felt like old friends - her writing had that quality that tickled some deep-hidden ur-fiction sense, tapping into the leylines of stories.

And there were more of them! And grown-up books! Deep Secret, so much a favourite that when I lent my copy to someone and they failed to return it in a few weeks, I had to buy a new copy. Neil Gaiman, who knew Diana Wynne Jones well, revealed in his blog this week that the breakfast scene with Nick in Deep Secret is based on him - a neat little in-joke that made me laugh while I cried at his memorial for her. It's odd to be upset when someone you don't know dies - but sometimes you feel like you know someone through their writing, and especially when it is writing that has been a companion for so long. On a purely selfish note, I'm sad that there will be no more new books to read. And I'm sad that there is a little less magic in the world, but so so glad that she wrote so much and created so much happiness in book form.

If you haven't, read her. If you have, reread. Buy the books for your children, your friends, your relations, for strangers on the bus. Give a little magic.