Tuesday, 24 July 2012

THE SADNESS OF A READER

Hey everyone. Tuesday again. I'm battling a nasty infection, which got to be so nasty because I've been ignoring the symptoms for nearly a month, hoping it would go away, asking myself 'Who else is going to look after my dad?' Yeah, don't try that one at home boys and girls. Turns out that determination and denial don't actually work like antibiotics. Frankly that, on top of this new sweaty, dog-breath weather, was already making me wish that I'd never been born.

And then I woke up this morning and learned that Margaret Mahy, the author of The Changeover, and The Door in the Air, and The Great Chewing Gum Rescue, and so many other books that expanded and informed my imagination as a child, has passed away at the age of just seventy-six (she should have had at least another ten or fifteen years in her). And I cried.

The fact that I already feel terrible might have made the tears a bit more violent than they would otherwise have been. But maybe not. I was only writing about Margaret Mahy recently as part of the FrostFire Blog Tour - listing her as a fantasy writer who had inspired me and explaining why. Which means thoughts about how truly important she was to me are still fresh in my mind. All my reading life her books have been there. Knowing that she is gone, and that there will be no more books, ever, feels like losing a part of myself, my own identity as a reader. It feels like an earthquake in the landscape of my imagination.

In the last couple of years so many of the authors that I relied on as a child - that I still love as an adult - have been slipping away. The most notable for me up until now was the legendary Diana Wynne Jones. When Diana Wynne Jones died many writers blogged tributes to her, and it was wonderful to see the astonishing, inimitable impact she had on the world. But I couldn't bring myself to write about it. I had never met her, but I had always hoped that I would be lucky enough to one day. That possible one day was suddenly gone. I would never now get the chance to tell her how much she and her stories had meant to me.

It's such a strange thing to regret, because even if I had been able to meet her, I would never have been any more than yet another devoted reader to her (and she had thousands), telling her the same old things about the books she had written. She might have been happy to hear it, or tired and bored and thinking about her lunch. It would have been a huge moment for me, but not for her. Her life was not lessened by not having met me, even if mine was lessened by never meeting her.

I wish I could have said those words anyway. I wish that I had written her a letter telling her, even if it would only have been one of dozens. Her loss was sharp enough that I fell into a melancholy that lasted a week or more, and I can still feel the echoes of that grief now whenever I remember that she is gone. No more Diana Wynne Jones in the world. The world seemed a less bright, less brilliant, less surprising place.

Now Margaret Mahy is gone too, and the world seems dimmer and duller and more predictable still.

I hope that their books will continue to be on bookshelves and library shelves for many, many years to come. I hope that children still whisper their words out loud while hiding under the covers a hundred years from now. And I hope that there are other, younger, newer writers out there who can do for generations of children growing up now what these two writers did for me. I hope that one day the world will glow bright and brilliant and surprising again.

In the meantime, Dear Readers? If there is an author who has moved you, transported you, transformed you? An author who you feel, deep in your heart of hearts, is special? An author who you secretly wish to meet one day? Write to them now. Or arrange to actually meet them if you can. Do it while you have the chance. That towering figure who cast their shade over your childhood isn't immortal, even if it seems that the sheer power of their genius must be. One day you will hear that they have gone, and you will realise time slipped away from you and it's too late. And you will feel sad. No matter what, you will feel sad. Don't add the sadness of never having said what you always intended to say to that as well.

12 comments:

emilykatejohnston said...

I don't have a lot of regrets, but one of them is never writing a letter to David and Leigh Eddings thanking them for The Belgariad and The Rivan Codex. The latter in particular taught me most of what I know about writing (before I started actually writing, anyway...I've picked up a few more things since then!). Marion Zimmer Bradley taught me to look past the story you think you know. Anne McCaffrey taught me to dream big. Madeleine L'Engle taught me how faith and science co-habitate. And CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien taught me that the stories you want to write are the stories you should write.

I have other authors, now, that I love. But those six...they always make me a little bit sad.

Kelly said...

I dunno. I've found that most authors, at least when I ask, say that they get great joy hearing about the happiness others have found in their work. I think it's probably selling yourself - and the authors - a bit short to think that their life wasn't a little less bright for not being able to hear how much they influenced you.

If someone finds it boring to know what joy they've brought someone, then that says more about them (and it's not too flattering) than it does you.

Writing is a labor of love, eh? And what greater joy can there be than knowing other people share a love of that which inspired you to write in the first place?

Zoë Marriott said...

Emily: I think it's different when you read a book by an author who is already deceased (such as C.S. Lewis) isn't it? It's a fact you accept right from the start. But when an author you've loved for a long time - especially one you've loved from childhood - goes... it really is hard. In a way I know how you feel about D & L Eddings. I loved their books too - but I discovered them as an older teenager. The books you read as a really young person seem to reach deeper into you, I think.

Kate: Well, that's certainly the way that *I* feel, personally - getting letters and emails makes my day. But I also think sometimes that writers who've been hearing the same sorts of comments from readers for forty years must get to a certain point where, nice as it is to hear those things, it stops being *interesting*. A bit like if you built a wall in your garden and people complimented you on it all the time and you had to think of ways to respond every time, even though they were all praising the exact same things (neat grouting? Excellent herringbone work?). Forty years later you might be wishing you'd never built the wall in the first place.

Phoenixgirl said...

I know just how you feel about DWJ. For years I thought vaguely of writing her a fan letter, but was afraid I'd just be saying the same things she'd heard a million times before. Then when she got sick, the woman who runs her official fan website posted an offer to pass email tributes and well-wishes on to her. I realized then that I really didn't want to see her go without telling her what her books meant to me. I don't have any way of knowing if she saw my letter, but I like to think she did, and I'm glad I wrote it.

It's so sad about Margaret Mahy too. I always loved her wild-and-wacky middle-grade books like Tingleberries, Tuckertubs and Telephones and The Greatest Show Off Earth, but I never actually tried any of her supernatural ones. I'm thinking I might do it now, as a tribute.

Isabel said...

Really good advice. Thankfully, with the internet nowadays, it's so much easier to contact other authors to tell them how much you love their work, even if you never get the chance to meet them.

Zoë Marriott said...

Phoenix: I wish I had done that. I wish I could have gotten over my sense that I was too insignificant to dare try and communicate with her. I think it would have given me a feeling of peace, maybe. And as for Margarget Mahy - DO, Phoenix! Try 'The Changeover'. Gosh, I love that book, I really do.

Isabel: That's true, although back before email was a viable option I don't think most of us considered writing letters *difficult* exactly. Except in the same way that writing emails is - you know, finding the words to express yourself without coming off a tiny bit unbalanced!

Phoenixgirl said...

The Changeover is exactly the one I was thinking of starting with - after hearing you raving about Sorry, I want to see what he's like!

Artax said...

While I'm thinking about it, I've really liked reading your books, Zoe, and I look forward to reading many, many more. Plus, I'm a big fan of your blog. You've shared a lot of helpful advice and a lot of yourself, and it's all been great reading (though I rarely comment). Thanks!

Zoë Marriott said...

Artax: Thank you :) That sort of comment makes my day.

Megha said...

Ya know, YOU'VE always been a writer I wanted desperately to contact somehow and now I feel like I know you more than just someone who's my idol, but like a friend! So I'm glad I didn't have to regret that. (But unfortunately I can't come to meet you - it's too far away for me, notwithstanding the traffic from the Olympics and all!)

Unfortunately I've discovered a few writers after their deaths like DWJ and stuff :( But I can't regret never having contacted them because I didn't know about them earlier, though I *do* regret discovering such good books so late!

Zoë Marriott said...

Megha: That's a definite bonus of the age of blogs and Twitter - contacting an author is just less formal and you feel like you can chat and make friends. That's why I love this blog :)

Mari Adkins said...

I'd give my writing arm to have tea with Rosamunde Pilcher.

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