I’ve had a Twitter account for longer than most of my readers have been alive. For the most part, I’m glad about that. I’ve made lots of wonderful friends from around the world–including many of you who are reading this now, I’m sure!–I’ve learned a lot about writing, and I’ve gotten crucial information about my local and global community, especially during the pandemic. I’ve even sold a few books: once, in one of my less kind moments, I made a snarky joke that a stranger enjoyed so much that he vowed to buy Magic Marks the Spot for his kids. (Thanks, stranger.)
The recent changes at Twitter have made me feel uncomfortable maintaining my account there, however, and I’d like to reduce the amount of social media in my life anyway, so I’ve locked my Twitter account and won’t be posting there going forward. If you’ll miss me there, don’t fret! I am unavoidably online. In the new year, I’ll update the social media icons on this site to reflect the places where you can still find my words, photos, and occasionally snarky jokes, but for now, I’ll leave you with some links to my public accounts:
A few years ago, I was encouraged to start an Instagram account. “You can share interesting photos of your life!” the encouraging people said. “Then your readers will feel like they know you!” The encouraging people seemed very confident that this would be the case. I would share snapshots from my day–a solitary cup of tea in the morning fog, a vivid sunset unspooling across the horizon–and these photographs would allow you to see the world through my eyes. “What a fascinating cup of tea,” you would say. “I think I should buy this person’s books.”
I did get on Instagram–see?–but I realized at once that the encouraging people had been a bit too optimistic when they talked about interesting photos of my life. If I were to take a photo of my life right at this moment, you would see:
this computer screen
my feet in socks
the office beyond my socks–a yoga mat, a modem, a tree out the window.
I am not sure that this tableau would make you feel as if you knew me any better. I am not sure it would make you want to buy my books. Maybe you would admire my socks?
Anyway, during the writing part of my day, I’m usually at a computer, which is not very interesting for other people to look at. (And during the rest of my day, I’m with my kids, who are extremely adorable but whose photos I don’t share publicly.) This is why my Instagram feed is now a long parade of the things I’ve baked recently: baking is a process that is great to share through photos! The process of bringing a book into the world, however, generally looks like a computer screen and some feet. Sometimes there are emails. Sometimes there are Zoom calls. Sometimes there is a heartbreaking publishing development, or a fabulous publishing development, or a piece of disappointing news that makes your stomach twist, or a piece of tremendously good news that makes you jump up and down in the kitchen when you are supposed to be making avocado sandwiches for your kids. With the exception of the avocado sandwiches, none of these things are particularly easy to post on Instagram.
But when you sell a book–a book you’ve been working on for years, a quirky book that makes you laugh, to a dream editor at a dream publishing house with the help of a dream literary agent–then, finally, you have a picture you can share with the world, and it looks like this:
I’m so excited to get this new book into readers’ hands, and to tell you more about it as we move toward publication. For now, please imagine a series of photos behind this announcement of all the moments leading up to it: lots of cups of tea, two years of pandemic parenting, countless neighborhood walks, pages and pages of printed-out notes and drafts and revisions, conversations with friends, a big pile of worries and hopes, and maybe a few vivid sunsets.
Something you might not know about me is that before I became a published children’s book author, I worked in publishing as a textbook writer and editor. With my colleagues and our clients, I developed teachers’ guides to dozens of texts, dreaming up reading comprehension questions, essay prompts, and engaging activities to support educators as they helped their students dig deeper into the books and stories they shared in class.
Now that the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way so many of our children will learn this school year, putting educators under extraordinary stress and sending parents in search of curriculum materials to support kids’ learning outside the classroom, I thought it might be useful for me to return to my educational publishing roots. I’ve developed a Readers’ and Educators’ Guide to The Door at the End of the World, available to everyone as a free PDF download. It’s a twelve-page guide full of discussion questions, vocabulary-building exercises, writing prompts, suggestions for hands-on activities related to the book, and more. I’ve made sure that each section of the guide addresses familiar Common Core English Language Arts standards for elementary school students, so teachers can more easily incorporate the material into their existing lesson plans and so caregivers can feel confident that kids are learning the same skills they’d be focusing on in the classroom. Whether you’d like to read The Door at the End of the World aloud to students or give it to a child for independent reading, I hope that this guide will make it easier for you to use the book as a fun and interactive teaching tool.
I’ve written this guide with students in grades 3-6 in mind, but you can use it with older or younger children if you feel it provides an appropriate level of challenge and engagement for your readers. Please let me know if you find the guide useful; if it’s helpful to enough teachers and families, I’ll consider creating similar guides for the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series and for The World’s Greatest Detective. And as always, I am happy to offer free 20-minute video Q&A sessions to school groups, book clubs, or other small groups of students who’ve read at least one of my books. (Please contact me for more details about that!)
Whether you are facing a new school year in the classroom, through a computer screen, or by your young reader’s side, I’m sending you my very best wishes and hoping that even in this difficult time, you and the kids you love will be able to find joy in the pages of a good book.
Thanks to all the readers who entered my giveaway of advance copies of THE DOOR AT THE END OF THE WORLD! I’ll be mailing ARCs to the six winners: Julia V., Kit G., Katie W., Magan, Aylea W., and Jennifer M. If that’s you, please check your email! And if you didn’t win, I hope you’ll put THE DOOR AT THE END OF THE WORLD on your list of books to read when it’s released next April. I wish I could send every one of you a copy! Whether you read the book sooner or later, I very much hope you enjoy it.
I also wanted to let you know how giveaway respondents answered the question, “What’s your favorite Diana Wynne Jones book?” Howl’s Moving Castle was the runaway winner with 7 votes, but there were 2 votes each for Charmed Life (one of my personal favorites) and The Pinhoe Egg, which I was excited to see on the list since I’m not sure quite as many people know about it. Other books that got one vote each were The Spellcoats, Archer’s Goon, Hexwood, Conrad’s Fate, A Tale of Time City, The Lives of Christopher Chant, Witch Week, and Diana’s book of essays, Reflections: On the Magic of Writing.
What’s my personal favorite? Honestly, I’m not sure how any of you were able to choose, because I’ve been trying to answer this question for days now and I still haven’t settled on one title. I love so many of the ones you all mentioned. But of the books that weren’t mentioned, I particularly like Fire and Hemlock. Oh, and Deep Secret. And The Crown of Dalemark. And Enchanted Glass. And anything that features Chrestomanci showing up somewhere in his dressing gown. I can also tell you that I’ve spent about a quarter-century wanting to eat a butter-pie from A Tale of Time City, so maybe that’s the book that’s made the greatest impact on me over the years.
Congratulations to the giveaway winners, and thanks to all of you for helping me celebrate Diana Wynne Jones! She would have turned 84 years old yesterday, August 16th, and I think she would have been thrilled to know how many readers around the world loved her books.
If you’ve ever heard me talk about my love of children’s books, or if you’ve ever asked me for book recommendations, you probably know that one of my favorite authors is Diana Wynne Jones, who wrote dozens of funny and wildly imaginative fantasy novels over her long career. My hometown librarian introduced me to her books when I was a kid, and I still have vivid memories of listening to Charmed Life on audio cassette during family road trips. I wrote my graduate school thesis about Fire and Hemlock, a book I’m still not sure I entirely understand. When I was at a low point in my writing life, I reread Howl’s Moving Castle and found such joy in the reading that I ended up drafting Magic Marks the Spot in four months flat. And when I signed my first book contract with HarperCollins, I was thrilled that my own books would be published by the same house that’s brought so many of Diana’s books into the world.
A lot of my own work–and a lot of the other work being done by children’s fantasy authors writing today–owes a debt to Diana Wynne Jones. She was particularly well known for her world-hopping fantasies, which is why when I attempted to write a world-hopping fantasy novel of my own, I did it in honor of her. On the dedication page of The Door at the End of the World, you’ll see that the book is written in Diana’s memory.
The Door at the End of the World won’t be in bookstores until April 2019, but this week I’ll be giving away six advance reader copies! You’ll be entered into the drawing if you visit my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter, but you’ll get extra chances to win if you tell me which of Diana Wynne Jones’ books is your very favorite. And if you’re a teacher, librarian, or bookseller, you’ll get some extra chances to win as well. The giveaway is open internationally and ends on Friday, August 17th. Good luck!
There’s no signpost to mark the end of the world, so you need to know what you’re looking for: a gatehouse, a garden, a tall brick wall overgrown with flowering vines. . . and the door. You’ll have to wait a while, too, since the Gatekeeper likes to take her time. Traveling from one world to the next isn’t something a person should do on a whim, and she wants to make sure you mean it.
What begins as a rather unremarkable Thursday quickly turns to disaster when Lucy, the Gatekeeper’s deputy, discovers that her boss has vanished, the door connecting Lucy’s world to the next world over is broken—and it might all be Lucy’s fault. To save the Gatekeeper and set things right, Lucy must break the rules for the first time ever and journey with an otherworldly boy, a suspiciously sneaky girl, and a crew of magical bees into the seven worlds beyond her own.
But Lucy isn’t the only one breaking the rules. As curiosities and dangers gather around her, she learns she’s up against a sinister force that’s playing with the delicate fabric of time and space, no matter what the deadly costs or consequences. Lucy’s never had to save the world before—and now, somehow, she’s got to find a way to save eight of them.