Fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones. Howard Sykes comes home from school one afternoon to find a strange man in the kitchen. The guy, who is nicknamed "The Goon," has been sent by an unknown person called Archer to strongarm Howard's father, writer Quentin Sykes, into continuing to write 2000 words for Archer, which it turns out Quentin has been doing quarterly for 13 years already. When Quentin stubbornly refuses, it leads into some really interesting times for the Sykes family, especially Howard and his little sister Awful who try to find out who exactly Archer is. Very amusing.

Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
ISBN: 0064473562

A children's/young adult fantasy/science fiction novel. Written in the same general style as The Ogre Downstairs and The Eight Days of Luke.

The Story (only mild spoilers)

Howard Sykes comes home from school one day to find a strange man in his kitchen -- a goon (he won't give his real name). He explains that Archer has sent him to pick up two thousand words from Howard's father, and he wont leave until he gets them.

It emerges that Quentin Sykes has been writing 2000 words for Archer every three months for the past 13 years. The last installation apparently got lost in the post. Not a problem, he'll just sit down and write out another batch. But the new batch isn't any good, and the goon comes back -- and now there are others who want Quentin to write words for them. Unfortunately, Quentin is a very stubborn man, and decides that he's not going to write any words for anyone -- especially not for a family of magical bullies.

The family turns out to have very powerful magic, and they do their best to make the Sykes family's life a living hell. The Sykes children, Howard and Awful (well, she is), along with their au pair Fifi, try to learn what's going on, who has the original words, and how to make all this stop. They learn that there are seven siblings who run the town (or 'farm' various aspects of it; for example, Archer farms power: electricity, gas, and money), and that the only thing stopping them from farming the whole world is Quentin's words. And Archer very much wants to rule the world.

There are some very nice surprise twists along the way, but I don't like spoilers, so you'll have to read the book.

Review and comments

A great book -- it's by Diana Wynne Jones, after all. A normal family gets pulled into strong magic, and Jones' normal families always seem more real than do most of the kids in magic adventure books. It's a little annoying that we never really learn where Archer and his family came from, and why they have the power of farming. Jones usually explains the magic in her books better.

The TV Show

In 1992 the BBC ran a six episode miniseries based on the book; apparently it was pretty much true to the book, and pretty good TV. They didn't have the special effects budget that you really need with a F/SF story, and I'm not sure I like the casting of the supernaturals. But then, you can't possibly get special effects on TV better than you get when reading the book.

The Cast and Crew

Designer: Chris Robilliard
Producer: Richard Callanan
Director: Marilyn Fox

Howard Sykes: Jamie De Courcey
Quentin Sykes: Roger Lloyd Pack
Catriona Sykes: Susan Jameson
Dillian: Michelle Newell
Torquil: Andrew Normington
Shine: Annette Badland
Maisie Potter: Irene Richard
Awful: Angela Forry
Goon: Morgan Jones
Fifi: Victoria Worsley
Archer: Thomas Lockyer
Hathaway: Clive Merrison
Mountjoy: Nicholas Blane

For much more on the TV series, go to

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