…and it doesn’t all end with romance! Joan Aiken’s modern suspense novels, full of grown up heroines who are every bit as plucky and determined as Dido Twite, and who have just as many extraordinary adventures, are now all being re-published as EBooks.
Joan Aiken’s writing for adults drew on her own fairly colourful life experience, as much as on her enjoyment of dramatic and sensational reading, and while she had planned since childhood to be a writer and carry on in her family profession, the early death of the husband she met at nineteen, had a profound effect on her, leaving her, in her twenties, free to pursue her chosen career, but with the financial responsibility for a young family – a combination which strongly marked not only her own personality but that of her fictional heroines.
As one reader commented, she usually wrote about young women who found themselves, in true Gothic style, without family or funds, left to make their own way in the world, learning often painfully who was friend or foe, and discovering where their true talents lay. Short on support they were figuring it out as they went along, and often confronting not just the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but the extremes of human nature, and the intricacies of finding relationships outside of marriage.
The self-reflective nature of these characters is always a delight; not only do you feel you are getting a slice of their author’s own thoughtful and ever engaged personality, but you find in them friends you can happily empathise with as they grapple with whatever the world (or their author!) throws at them. Usually eminently practical and self reliant, often talented or inspired in their fields whether as painters or pianists, actors or chefs, these women are almost mischievously thrown into appalling situations for the entertainment of their creator – and us readers! They may be locked into a gradually overheating pottery kiln, imprisoned in a French château by slavering guard dogs, kidnapped by international terrorists or gangsters, left in charge of an amnesiac old lady while pursued by escaped criminals…while also attempting to pursue their chosen careers and work out their relationships.
Joan Aiken loved to travel, enjoyed theatre, art and music as well as her wide reading, and these novels are stuffed full of reflections and descriptions of all the places and interests that fascinated her. Fancy a (fairly exciting!) Greek holiday? Try The Butterfly Picnic. Recovering from a failed relationship, or indeed the loss of your nearest and dearest? Foul Matter will be excellent company. Having second thoughts or even worse, strange suspicions about a new partner? – Blackground will have you reading late into the night…
Written between the 1960’s and the 1990’s, originally developing out of the stories she wrote to sell to sixties women’s magazines, these novels do now have a period flavour, but they reflect the positive early days of ‘Women’s Lib’ as it was known, while at the same time portraying the ideas and adventures of some very grown up heroines who have more on their minds than just finding a man. These girls certainly meet and captivate quite a few, despite being on the whole fairly small plain and gap-toothed (not unlike Joan herself!) but with enough charm and spirit to lead perfectly exciting lives of their own – albeit within the covers of their books.
If you enjoyed Joan Aiken’s younger heroines but you hadn’t heard of these ones, now is your chance to come meet them, and discover much more about a favourite author!
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Find all these novels as EBooks and read more about them at Bello, Macmillan
or discover more about Joan Aiken’s early life on her website
“What is Joan Aiken doing back in Regency land? Having fun – with the most ingenious Impostures and Deceits, not to mention attempted Murders, practiced on a most agreeable heroine. A country dance in the high style twirled to the tune of a proven virtuoso.” The Kirkus reviewer obviously enjoyed this very un-Aiken frivolity as have quite a few other readers and bloggers and indeed, as does Joan Aiken herself!
A huge fan of Georgette Heyer whose stories were serialised in magazines like Woman’s Journal where Joan Aiken’s own short stories used to appear, she couldn’t resist having a go at the style herself, and revelling in nonsensical dialogue and period detail, took a leaf or two out of Heyer’s books…
Here is our heroine, consoling her clueless Mama:
“Why do you all scold me so,” she sobbed, “when I only did it for the best?”
“Did what, Mamma? What did you do?”
“Why, went to St. Paul’s to pray for a husband for you, naturally!”
Delphie hardly knew whether to laugh or weep. What a hopeless quest! What a piteous pilgrimage! At least it had not involved Mrs. Carteret in any outrageous, wild expense, but it seemed highly probable that she might have caught her death from wet and exhaustion.
“That was a very kind, thoughtful thing to do,” Delphie said, giving her parent a warm and loving embrace, and then proceeding to whisk off the sodden shawl, “but, you know, I don’t want a husband, I would rather by far remain with you.”
“Of course you want a husband,” said Mrs. Carteret, shivering miserably as the draggled silk was peeled away from her shoulders. “For if you had a good one, we could all live together and he would support us!”
The heroines of these Regency Romances may put up a struggle, and fight for their independence but when the choice is between marriage or a life of penury – in this case Delphie works as a struggling pianist coaching snobbish and grumpy society maidens – we know where their hearts and hopes really lie…
Joan Aiken was not known for giving her poor heroines an easy ride, let alone even a happy ending, as many readers have remonstrated: “It’s more of a comedy with an excess of plot…and turns totally Gothic towards the end” or they describe the novel as “a lunatic farrago of wackiness” which is also “funny fluffy and frothy.”
But in this case (at last!) having overcome all obstacles, the hero manages to clasp the wretched girl in his arms and beg:
“But do you love me?”
“Oh, good gracious! How can you conceive of such a notion? Why, I came to Chase—walking five miles through a downpour, I may say, because that odious Mordred made off with my carriage-followed you up onto the roof—clambered over I do not know how many obstacles—dragged your lifeless corpse back from the chasm’s brink—all from motives of the calmest—most phlegmatic—neutrality—and altruism—”
The last words came out of her in jerks, for he was shaking her.
“Oh, you little wretch! How often have I not longed to wring your neck! Or at the very least to do this—”
And he set his lips on hers.
Huzzah! You know that’s what you really wanted…
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Joan Aiken’s glorious The Five Minute Marriage
For Your Enjoyment!
As reviewed by ALL ABOUT ROMANCE
More Joan Aiken Regency Romances and Austen Entertainments
now out on Kindle from Bello at Macmillan
Watkyn, Comma – A story of hope
What if you bought the house of your dreams – a ruin of course – but discovered, as Joan Aiken did, in her own home, that you were sharing it with a ghost? And what better metaphor is there for a ghost than a comma, a moment in time, a pause to let in a new idea…maybe in an unexpected form?
Joan Aiken’s heroine, Miss Sibley, finds the perfect companion in this delightful story – if you were planning to run a bakery, and looking for company, who else would be more appreciative of your efforts?
One night she is locked into a secret chamber under the eaves, that has been hidden away for hundreds of years…and of course someone lives there…and was perhaps mentioned in the diary of a fugitive priest called Gabriel, from many years ago…
Originally from A Fit of Shivers
And now in a newly published collection of Joan Aiken’s strange stories
The People in the Castle
From Small Beer Press
This story is to be read in May 2018 in the series Selected Shorts at New York’s Symphony Space
– a program for live readings of short stories that are then later broadcast on National Public Radio –
Read more about Watkyn and the collection in Lizza Aiken’s Introduction
…especially for the hero in this case – this girl is unforgettable!
Juliana Paget, heroine of the first of Joan Aiken’s three Paget Family novels might well be just another Regency Miss with the usual romantic hopes of meeting the man of her dreams. But for Juliana her intended beau must of course resemble King Charles the First, whose looks and character she has come to admire as the heroic subject of the Biography she has been assisting her father to write.
( And aside from this undoubted handicap, romance for Juliana will also be hindered, as we discover, by another dreadful fault, or maybe two…)
A perfect heroine, like a fairytale princess, is a rather predictable copybook case, sure to meet her prince, let alone obviously recognise him at first sight. Not so a Joan Aiken heroine – she is likely to have ideas of her own – or in this case ones she has gleaned from reading too many books, like Jane Austen’s Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey – and these ideas will certainly lead her into all kinds of trouble.
What if her romantic expectations deceive her and she doesn’t know who’s friend or foe?
When our heroine, no shrinking violet, has rescued a stranger fleeing from French revolutionaries and is then being rescued right back by him, and borne away to safety in a hot air balloon, he naturally enough tries to clasp her in his arms.
But while she has been helpfully mending one of the tapestries he is carrying over the channel to the Prince Regent at Brighton – for naturally ‘she carried a housewife full of needles and thread in her reticule and hated to be idle’ – she has inadvertently mislaid a spare needle…
‘ He let out a most appalling oath, fortunately in Dutch.’
“Oh what is it?” cried Juliana, terrified. “Is something broken?”
“No,” he growled. “You have stuck your verdommte bodkin into the side of the basket, and it has run very nearly right through my thumb!”
“Oh I am sorry!” she exclaimed repentantly. “It is a dreadful fault that I have, I know! I am always sticking my needle into the arms of chairs…Papa has scolded me for it, times out of mind.”
And does she learn from her mistake? Of course not. Joan Aiken is able to use this as a handy plot twist a couple more times, so that when the proposal scene finally arrives, and we are obviously expecting the hero to go down on one knee – does he?
Absolutely not, as he understandably says:
” It’s odds but you’ve left a needle sticking somewhere in that grass!”
And is he the one who looks exactly like King Charles the First?
You’ll have to read it and find out…!
The Smile of the Stranger is the first a series of Joan Aiken historical Romances
Just published on Kindle by Bello at Macmillan
Read more about Joan Aiken’s rip roaring period novels here