The joys of Spring…but what if it just goes on giving?
One of Joan Aiken’s ‘modern’ fairy tales, ‘All You’ve Ever Wanted’ is the title story in her first book, and imagines an unfortunate orphan called Matilda who is showered with magical wishes that will keep coming true. Think of the joys of spring – so lovely at first when the garden is busting out all over, but what if it doesn’t stop…?
Every year Matilda receives a birthday wish couched in the usual flowery terms – ‘Each morning make another friend, who’ll be with you till light doth end…’ – sounds like an alarming premonition of the joys of facebook, where a possible 365 new friends’ birthdays may be signalled on your phone each morning? But the most flowery tribute of all brings Matilda’s otherwise burgeoning career to an abrupt end.
That is, until her next birthday wish arrives:
Sadly resigning from her job, Matilda attempts in vain to contact Aunt Gertrude, ‘causing a good deal of confusion by the number of forget-me-nots she left lying around in the Post Office’ and soon realises that even her journey home is going to be a nightmare:
Aunt Gertrude is finally run to ground when she spots a ten month old advertisement in The International Sorcerer’s Bulletin and rushes back from abroad to find her niece living in a summerhouse at the end of the garden armed with an axe to keep the worst of the foliage at bay… But there is one more unstoppable wish still to come for the poor girl’s twenty-first birthday:
Matilda now you’re twenty-one
May you have every sort of fun;
May you have all you’ve ever wanted,
And every future wish be granted.
Happily the by now all too experienced Matilda makes the most sensible wish of all: “I wish Aunt Gertie would lose her power of wishing” – but Aunt Gertie with her usual thoughtlessness has already granted her ‘All you’ve ever wanted’ so she has ‘quite a lot of rather inconvenient things to dispose of, including a lion cub and a baby hippopotamus…’
This and many other delights is now available in Virago’s latest collection of Joan Aiken’s favourite stories
Happy Birthday to the Puffin Club! It seems incredible that it was 50 years ago that the amazing and unforgettable Kaye Webb created a whole new world of children’s literature that is still flourishing today. While Puffin Books had been known for reviving children’s classics, Kaye had the idea of a magazine and a club where readers could meet each other, and where it was exciting to find out more about books and meet their favourite writers. Kaye befriended new authors like Joan Aiken and brought them out of their shells (or their writing sheds!) and introduced them to their readers at Book Fairs, Puffin Exhibitions, tea parties and even a camping trip like the one to Lundy Island to meet some real Puffins!
The campers wrote up their experiences in the very first edition of the Puffin Post magazine – parents today might be amazed at their obviously unforgettable adventures which were wilder than those of the children in Swallows & Amazons, and involved a lot of drenching rain and near shipwreck…not to mention a night at Sir Allen Lane’s farm with a barbecue cooked by the Penguin Editor himself! Kaye had promised him the club would make children into readers, and he was clearly very happy to join in.
Kaye’s great discovery was New Zealand artist Jill McDonald who was given the job of designing the Puffin club logo and badge, and the look of the magazine, and who went on to create a whole family of friendly Puffin characters to fraternise with the new members:
“I say old boy, shall we join this new club?” “Good idea! I hear they have some P’super Prizes…”
Joan Aiken was co-opted to light Halloween bonfires, dress up as Madam Arkana and tell fortunes – which were probably wildly inventive! – judge story and poetry competitions, and above all provide a never ending stream of stories for the magazine itself. Puffin published about 25 Joan Aiken books over the next twenty years, and Joan and Kaye became close friends for life.
In 1969 Joan Aiken was the subject of a film for Puffin Books which is now an absolute treasure, recording this very shy and reclusive writer talking about her inspiration for the first five books in the Wolves Chronicles series, visiting locations where they were set – on top of the Sussex Downs (where we see her climb a tree and sit happily writing away!) and in London’s Battersea near the site of the Globe Theatre where her heroine Dido Twite lived in Rose Alley. This short film can be seen on the Joan Aiken website.
This was also my introduction to the Puffin Club where I had the good fortune to work for Kaye in my pre-university Gap Year, filling out hilarious Jill McDonald postcards in reply to readers’ letters:
In the pre internet and social media age, writing could be a pretty lonely business, and children’s literature was barely respectable as a profession. Joan Aiken admitted that if she was introduced as a writer of children’s books ‘a look of blank horror’ would come over people’s faces, ‘as if they expected me to start reciting poetry about fairies in a high piping voice.’ Kaye and her inspirational Puffin Club completely transformed the world of children’s literature, made life-long readers of so many of its members, and her magical marketing skills made the careers of many of the writers she worked with. As she said: “What better way of persuading you that what you read is important, than asking a lot of interesting, nice and talented people to tell you what they read when they were young.”
That’s you Puffineers!
Kaye Webb and all those wonderful Puffin Books will never be forgotten.
Just a few of the first Joan Aiken Puffin books
See her talk about them in the Puffin Movie
And find all Joan Aiken’s books on her website
Julius Goldstein, who married Joan Aiken in 1976, was born on 17th March
and was a lifelong New Yorker, who lived out his days in a fifth floor walk-up in Greenwich Village, where he was able to indulge a love of movies and galleries and for many years taught art at Hunter College, CUNY. Julius had also fallen in love with England and loved to paint its landscapes. Living half the year in his favourite city, and half with Joan in Petworth, Sussex, at the foot of the South Downs, he was able to paint to his heart’s content in a garden studio looking out over hills and valleys.
A master of the colour green, he had the most perfect birth-date, and was charmingly flattered that his birth city put on a spectacular parade for him every year…
Here is a typical Goldstein Sussex study in his favourite colour
Happy Birthday, dear Julius
Find him on Joan’s picture timeline
on the Joan Aiken website