It was a dark and stormy night (of course!) when Mortimer entered the life of Arabel and the Jones family – and Rumbury Town N.W.3 and-a-half would never be the same again. Arabel’s Raven is the first of the many tales of his adventures told by Joan Aiken and masterfully characterised by Quentin Blake’s illustrations. The devoted pair appeared on a series of Jackanory readings, and then in books and a puppet series for the BBC which earned them a following of fans of all ages.
It was love at first sight – and forever – for the pair who Joan Aiken rather wickedly described as her version of the relationship between the ego and the id:
Before too long chaos reigns in Rumbury Town, and Mortimer (through no fault of his own of course!) is in the thick of it:
Amazingly he does, with the evil squirrel strapped to his back, and is soon holed up in the gangsters’ hideout – while Arabel goes into a decline, wondering where he can be? But soon everyone is on his trail… and now strange things are happening at Rumbury Tube station, but no one can solve the mystery?Pretty soon everyone is going round the bend, and it is up to Arabel to keep her wits about her and unravel the hilarious trail of chaos that leads her back to Mortimer…will she ever be parted from him again?
“Nevermore!” says Mortimer.
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Read more about Arabel & Mortimer and the BBC Puppet Series
on the Joan Aiken Website
So how is the book coming along? You still have a couple of weeks to send in your entry! All you need is a wonderful idea for a story you really want to tell, and we’ll give you the encouragement to write it – and that’s what is being offered here. You have until June 30th to send us your idea for a children’s book that could become a classic of the future.
Julia Churchill, Joan Aiken’s rep. at London literary agents A.M.Heath who are sponsoring The Joan Aiken Future Classics Prize (and hoping to discover a new talent!) tells you what we need:
“To get a good sense of the voice, concept and where the character is headed, we’d like to see the first 10,000 words PLUS a short description of the book (a few lines) AND a one page outline that shows the spine of the story.”
Sounds simple? Joan Aiken might have other ideas, having turned out over a hundred books herself, she knew it wasn’t exactly a piece of cake, and writing for children she felt should always be the best. But she also helps you fight the fear and do it anyway…
She imagines a test – an inquisition even – for the would be writer:
Well we aren’t the Spanish Inquisition, but what we are looking for is someone who has a story they really want to tell, and which they think children will enjoy…!
As Joan Aiken also said, all she ever wanted to do was give children the same wonderful pleasure that she herself had from reading as a child.
Well, she has plenty more advice and encouragement to give:
Take time to write regularly, brood about your story before you fall asleep and let your dreams take over, listen for the voice which will tell your story, find your imaginary reader and tell it to them…
All these thoughts and much more come from her very entertaining and generous little book The Way to Write for Children, but of course as she also says. there are many, many different ways, and we are waiting to hear yours…!
Find the book here, and much more about Joan Aiken and her writing life
on the Joan Aiken Website
And get writing!
Full details of conditions & how to enter are here on the A.M.Heath site
Open to un-agented writers in the UK and Ireland
> > > > * < < < <
End paper from Joan Aiken’s Tale of a One Way Street
The wonderful Jan Pienkowski has been honoured with a lifetime award by the BookTrust for his work in creating and illustrating over a hundred and forty children’s books – even more than one of his long time collaborators, Joan Aiken. Together they produced four outstanding collections of stories – one of which The Kingdom Under the Sea won the Kate Greenaway medal. Another book of very sinister ghostly tales, A Foot in the Grave had stories written by Joan to go with a series of haunting illustrations by Jan.
The story she wrote for this one, called Bindweed, tells of a family cursed by a miserable old Aunt and the nephew who has taunted her getting his comeuppance from a terrifying invasion of garden creeper…
Mostly though, Joan wrote the stories, and Jan embellished them with the most astonishing imagination, adding details and quirks to characters which perfectly matched her imagined worlds. In this picture from Tale of a One Way Street, the portrait of an old professor with his fuzzy slippers, dangerously trailing wires and half unplugged lamp with fraying cord create the perfect atmosphere of unworldliness.
For a collection of bedtime stories based on nursery songs, called Past Eight O’Clock Jan created simpler bolder coloured block prints with his famous silhouettes on top. Here is Hushaby Baby on his tree top, being protected by a giant crow in a marvellous sunset sky.
Text and illustrations were often beautifully aligned, here for instance as a small girl and her grandmother climb to the top of a tower block, looking for someone who turns out to live in the little house on its rooftop. You can see it on the right in the first picture up above; here we follow their journey upwards in Jan’s imaginative stairwell and lift-shaft.
Jan’s inexhaustible creativity always managed to add quirky detail to Joan’s vision, and between them they created a world that has remained in readers’ memories long after childhood, and meant that these books have been treasured and re-read over the years until they fell to pieces…
Let’s hope there will be some new editions coming out before too long to delight the next generations!
Perennial favourite A Necklace of Raindrops is happily still in print!
Find all the books here on the Joan Aiken Website
The original Puffin editions of the four younger story collections
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The Cuckoo Tree – a refuge for Joan, and an inspiration
This little tree, known locally as the Cuckoo tree, is small enough for one or two people to sit in, and in Joan’s childhood, gave a wonderful view over the Downs to the village of Sutton where she grew up; now thanks to the book she wrote about it, the tree has become famous worldwide. The Cuckoo Tree in which Dido Twite finally returns to England after many adventures abroad, takes place in Sussex, Joan’s own county, and particularly in the Downs around the village of Sutton where she grew up, whose hills and woods she endlessly walked and mapped as a child, until the names of these local landmarks were all utterly familiar to her, but also imbued with magic.
Dogkennel Cottages, Tegleaze Manor, even the Fighting Cocks Inn, an old name for the house, previously a pub, where she lived years later in the nearby town of Petworth, were to become just as well known to readers all over the world, especially when this book was translated into Japanese, and they have since become places of pilgrimage for some very devoted fans.
Local villagers have even taken on the task of directing Japanese visitors or escorting them up on to Barlavington Down, and have written about it for their Parish news:
A couple of years ago, I was also contacted by a Japanese Aiken fan who hoped to visit the tree; feeling a need to go back there myself, especially at primrose and bluebell time, I agreed to meet her in Petworth, Joan’s home town, and take her and her sister up the Downs. They had done an impressive amount of research, and were armed with maps, and brought with them their own copy of the book in Japanese to read to the tree – a wonderful moment which I hope Joan was present to witness.
For children, including myself, there was always something especially magical about this tiny tree, and the idea that the Cuckoo, famous for leaving her eggs in everyone else’s nests, did in fact have a secret home of her own.
In Joan’s childhood it was a refuge, somewhere to hide and read or write, a private special place to go. In her book, The Cuckoo Tree written in the year of her beloved mother Jessie’s death, it becomes a refuge in the story for a lost and motherless girl, like a comfort blanket or ‘transitional object’ as psychotherapists call this type of attachment, which Joan Aiken shows as taking the place of the usual mother-child bond; the tree shelters the cuckoo child.
In the US edition of the book, Susan Obrant captures the tree exactly from pictures sent by Joan, and shows Dido in her midshipman’s outfit discovering the secret hideaway of of the orphaned, kidnapped Cris, singing to her imaginary friend ‘Aswell’ who turns out in reality to be the memory of her long-lost twin.
At the end of the book, having helped everyone else to find their long-lost relatives, but having failed to find the friend she herself has been waiting to meet again for so many years, Dido returns sadly to the tree, and wonders about the forgotten ‘Aswell’.
The book was written in 1970, and in fact does suggest that the two friends Dido and Simon are finally about to meet again, as we learn that Simon is even now walking towards her over the Downs; but faithful followers were going to have to wait over fifteen years for the next book in the sequence, Dido and Pa when Joan Aiken would at last decide to write the book that would bring them together again…
To see the tree itself, and Joan sitting in it as she is in the photo at the top of the page
go to the Website and see her in the film made for Puffin Books
Read more here about The Cuckoo Tree and the other books
in the Wolves Chronicles series