On September 4th 1924 Joan Aiken was born, in a haunted house, named after a mysterious astrologer Samuel Jeake (who was supposed to have built a flying machine) in a street named after a mythical mermaid (who Mr Jeake may have rescued from an angry mob in his flying machine…) in the little town of Rye by the sea in East Sussex. All these elements were to have a lasting effect on her life, and recur in many of her stories.
From the age of five Joan lived in a remote village with a new step-father, and her much loved mother who taught her at home, but in 1936 her life changed dramatically – she was sent to a small boarding school in Oxford, and spent her twelfth birthday away from home for the first time. She said it was an inconceivable shock, and that from then on she stopped growing. But her first term’s report says she shows promise…and she did grow to love her time there, publishing her first poems in the school magazine.
Only a few years later World War II, declared just days before Joan’s birthday in September 1939, led to the school’s bankruptcy and eventual closure.
Some years later, a very important birthday was recorded by Joan on an early manuscript – this was the beginning of her most famous book, originally named after its heroine Bonnie Green – now known to everyone as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase – which she began on September 4th 1953 in an old exercise book, but which wasn’t to be published until nearly ten years later.
September 1976 was also a special birthday, when two days before, Joan married New York painter Julius Goldstein; they were to share nearly thirty years of happiness, dividing their time between her home in Petworth, Sussex, and his apartment in Greenwich Village New York.
Joan’s most amazing birthday, which would have been her 91st, came the year when Google decided to make the 4th September Joan Aiken Day, and celebrate her wonderful career as the writer of over 100 books which have become favourites and classics all over the world.
Happy Birthday Joan Aiken, and happy us with all the books she left for us to enjoy!
See the complete Joan Aiken Picture Timeline