Joan Aiken always took a sketchbook on holiday, often to make a note of locations for a story or novel, and this sinister old watermill surrounded by dark trees gives the flavour of a particularly spooky novel she wrote for younger readers, The Shadow Guests, which ends in a setting just like this, and a fight to the death over its rotting floorboards with a member of the notorious ‘Hell Fire Club’ – although he is now a ghost of course!
But it begins with the horror of starting a new school, something that many of her readers will be facing this autumn, and although this one may seem not just eccentric but pretty beastly, the school experience Joan Aiken describes here in all its painful detail was in fact based on the boarding school she went to herself in 1936.
Although she makes use of her more unhappy memories of being ‘hazed’ or bullied as a new girl, and even sent to Coventry by her class for being too cheeky, Joan did later make some lifelong friends at the school, and was able to practice her storytelling skills on them when they all had to go down and shelter in the basement during the air-raids of World War II.
And spooky stories were obviously the best for distracting them…
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The new Puffin edition of The Shadow Guests is coming out on September 1st –
Just in time for school…!
Cover art by Joe Wilson – who hadn’t seen Joan’s picture – spooky or what?
See more about Joan’s art and school days here: