Joan Aiken was born on September 4th 1924 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 place in her imagination, and that particular haunted house would appear in many of her favourite stories.
At the age of five Joan moved to a small village and the house of a new step-father; it was a place she came to love, as she had a good deal of freedom and was taught at home by her mother, 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! Years later she wrote about the experience in a novel called The Shadow Guests, where a boy deals with the difficulty of school life by retreating into a world of ghostly imaginary friends. Writing was clearly the answer, and her first term’s report said she showed promise… she did grow to love her time there, publishing her first poems in the school magazine.
Just 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.
Another 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, and now known to everyone as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase – which she began on September 4th 1953 in this old exercise book, but which wasn’t to be published until nearly ten years later.
September 1976 was also a special birthday. 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 thanks to all the books
she left for us to enjoy!
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Here is the new edition of The Shadow Guests now out from Puffin Books
with added material about Joan’s school days and more!