Midnight is a Place – one of Joan Aiken’s best nightmares


Scenes from Midnight is a Place one of the most highly praised of Joan Aiken’s historical melodramas apparently came to her in a dream about a terrifying carpet factory.  The story of Midnight Court, and two of Aiken’s most unfortunate orphans,  the doubly disinherited Lucas Bell and Anna-Marie, was hailed in many lively reviews when it came out partly as “the stuff of nightmares,” but also as a deeply moving portrayal of the real evils of industrialisation and child labour. While on the one hand “steeped in nineteenth century literary traditions,” and “juggling an army of seedy villains with Dickensian aplomb” it also “earns its place in the landscape of humorous fiction.”

(Beware spoilers…!!!) They continue:  “In this thrilling tale we have machines which crush children to death, herds of man-eating hogs in subterranean sewers, and a wicked old gentleman  ‘charred to a wisp’ in the burning remains of his ill-gotten house…” all described “superbly, with a force, a colour and strength of imagination that one encounters all too rarely.”   “Despite delectable exaggerations and ironic twists on the conventions of 19th century fiction this is not a parody…the tears and laughter are meant to be enjoyed for their own sake…” and while “the melodrama manages to avoid even a hint of sentimentality, the story never flags, and finally reaches a happy ending.” (This is not a spoiler –  by now you need hope!)

Meanwhile: “This author does not so much write for children as conscript them, and indeed all of us into her fantastic chiaroscuro.  The writing is rich and utterly un-condescending, there is no mercy for stragglers…”


Or as one ‘Goodreads’ reviewer put it: ‘Read it. Love it.’

(With thanks to The New Statesman, the T.L.S., The Daily Telegraph, Washington Post, The HornBook and Kirkus reviews from 1974)


The story was dramatised by Southern Television with reference to the marvellous Pat Marriott illustrations, here showing the deadly carpet making machinery, and a haunting theme tune which set the central song to music originally composed by Joan Aiken’s son – prophetically named John Sebastian Brown – who provided songs for many Aiken plays and productions.

“Night’s winged horses
No one can outpace
But midnight is no moment
Midnight is a place.”

The series is being re-shown in the Autumn of 2020 on Talking Pictures TV in the UK on weekend mornings at 9.00am

Midnight TV Titles

You can hear that haunting theme song again here on You Tube

16 thoughts on “Midnight is a Place – one of Joan Aiken’s best nightmares

  1. So glad this is available again, and with the illustrations. Am I right in thinking this is, however obliquely, set in the same alternate world as the Dido books but unrelated to them?


  2. Reblogged this on Julia Lee Author and commented:
    As any regular readers know, I am a big fan of Joan Aiken’s children’s books so I am really happy that Midnight Is A Place is having a new edition and hope it will reach a whole new young audience. And for me, too, as I’m sure this is title of hers I haven’t read!


  3. The book is set in a similar time to ‘The Wolves of Willoughby Chase’ but shows a different side to that world – remember Blastburn, where Bonnie and Sylvia were sent away – “with its great smoky lights and fearsome fiery glare…and huge slag heaps outlined like black pyramids against the red sky” – this is the setting for Midnight Court, and Murgatroyd’s Carpet, Bag and Matting Factory, a place few will forget.
    Joan said the idea for the terrifying carpet factory in ‘Midnight is a Place’ came to her in a dream, but turned out on further research to be not unlike the appalling conditions in which children really did work, in the factories of the Industrial Revolution. So yes, an alternate Aiken history, with all the literary style and detail of Hardy or Dickens but happily with her own addition of heart and humour too!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Books in the Blood # 8: Midnight is a Place by Joan Aiken | Word Shamble

  5. Learning more about Joan Aiken’s long career and her many, many books and short stories, and the way she chose to fill in various pieces of the timeline as the inspiration struck her, it’s clear that the Wolves Chronicles was hardly chronicled in advanced with a set storyline. In fact it’s a testament to her skill in slowly building up the world of the Wolves that as my children and I read through the books in the “chronological” order (more or less – we fit the Whispering Mountain prequel in before Cuckoo tree) of the story rather than the order as written, we haven’t detected any discontinuity jumping from 1966’s Nightbirds, to 1981’s Stolen Lake, to 1999’s Dangerous Games, to 1968’s Whispering Mountain, and then to 1971’s Cuckoo Tree. I’m a sucker for books that take place in a shared, interconnected world, and even enjoy the minutiae of seeing Cap Hughes in some books and his son or father in others, and seeing how friendly Noah Gusset was filled out in 1999 after a passing mention in Cuckoo Tree from almost thirty years before. And I confess I’ve struggled with what is the “proper” order to read the books. I decided to use the story’s chronological order, but someday I may re-read them in the order they were written. Which all leads me to my question – if we can accept Midnight is a Place as the unofficial 13th book in the Wolves Chronicles given the setting in Blastburn, is there a “right” time to include this book among the others? For now I plan to include it before Is Underground since it will be a good reminder of Blastburn, which I understand figures prominently in Is. Any advice for a family reading through the Chronicles?

    P.S. To Ms. Aiken: You kindly invited my children to write with their thoughts about the villains of the Wolves Chronicles – my daughter still plans to write and has already started, but dance, running, piano and school have consumed her time and she’s a notorious third, fourth and fifth draft writer. She doesn’t want to send a letter to you until it’s perfect! Maybe before the holidays…


    • Hello, thank you so much for this thoughtful message!
      Like your daughter I have to take some time to plan my replies, and you certainly gave me food for thought. I spent some time chasing up Noah Gusset, as you aroused my curiosity, and that got me on to thinking about the time gaps in Joan’s writing of the whole series. One of the longest is between The Cuckoo Tree and Dido and Pa – about 15 years in ‘real’ time, despite the fact the end and beginning of those two books take place on the same day…!
      I think Joan did not include Midnight is a Place as a ‘Wolves’ story, even though the Blastburn setting occurs in the series; I would say it is in quite a different time, maybe much earlier than Wolves of Willoughby?

      And in the timeline I am putting together, (with some difficulty!) I found I had to put Whispering Mountain right at the beginning because the then Prince of Wales – Davie Jamie Charlie Neddy…etc. has to be King with a fifteen year old heir by the time we get to IS although this does make Owen older at the Cuckoo Tree coronation.
      My suggested chronological story order is on the website http://www.joanaiken.com/pages/wolves_chronicles.html

      When I get the Timeline sorted I’ll post on the Facebook page!

      I look forward to hearing more from the family – all feedback much appreciated…no rush!


      • My children and I have finally finished all of the books in the Wolves Chronicles, plus Midnight is a Place (which we ended up reading last). My daughter especially was interested in Blastburn, having first read about it in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and then in Is Underground, and was fascinated to hear of it again in Midnight is a Place! Our hometown of Troy, New York was a major industrial city in the nineteenth century with many iron mills and foundries (American steel was first manufactured in Troy, borrowing the process from Britain) and all three ‘Blastburn’ books spurred some interesting discussions about what it would have been like to be a factory worker during the Industrial Revolution. And, my mother, although born in America, grew up speaking only French and had to learn English when she showed up on the first day of school and everyone was jib-jabbering in that strange tongue, so my children could appreciate what Anna-Marie had to go through to learn English!

        Building on the comments here that Midnight is a Place occurs in the same universe as the Wolves Chronicles, and puzzling over the few clues to actual dates in the stories (one being the 1842 date Lucas writes on the window in Midnight is a Place), I’ve been turning over how to make it fit among the other books, and during a night I couldn’t sleep I created a timeline for all thirteen books. I tried to use as many of the clues about the characters’ ages and information like the Battersea family tree, plus what seemed like a mistake Joan Aiken made (or was it intentional?) in The Stolen Lake (Dido recalls Queen Victoria, who being from the House of Hanover never became Queen) that dates that book no earlier than 1837. I did have to fudge things a little to make it all fit, though. And the overall time frame I put together for the whole series seems very much longer than ones I found in some comments on a post in calmgrove’s blog. I suppose there is no single “correct” timeline, but I am a sucker for trying to make these puzzle pieces fit together. Please feel free to look at my timeline and offer any feedback! It’s online at:

        Click to access wolvestimeline.pdf


  6. Thank you so much for this wonderful work! Planning a new post…
    My favourite slip of Joan’s is that Simon’s family tree, shown in Black Hearts in Battersea, predicts the death of the Duke of Battersea in 1840 when we are still in the 1830’s… a spot of Necromancy perhaps? And I have no idea what to do about Queen Victoria, she must be Queen of Hanover, as Jamie Three is still on the throne in England!


    • I could convince myself that Duke William might have died as late as 1839-1840, if we can accept that he had an extended illness and Simon effectively became Duke with the responsibilities of the Master of the King’s Garlandries while William was still alive, but after King Jamie III died. And it fits nicely with Dido’s mention of Queen Victoria since that would have needed to happen no earlier than 1837, allowing a couple of years for Dido to leave New Cumbria, visit Aratu, return to England and make her way to London. Like I said, it’s a fun puzzle!


      • Absolutely…what we need is a willing phd student and Aiken devotee, this is clearly a lifetime’s study…!
        Like her heroine Jane Austen, whose works are still yielding up their secrets, Joan has clearly left many clues buried for posterity to discover…!


  7. Hello! My name is Honorah (daughter of jbulloug). Now that I finished the Wolves Chronicles, I want to thank your mother for taking the time to write all these wonderful books! It is a shame that she passed, because I really want to know what happens next with Simon being king and Dido by his side. I am thinking about writing Fan Fiction about their little situation, but it still would be nice to hear from the person who wrote these books.h


  8. Hello! My name is Honorah (daughter of jbulloug). Now that I finished the Wolves Chronicles, I want to thank your mother for taking the time to write all these wonderful books! It is a shame that she passed, because I really want to know what happens next with Simon being king and Dido by his side. I am thinking about writing Fan Fiction about their little situation, but it still would be nice to hear from the person who wrote these books.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dear Honorah, what a wonderful name, you already sound like a good friend for Dido!
    I would love to see any Fan Fiction you might write. Joan would always write back when she had letters from her readers, and often continued to support them in their own writing for many years afterwards. When I put up the letters page on the Joan Aiken website I received an answer back from one of them many years later – she was now taking a writing programme at University and still had her copy of Dido & Pa with her as inspiration!


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