Utopian publisher seeks humane thrillers…from Joan Aiken of course!

Product X strapline

New paperback edition of hilarious Joan Aiken thriller

When it first came out in 1965 her publisher called this a thriller with humanity – a rare commodity nowadays perhaps – let alone one so charmingly praised by her utopian publisher?  This letter from Victor Gollancz to Joan Aiken written over 50 years ago shows the degree of warmth and encouragement she received from him in the early years of her career, and exemplifies the kind of devoted following she was to gather from her readers throughout her long writing life.

Gollancz

(And no, she didn’t live in The White House, it was an old pub called The White Hart, but in later years she got letters addressed to White Hot House, the White Hut, and more…enough to give a budding writer plenty of useful ideas!)

Her first thriller – The Silence of Herondale – had earned glowing reviews for the writer and publisher, and only a couple of months beforehand Victor Gollancz had written to her saying:

Gollancz 2

Of course she did have another one up her sleeve – in fact her imagination was so fertile that from then on, she went on to produce as many as three books a year for both adults and children in every possible genre.

This second highly entertaining thriller makes gleeful use of her experience a year or so earlier of working for an advertising agency in Mayfair, to whom she dedicates the book with a rueful comment:

JWT dedication Product X

Aiken’s imaginary agency Salmon & Bucknell are filming a TV commercial on location in Cornwall for a new client, the eccentric owner of a chemicals company, which has invented a new and almost irresistible perfume; heroine Martha is in charge of shooting the romantic ads – unfortunately starring the client’s difficult daughter-in-law. In a witty parody of the classic Gothic style popular in the 1960’s, Martha soon becomes embroiled in a conspiracy over the missing perfume formula and other increasingly astonishing plot strands – including an amorous sheik, a series of exploding soup cans, mysterious black robed monks in a cliff top monastery, and a kidnapped baby ‘who steps into a key role in a headlong series of chases…’ as one reviewer wrote, adding: ‘This is a superior stylish thriller…with the characterisation of bizarre cast bang on target…’   all of which mounts of course to a hair raising climax..

Trouble with Product X  is an absolute romp of a read – funny and terrifying and also a hilarious parody of her experience in the Mayfair advertising agency – think Madmen re-set in rural England, with Mary Quant being chased over the Cornish moors by Patrick McGoohan from The Prisoner –  carrying , as another reviewer put it  ‘one of the nicest babies in literature.’

(I am happy to confess that the baby was based on myself, and is given my own family nickname!)

Readers who grew up on Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles may not be aware that she wrote equally exciting novels for adults, and some are just discovering these wonderful Gothics for grown ups, as here:

“It was only THIS WEEK that I realised she’d written books for adults as well. Naturally, I’m hooked once again. “Trouble with Product X” is beautifully written – Aiken could describe a person or landscape completely in just a few words – and crammed with twists in true murder mystery style. It may have been written in days of yore but it packs as much of a punch as anything produced today. Awesome.”

Period covers give a wonderful flavour:

Product X cover

Also published in the USA with the tantalising title Beware of the Bouquet

2020-02-21 13.22.08-2

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No surprise then that Orion, the modern incarnation of Joan Aiken’s first publisher has brought out

a set of her early novels as EBooks

Also available as paperbacks and new Audio recordings by the author’s daughter Lizza Aiken

Read more about Joan Aiken and the fashion for 1960’s Gothics

Girls Running from Houses

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And on the Joan Aiken Website

1st three Silence,Sunday Product X

6 thoughts on “Utopian publisher seeks humane thrillers…from Joan Aiken of course!

    • Probably not! I think you personally set the standard for generosity in writing responses to struggling writers – published or otherwise – and I have to thank you for being my top correspondent and commentator in the last year!
      Thank you so much for the encouragement, it always gladdens my heart to see that beware unicorns emblem!

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  1. I’m so happy you posted my review here- as a lifelong Aiken fan, it’s always a joyful thing to keep people informed of her less available books. I’m only sorry that I now have her complete output on my shelves- the special thrill of finding a “new” novel and having it arrive in the mail has kept me going many, many times in the past. Especially as they tend to be ex-library hardbacks, which are such beautiful objects in themselves…..a lovely piece of literary history.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a lovely message – I’m truly amazed! I’m going to have to subject you to the full Bibliography test – if there is a single book on this list that you haven’t been able to find, I shall feel honour bound to track it down for you myself! I too have had to supplement my collection from ‘world book searches’ to supply copies for publishers, or treasures for myself, and even found early copies sent by Joan’s proud mother over to her Aunts in Canada and had to pay quite a price for them too!
      I think I must have the complete output , however many that may be, I’ve never counted them all…but yes her contribution to literature has been quite wonderful.
      http://www.joanaiken.com/pages/bibliography.html

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