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. The one with the mermaid was called A Jar of Cobblestones, you can find it in The Gift Giving
At the age of five when her parents separated, 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.
The new edition of The Shadow Guests has added material about Joan’s school days and more!
Just a few years later World War II, declared just days before Joan’s birthday in September 1939, and this unfortunately led to the school’s bankruptcy and eventual closure.
In 1953 a very important and memorable 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 due to all kinds of troubles wasn’t to be published until nearly ten years later.
This year, 2022 the book is celebrating its own birthday – 60 Years in print, and still acclaimed as ‘A Genuine Small Masterpiece’ in editions in many languages around the world, and here in a new Birthday Edition from Puffin, celebrating the story behind the story – how it came to be published after a very extraordinary history of its own…
September 4th 1976 was another special birthday. Two days before, Joan had 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.
But perhaps Joan’s most amazing birthday, which would have been her 91st, came in 2015 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.
For Joan’s Birthday this week we have reprints and returns of two old favourites , demonstrating the wide range of her writing talents – Nightfall – a Young Adult thriller which won the Edgar Allan Poe Award in the USA (which in turn inspired her series of stories about a troublesome Raven called Mortimer…) and one of her memorable ‘Austen Entertainments’ an imaginative completion of Jane Austen’s unfinished fragment – The Watsons – called Emma Watson