How to keep the Reader on the edge of his Seat? Joan Aiken writes suspense…

Silence

Joan Aiken’s first adult thriller,  published two years after her best known children’s novel, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, has been re-issued in paperback, and now as an audio read by daughter Lizza. Its original début garnered some impressive reviews:

Silence review

The Silence of Herondale  first published in 1964,  set the style for another dozen or so adult novels which were to follow, alternating with her now better known children’s books.  This series appeared in Gollancz’ famous Yellow Jacket editions, the books also covered in remarkable reviews, like this one which soon earned her a devoted following, including many fellow crime writers.

Now, more than fifty years after its first appearance, this, and the next five Joan Aiken suspense thrillers  are being re-issued by the Gollancz parent company Orion, and will hopefully have you reaching for the loofah…!

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Joan Aiken was sometimes accused of throwing absolutely everything into the page – turning plots of her novels. Her fertile mind used them as a backbone for all the ideas that were currently absorbing her in her daily world – music, philosophy, landscapes, travel, people, politics, art, and of course, the work of other writers. This is not surprising when you look at some of her literary influences, such as John Masefield who could also enjoy endless digressions into anything that took his fancy – whether it was church politics, ancient history, or juicy details about murder mysteries in the local paper – all while his hero was on the way to buy muffins for tea. Another of her literary heroes, Charles Dickens, could be just as easily distracted from his main plotline since he had the occupational hazard of writing his plots serially, which gave him plenty of opportunity to totally change his ideas as better ones came along.

Among the writers that Joan Aiken admired, self-discipline was not the main order of the day, so much as an ability to enrich a tale by adding whatever embroidery would serve to bend the ear of the listener. She was often compared to Mary Stewart, who was writing her own thrillers at the time, and who used a similar Romantic or Gothic suspense format while also making full use of a wide literary background and extensive education; this and the use of exotic settings adds enormously to the appeal of their books.

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Aiken’s constantly active imagination, her quirky inventiveness, and imaginative recall of her own travels and journeys enabled her to blend all the available ingredients into a continual inventive tapestry of  ‘What if…?’ without in any way detracting from the headlong progress of her story. Despite her magpie eye,  Joan Aiken always maintained a firm grip on the plot, and was enormously skilled at keeping the reader on the edge of his seat…

Conversely, if she arrived rather too rapidly at her conclusion and found she had too many characters to deal with, she developed a rather cavalier habit of polishing them off in whatever speedy manner came to hand –  automatic hedge clippers, kitchen beater attachments, exploding soup cans or spa-room steam cabinets. Having created some horribly seedy or demented villains, she would then show no mercy in dispatching them swiftly at the end; she could be gleefully ghoulish, but never gory – it was the lead-up to the climax she enjoyed, and suspense became her speciality….

Gollancz cover

And Joan Aiken’s heroines? They were always a version of Joan herself of course, and would be heartlessly thrown in at the deep end. In the true Gothic manner of hapless heroines, they would become embroiled in a series of events not of their own making, but were usually possessed of many stalwart characteristics – not least a literary education – if not always endowed with obvious physical charms. Often they were, as she was herself, small, slightly gap toothed, and red haired, but they were generally extremely enterprising, physically intrepid and fearless to the end, and would emerge from their adventures breathless but undaunted. They were not necessarily rewarded with romance, and on the odd occasion did come to a sad end themselves, but shocked remonstrations from readers discouraged her from allowing this to happen too often.

What comes across most clearly is her impulse to share thoughts and experiences from her own life; as for example, with the agonising but often hysterical day to day business of living with a slightly dotty old lady, or the frequently curious requirements of a job working in an advertising agency, or even the alarming and humiliating possibilities of having treatments in a health spa – all was grist to her mill and became sympathetic background or even foreground, for the novel currently in her imagination. For those who knew her, there was also the dubious pleasure of discovering (albeit disguised!) episodes from their own lives in her books; but when these were re-told with her usual warmth and humour, her intelligence and added insight, one could almost be grateful to have shared a good story with her, and even more so not to have had one’s own experience end in the hair-raising way that she had gone on to imagine it….

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Six of Joan Aiken’s thrillers are now being reissued as EBooks by Orion

1st three Silence,Sunday Product X

 

The Silence of Herondale was re-issued in paperback in January 2020

Also available as an AUDIOBOOK

See a full list of Joan Aiken’s suspense novels here

See more of Joan’s thrillers now available as E Books at Orion’s The Murder Room

Wolves ~ “A Glorious Christmas Show”!

Tunney play

A long time JOAN Aiken admirer, theatre director Russ Tunney has adapted (and premiered) a gloriously funny and faithful stage version of Joan Aiken’s classic children’s book  The Wolves of Willoughby Chase . 

The adaptation has been published by Nick Hern Books in a practical edition with performance notes and background information, and lends itself usefully to casts of anything from five upwards – especially if they are incredibly active quick change artists – even, currently, in a distanced production at The Greenwich Theatre, where the cast form a chorus of children, and all the fiendish villains and even the wolves from the original story, while  providing music and songs and plenty of laughs.

Using all the tongue in cheek humour of the original story with its Gothic thrills and adventures, Russ Tunney, and current director James Haddrell have also added some ‘more than Aiken‘ touches of their own – including a hilarious scene in the dreadful Blastburn School run by beastly Mrs Brisket, where the deliciously ridiculous ‘Cheese Alphabet‘  is recited by the hapless starving orphans, including, by now, our two wretched heroines, Bonnie and Sylvia.

When the school inspector comes to call they are dragged to their feet to recite:

MRS BRISKET: Show the nice man from from Ofsted our

advanced literacy: The Cheese Alphabet!

 CHILDREN: A is for Applewood Smoked, B is for Brie, C is

for Cheshire, D is for Davidstow, E is for Edam, F is for Feta

(or Fromage), G is for Gruyère, H is for Halloumi, I is for

Ibérico, J is for Jarlsberg, K is for Klosterkäse, L is for

Leicester (red), M is for Mascarpone, Manchego or

Monterey Jack, N is for Neufchâtel, O is for Orkney Extra

Mature, P is for Parmesan, Q is for Queso Jalapeño, R is for

Raclette, S is for Stilton, T is for Tasmania Highland Chevre

Log, U is for Ubriaco, V is for Vacherin Fribourgeois, W is

for Wensleydale, X is for Xynotyro, Y is for Yorkshire Blue,

and Z is for Zanetti Grana Padano.

 INSPECTOR: Incredible! They really know their cheeses!

 MRS BRISKET: Thank you, Inspector. We do, here at the

Brisket Blastburn Academy for Girls, concentrate on the

three R’s. Reading, Writing and Really tasty snacks.

                  An absolute delight! – the Stage review of the première says it all:

  “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase has never been adapted for the stage before…and I can’t think why not.
Joan Aiken’s children’s classic about two young girls and a goose-boy fighting for survival against howling wolves and grim governesses in a bleak snowy landscape is a gift for any company as family entertainment.
Russ Tunney’s script … blends melodrama, comedy, adventure and a little spookiness interwoven with songs and dances…with actors nipping in and out of costume and character at high speed… glorious snuggle down and enjoy Christmas present of a production that will charm children and adults alike.
        Wonderful stuff – worth wrapping up warm and turning out on a freezing night for.”

(from Lesley Bates, The Stage)

Except now, thanks to lockdown you can enjoy it by the comfort of your own fireside!

STREAMING now at The Greenwich Theatre – BOOK HERE

Greenwich Miss Slighcarp

Guess who… Miss Slighcarp in rehearsal!

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More Mortimer… Joan Aiken’s hilarious hero is back for Christmas!

M&A Xmas.png

Perfect for Christmas, and for (N)evermore?

 First seen on Jackanory read by the wonderful Bernard Cribbins, these stories have not lost any of their hilarity over the years… Joan Aiken couldn’t resist giving the Jones Family some of the 70’s craziest gadgets  for Mortimer to wreak havoc with in their house in Rumbury town London NW3-and-a-half…

If you aren’t able to see your family this year, maybe these stories will remind you of some of the (un-missed!) joys of Christmases past…

Arabel’s cousin Annie comes to stay, bringing alarming gifts – radio-controlled tiddlywinks, a solar powered skateboard and a computer guitar that makes up its own music – Joan Aiken’s powers of invention were ahead of her time, but not by very much…

Terrifying Toys!

computer toys

Mort & the toys

Struggling with Christmas baking?

While Mrs Jones is in the kitchen frantically trying to make an enormous number of prawn fancies and iced macaroons, she is disturbed by a mouse!!! And not just any mouse, but the Advance guard and A.A. Scout for an army of starving mice from Cantilever Green who are seeking pastures new, and who has been lured into the Jones kitchen by the delightful smell of all those macaroons:

4 custard tart5 Mrs J

Unwanted visitors?

7 Mrs Catchpenny

Ever helpful, Arabel goes to Mrs Catchpenny’s shop to borrow Archibald the cat, known locally as a former cracksman’s mog, and of course Mortimer goes along for the ride. The combination in Mrs Jones’s kitchen of Archibald, Scout F stroke B7, a fantastic amount of ill-fated ‘cordon-blue’ cookery (made with the help of all the Jones household’s trouble saving electrical equipment) and Mortimer, makes for a great tale…

When Mortimer confronts Archibald – who is happily well fed having opened the larder door and found the prawns, and then slept on the trays of warm macaroons in the airing cupboard and is now covered in crushed macaroon, clotted cream and feathers –  Mortimer is of course entranced!

Fun & Games

The game M & Arch

Did we know Mortimer had a mother?

Nevermore!

This is a mere taster of the delights on offer in these wonderful long lost collections, which also includes Mortimer’s Cross and the fantastic Mortimer’s Portrait on Glass, where Mortimer meets an ancient ancestor in Ireland. These stories still make me laugh  out loud, but just now, something we absolutely need is a bit of real craziness….

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Puffin editions also have added Extras –  Like Do You Remember…?

EXTRA - 70's Inventions

and Much more!

Find the Bernard Cribbins Jackanory Episodes on the Joan Aiken You Tube page

Jackanory Portrait

>   >   >   *   <   <   <

Find  Both the Puffin collections here

M&amp;A Xmas mini holly

Mortimer the Raven – an unexpected hero – for Primary School Teachers!

New Puffin

Famous for munching up flights of stairs, and even escalators (where do you think the word ‘ravenous’ comes from!?) Mortimer the raven is best known as the hilarious troublemaker who first appeared in Joan Aiken’s Arabel’s Raven stories on Jackanory – and of course in Quentin Blake’s wonderful pictures!

But his adventures with the Jones family and his beloved friend Arabel,  have surprisingly also made him a HERO with teachers of reluctant readers. Here’s a letter from one of them –  (thank you, Anne!)

    “I had a class of 10 and 11 year olds, one of whom was having great difficulty in learning to read. Well, let’s be blunt about this, he couldn’t even read his name. He and I worked long and hard on this problem, mainly with the help of his brother’s motorbike manual, and eventually he began to make sense of the words on the page and I began to understand how to strip a bike engine. (All the best teaching goes two ways!) But, at last, the day I knew he’d really made it as an independent reader was all down to Joan Aiken. 

Every afternoon in that class began with us all putting our feet up with a good book and reading silently for twenty minutes or so. (How else does a hard pressed teacher get time to read?) On this particular afternoon we were all well into our books when there comes a suppressed snigger from the general direction of this lad’s desk. I decide to ignore it. Then there is another, rather less well suppressed, and finally an outright chortle. He was almost unaware of what he was doing so engrossed was he in the book that he could now read well enough to really enjoy. And the book?   Aiken’s ‘Arabel’s Raven’. I bless her regularly for turning him into a real reader.”

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Jones Family Photo

The BBC TV series (as above)  with puppets based on the wonderful illustrations by Quentin Blake is now available again to download

Also on Itunes

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Read more about  the Arabel and Mortimer stories here

Two New Puffin Bumper Collections out now!

Two New Mortimers

and you can even do the jigsaw!