Every year, the anniversary of the 4th of January takes me further from my mother’s death, but since I have been with her every day ‘looking after the books’, it is also a good moment to be thankful for all that I have been given, and for the wonderful task she left me…
One of the great pleasures of being Joan Aiken’s daughter, and curator of her estate, has been answering letters, requests, enquiries, searching into mysteries, and trying to explain the inexplicable in her books – sometimes fielding rumours and random nonsense in the ever expanding farrago of the internet – and sometimes having the extraordinary pleasure of meeting the people whose lives, like mine, she has changed.
One of these, a fan not just of Joan Aiken, but of her alter ego Dido Twite, corresponded with her over a period of five years, and was one of the people I hoped to reach by creating the Joan Aiken website, and replying to some of the letters she had kept – shown on the webpage above.
On that page I wrote:
“Joan Aiken loved to get letters from her readers, and as she was a terrific letter writer herself, some of these correspondents turned into good friends. I couldn’t write back to all of you when she died, but I wanted to let you know how much pleasure you gave her, and share some of your best letters here, and also some of the secrets behind the books that a few of you may already have found out for yourselves… “
One of these, is that the books themselves provide a lifelong companionship.
What I know readers feel, what I feel when I read my mother’s books, is that I am alone with her, while she is alone. Joan Aiken put so much of herself, her thoughtful personality into her books, that you will never be completely without her guiding vision again. In the same way, she filled her books with the memory of her own mother, here appearing as Masha, in Blackground and she describes the same powerful feeling:
That young correspondent, now a writer herself, did see her own letter on the website and so was able to get in touch, describing her devotion to the books, and the importance of her letters to Joan, and saying something I completely understood, and that I possibly could have said myself:
“I never quite managed to explain that her characters assuaged my own loneliness.”
When she came on a visit from America, having arranged to meet me, I was able to show her the letters she had written to my mother years before.
Afterwards she wrote:
“I try to tell Lizza what her mother’s books meant to me — mean to me — but I stumble, because even now I’m not sure of the extent of their meaning. There have been other books, of course, that have wrapped themselves around my entire existence. I cloak myself in their characters and wear them around. These books are different from each other, and I am different reading them, living them, but taking them on, amounts to the same thing. Like Dido Twite, like Joan Aiken, like the rediscovery of myself on the page at Lizza Aiken’s kitchen table, these books all say the same thing. They say, “You are worthy. Be brave.”
And so, nearly twenty years later, on Joan Aiken’s behalf, here I still am…
And below in the comments are some more grateful messages about Joan – do add your own?
Visit the website – maybe your letter is there? http://www.joanaiken.com/pages/letters.html
Read more: Being Joan Aiken’s Pen Pal Changed My Life –