Remembering Joan Aiken

hermitage

The Hermitage, Petworth ~ Joan Aiken’s home ~

Joan Aiken died in the month of January. Listening for her voice I sometimes make surprising discoveries, in this case what appeared was a rough version of poem, never seen before and found in an old notebook.

This portrait of Joan’s last house was painted by the architect friend who helped her bring it back to life, when she and her painter husband discovered it lying ruined and abandoned on the edge of the little town where they lived.

It was supposed to be haunted, Joan had read a story about it in the local paper, when a couple walking their dog reported seeing a ghostly monk on the path below the house, and the newspaper took up the story with relish…!

The previous inhabitant, by then an old lady, had found sharing the house with the apparition too unsettling after the death of her husband, and so she herself became something of a local legend:

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Sadly Joan Aiken never saw the ghost, although she bought the house partly because of its strange history – indeed it could be one of her own.  A friend recalled her saying she liked to eat cheese for supper in the hope of having a good nightmare to provide story material; as readers of her ghost stories will know she had a rich and wicked imagination…

I like to think something of her own history now haunts the house, perhaps a friendly presence that belies its quiet exterior, and that was why this poem seemed so apt. Here is a fragment of the unfinished poem, written many years earlier:

  “Swan among trees, the yew in its dark plumage

Raises its points against the glittering sky

Dropping a pool of shadow across the house

Shuttered and soulless since you are away.

Perhaps behind your shuttered features also

There lives a friend? This front gives rise to doubt

No inmate waves a hand at the blank windows

No footprints tell of passage in or out.”

Joan Aiken was often asked where she got her ideas.  Often, she would say, they came simply from life, or from newspaper articles, but it was always worth writing them down in a notebook because you never knew when they would find a home in a story. 

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Read more about Joan Aiken’s strange stories here

And see a recent collection of some of her most memorable ~ The People in the Castle

Painting by Vernon Gibberd

 

A Winter Solstice Poem – Midwinter Song

Hedgehog

 

Many thanks to all of you who have visited and shared your thoughts here throughout the year!

I do hope you will come again  – and bring your friends…  Here is a poem and drawing by Joan to celebrate the passing of  Winter and the return of Spring.

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Visit the website to see more of Joan’s Art

We lived in a bus…!

Bus 52

This is one of very few complete family photos that shows Joan Aiken, husband Ron Brown, son and daughter, John and Elizabeth, and cat – in this case Taffy – all together in 1952, and necessarily rather cosy too – as we were living in a bus!  Housing was hard to find after World War II for impecunious young couples, so Joan came up with this idea, and managed to sell the story to Housewife magazine, who sent a photographer and thereby preserved these pictures for posterity!Bus text1

Having a garden was just as important as a roof over their heads, as food was still rationed, so Joan spent a good deal of time growing vegetables, and writing, while Ron still travelled up to ‘Town’ by train, working for the Reuters New Agency.Bus collageEven in this tiny space, Joan’s creativity found full expression; endlessly inventive, she used her painting, sewing and practical  skills of every kind to make this little home entirely her own; many of her hand painted furnishings lasted for decades.

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The bus was immortalised in many of Joan’s stories in later years, not least in “A Necklace of Raindrops” where even the cat turns out to have magical properties when he sits on the mat.  Meanwhile she put it into a Christmas card for her mother and step-father, with a thank-you poem for a delivery of warm winter wear, made by her equally practical mother:

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Joan was also working on a collection of  magical short stories which would form her first collection, to be published in 1953, and  rather suitably entitled:

“All You’ve Ever Wanted”

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Read more about Joan’s early life and first book on the

Picture Timeline on the Website