Joan’s Quotes

Do you have a Favourite Aiken Moment,  something from a story, a quotation from Dido perhaps?

If you do, scroll down to the comments box and let me know and I’ll put them up on this page!


I’ll always remember her saying:

“Just because I’m raking leaves it doesn’t mean I’m not thinking”

… just plotting maybe?

 Here’s one of my favourite moments from a story about a ghost mouse:


 Watkyn Comma – A story of hope


Originally from  A Fit of Shivers

And now in a newly published collection of Joan Aiken’s strange stories

The People in the Castle

The People in The Castle small png

From Small Beer Press

Read more about the collection in Lizza Aiken’s Introduction


Learn your Etiquette for Princesses

from ‘The Serial Garden’

Serial Garden scan

In the title story,  Mark meets the Princess of Saxe Hoffen Poffen und Hamster:

“I say!” Mark was full of admiration.  “Can you do spells as well as being a princess?”

She drew herself up.

“Naturally! At the Court of Saxe Hoffen-Poffen, where I was educated, all princesses were taught a little magic, not so much as to be vulgar, just enough to get out of social difficulties.”

In another story in this collection Mark has some unwelcome visitors:

‘The Apple of Trouble’

Erinyes poem

7 Page 175

Illustrated by Peter Bailey for the new UK edition by Virago

Meet the awful Erinyes and Read more of the story here

The Serial Garden ‘The Complete Armitage Family Stories’




Meet Is and Penny – Dido’s two sisters

From: Is (Underground) The Wolves Chronicles

Playland Express

Is,  avoiding the guards on the sinister PLAYLAND EXPRESS has dived into a roll of carpet, and while wondering how to get out again, has a moment for reflection.  Interesting that Pen who teaches Is to read makes use of some of Joan’s own stories, like The Three Wishes, and possibly some of her own philosophy?  (See more about Joan’s & Penny’s stories further down.)


“She thought about Penny’s stories. There was one about a man who had three wishes and married a swan. If I had three wishes, I know what I’d wish for, thought Is. I’d wish for those two boys to be found, and for us all to be back on Blackheath Edge. She thought about Penny teaching her to read.

“What’s the point of reading?” Is had grumbled at first. “You can allus tell me stories, that’s better than reading.”

“I’ll not always be here,” Penny had said shortly. “Besides, once you can read, you can learn somebody else. Folk should teach each other what they know.”


“If you don’t learn anything, you don’t grow. And someone’s gotta learn you.”

Well, thought Is, if I get outta here, I’ll be able to learn some other person the best way to get free from a rolled-up rug.”

…..more from Is in (snowy!) Humberland:

‘Twelve layers thick of stiff,rolled-up rug, all glued together with fried potatoes, formed a wrap that was solid as oakwood. And when at last her head did begin to emerge from its carpet-collar, Is found that she had nothing much to be thankful for.  Instead of being pressed against a filthy carpet, her cheek now lay on stony, gritty, freezing ground.  It was dark, with no moon or stars to give comfort; on the contrary, a fine thick snow was falling, blowing like dust into the folds of the rug.

“Snow!” said Is in disgust. Why it ain’t but November!”

But then she recalled how far north she had travelled, into a colder darker part of the country. Humberland.

….A massive stone building loomed up on her right…a church…somewhere she had heard that church doors are always open. The first door she approached had a white paper on it, just visible, and writing on the paper: PLEASE ENTER BY SOUTH DOOR.

There! she could hear Penny’s triumphant voice: now do you see how handy it is to be able to read? Yus, and which way is south? Is retorted, but she acknowledged that if she kept walking round the church she must in the end find the south door.’


Is (Underground) Wolves Chronicles

Illustration by Pat Marriott


Favourite Aiken Moment: sent by Lizzie Ross

I always thought it would be an interesting exercise to try writing some of Penny’s stories, but I’ve never had the nerve.

My favorite moment: when Dido and Justin are untying Simon (in Blackhearts in Battersea), and Dido says, “Not on your Jemima! You’d probably slice his dabs off.” (And she’s just called Justin a “sapskull” — what a wordsmith she is!)

Lizza Aiken

Lost in Humberland, young Is remembers many of the stories her sister Pen told her and they sound strangely familiar… Joan Aiken already wrote those stories herself, that is what is so mysterious – where can Penny have found them? One of them must have been a time traveller…

There are so many familiar titles among the tales Penny told to Is, she mentions quite a few: “the stories about the harp of fishbones, and the crocodile who swallowed the dark, and the glass dragon, and the girl who talked to the dead king,” not to mention “the one about the mysterious barricades, and the one about the lost five minutes.”  They come from many different collections – you can find The Queen with the Screaming Hair  in The Last Slice of Rainbow, and A Leg Full of Rubies, The Rocking Donkey, and The Third Wish were all in a collection called Not What You Expected.

I love it that Is writes a journal –  perhaps I should put up some extracts from that – it’s sad that it should get burned up with the house where she hides it, but perhaps later on she also becomes a storyteller?   She’s a much more thoughtful character than Dido, but yes, Dido’s  language and expressions are unbeatable!

4 thoughts on “Joan’s Quotes

  1. Is’s belief about open church doors reminds me of two 19th-century quotes I can think of. The first is from Blake’s ‘The Garden of Love’ :

    “A Chapel was built in the midst,
    Where I used to play on the green.
    And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
    And Thou shalt not. writ over the door…”

    The second is from Kingsley’s The Water-Babies, which I’m sure Joan would’ve also been familiar with, in which an exhausted Tom comes down a mountain after a hue-and-cry:

    ‘“Ah,” said Tom, “I must be quick and wash myself; the bells are ringing quite loud now; and they will stop soon, and then the door will be shut, and I shall never be able to get in at all.”

    ‘Tom was mistaken: for in England the church doors are left open all service time, for everybody who likes to come in, Churchman or Dissenter; ay, even if he were a Turk or a Heathen…’

    Is’s open door experience here is such a fine contrast with the later experience of being locked into the mines,however voluntary that may have been, and a wonderful vindication of her compassion for the tricked Playlanders.

    Liked by 1 person

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