The Source of Inspiration

Gorey Cuckoo Tree

This original Edward Gorey sketch for the cover of Joan Aiken’s The Cuckoo Tree (which sadly I don’t own..!) was in fact inspired by Pat Marriott the artist who originally illustrated Aiken’s ‘Wolves’ series, and who had been introduced to her in the 1950’s by publisher Jonathan Cape. The artists’ styles do have a certain similarity, and often Pat’s illustrations have been mistakenly attributed to Gorey, or even to another Edward – Ardizzone who was also popular in the 1950’s and 60’s. Coming from the pre- internet generations, Pat never had a website to immortalise her work, and although her original illustrations are still included in the UK editions of the books, thanks to the current classic Red Fox paperbacks,  I would like to make sure Pat Marriott’s timeless images are remembered!

Here below is Pat’s drawing, much more closely related to Aiken’s story, and which clearly inspired the later picture above; while hers shows characters one recognises from the story,  Gorey’s has a stylised small girl in a frock – a frock???  Dido Twite is usually dressed in her midshipman’s garb, and only willingly wore a frock once in her life, when dear Sophie made her a new blue merino to wear to the fair…   But Gorey does bring to life the overhanging threatening trees as seen by Dido,  and they echo her own eavesdropping on the evil plotters while under the effects of the hallucinogenic Joobie nuts – very much  as Marriott first imagined them.  It is certainly fascinating to have the opportunity to compare the two.

Cuckoo Trees

The partnership between Joan Aiken and Pat Marriott lasted for forty years, during which time Joan Aiken wrote eight of the twelve ‘Wolves’ chronicles,  for which Pat’s illustrations received reviews as positive as those for the books themselves, as did her work and covers for all of Joan’s classic collections of fantasy stories, also published by Jonathan Cape, in a handsome set of black white and gold editions .

Collections

This partnership was so inspired it deserves to be more widely celebrated, like that between Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl, whose depictions of characters like Matilda or the BFG seem to belong to the writer and illustrator inseparably.

  Joan Aiken writes about Pat, and other fruitful illustrator partnerships here.

There is however, one original piece of inspiration that is even less known.  When Joan Aiken sent off her first stories in the early 1950’s, she also included illustrations of her own –  as used to expressing herself in chalk and pastel as in words, she had no qualms about including her own pictures. The Editor’s reply was friendly but firm: ” Thank you for including your own illustrations to the stories.  I am afraid I cannot use them as they are – for one thing it would be difficult to reproduce them adequately – drawn as they are in blue ink – but they will be invaluable as a guide to the artist we eventually select.”

Singeing JA

Joan Aiken’s drawing of the unicorn and raven from an early Armitage story

Joan Aiken’s response when she saw Pat Marriott’s drawings and cover design of unicorns for All You’ve Ever Wanted – that first collection,  was:

“They are delightful, full of character, and exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for…I should like to congratulate the artist.”  Her only reservation about one drawing –  “The governess is a little too sweet and amiable…”   A premonition of evil governesses to come, perhaps?

Their friendship was to last a lifetime.

All You've Ever Wanted

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See the full collection of Edward Gorey covers for the Wolves Series here.

And some of Joan Aiken’s own work.

Story ( and picture) Time!

Dogs pic

 

Joan Aiken enjoyed some very happy relationships with her illustrators, notably Pat Marriott, who illustrated her first story collections from 1953 onwards, and was responsible for the first ‘Wolves Chronicles’ covers and pictures, and so helped to create some of the best loved ( and scariest!) characters in the series. Pat became so familiar with Joan Aiken’s style that she developed a special gift for bringing those characters to life, and in this case it is their animal characters that come to mind.  Better known as a cat lover, Joan Aiken also produced some delightful canine characters, and this illustration particularly captures the sympathy with which she describes the happy doggy nature of a tribe of hitherto listless and unloved collies who finally find a master – and something useful to do!

In a story called ‘The Man who Pinched God’s Letter’  postman Fred, and orphaned Emma have fallen foul of local busybodies in the village of Incaster Magna – he has been exiled to Outcaster Parva ( a free gift of Joan’s inventive gift for names!) and she is about to be burned as a witch.  But in true fairy tale tradition, Fred’s kindness to those in need – in this case the bored dogs of Outcaster Parva who he has been taking for walks and training to fetch sticks – serves him in good stead.

The outraged citizens of Incaster are gathered round a huge bonfire where poor Emma is tied to a stake, when Fred, followed by the faithful collies of Outcaster arrives at the scene:

 

Dogs story

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In the course of her writing life, Joan Aiken wrote perhaps five hundred short stories, (one day I shall have to count…) for magazines, anthologies, and collections of her own for readers of all ages, and she always said that they came to her in a marvellous rush – from dreams, from overheard conversations, from long forgotten ideas which suddenly tied in with a new one, from travelling through villages with extraordinary names? But what is certain, is that they are among her most memorable work.  Who could forget those hundred-and forty-two eyes lighting up with joy – and the irresistible invitation to illustrate them?

 

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This story is from the collection The Faithless Lollybird

 

Midnight is a Place New 40th Anniversary Edition

Midnight

One of the most highly praised of Joan Aiken’s historical melodramas is now being republished to celebrate the book’s 40th anniversary.  The story of Midnight Court, and two of Aiken’s most unfortunate orphans,  the doubly disinherited Lucas and Anna-Marie, was hailed variously as “the stuff of nightmares,” but also as a deeply moving portrayal of the real evils of industrialisation and child labour, and while “steeped in nineteenth century literary traditions,”   and  “juggling an army of seedy villains with Dickensian aplomb” it also “earns its place in the landscape of humorous fiction.”

Should we go on?  “In this thrilling tale we have machines which crush children to death, herds of man-eating hogs in subterranean sewers, and a wicked old gentleman  “charred to a wisp” in the burning remains of his ill-gotten house…” all described “superbly, with a force, a colour and strength of imagination that one encounters all too rarely.”   “Despite delectable exaggerations and ironic twists on the conventions of 19th century fiction this is not a parody…the tears and laughter are meant to be enjoyed for their own sake…” and while “the melodrama manages to avoid even a hint of sentimentality, the story never flags, and finally reaches a happy ending.” (This is not a spoiler – you need hope!)

Meanwhile: “This author does not so much write for children as conscript them, and indeed all of us into her fantastic chiaroscuro.  The writing is rich and utterly un-condescending, there is no mercy for stragglers…”

Phew!

Or as one ‘Goodreads’ reviewer put it: ‘Read it. Love it.’

With thanks to The New Statesman, the T.L.S., The Daily Telegraph, Washington Post, The HornBook and Kirkus reviews from 1974

With the marvellous Pat Marriott illustrations

Factory

“Night’s winged horses
No one can outpace
But midnight is no moment
Midnight is a place.”

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