Joan Aiken

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Joan Aiken

Aiken at The Hermitage, her home, in 1984
Aiken at The Hermitage, her home, in 1984
BornJoan Delano Aiken
(1924-09-04)4 September 1924[1]
Rye, Sussex, England[1]
Died4 January 2004(2004-01-04) (aged 79)[1]
Petworth, Sussex, England
GenreAlternative history, children's literature, supernatural fiction
Notable worksThe Wolves of Willoughby Chase (Wolves Chronicles)
Notable awardsGuardian Prize
Ronald George Brown
(m. 1945; died 1955)
Julius Goldstein
(m. 1976; died 2001)
RelativesConrad Aiken (father)
Jane Aiken Hodge (sister)

Joan Delano Aiken MBE (4 September 1924 – 4 January 2004) was an English writer specialising in supernatural fiction and children's alternative history novels. In 1999 she was awarded an MBE for her services to children's literature.[2] For The Whispering Mountain, published by Jonathan Cape in 1968, she won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, a book award judged by a panel of British children's writers,[3] and she was a commended runner-up for the Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book by a British writer.[4][a] She won an Edgar Allan Poe Award (1972) for Night Fall.


Aiken was born in Mermaid Street in Rye, Sussex, on 4 September 1924.[1] Her father was the American Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Conrad Aiken (1889–1973). Her older brother was the writer and research chemist[5] John Aiken (1913–1990), and her older sister was the writer Jane Aiken Hodge (1917–2009). Their mother, Canadian-born Jessie MacDonald (1889–1970), was a Master's graduate from Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Jessie and Conrad's marriage was dissolved in 1929, and Jessie married the English writer Martin Armstrong in 1930. Conrad Aiken went on to marry twice more. Together with her brother John and her sister Jane, Joan Aiken wrote Conrad Aiken Remembered (1989), a short appreciation of their father.

Aiken was taught at home by her mother until the age of twelve and from 1936 to 1940 at Wychwood School for girls in North Oxford. She did not attend university. Writing stories from an early age, she finished her first full-length novel when she was sixteen and had her first short story for adults accepted for publication when she was seventeen.[citation needed] In 1941 her first children's story was broadcast on the BBC's Children's Hour.[6]

Aiken worked for the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) in London between 1943 and 1949. In September 1945 she married Ronald George Brown,[1] a journalist who was also working at UNIC. They had two children before he died in 1955.

After her husband's death, Aiken joined the magazine Argosy, where she worked in various editorial capacities and, she later said, learned her trade as a writer. The magazine was one of many in which she published short stories between 1955 and 1960. During this time she also published her first two collections of children's stories and began work on a children's novel, initially titled Bonnie Green, which was later published in 1962 as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. By then she was able to write full-time from home, producing two or three books a year for the rest of her life, mainly children's books and thrillers, as well as many articles, introductions and talks on children's literature and on the work of Jane Austen.

Personal life and death[edit]

Aiken married, secondly, to the New York landscape painter and teacher Julius Goldstein (died 2001) in 1976. They divided their time between her home (the Hermitage in Petworth, Sussex) and his native New York. In September 1999, she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire. Aiken died at home at the age of 79 in 2004. She was survived by her two children.[1]


Aiken produced more than 100 books, including more than a dozen collections of fantasy stories, plays and poems, and modern and historical novels for adults and children. She was a lifelong fan of ghost stories, particularly those of M. R. James, Fitz James O'Brien and Nugent Barker.[citation needed] As well as writing under her own name, she used the pen name Nicholas Dee for several short stories. Some of her books focus on spine-chilling or supernatural events, including The Windscreen Weepers (stories, 1969), The Shadow Guests (novel, 1980), A Whisper in the Night (stories, 1982), and A Creepy Company (stories, 1993, with variant contents in its US and UK editions). She set her adult supernatural novel The Haunting of Lamb House at Lamb House in Rye (now a National Trust property). This ghost story recounts in fictional form an alleged haunting experienced by two former residents of the house, Henry James and E. F. Benson, both of whom also wrote ghost stories.

Many of Aiken's most popular books, including the Wolves Chronicles[7] (also known as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase series or the James III series), are set in an elaborate alternative history of Britain in which James II was never deposed in the Glorious Revolution, but supporters of the House of Hanover continually agitate against the monarchy. These books also toy with the geography of London, adding a Canal District among other features. Wolves have invaded the country from Europe via the newly built Channel Tunnel. The novels share a varying cast and a variety of interlinked child protagonists—initially Bonnie Green, but subsequently her itinerant friend Simon, Simon's intrepid Cockney friend Dido Twite (the heroine of most of the books), Dido's half-sister Is and Owen Hughes (son of Dido's Royal Navy ally Captain Hughes). In a review of Midwinter Nightingale for the School Library Journal, Susan Patron praised the characterisations and the suspenseful plot and noted that "although the titles in the 'Wolves' series may be read independently", readers may want to read the earlier books first.[8]

Aiken's series of children's books about Arabel and Mortimer were illustrated by Quentin Blake. Others were illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski and Pat Marriott. Pieńkowski won the foremost British award for children's book illustration, the Greenaway Medal, for The Kingdom Under the Sea and Other Stories (Jonathan Cape, 1971), a collection of "unique fairy tales from Eastern Europe and Russia" retold by Aiken.[9] She participated in the Puffin Book Club's annual Children's Literature Summer Camp, run by Colony Holidays, predecessor to ATE Superweeks, along with other popular children's authors such as Ian Serraillier and Clive King.[10] Her novels for adults include several that continue or complement novels by Jane Austen. These include Mansfield Revisited and Jane Fairfax.


Two of Joan Aiken's stories from her 1968 collection A Necklace of Raindrops were adapted into animated short films by director Tatyana Mititella at Soyuzmultfilm studio in the Soviet Union:

  • A Rainy Day (Дождливая история, 1988),[11] adapts The Baker's Cat and is set to Paul Whiteman's 1928 song Chiquita and other jazz standards
  • Apple Pie (Яблочный пирог, 1991),[12] adapts There's Some Sky in This Pie and also features jazz music

Selected works[edit]

Wolves Chronicles[edit]

The Wolves Chronicles vary in length from less than 150 pages to more than 250 pages.[7] Here the novels are listed in narrative order, and their central characters.

Main series[edit]

Related novels[edit]

This novel evidently takes place in the same fictional world as the series. Blastburn, the fictional setting of this work, features as the location of Mrs. Brisket's orphanage in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, but does not otherwise bring elements of the other books. Its setting and time period resemble and satirise the height of the Victorian manufacturing years, rather than the Georgian setting of the other books. "Joan Aiken follows all the conventions of Dickensian fiction with just a little extra to satisfy jaded contemporary tastes. The Grimsby mansion at Midnight Court houses not one, but two unjustly disinherited orphans ...".[14]

Arabel and Mortimer series[edit]

Paget family[edit]

Felix trilogy[edit]

"Jane Austen" novels[edit]

Other books[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ Today there are usually eight books on the Carnegie Medal shortlist. According to CCSU, there were about 160 commendations of two kinds in 49 years from 1954 to 2002, including Aiken and two others for 1968.



  1. ^ a b c d e f Brown, Susan, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy, eds. Results of Chronologies query on Aiken, Joan within tag Name within all event types, with most comprehensive selectivity, for 0612--BC to 2018-11-28AD, long form results within Orlando: Women's Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Online, 2006. 28 November 2018.
  2. ^ Tucker, Nicholas (10 January 2004). "Joan Aiken: Popular and Prolific Children's Writer". The Independent. Archived from the original on 9 June 2022.
  3. ^ "Guardian children's fiction prize relaunched: Entry details and list of past winners". 12 March 2001. Retrieved 2012-08-01.
  4. ^ "Carnegie Medal Award". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  5. ^ Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, vol. 2, R. Reginald, 1979, p. 791
  6. ^ Eccleshare, Julia (2002). Beatrix Potter to Harry Potter, portraits of children's writers. National Portrait Gallery. ISBN 1-85514-342-9
  7. ^ a b Wolves Chronicles series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2012-08-01.
  8. ^ Patron, Susan (June 2003). School Library Journal. New York: Reed Business Information. 49 (6): 136. ISSN 0362-8930.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  9. ^ (Greenaway Winner 1971) Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-08-01.
  10. ^ Green, Christopher M. (January 2010). "How Summer Camps Could Change Britain" Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Page 8.
  11. ^ A Rainy Day.
  12. ^ Apple Pie.
  13. ^ The wolves of Willoughby Chase in libraries (WorldCat catalog) – immediately, first edition. Retrieved 2012-08-01.
  14. ^ "Review: Midnight is a Place". Kirkus Reviews reprinted at GoogleBooks. Retrieved 2012-08-01.

Cited works[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Cano, Marina. Jane Austen and Performance. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. Chapter 7, "Women's Rewritings", looks at Aiken's Austen sequels. ISBN 978-3-319-43987-7.

External links[edit]