Well, we’ve talked about Joan Aiken before: beloved author of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and its sequels, and of numerous short stories, including my personal favourite collection, A Necklace of Raindrops. (Fuzzy image grabbed from the web. Sigh.)
But I don’t think I’ve ever said in public what I’ve said to numerous people in private: She and Trina Schart Hyman are the two people in children’s literature I most regret never writing to while they were alive.
(In the opera world, I most regret never writing to Dame Joan Sutherland.)
If she were alive today, this might be what I could write to her:
Dear Joan Aiken,
When I first read A Necklace of Raindrops as a child of perhaps nine or ten, I thought they must be written long, long ago and far, far away by someone today or merely yesterday in a neighbouring town. I was terribly confused by timing and place (I hadn’t yet learned to just read the copyright page for information on when or where a book was written), and terribly excited to learn that fairy tales could be written about kids like me and animals I loved.
Today, at age 32, this still excites me when I read your stories over again.
Just this past month, while I was on a family trip to England, I discovered a copy of your first novel when I was at Hatchard’s, and accordingly bought it, as I have an unbreakable rule of never passing up a book of yours which is new to me. So I read The Kingdom and the Cave. It’s not a very long book, but it took me a while to read it as a I put it down repeatedly to mutter to myself about how you were “only seventeen!” and “it’s just impossible!” I may even have gone on a mini-rant to my husband regarding how I didn’t know whether I “should hand in my pen or sit down straightaway and use it.”
Then I calmed down a bit, thought it through, and knew that you would tell me to “sit down straightaway and use it,” so I shall. Because fairy tales are out there for the telling, and so are realist stories (which are, I think, just fairy tales with the fairies well-hidden, honestly) and all other stories, too, whether on Tuesdays or on Mondays. [Note to blog readers: if you don’t catch the reference, read The Serial Garden.]
The point of all of that isn’t just that you inspire me, both by your life and by your writing, but that your stories seem to run through my veins, probably because I’ve read them since I was very young– but also perhaps because you pick up on something universal and human. Your characters aren’t “flawed and human,” in the way that newspaper articles gleefully write about unlikable modern characters I was forced to read in middle school and high school. They’re just… people. People who might have unicorns in the garden, or who have names like Dido, or who can speak UAL, but are somehow the most human people I’ve ever met and whom I love like dear friends.
And I want to write people like that into being. If I ever manage? It will be because of your example and your mentorship, even though I never had the sense to write to you while you were alive.
So my pledge on your 95th birthday, even though you can’t celebrate it on the corporeal plane, is to help maintain your memory and get more people reading your books.
Thank you for all the stories, and for all the friends.
And so, here I am, dear readers, back to you again. As I said, I want to encourage people to read Joan Aiken’s books. How? I’m going to do what I do: give them away!
I happen to have on my table by me a copy of the Joan Aiken which started it all for me (A Necklace of Raindrops) and the first Joan Aiken novel I ever read as an adult (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase). I also pledge to buy The Serial Garden and Black Hearts in Battersea.
Here’s what you have to know:
a) I will give you a copy of A Necklace of Raindrops or The Wolves of Willoughby Chase or The Serial Garden or Black Hearts in Battersea. That’s right: four books. First come, first served.
b) Write to me at email@example.com. Say which book you want. If your first choice is taken, I will reply and give you a second shot. (If there are a lot of you, and/or if you’re REALLY REALLY REALLY nice? Maybe I’ll get an additional copy of the one you want most. This is a 95th birthday party, after all. Kind of a big deal.)
c) Giveaway is open NOW. If you tell me what you want today, it may go in the mail as soon as tomorrow or Friday. It will stay open until all four books are claimed.
d) As usual, I will ship anywhere in the world. I will pay shipping.
What’s the catch? YOU MUST PROMISE TO READ IT. That’s it. All I want is for people to read Joan Aiken books.
So don’t delay– wish Joan Aiken a happy birthday by reading one of her books!