Last weekend I went to Rye in East Sussex. This beautiful town has been the home for many writers, and in the early 20th century also to poet Conrad Aiken, father of wonderful Joan Aiken, children’s author. The house above, Jeake’s House, is where she was born.
Aiken was an enormously prolific author. Having been left a widow with two small children at a very young age, she supported her family through her writing. Her series of stories about a girl called Arabel and her pet raven Mortimer were read by Bernard Cribbins on the BBC TV programme Jackanory.
Joan Aiken’s alternate history series starting with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase are still in print. The books are fabulously funny, with South London urchin Dido Twite speaking a mixture of Dickensian thieves’ cant and Aiken’s own beautifully invented slang.
Her glorious Armitage family stories have just been collected into one volume for the first time. Magical, funny and delightful, they are based on stories Joan told her younger brother in long walks on the South Downs. They are well worth reading; the perfect stories for dreary autumn evenings.