“A small slipshod girl”

Screen grab from http://www.joanaiken.com/pages/letters.html

I’m about to begin (again) The Cuckoo Tree, another of the titles in Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles also known as the James III sequence or, as I like to think of it, the Dido Twite series, after the character who takes a lead role in all but four of the novels. This particular instalment is one that will have been particularly close to the author’s heart, being set in and around the area where Joan and her family lived a good part of their lives, namely the South Downs in West Sussex.

So I was particularly pleased to read “Who was Dido Twite?”, a recent post on the ever delightful Joan Aiken blog in which we are introduced to a number of part-inspirations for the character of the irrepressible Dido: one real-life human for definite, a literary predecessor and of course the late author herself.

What I especially liked about this post was that two of the people mentioned (one now an Australian granny, the other an American writer called Jackie Hedeman) are still living, and that Joan’s daughter Lizza was recently able to make connections with both.

The unnamed Australian woman made a significant contribution to Dido’s character when the Aiken family moved to Petworth in Sussex (where some of the action in The Cuckoo Tree was to take place); Jackie Hedeman was to gently pester the author as to the literary influence, but to no avail — until she recently spotted a clue on the official Joan Aiken website, an experience which she then described online in an entrancing post.

If you haven’t encountered Dido Twite before — and longtime followers of this blog will hardly been able to avoid her — then you should take the opportunity. I hope to persuade any ditherers in a future review (with its associated posts) of The Cuckoo Tree.

Street girl 1870s (credit: Tyne and Weir Archives and Museums)

32 thoughts on ““A small slipshod girl”

    1. Choose your genre, Sue — children’s, young adult, romance, Gothic, horror, supernatural, fantasy, alternative history, plays, retellings, fairytales, Austen sequels, guides for aspiring writers — and you’ll find she’s written in that style!

        1. Lynden has suggested a worthy couple of titles. I also reviewed a couple of collections of her supernatural tales, A Touch of Chill and A Bundle of Nerves, but can I recommend http://joanaiken.com to you? Not only is it one of the most imaginative and enjoyable of websites, but there is a page about genres, taking you to a list of titles connected to each genre, from which you can get an idea of each title, a most fun way to find what might appeal to you and easy to navigate around.

  1. Pingback: “A small slipshod girl” — Calmgrove – Earth Balm Creative

  2. Another lovely piece of Aiken serendipity, a day out of time that united one seeker after Dido’s identity, and one who all unknowingly inspired Joan to create the character. I thought it better she should remain anonymous, but I’m happy to say she looked as bright and cheeky at sixty-odd as she had aged six…Long live Dido!

    1. I’m so glad she managed to retain that side of her inner child, Lizza, as so many adults feel they have to ‘put aside childish things’. But I’m so glad you shared this Aiken serendipity, and even timed it for when I embark on the next stage of Dido’s adventures!

  3. Dido is a wonderful creation. I love how in Book 2 of the Wolves of Willoughy Chase series a secondary character of Book 1 becomes the hero, only for that to happen again in Book 3. But then by Book 3 we have such a wonderful heroine, we stay with her for quite a few books. Off to follow up your links now.

    1. And of course we get to meet Dido’s half-sister Is, who become the focus of two of novels, before turning our focus back onto her. Enjoy the links!

    1. Yes, managed by Joan’s daughter Lizza, an author and general all-round creative person herself! And there’s a Facebook page too, but you may already know that.

  4. piotrek

    The story you linked is great, such a wonderful literary adventure, and with a happy end!

    Re-read of some of Aiken’s stories was a delight, and I already have another anthology and book 2 of the Wolves waiting 🙂

  5. I’m still amazed that I knew nothing of Aiken until I was well into my 40s, when I picked up the Wolves Chronicles — and ONLY because the edition’s covers were by Edward Gorey. A case where fanaticism pays off in unexpected benefits. I know all your readers anticipate your next exploration of Dido’s world with eagerness.

      1. Pat Marriott, Chris, who I think also did the original UK editions. I remember checking this from one of either your or Lizza’s posts about the illustrations, and was relieved to learn I hadn’t missed out on that.

        1. Yes, I think you may even have furnished the answer to it then and it slipped my mind! I know that Marriott furnished at least one extra illustration for the US editions, that of Willoughby Hall, which didn’t appear in the UK edition of TWOWC. I included it in my discussion when I first started on reviewing the Chronicles.

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  7. What fun- must read that post. I’ve read (and loved) Wolves and Blackhearts (when Dido you know whats) and was thrilled to see that she is the heroine of further books in the series.

    1. Yes, do read it! I’m just getting a review of The Cuckoo Tree ready to post soon, but without giving away spoilers. And I’m barely halfway through revisits of the series!

      1. Looking forward to your review- the wolves chronicles are one of the few series I actually started in order so am going to try and proceed in that way as well, so I have Nightbirds on Nantucket next!

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