Joan Aiken: The Monkey’s Wedding, and Other Stories Introduction by Lizza Aiken
Small Beer Press 2011
In the introduction to this posthumous collection of short stories Joan Aiken describes the three ingredients that have gone into the making of these tales: fantasy elements (“witches, dragons, castles…”), realistic elements culled from everyday life (“mending punctures, winning raffles…”) and, finally, dreams (“an old lady hunting for lost things…”). Unlike her longer novels, the tales aren’t planned but spring from a chance combination of two or more of these ingredients; in The Monkey’s Wedding you can marvel at how these elements appear and re-appear in limitless permutations, always surprising, always entertaining, and always haunting.
Before embarking on Dido Twite’s voyage to South America and discovering what she did there, I thought I might share with you this archive Puffin Club film from around 1970 or 1971. It’s about the origins of the Wolves Chronicles, as shared with members of the Puffin Club.
In it Joan Aiken, then in her forties, introduces those young readers to the first few books in the saga — The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea, Night Birds in Nantucket and the then imminent The Cuckoo Tree, published in 1971. We see her on the Sussex Downs, in her house in Petworth (a young Lizza Aiken, her daughter and co-author of the Arabel and Mortimer tales, puts in an appearance) and the tree that gave its name to the book she was then working on.
To accompany her account there are reconstructions and readings from the books, all very much redolent of the period in which the film was made, illustrated by the talented Pat Marriot. My thanks to Lizza Aiken for drawing attention to this exquisite and atmospheric short, available at http://www.joanaiken.com/pages/funstuff_movie.html (or just click on the image above). For new readers and seasoned Dido fans alike this will be a real treat.
As well as the official Joan Aiken website — a gorgeously interactive and attractive resource — there is a wonderfully entertaining and informative blog written by Lizza Aiken at http://joanaiken.wordpress.com which I urge you to visit and, hopefully, follow.
August 24th 1953. I’ve just had my fifth birthday and the family are preparing to up sticks from Bristol in the West Country back to Hong Kong on the other side of the world; here I will spend the next five years, having already spent three years previously on Kowloon, that peninsula pointing like a finger to the island that was once a Crown Colony.
September 4th 1953. On her twenty-ninth birthday Joan Aiken installs an old table in a corner of her bedroom in Kent, and sits down to write the first chapter of her projected novel Bonnie Green in an old exercise book.
“Now at last I can write my book, and make it the most marvellous adventure ever! I can fill it with all my favourite things – not just one dreadful villain but a whole pack of them; castles and dungeons, banquets and ballrooms, shipwrecks and secret passages, and above all – indefatigable orphans facing unbelievable odds and triumphing over it all!”
For award-winning, internationally-acclaimed author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). By Anthony Lawton: godson, cousin & literary executor. Rosemary Sutcliff wrote historical fiction, children's literature and books, films, TV & radio, including The Eagle of the Ninth, Sword at Sunset, Song for a Dark Queen, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind, Blue Remembered Hills.