Joan Aiken

Literary Birthday – 4 September – Joan Aiken

Joan Aiken was born 4 September 1924, and died 4 January 2004.


  1. Just because I’m sweeping leaves doesn’t mean I’m not thinking.
  2. The use of reading, Gibbon says somewhere, is to aid us in thinking. I have always disagreed with Gibbon over that; he may have used literature to help him think, but for me, often, and for most of the human race I reckon (since I have no reason to think myself unique) books can be a mind-stupefying drug, employed to banish thought, not to invoke it. When I am unhappy I can sink into a novel as into unconsciousness. Blessed War and Peace, thrice blessed Mansfield Park; how many potential suicides have their pages distracted and soothed and entertained past the danger point?
  3. Words are like spices. Too many is worse than too few.
  4. Why do we want to have alternate worlds? It’s a way of making progress. You have to imagine something before you do it.
  5. Stories ought not to be just little bits of fantasy that are used to wile away an idle hour; from the beginning of the human race stories have been used – by priests, by bards, by medicine men – as magic instruments of healing, of teaching, as a means of helping people come to terms with the fact that they continually have to face insoluble problems and unbearable realities.
  6. The first book that a child reads has a colossal impact.
  7. A children’s book is not something that can be dashed off to order – children have huge needs…which reading will help to fill. A good children’s writer may be particularly well equipped to do this…as a kind of lunatic or poet…they are the sensitive points in a civilisation.
  8. As cows need milking and sweet peas need picking, so writers must continually exercise their mental muscles by a daily stint.

Joan Aiken was an English writer who had her first stories broadcast by the BBC in 1942. She wrote for Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Vanity Fair, and many other magazines. Aiken published over 100 books for both adults and children, including The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. She received the Guardian and Edgar Allan Poe awards and was awarded an MBE in 1999 for her contributions to children’s literature.

Image: LizzaAiken, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 4th September 2013