Joan Delano Aiken (4 September 1924 — 4 January 2004) was an English novelist. She was born in Rye, East Sussex, into a family of writers, including her father, American poet Conrad Aiken (who won a Pulitzer Prize for his poetry), her sister, Jane Aiken Hodge and her brother John Aiken (with her siblings, Joan Aiken authored Conrad Aiken Remembered (1989), a short, subtle appreciation of their complex and difficult father). Joan's mother, Canadian-born Jessie MacDonald, a Masters graduate from Radcliffe College, married English writer Martin Armstrong soon after Conrad Aiken separated from her.
Joan Aiken was at first taught at home by her mother, and later educated at Wychwood School, Oxford, between 1936 and 1940; she did not attend university. She had written stories from an early age, and in her early twenties she had her first stories broadcast by the BBC, where she had been employed in 1942—43. In 1945 she married Ronald George Brown, a journalist working for the United Nations Information Office and they had two children; he died in 1955. She married New York painter Julius Goldstein in 1976; he died in 2001.
Aiken worked for the United Nations Information Office in London from 1943 to 1949, and after her husband's death joined the magazine Argosy where she worked in various editorial capacities, and said she learned her trade as a writer. The magazine was one of many where she published her short stories between 1955 to 1960. During this time she also published her first two collections of children's stories, and began work on a children's novel, initially entitled Bonnie Green, which was to be published as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase in 1962. By this time she was able to write full time from home, producing two or three books a year for the rest of her life, mainly children's books and thrillers, but also many articles, introductions and talks on children's literature, and on the work of Jane Austen.
For her books she received the Guardian Award (1969) and the Edgar Allan Poe Award (1972). In 1999 she was awarded an MBE for her services to children's literature.
She died at her home in Petworth, West Sussex, at the age of 79.
Many of her most popular books, including the Wolves Chronicles (also known as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase series), are set in an elaborate alternate history of Britain in which James II is never deposed in the Glorious Revolution, but supporters of the House of Hanover continually agitate against the monarchy. These books also toy with the geography of London, adding a Canal District among other features. Wolves have invaded the country from Europe via the newly built channel tunnel. Dido Twite is known as the intrepid cockney heroine of many of the series.
In a review of Midwinter Nightingale for School Library Journal, Susan Patron praised the characterizations and the suspenseful plot, and noted that, “Although the titles in the ‘Wolves’ series may be read independently”, readers may want to read the earlier books first.
Her series of children's books about Arabel and Mortimer are illustrated by Quentin Blake. Others are illustrated by Jan Pie?kowski and Pat Marriott.
Her many novels for adults include several that continue or complement novels by Jane Austen. These include Mansfield Revisited and Jane Fairfax.
Joan Aiken produced over a hundred books, including more than a dozen collections of fantasy stories, plays and poems, and modern and historical novels for adults and children.
Aiken was a lifelong fan of ghost stories, among others those of M. R. James, Fitz James O'Brien and Nugent Barker. A number of her books focus on spine-chilling or supernatural events, including The Windscreen Weepers (stories, 1969), The Shadow Guests (novel, 1980), A Whisper in the Night (stories, 1982), and A Creepy Company (stories, 1993, with variant contents in its US and UK editions).
She set her adult supernatural novel The Haunting of Lamb House at Lamb House in Rye (now a National Trust property). This ghost story recounts in fictional form an alleged haunting experienced by two former residents of the house, Henry James and E. F. Benson, both of whom also wrote ghost stories. Aiken's father, Conrad Aiken, also authored a small number of notable ghost stories.