SHE was an author and illustrator admired by people of all ages for her warm personality and colourful stories.
Tributes have poured in for Aileen Paterson, one of Scotland’s most beloved children’s writers, who has died at the age of 83.
The Fife-born writer, who collected an MBE in 2016 for services to children’s literature, was best known for her series about the fictional kitten Maisie Mackenzie.
Over the course of three decades, Aileen’s stories about Maisie’s exploits in the city of Edinburgh enchanted thousands of fans. In 2011, Maisie even became the face of the Lothians Buses’ number 5 service, which runs through her native Morningside.
Aileen passed away on March 23 at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and is survived by her five daughters and son Liam, who described her as “tremendously good company”.
He said: “Everything she saw and did was influenced by her artistic flair. She was a genuinely artistic person and so didn’t think like others – she saw people in a certain way and always had something interesting to say.
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“She produced work that was instantly appealing to adults and children alike. I think she’ll be remembered for her personality and the pleasure she brought to people.”
Aileen was born in Burntisland, Fife on St Andrews Day 1934, moving to nearby Kirkcaldy at the age of 12. A fan of drawing and pottery, she moved to Edinburgh to study at the College of Art in 1951 and would go on to work as an art teacher for 18 years.
However, she only initially started writing to deal with the grief of losing her 11-year-old son Max, who died of leukaemia in 1980.
Liam said that the Maisie books were “based upon his younger brother’s view of the world”. He added: “Her books had an innocence.
“They were essentially a young person’s view of the adult world and all of the things that go on, but they also had some quite pithy comments from various characters which adults could appreciate.”
Aileen’s first book, Maisie Comes to Morningside, was released in 1984. Dozens of stories featuring the feline adventurer followed, which included adventures in London, New York and Japan.
But Aileen set most of her stories in Edinburgh and was particularly fond of using Scots words such as ‘perjinkt’, ‘guddle’ and ‘dreich’ for comic effect.
“I think she produced a character and books that were very distinctively Scottish with an Edinburgh slant,” said Liam. “And they were very much a cultural comment on Scotland and our view of the world.
“She’d really learned about Edinburgh during her time as an art student. The books came together so quickly because were semi-autobiographical. She came to Edinburgh but wasn’t originally from there so it was all her impressions.”
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Despite the popularity of her stories, Aileen was self-deprecating by nature. After being awarded an MBE 2015 for her services to children’s literature, she said “there were people who had done a lot for charity... who were much more deserving.”
Liam said: “She was always slightly embarrassed because she did sometimes think people’s praise was too much. She knew she wasn’t J.K. Rowling, but she generally enjoyed being a minor celebrity. When she met Prince William, she had a wonderful time.
“I think she was very pleased with being recognised and she never had a problem with dealing with fans at all. She really built up a relationship with a lot of people who were fans of the books or her illustrations.
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“It wasn’t just children – she met a lot of people who were grown up who loved her work. And you did get children who had become adults but were still fans of her.”
Although Aileen stopped writing in 2008, she continued to give talks about her work for many years. She was particularly fond of telling stories to primary school pupils with her Maisie puppet.
In addition to her stories about Maisie, Aileen also illustrated a children’s guide to Edinburgh and contributed to various anthologies. But she will be best remembered for the kitten she first brought to life and the colourful adventures she went on.
“The stories were aimed at children, but so many adults love them as well.” said Liam. “They reflected her personality. She was always talking about books, buildings and artwork she saw.
“She had a strong interest in the world around her and I think she passed that onto us. She was a good mother, a good cook – particularly of stovies – and very keen on Scottish culture. In person, she presented herself as a distinctive and stylish dresser and she had a keen intelligence.
“Even though she was my mother, I can say was most she was absolutely somebody worth knowing and I think that most people would say that.” .”
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