Obituary: Aileen Paterson, author of the Maisie of Morningside books, artist, illustrator and teacher

Aileen Paterson, author of the Maisie series of books, has died at the age of 83. Picture: Julie Bull
Aileen Paterson, author of the Maisie series of books, has died at the age of 83. Picture: Julie Bull
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Aileen Frances Paterson DA, MBE. Artist, teacher and author of the Maisie series of books. Born: 30 November, 1934 in Burntisland, Fife. Died: 23 March, 2018 in Edinburgh, aged 83.

Aileen Paterson was a born artist. From winning teenage drawing competitions to experiencing the heady world of college in the 1950s to working as a teacher from the 1960s until the 1980s and then as well-known author and illustrator, she was always able to find an outlet for her intense desire to express herself through art.

She used her natural talent to sow the seeds of creative interest in school pupils as an art teacher and later had great success and gave enormous pleasure to children (of all ages) with the hugely popular Maisie from Morningside books.

Born in the Fife coastal town of Burntisland on Saint Andrew’s Day, she was the first of two children of William and Helen Henderson (nee Hulskramer) along with her younger brother, Harry. When she was in her early teens, the family moved to the town of Kirkcaldy, where Aileen attended Kirkcaldy High School. Her budding talent got an early exposure to the wider world when she won a competition in the Fife Free Press, illustrating her view of what possible life on Mars might be like.

It was Aileen’s mother who insisted that the teenager should go to art college and so in 1951, the no doubt wide-eyed 16-year-old entered Edinburgh’s College of Art. As someone who was the first of her family to experience the opportunities offered by higher education, she found college a fascinating and exhilarating experience and she was also entranced with Edinburgh, a city that was to be her preferred choice of abode from then on.

Despite later becoming known primarily as an illustrator, she demonstrated that her talents were multi-
purpose by taking her diploma in design and crafts in 1955, which covered design, pottery, textiles and murals and for a while she worked at the Portobello potteries in East Edinburgh, where she was employed briefly prior to marrying her first husband, Bayo Ayodeji, in 1955.

The couple had three daughters and eventually moved to Dublin where Aileen had her own pottery studio, but sadly the marriage ended in divorce and Aileen moved back to Kirkcaldy before then earning her education qualification at Moray House in 1962. This led to a new career as an art teacher in Fife where she met her second husband, Hamish Paterson.

The now Mrs Paterson returned to Edinburgh, where she gave birth to her fourth daughter, Siobhan, and a son, Liam. The family lived in a series of locations around the UK: Bristol, then Newtonhill and Stonehaven in Kincardineshire, followed by a period living in Glasgow and finally the Renfrewshire town of Lochwinnoch.

It was during this time that her sixth and final child, Max was born. Very sadly Max was to die of leukaemia at the age of 11 in 1980. However, his happy-go-lucky personality was to live on as he became a major inspiration for elements of her later written work.

Aileen’s second marriage also ended in divorce and, finding herself as a single mother once again, she decided to return to her beloved Edinburgh, eventually locating in the southern suburb of Morningside; a somewhat “mannered” part of the capital that was to have a strong effect on her imagination.

She continued her teaching career at Edinburgh’s Craigroyston High School and soon established a popular rapport with her students and also found a large group of friends from among the staff. Indeed, it was one of those friends, who had entered the world of publishing, who first suggested that she write a book.

Taking inspiration from variously: her and her offspring’s childhood antics, her observations of the mores and manners of Morningside, a love of cats and an equally strong love of the Scots language, she created the character Maisie from Morningside. Maisie was an exuberant, mischievous and adventurous young kitten who lived in a version of the world entirely populated by anthropomorphic cats (apart from, that is, the odd horse, budgerigar, squirrel or Loch Ness monster) and the books were richly illustrated with her typically highly detailed drawings and featured a mix of witty text and action-packed storylines.

The books were an immediate success and propelled Aileen into a new career as a writer and illustrator. She eventually produced over 30 titles featuring Maisie, who also made appearances in stage adaptations and as the star of a children’s TV series narrated by Stanley Baxter and renamed Meow! which is still shown today. Most recently Maisie had her image emblazoned on Edinburgh’s No 5 bus, which appropriately enough included Morningside as one of its destinations.

Over the years Aileen gave numerous talks and drawing demonstrations across the country, meeting many fans of her work and making new friends and acquaintances along the way. Many of these fans would grow up and enthuse their own children with a love of Maisie and Aileen was always thrilled to meet any and every one of them.

She moved to the Colonies area of Abbeyhill in the 1980s, where she became a local celebrity – as much due to her colourful garden as anything else – and contributed to the annual art events, giving talks and drawing demonstrations.

In person, Aileen always presented herself as a distinctive and stylish dresser and she had a keen intelligence fired by a wide-ranging interest in the arts, literature, music, the cinema and politics. She had a notable sense of humour and enjoyed anyone’s company as long as they were intelligent, witty or amusing or had something original to say.

She preferred surroundings that she was comfortable in and which reflected her artistic tastes above all else. Her living room walls were covered in paintings, drawings, prints and tapestries and her bookshelves bulged with a wide variety of titles, including many dictionaries and books of literary quotations to aid her in her frequent – and successful – attempts to complete the most complex of crossword puzzles. Unsurprisingly, she kept cats for many years and thoroughly enjoyed the company of felines, who she regarded as equally interesting and individualistic as any of her human friends.

Although she was always interested in the sights and sounds that were around her, she was also blissfully ignorant of most modern contrivances and staunchly refused to get involved in the world’s obsession with computers, the internet, mobile phones, texting and suchlike. Her preferred methods of communication were by hand-written letter and telephone. She did, however, enjoy the wonders of digital television, which provided her with not only an endless supply of entertainment, which she would either praise to the skies or pour withering scorn on depending on her taste.

Aileen was awarded an MBE in the 2015 for services to children’s literature, an event which gave her enormous pleasure and at which she characteristically made a dramatic visual appearance clad in a red silk Chinese jacket and black beret.

Aileen is survived by her five daughters and son.