Sunday, 8 November 2015

Joan Aiken's 'A Small Pinch of Weather and Other Stories'

Joan Aiken's 'A Small Pinch of Weather and Other Stories' is a book I finished reading last week, and it is completely wonderful and utterly entertaining.  Joan Aiken is one of my favourite authors (having over 100 books published) and she possessed an incredible imagination.  I've read various books and collections of stories for years (but have a long way to go to reading everything) but this particular collection of stories may be the most fascinating read so far.  This is pure escapism, and we have magic and fantasy as a part of normal life in these tales, they definitely take one away from the mundane.

This collection was first published in 1969, and my copy shown is a 1977 Puffin Books edition, with very eye-catching cover art.

A few of the stories concern the Armitage family, and these are a lot of fun to read.  There is a new book available of all the Armitage family stories in one volume, 'The Serial Garden,' which I felt compelled to order and am awaiting its arrival.   Here is bit from the story 'Broomsticks and Sardines', where Mark and Harriet's (the Armitage children) schoolteacher has been teaching her class some very strange things of a magical nature, which they are putting to use: 

"Mr Armitage, in his study, could hear raucous shouts and recriminations going on between Mark and Harriet and the Shepherd children, ancient enemies of theirs in the garden on the other side...  'Will you stop that hideous row,' exclaimed Mr Armitage, bursting out of his french window.  A deathly hush fell in the garden.  He realized almost at once, though, that the silence was due not so much to his intervention, as the fact that where little Richard, Geoffrey, and Moira Shepherd had been, there were now three sheep, which Harriet and Mark were regarding with triumphant satisfaction.
'Did you do that?' said Mr Armitage sharply to his children. 
'Well -yes.'
'Change them back at once.'
'We don't know how.'
'Geoffrey - Moira - your mother says it's bed-time.'  Mr Shepherd came out of his greenhouse with a pair of secateurs. 
'I say, Shepherd, I'm terribly sorry - my children have changed yours into sheep.  And now they say they don't know how to change them back.'
'Oh, don't apologize, old chap.  As a matter of fact I think it's a pretty good show.  Some peace and quiet will be a wonderful change, and I shan't have to mow the lawn.'  He shouted indoors with the liveliest pleasure,
'I say, Minnie!  Our kids have been turned into sheep, so you won't have to put them to bed.  Dig out a long frock and we'll go to the Harvest Ball.'
A shriek of delight greeted his words."

The titles of these short stories are delightful too, you just know you are in for something interesting:
A Small Pinch of Weather
Broomsticks and Sardines
The Boy Who Read Aloud
The Land of Trees and Heroes
The Cost of Night
The Stolen Quince Tree
Smoke From Cromwell's Time
The Apple of Trouble
The Lilac in the Lake
Harriet's Hairloom
A Leg Full of Rubies
The Serial Garden

Here is the description of this collection at the beginning of the book:

"You will find a small pinch of weather and more than a pinch of a thousand other things in this book of short stories by Joan Aiken, who is one of the most truly original and versatile writers for children today.  Here are funny stories-about the school where Harriet and Mark Armitage learned spells instead of ordinary lessons-and sad, romantic, magic tales about a king who lost all the darkness in his land, the beautiful lost princess Freylinde, a sinister story about a phoenix and a leg full of rubies, and a fascinating story about Mark and the wonderful garden he built from cereal packets.  Not to mention the story the book is named after.
All in all, this is about the most unexpected, out-of-the-ordinary books of short stories you can imagine.  The sad stories are spiced with wit and the funny ones tinged with sadness, but the one certain thing is that you will never feel too sure what will happen next."

Joan Aiken wrote books for adults and well as children, but as with the best writers, the children's books can appeal just as much to adults, and they possess humour that appeals to all ages.  I will be bold and say that you should have this book, particularly if you like beguiling tales by authors with boundless imaginations, and I doubt that anyone has/had a more vivid imagination than Joan Aiken, she really was amazing.