More Mortimer… Joan Aiken’s hilarious hero is back for Christmas!

M&A Xmas.png

Perfect for Christmas, and for (N)evermore?

 First seen on Jackanory read by the wonderful Bernard Cribbins, these stories have not lost any of their hilarity over the years… Joan Aiken couldn’t resist giving the Jones Family some of the 70’s craziest gadgets  for Mortimer to wreak havoc with in their house in Rumbury town London NW3-and-a-half…

If you aren’t able to see your family this year, maybe these stories will remind you of some of the (un-missed!) joys of Christmases past…

Arabel’s cousin Annie comes to stay, bringing alarming gifts – radio-controlled tiddlywinks, a solar powered skateboard and a computer guitar that makes up its own music – Joan Aiken’s powers of invention were ahead of her time, but not by very much…

Terrifying Toys!

computer toys

Mort & the toys

Struggling with Christmas baking?

While Mrs Jones is in the kitchen frantically trying to make an enormous number of prawn fancies and iced macaroons, she is disturbed by a mouse!!! And not just any mouse, but the Advance guard and A.A. Scout for an army of starving mice from Cantilever Green who are seeking pastures new, and who has been lured into the Jones kitchen by the delightful smell of all those macaroons:

4 custard tart5 Mrs J

Unwanted visitors?

7 Mrs Catchpenny

Ever helpful, Arabel goes to Mrs Catchpenny’s shop to borrow Archibald the cat, known locally as a former cracksman’s mog, and of course Mortimer goes along for the ride. The combination in Mrs Jones’s kitchen of Archibald, Scout F stroke B7, a fantastic amount of ill-fated ‘cordon-blue’ cookery (made with the help of all the Jones household’s trouble saving electrical equipment) and Mortimer, makes for a great tale…

When Mortimer confronts Archibald – who is happily well fed having opened the larder door and found the prawns, and then slept on the trays of warm macaroons in the airing cupboard and is now covered in crushed macaroon, clotted cream and feathers –  Mortimer is of course entranced!

Fun & Games

The game M & Arch

Did we know Mortimer had a mother?

Nevermore!

This is a mere taster of the delights on offer in these wonderful long lost collections, which also includes Mortimer’s Cross and the fantastic Mortimer’s Portrait on Glass, where Mortimer meets an ancient ancestor in Ireland. These stories still make me laugh  out loud, but just now, something we absolutely need is a bit of real craziness….

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Puffin editions also have added Extras –  Like Do You Remember…?

EXTRA - 70's Inventions

and Much more!

Find the Bernard Cribbins Jackanory Episodes on the Joan Aiken You Tube page

Jackanory Portrait

>   >   >   *   <   <   <

Find  Both the Puffin collections here

M&amp;A Xmas mini holly

Why do we need stories? Joan Aiken tells us…

Spring gift giving2

Here is Joan Aiken’s introduction to a collection of some of the best of her own stories – out now from Virago

“Stories are mysterious things; they have a life of their own. Animals don’t tell each other stories — so far as we know! Man is the only creature that has thought of telling stories, and, once a story has been written or told, it becomes independent of its creator and goes wandering off by itself. Think of Cinderella, or Beauty and the Beast —we don’t know where they came from, but they are known by people all over the world.

A story is very powerful. If I start to tell you a story, you are almost sure to stop and listen to it. It’s like hypnotism — or a small piece of magic. Indeed, stories often have been used for magic, by priests or medicine men. There used to be special stories kept secret and only used on rare special occasions: stories that would heal sickness, or give victory in battle. Storytellers, in primitive times, were treated with great respect, probably given extra large rations of mastodon steak, when the cavemen were all sitting round the tribal fire. In those days, before anything was written down, stories were the means by which important facts were stored and remembered. In a way it is still so. Think how much easier it is to remember that Alfred was the king who burned the cakes than what his dates were; I bet if I stopped anybody in the street and asked them what they knew about King Alfred, those cakes are what they would remember, not which year it happened!

People sometimes ask me: How do you write a story? How do you set about it? How do you get your ideas? And I always say, first you have to have ingredients. You couldn’t go into an empty kitchen and expect to be able to cook a dinner. A writer, like a good cook, is always on the lookout for ingredients that might come in handy. Sometimes they are the things you read in the newspaper — the woman who buys a raffle ticket with her last pound and wins a million, the violinist who leaves his Stradivarius in a taxi, the man who trains his dog to bark at Salvation Army bands. Sometimes they come from dreams. I keep a little notebook and write down all these things in it.

I don’t really believe there is such a thing as ‘a born storyteller’, especially when it is applied to me! Storytellers aren’t born, they have to learn. It is a craft; like oil painting or ballet dancing, you don’t just come to it naturally. A story needs to be carefully built up —like a house of cards — one thing balancing on top of another. And then the end, when you get to it, ought to be a little bit surprising, but satisfying, too, to make the reader think, ‘Yes, of course, that’s it! Why didn’t I think of that?’  I can remember exactly the moment when I realized the importance of that surprise, while telling my brother a story on a walk, and I rushed home, and wrote the story down. It was a story about a princess who turned into a parrot. That was when I was about sixteen, and I’ve never forgotten it. Stories are fun to write! They are, or should be, like a sleigh-ride, and once you get on course, then some terrific power, like the power of gravity, takes command and whizzes you off to an unknown destination.

A very important element in a story is the setting —where it all takes place. Some of the stories I’ve written have their settings and surroundings so firmly in my mind that I can call them back whenever I want to.  ‘The Boy with a Wolf’s Foot’ was written when I travelled back and forth to London every day, along a railway line whose stations all seemed to begin with W.  ‘The Rain Child’ came when I had a job picking apples in a huge series of orchards. ‘Moonshine in the Mustard Pot’ is a mixture of Paris and the beautiful city of York. My daughter lived for a time in both these cities and I visited her there, and the grandmother in the story is a mix of my daughter and myself.  ‘A Harp of Fishbones’ is purely invention, but I know that mountainside and that ruined city as well as if I had lived there all my life. The stories that have the strongest settings are my favourites. I like to revisit them from time to time, and that is like going back to stay in a house, or piece of country, that one has known since childhood; it is a happy, refreshing thing to do.

Reading is and always will be one of my greatest pleasures, and I love to re-read books and stories that have been favourites for years, and I particularly like to re-visit some of my own short stories, as they too have now taken on that mysterious life of their own. Favourite stories, like unexpected presents, are things that you can keep and cherish all your life, carry with you in memory, in your mind’s ear, and bring out at any time, when you are feeling lonely or need cheering up, or, like friends, just because you are fond of them. That is the way I feel about some of these stories.

One of the nicest letters that I ever had from a reader said: ‘Your stories are such a gift, they make me feel as though I dimly remember them. I seem to know the characters and places from long ago, like a forgotten dream …’

Maybe they will feel like that for you too, and become some of your own favourites — after all, where do our stories really come from?

Who knows?”

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This is Joan Aiken’s introduction to The Gift Giving, Favourite Stories

which includes favourite stories from many of her collections

Published by Virago Modern Classics

With Illustrations by Peter Bailey

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The Power of Storytelling – Joan Aiken’s strange stories

People in the Castle

Joan Aiken once described a moment during a talk she was giving at a conference, when to illustrate a point, she began to tell a story.  At that moment, she said, the quality of attention in the room subtly changed. The audience, as if hypnotised, seemed to fall under her spell –

“Everyone was listening, to hear what was going to happen next.”

From her own experience, whether as a compulsive reader from early childhood, or as a story teller herself – learning to amuse her younger brother growing up in a remote village – by the time she was writing for a living to support her family, she had learned a great respect for the power of stories.

Like a sorcerer addressing her apprentice, in her heartfelt guide, The Way to Write for Children, she advises careful use of the storyteller’s power:

“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.”

Clearly this informed her desire to bring to her own stories as much richness, as many layers of meaning, and as much of herself, her extensive reading and her own experience of life as she possibly could. Stories, she said, give us a sense of our own inner existence and the archetypal links that connect us to the past…they show us patterns that extend beyond ordinary reality.

Although she repudiated the idea that her writing contained any overt moral, nevertheless many of Joan Aiken’s stories do convey a powerful sense of the fine line between good and evil.  She habitually made use of the traditional conventions of folk tales and myths, in which right is rewarded and any kind of inhumanity gets its just deserts.  Her particular gift though, was to transfer these myths into everyday settings that we would recognise, and then add a dash of magic – a doctor holds his surgery in a haunted castle, and so a ghost comes to be healed.

What Aiken brings to her stories is her own voice – and the assurance that these stories are for you.  By reading them, taking part in them, not unlike the beleaguered protagonists she portrays as her heroes – struggling doctors, impatient teachers or lonely children – you too can learn to take charge of your own experience.  It is possible, she seems to say, that just around the corner is an alternative version of the day to day, and by choosing to unloose your imagination and share some of her leaps into fantasy you may find – as the titles of some of her early story collections put it – More than You Bargained For and almost certainly Not What You Expected…

One of the most poignant, hopeful and uplifting stories in this collection – and hope, Aiken believed was the most transforming force – is called Watkyn, Comma.  Here she uses the idea of a comma – in itself almost a metaphor for a short story, a brief interlude in your life – to express a sudden opening up of experience: “a pause, a break between two thoughts, when you take breath, reconsider…”  and so can seize the opportunity to discover something hitherto unimaginable.

In the course of one short story our expectations are confounded by the surprising ability with which Aiken generously endows her central character –  she is able to see something we would not have expected.  By gently offering the possibility of previously unknown forces – our ability to develop new capacities, the will for empathy between the many creatures of our universe, our real will to learn to communicate – she leaves us feeling like the characters in the story – “brought forward.”

Aiken draws us into a moment of listening – gives an example of how a story works its magic – and invites us to join in the process of creative sharing, believing, asking:

“Could I do this?” 

…and hearing her answer:

“Oh never doubt it.”

Aiken is perfectly capable of showing the dark side of the coin, of sharing our dangerous propensity to give in to nightmares and conjure monsters from the deep, but at her best and most powerful she allows her protagonists to summon their deepest strengths to confront their devils.  In the story of this name, born from one of her own nightmares, even Old Nick is frustrated by a feline familiar called Hope.

This collection of stories, taken from her entire writing career, some of which I have known and been told since I was born, form a magical medicine chest of remedies for all kinds of human trials, and every form of unhappiness.  The remedies are hope, generosity, empathy, humour, imagination, love, memory, dreams… Yes, sometimes she shows that it takes courage to face down the more hair-raising fantasies, and conquer our unworthy instincts, but in the end the reward is in the possibility of transformation.

The Fairy Godmother is within us all.

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~ From The People in the Castle ~

 collected strange stories by Joan Aiken  pub. April 2016

Includes this introduction by Lizza Aiken and another by Kelly Link

Read a story from the collection and a review from a newly devoted reader at Tor.com

Find Reviews and Small Beer Press details here

Read more from Watkyn,Comma in another post about this uplifting story