Our writers are (lovingly) foisting pop-culture favourites on their unsuspecting nippers. Here, Emma Mitchell guides her daughters into the magical world of Joan Aiken.
The necklace Emma made for her daughter
When I was eight and had some time on my hands I was more likely to reach for a Pritt Stick and an empty Rice Krispies box than for a book. Then, for Christmas 1980, I received a hardback copy of Joan Aiken’s A Necklace of Raindrops. On the front was an illustration of a girl soaring past a minaretted palace on a giant lizard. There were pink clouds in the orange sky and the girl was wearing a necklace. The moment I saw that necklace was significant. It seemed to be hung with silvery drops and the girl was holding it up so she could look at it. This was impressive given the fact that she was riding an oversized reptile. She seemed to be the kind of girl I wanted to be: rather accomplished and with ace accessories. I wanted to find out about that necklace. Deep down I knew I wanted to make my own.
I began to read and found that the girl was called Laura, the necklace had been given to her by the North Wind, who’d been rescued by her Dad when its cloak had become snagged in their holly bush. Those really were raindrops hanging from the chain and they gave her weather-related magical powers that would make Wincey Willis sit up and take notice. At one point she saves a land beset by drought by clapping her hands. The heavens open, the crops are saved. It was some necklace. I was hooked.
Cut to 2013 and my daughters are five and eight. I stumble on my copy of A Necklace of Raindrops in a bookcase. Both girls eye the cover. Eldest feigns indifference but they both settle on our bed in their jimjams to listen. This book is a collection of eight stories by Aiken. As both our lasses love to make themselves a necklace or two (sometimes out of egg cartons) I begin with the tale of Laura and her magical bling. The eight year-old forgets to pretend that the story is boring and looks captivated. As soon as I finish the youngest says, “Read it AGAIN please Mummy”.
I choose another of the stories, A Bed for the Night. It features a feathered house that hops around on a single chicken-like leg, then lays an egg which hatches into another house. One of the characters is called Spiqueneau Weevil. The other stories tell of giant flying pies, patchwork quilts that double as camel taxis and an oversized cat who eats yeast, rises like a massive tabby loaf and then uses its bum as a dam to save a village from flood. I had forgotten quite how much bonkers genius Joan Aiken weaves into the stories. Jan “Meg and Mog” Pienkowski’s exquisitely detailed illustrations match Aiken’s flights of fancy perfectly.
It’s now a book that the daughters reach for when they’re poorly or tired. Sometimes they read the stories to me. It is comfort reading. When youngest was flu-ridden over Christmas I made her her own necklace of raindrops to cheer her up. She wears it secretly under her school shirt. Don’t tell anyone.
My own fascination with the tale of Laura’s necklace and the urge to make one of my own stayed with me, so much so that it became the day job. My necklaces do not influence atmospheric conditions though and, despite living in the Fens, my crocodile riding skills are limited.
I make things, mostly out of silver, sometimes out of wool. I’m never too far from a bottle of PVA glue.