Monday, May 16, 2011

A Midsummer Foy – Janice Armstrong and Meilo So

Well I’m back from Shetland, much earlier than I would have liked, and back at work, also much earlier than I’d have liked but the bills keep on coming and something has to be done about it and no matter how hard I wish otherwise that never seems to change...

I have at least bought back as much of the North as I could fit in my suitcase (not as much as my sister who bought back two very large lumps of peat and a lot of knitwear. My loot is a little bit more book based although if I’d had more money about me I’d now be the owner of some fair isle socks, a scarf, and some wrist warmers and a lot more books...

A Midsummer Foy’ was a present from my father (he set a precedent with ‘The Grumpy Old Sailor’ which I’m willing to carry on). It’s a book that caught me totally by surprise because it’s unexpectedly personal to me, the story that Janice wrote and Meilo illustrated is something that most island children should have no trouble imagining – four children go out fishing and get caught in the fog and eventually land up on a mysterious shore. After a frankly terrifying journey through thick mist they find themselves in a grand hall where there’s an encounter with a suit of armour and the threat of being turned into sausages before it all ends happily with a banquet and dancing into the wee small hours.

For Shetland children there will be no trouble in identifying the Island as Vaila – which is where I lived. Back in my time there (mid seventies) there were four children - myself, my sister, Emily, and Olaf. I didn’t get lost in a boat with Olaf until I was in my teens (but I think it still counts) and our parents held banquets throughout the summer. Those banquets definitely form some of the most vivid childhood memories I have – the days of preparation beforehand and on the night itself we would go up to our room from where we could watch through a balcony. The local fiddle and accordion band proved a very effective barrier to our creeping downstairs to join in (a group of beered up and to us quite frightening old men) but someone would generally bring us a plate of chocolate éclairs as a reward for quiet good behaviour.

The very bedroom we slept in is illustrated albeit with a pink makeover that Kirsty, Emily, and I would have appreciated (although Olaf perhaps not so much). Vaila’s current owner is the inspiration and heroine of ‘A Midsummer Foy’ (she says she’s never been painted so often with her clothes on) and I can’t help feel that this is a fitting tribute to her personality and hospitality (both of which are extravagant, marvellous and memorable).

My own memories aside I think this is a brilliant book, the illustrations are every bit as good as you would expect of Meilo So, with just the right blend of actual and imagined and Janice’s story is equally magical if it describes your own experience or not (She looked most disbelieving when Kirsty and I told her it was all true). This is the second book in a planned sequence of four, but they need to make enough money to keep going so whilst I’ve done my bit (proud owner of one copy and purchaser of two more so far) if anyone reading this should be looking for a children’s book of exceptional quality and charm you couldn’t do much better than ‘A Midsummer Foy’.

1 comment:

  1. This is a truely wonderfull story with amazing illustrations, it brought a tear to my eye and so many happy memories flooding back.
    You forgot to mention all the whisky and kippers that you managed to squeeze in your case as well!