Sunday, October 23, 2016
A Spray of Leaves by Irma Chilton
If living in a world of books ought to teach one anything, it is to ditch that niggling feeling we all have that perhaps we should write a book. Day after day after day a good secondhand bookshop will acquire stock that, for no fault of its own will never see the shelves. It will be relegated to the £1 bin outside the shop... or worse! Thousands, probably tens of thousands of books that someone has poured their soul into writing: never again read.
So it's always a joy to find one and hold it up to the world again and say: look! here!
A Spray of Leaves is a tiny paperback children's book from 1977 by Irma Chilton. It amounts to just 64 pages and I was given this rather battered copy to read recently by a friend while I was feeling a bit under the weather. It was published by Macmillan Education: an imprint I am guessing which probably provided books directly to schools for that (now sadly lost) activity of reading together as a class. Think of the hours of Irma's life spent crafting this story and the further hours spent by Mark Peppé creating the pen and ink illustrations. And yet, today, I can find only one copy of this book for sale online for a somewhat optimistic £15.
And yet, this is a brilliant little book. It is a tightly told story about a boy called David who is on a camping holiday on his own for the first time (again, an activity consigned to the 1970s) and who is affected by the land and the ancient history of the land on which he is camping. He begins to dream of himself as the son of a Welsh chieftain just as the Roman armies approach. The dreams become more real as time goes on and 1970s David finds himself in peril as well. It took a couple of hours to read yet it is a masterclass in packing a huge amount of story into a short space.
A minimal search of the Internet suggests that Irma Chilton wrote a number of books for children, often in Welsh, with a fantasy or SF bent, and if titles may be taken as suggestive then perhaps more than once including a timeslip theme. If I see any of her others in a language I can read, I will be very happy to put my hand in my pocket to buy them.