These stories which have never been brought together before are taken from Joan Aiken's earliest writing years in the 1950s and 1960s when she was working for the English short story magazine, Argosy where they were first published. They demonstrate her wide ranging stylistic ability, with subjects as diverse as a rented apartment that comes with a resident swan, a man who buys a girl in a crystal ball, an invisible man-eating tiger, or a psychiatric patient who can always, sometimes unfortunately, conjure up a 93 London bus.
All these ideas seem to pour out of an endless imagination, making bold use of eccentric and unexpected settings and characters, and at the same time demonstrating an evident delight in parodying a variety of literary styles from gothic to comedy, fantasy to folk tales selected from her incredible reading background. But Joan Aiken always repudiated the suggestion that she was "a born storyteller" she would always argue furiously that it was a craft, like oil painting or cabinet making that she had learned, practiced and developed over the years. She described this period of her life as a single-minded engagement with the writer's craft; and her grasp of the short story form as the foundation of her literary career.
What is far from apparent from these wildly inventive and freewheeling tales, is that this was in fact a bitterly difficult period of Joan Aiken's life, when not long after the end of the Second World War she was left widowed and homeless with two young children. Having made the brave decision to try and support herself and her family by writing, she applied for a job on this popular short story magazine. In many ways, as she often said subsequently, this period spent working at Argosy could not have been bettered, both as a wonderful distraction and consolation during a bad time, and as an unbeatable apprenticeship in the craft of writing.