Category Archives: Languages

How to – not – write ten books

Arne Dahl and John Harvey, who appeared together at Charlotte Square on Tuesday evening, have something in common, apart from being crime writers. They both intended to write a crime series of ten books, rather like Sjöwall & Wahlöö. Both failed, by writing too many. John also failed spectacularly at pronouncing the names of his heroes, but Arne pointed out that it is hard, so he might as well carry on saying it wrong.

They were talking with Russel McLean who began by talking so fast that I suspected we might be done after twenty minutes. The rest of the time he laughed so much that he nearly cried. The two authors were reasonably amusing, but they weren’t that funny…

Although, I did find John quite interesting, with a nice sense of humour. He started by trying to hang his coat on some invisible hook and ended up throwing it on the floor, sending his cap after it with a flourish.

Arne Dahl

On the basis that guests go first, Arne began by reading an extract from his most recently translated book, To the Top of the Mountain. (I’d have been interested in knowing who translated it.) One fervent fan in the audience wanted to know how soon she could have all his novels in translation. She has all 23 in Swedish and reads them with the help of a dictionary (that’s what I call determination), but felt that translations would be helpful. I should say so!

John read from his Darkness Darkness, Resnick’s last case, which is partly set during the miners’ strike, and the part he read was definitely an ‘ouch’ kind of extract. He said this would be the last book about Charlie Resnick, but apparently he has said that before. The difference being that he lied on previous occasions. Well, we’ll see about that.

Both Arne and John praised each other’s books so much, that compliments were flying across the stage. Arne plots with the help of post-its and arrows which he puts on the floor. But as he pointed out, when he had small children, anything could happen. John has tried listening to young people in secret, to learn how they speak, but he couldn’t understand a word they said. But he has learned to tweet.

And who’d have thought that this man spent several years writing pulp fiction and teen romances? Writing a book every month for four years helped teach him the craft of writing.

At this point Russel’s phone made itself known, which was a little embarrassing for a man who had told the rest of us to switch ours off.

Talking of translations, Arne’s novels have been translated into 30 languages, and whereas he can read some of them, he has no idea what has happened when the Estonian version comes back and only half of it seems to be there.

The crime in crime novels is not what’s important. It is mainly there to facilitate the story. And because it’s what publishers want.

There will be a singing

That’s not just my continued mis-reading of the promised signing after every event. As I got off the tram on Saturday, I found myself struggling to avoid becoming part of a happy group of singers from the something or other gospel. I let them sway on ahead, but they gospelled so slowly that I ended up joining them, eventually overtaking whenever a more spacially aware singer prodded one of the others out of the way. And finally I led the procession, but I speeded up so I’d be out of there completely.

Tram? I hear you ask. Yes, I let the Resident IT Consultant drive me (us) to the Park & Ride and the tram conveyed me into Edinburgh. (It was Saturday. I wanted to make sure I didn’t suffer a repeat of the Saturday in 2012 when the train home was simply too full to join.)

I cased the joint for a while, coming to the conclusion the bookshop doesn’t stock Into A Raging Blaze. Found that the photographers’ background carpet was a more mellow green than it has been. Checked the price of cake – as you do – in case the Resident IT Consultant would need some later. And I, erm, rearranged some books in the bookshop. Although it is hard to put books face out when it is at the expense of other top books. Where is Dan Brown when you need him?

Michelle Harrison and Charlie Fletcher

Joined the proper photographers to snap Charlie Fletcher and Michelle Harrison. Not unsurprisingly they were keenest on the beautiful Michelle (who reminded me of a black haired J K Rowling). Me, I sort of stood behind the dustbins. Which isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. Being short, I’d already come to the conclusion I might have to take photographs between the legs of the others who have this unwritten shooting order I will never ever be able to join.

Michelle Harrison

After Charlie’s and Michelle’s event I repaired to the press yurt and most serendipitously came face to face with the newlyweds. I had more or less given up hope of fitting Philip and Lady Caveney into our respective schedules this week. So we had all of several minutes before Philip’s interview (for television, he claims) and I dashed on to The Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, where I was unable to avoid the Resident IT Consultant. Former children’s laureate Anthony Browne was there too.

The Caveneys

I had asked permission to bring the Resident IT Consultant to the yurt, so we went there for our dinner sandwiches, and the life saving coffee. Sat opposite a woman I slowly worked out must be a Swedish journalist, and even more slowly I worked out that she the man she was interviewing was Bernardo Atxaga (whose book Shola miraculously appeared in my Swedish letterbox over the winter).

Being on translating grounds here, I wasn’t altogether surprised to see Daniel Hahn, but I didn’t tug at his sleeve either, as he was intent on Bernardo. I trawled the square for some action and found I arrived just in time for the signing by Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf, who write the Oksa Pollock books.

Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf

Sara Paretsky

After some killing of time had taken place (it rained…) we finally got to the evening’s long awaited photocall with Sara Paretsky. She jumped straight into her star role, saying the attention she got from the photographers made her feel as though she’s important. Murdo Macleod pointed out she is important. I hung back by the dustbins again, knowing my camera would never totally overcome the fact that it was eight o’clock and a little dark, and that I couldn’t hope to achieve what Murdo and Co did. Meanwhile the Resident IT Consultant chatted to one of the photographers about why they all wear black. (I had no idea he was so into fashion!)

Sara Paretsky

We went straight to Sara’s event with Tom Rob Smith who – it turns out – is half Swedish. Naturally. Not knowing what he looked like before last night, I did miss his photocall on the green carpet. Apologies. (He looks sort of Swedish, if that helps.)

My skills for getting to near the front of the singing, I mean signing, queue had not deserted me, and I had my two minutes with Sara before too long. We agreed that facebook is the way to keep track of house moves and dogs. And stuff.

The light was far too bad for pictures, so I led the Resident IT Consultant back to the tram stop with no more singing, and from there it was a smooth trip home, without any need to get too close to any fellow passengers.

(In the small hours leading up to Saturday I had dreamed an alternate Sara Paretsky signing. She and her many (?) publicists, as well as a large group of fans, turned up outside my – old – house, to do the signing. I invited them in for soup and sandwiches. Her and the PRs, not the fans, obviously. Once inside it became my new house and that was so not good, because of its unfinished state. Also, my freezer isn’t that well stocked yet, and I was busy working out how to make the small amount of soup I had stretch between so many. But other than that, it was a fine signing.)

Bookwitch bites #125

You know how interested you are in things I’ve not done? (You are! I know you are.)

Well, anyway, the other week I could have gone to Norröra. ‘Where?’ I hear you ask. Saltkråkan. The summer island Astrid Lindgren wrote about. The place that is summer to many Swedes, especially people my age.

For once I was in the right part of the country, right time of year and with time to spare. Well, I had, but then plans changed and the Norröra idea was no more. My free day disappeared. It was especially galling as people I know had just been and it sounded rather nice. Apparently they have kept the house from the television series intact and you can go back in time.


But let’s look on the bright side! I’m back home. The other home. I’m always home. Mostly.

And the Edinburgh International Book Festival starts today! I’m here for the duration, except I don’t think I can go straight off the plane to Charlotte Square, even though the Resident IT Consultant pointed out it would deal with the taxi issue. He’s right. Again. But older witches need rest, too.

So I’ll be in soon. Raring to go.

A last bath(e)

We went down to the beach for a final swim yesterday. (It wouldn’t surprise me if the Resident IT Consultant pops down this morning as well, but I will be far too busy refuelling the broom and packing my books. And stuff.)

The sea was mirror calm, which is not natural at that time of day. Later, in the evening, yes. But it looked great; smooth, pale grey water meeting pale grey sky.

The water was clear. So clear I could see the tiny plaice scuttling out of my way, hopefully to a safer place. (That’s because I wear glasses, even in the sea. Without them I’d see nothing.)

Which, I suppose, might have been a good thing. I’m used to topless. After all, this is Sweden. Not quite so used to people wearing nothing, like the woman sunbathing a few metres away. But thank god for books! She had a book. A very strategically placed book.

(It made me think of an early episode of NCIS, where a witness mentions her concern over tan lines. Like Agent DiNozzo, I don’t spend much time thinking about tan lines, however.)

I don’t like the word bathe. But if the sea is involved, it is better than bath. One year we went out for a walk immediately on arriving. Met people we knew, who wanted to know if we’d had a bath yet. It took everything I had not to reply that I generally have a shower. Because I knew what they meant; had we been in the sea yet?

As for this year, I’ve had my last bathe, unless a miracle interferes with my plans. Actually, I don’t have time for miracles.

I knew it had to be somewhere

Talk of antiquated! (I did. On Tuesday.)

As I was saying, I knew it would be somewhere. I searched at home, high and low. And then, without searching at all, I happened to glance sideways at Mother-of-witch’s bookshelf (re-arranged many times by me), and there it was! I can’t understand why I haven’t had it with me.

The Retired Children’s Librarian was a dutiful and hard-working librarian in her day. She wrote the odd guide-book on what to read. This is one of them, Böcker för barn och ungdomar som inte tycker om att läsa. As will be obvious to most of you, that’s Books for children and teens who don’t like reading.

There are many such people, although possibly not very often found in libraries. But compile this long list of suitable books she did. And this being before I knew any published writers, I was quite proud to know her. The book is signed. It says ‘greetings from the author.’ (Med hälsningar från författaren, is what I mean.)

At the time I tended to agree with what she suggested. I had read quite a few already, and was interested to see what else she reckoned would be good. Published in 1977, I was too old to be her target audience, and I will blame my ignorance of K M Peyton on that, because I see she included Flambards and something else.

I note – now – that she was fair, since she has included books I happen to know she wasn’t terribly keen on. That’s as it should be.

I’ll need to read through this more carefully, but I’d bet that most of the books will still be worthwhile, with only a few becoming obsolete with the passing of time. Swedish libraries use a cataloging system different from many others, and it’s interesting to see that they have included all the reference numbers, presumably to ease the search when the un-keen reader goes to the library to find it.

Because that’s where you were supposed to go, back in the days when libraries simply were there for you.

Help yourself


Every time we went past to go to the beach, we saw the box on the side of the road. A box of books. Looking more carefully we saw the note which said ‘help yourself to a book.’ (I mean, ‘varsågod’.)

Books by the roadside

‘Do you want to stop and get one?’ said the Resident IT Consultant. The man has a sense of humour; I have to give him that.

What I really wanted was to look to see what they offered, and then to think about how I could do this at home. It seems so easy, just putting your books out as though they were homegrown tomatoes. Possibly without the honesty box for payment, however.


One Narnia, a horse book and the rest is crime, including one by the writer who called me an idiot. Yeah, get rid of that one!

You’ll need to keep track of when it rains.


‘Hello Mum, it’s Nancy,’ said the female on the phone when I answered it. ‘Oh no, it’s not,’ was my immediate thought. I’d remember if I had a daughter called Nancy. And she’d not call me mum.

Within seconds (I’m fast) I’d worked out that this was an English (but not native) speaking call centre person, using her adopted name of Nancy. And she wasn’t trying to pull a fast one by making me believe we were related. I reckon she addressed me as ‘Madam.’

Ever since receiving that, and a few other, calls, I have been puzzling over what any company at all thinks it stands to gain by addressing people in a foreign language on the phone. I mean, you can’t even hand over your bank details if you don’t understand or speak English.

But now I have been reading about ‘outsourcing’ which appears to be Swedish for Call Centres. Except they are the reverse of what English speakers have come to expect; which is people in other countries speaking – some sort of – English to them as they try to deal with banking, broadband or anything else fraught.

It seems that Swedes who need to call for Färdtjänst (the service that arranges for cars to take people with mobility problems where they need/want to go) now have the pleasure of talking to foreign call centres, albeit not to Nancy.

She has been replaced by people in countries such as Estonia, Moldavia and Senegal who have been taught to speak Swedish, purely for this job. Occasionally successfully, occasionally not.

I don’t know what I think. It’s pretty amazing if you can really teach a language so well that someone can almost pass as local. But I know how I feel when calling for a taxi and find myself talking to someone obviously not as nearby as I’d like, who doesn’t know where the address I’ve mentioned is. Although I’ve never had to tell anyone to go take a flying leap, unlike the poor Färdtjänst user who was unable to make her overseas Nancy understand where she was and where she needed to go. Nancy was pleased to hear the customer was considering flying as an alternative.

Clutching at straws

We’re getting the hang of this ‘koppling’ business now. When I say we, I mean the Resident IT Consultant. Although, where would he – and indeed I – be were it not for me translating what the hire car told him to do?

Still outside the Grand Hotel, most likely.

With any new car there is always something you’ve not encountered before. (I mean, I believe this is so, not having a clue how to drive a car.) But you can work it out, or there might be a manual.

For car hire cases it would be useful if anything offered by the hire company came in English as well as the local language. It’s easy to be ignorant across language barriers.

So there we were, installed in our car for the next three weeks. Suitcases in the back. ‘Key’ thing in the correct slot for ‘key’ things. ‘Trampa ner kopplingen’ said the screen in front of the Resident IT Consultant, in reply to the ‘key’ being inserted. ‘That means the clutch,’ I explained.

He ‘trampade’ the clutch for all he was worth. Nothing happened. After a long period of nothing we tried to work out how you could possibly find out what to do, apart from translating the Swedish instructions. It was out of hours. He could hardly go back into the hotel and ask if they knew how to drive.

In the end I cast my mind over who else might know how to start a car. Any car. Professional drivers. Hmm. Where though? Aha! Behind us. Across the road, a clutch (pardon) of taxi drivers, waiting outside the station. Feeling it’d look stupid if I went and asked on his behalf, I shoved him out of the car to go and ask, even if English might not be their forte.

Before long we were joined by friendly Middle Eastern taxi driver, who not only trampade ner kopplingen, but showed us what should happen next. Dead easy. But not obvious.

(D’you hear that, Volkswagen?)

When we arrived at our destination and needed to reverse into the drive, we discovered that the reversing thingy which lets you see what you are reversing into, spoke English.

They clearly can’t make their minds up. But someone will find one or other of the two languages difficult to understand.

Sisters and Friends

Tant Brun

I know we did colours yesterday, but permit me to add a colourful, literary lady; Tant Brun. She is one of Elsa Beskow’s three tants, Green, Brown and Purple. This one appears to run a café in Sigtuna. I was so full of having been ‘thrown out of’ another Sigtuna café the other day, that I completely forgot to mention Tant Brun. I bet she wouldn’t dream of behaving like that.

Bokhandel, Norrtälje

‘All’ postcards of Norrtälje that I have ever received, have featured this bookshop. I found myself buying the same card myself, and sending it, despite there being many others. But the shop is quite pretty and as the Resident IT Consultant remarked, it grows inside and goes on and on. Rather like Blackwell’s in Oxford.

Norrtälje Bokhandel

Norrtälje has another bookshop, too. Not as cute, but still a bookshop. (Last time in Norrtälje I bought four plastic fish-shaped soap dishes. Not in a bookshop, I hasten to add.)

As you will know if you called in yesterday, we drove south. After enjoying another breakfast on the terrace overlooking Mariestad harbour, we went to visit my oldest sister. I have met her a few more times than her little brother, whom we saw last week. Unlike him she has no lake, but her flat boasts a larger garden than Bookwitch Towers, and much more forest. Very nice.

Then we drove even more south and ended up at School Friend’s house. The weather continued fine, but it was the first time in over a week that I could sit still without breaking into a sweat. (I know. One shouldn’t mention perspiration. But sometimes it’s all a witch can think of.)

Today is Mr School Friend’s birthday. I’m hoping for cake. And a party. Coincidence is an interesting thing, and I am fairly certain I will see Brother of School Friend, who was once – a very long time ago, it has to be said – class mates with oldest sister (which is stranger than it might seem to you).

The road atlas

This is the book that brought us all the way north (well, more north than I am used to) and back again. Whenever the Resident IT Consultant asked how far it was to somewhere, I always replied ‘about an inch,’ because strangely enough, it always seemed to be. The atlas can rest now. We know the last part of the journey well enough to manage without help. Although it is a wee bit further than an inch.


Yesterday I saw the Retired Children’s Librarian.

That is a phrase I have so far been unable to say on this blog, which makes it noteworthy. Saw her the day before as well. And before that it had been eight years. Bookwitch is only seven, which is why I’ve never said it on here. The RCL doesn’t travel much these days, and I find that the town where she now lives is – quite frankly – on the wrong side of the country.

It is far and it is not on the railway. That’s where the Resident IT Consultant comes in, because he can be made to drive witches to places not so easily reached by other means. (Before you ask, the broom suffers from heat exhaustion.)

The town where the RCL lives is a lovely town. Don’t misunderstand me. It’s just not convenient. So, in-between lunch at her place one day and dinner at a restaurant the next, we went to see her niece at Växplats Nybyn, which is where the RCL does most of her work in the summer. My old mentor might be gasping for air in the hot weather, but she still helps her niece with serving coffee at her herby heaven in the countryside, almost daily donning a pretty purple pinny.

Växplats Nybyn and the RCL

If you think the photos look a little dark, I’ll just mention this was immediately before some magnificent thunder and lightning. Which did make it a teeny weeny bit colder. Not to mention wet.

It’s a lovely place, even if it does have a geranium room, which is a sort of witchy hell on earth (me and geraniums don’t mix). Beautiful, but smelling of geraniums.

Geraniums at Växplats Nybyn

With a Pippi Longstocking hut for children, the niece has clearly had the same mentor I had. She used to have – pet – pigs, who all bore the names of children’s literature characters.

Växplats Nybyn, Children's corner