Category Archives: Languages

The Sun Is God

The end of Adrian McKinty’s The Sun Is God is unlike most crime novels. I won’t say how, but it’s hardly surprising that an unusual crime story ends in a somewhat unorthodox way.

Adrian McKinty, The Sun Is God

It wasn’t at all as I had imagined, even when I did visualise something the complete opposite of Adrian’s Northern Irish crime. Set in German Neu Guinea in 1906 it is very different, but at the same time quite normal, while also rather insane. I hope that describes it?

Will Prior is a most Duffy-like character, and you will feel right at home with him. I found it harder to feel at home in this South Pacific German setting from before WWI, because it’s unlike anything I’ve come across. Much rougher than other exotic crime novels, and probably much truer for it.

There is an island near Herbertshöhe where Will lives, where a group of – frankly lunatic – German nudists have settled. They live off coconuts and bananas, and they act pretty bananas too. One of them has died in mysterious circumstances and Will’s past as a military policeman means the Germans ask him to go and investigate.

Adrian has mixed a few fictional characters like Will, with the crazy Cocovores and with real people from Herbertshöhe, and written a story based on deaths that actually occurred in real life.

Full of nudity, this is a story that I can’t see being made into a film (as the movie-minded Resident IT Consultant reluctantly decided once he’d got some way through the book). But it’s different; I’ll grant you that. And the end is, well, thrilling.

(Today they’d all die of skin cancer…)

Brush twice a day

I do tact so very well. (Like the foreigners I am surrounded by, I cling to my own country’s excellence. Sometimes.) Years ago I dragged Son from one British dentist to another, looking for one that would meet with my approval. (How Son didn’t end up with a dental phobia, I don’t know.) For the last dentist we saw (before I gave up and travelled across the water for treatment for all the family) I had decided in advance what I would say. It would be measured and fair and polite. But what actually fell out of my mouth were the words: ‘I am Swedish and I think Swedish dentists are the best.’

He smiled at me sweetly (he did have a lovely smile) and said that he was Scottish and he reckoned Scottish dentists were also pretty good. Offspring remained with him for several years, until they outgrew his remit.

We did dental holidays from then on. When I happened to mention the annual dental trip to Sweden to Tim Bowler once, his retort was that my dentist must be one hell of a dentist. (I was a little taken aback at his use of hell. Tim is always very proper.)

Anyway, Son eventually found a dentist in the UK that he liked. I went there once as an emergency, and he was fine (ish), but with a solid mistrust of foreign dentists (which is rich for someone who hails from outside Britain).

But most good things have to come to an end and my trusty Swedish dentist retired. And I moved. And I had another emergency, because I am old and so are my teeth. I felt so willing to try new things that I went to see Aunt Scarborough’s dentist. I liked him. He seemed very competent, for a foreigner. And with as sweet a smile as his polite fellow countryman from that other occasion.

I have actually made the jump now, for real. He has an admiration for Swedish dentists, which does him credit. He sells books, too. In the waiting room there are shelves of used bestseller paperbacks, sold in aid of a charity. It’s a clever idea. Instead of sitting there reading a magazine you couldn’t care less about, you can start on a book. (Me, I bring my own, but we have already concluded I am abnormal.) And once begun, you will want to finish, so you pay 50p and the book is yours.

Books at the dentist's

Last week as we were whiling away the time between injection and action, he asked if I had noticed his multi language wall posters. I had. He asked if I would do one in Swedish for him. It has to say something like ‘for healthy teeth, brush twice a day.’

So as the drill went to work, I lay there pondering how best to phrase it. I wanted my translation to be as good as Swedish dentistry.

Firebird Dawn

OMG, as they say, and as I usually don’t. But Nick Green’s second Firebird novel, Firebird Dawn, is quite something. As with the first book, you think you know what to expect, and then it turns out your guess wasn’t far-reaching enough.

At the end of Project Firebird you sort of sit there wondering ‘will they really?’ and you might ponder what kind of scenario an author could possibly go with to follow up on that first ending. You’ll find out.

Leo – yes, he’s still here – will have his work cut out this time round. The others too, and they need to get on, or at least to agree what to do and how to do it.

And in order not to give anything away about either the first or the second instalments of Firebird, I can’t actually say much. It’s about friendship and working with people (which sounds so sensible and boring because you won’t know what I know). It’s about remembering what you have learned and being able to use it.

At times it reminds you – in a vague sort of way – of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and you wonder what will be left to fill the third book. Firebird Dawn features a beautiful love story, treated with such a light hand that it’s barely there. It simply makes you glow happily, and that’s almost the only happy you get.

No, that’s wrong. It’s bleak, but it’s also promising.

I am fairly sure I can promise you a marvellous read. Please buy it. Tomorrow.

Lions and Lizes

Were I not totally unworthy, I’d love to be best friends with Lizes Laird and Wein. They are so brave and adventurous and so funny. No wonder they write fantastic books. Write about what you know. Well, these two ladies know a lot.

Elizabeth Wein spent the summer strapped to the top of a small plane (which then takes off and flies). The strapping part seemed to be due to health and safety rules. Quite. Otherwise it’d be fun to just stand there, on top of a plane up in the air. Her next book, Black Dove White Raven is about circus flying, which is why Elizabeth needed to have a go. Because she loves flying, anyway, and this was fun.

She showed us photos from Ethiopia – which was the topic for the day – and when Elizabeth Laird looked more closely at a range of mountains, it turned out she had walked across them. When she was young (which apparently made it nice and easy and nothing to write home about!). EL had also once stayed with EW’s aunt and uncle in Ethiopia, many years ago.

Because EL spent a few years in Ethiopia in the 1960s, teaching – as you do. That’s when she witnessed the homecoming of Olympic champion Abebe Bikila at the airport, where she just happened to be. The Emperor met the plane, complete with favourite lion, to honour the country’s hero. It’s the done thing.

Now everyone in Ethiopia runs. Partly to get to school, when that happens to be six miles away from home and you have no car, and partly in the hopes of making it to the Olympics. Elizabeth’s new book, The Fastest Boy in the World, is about a runner. Obviously.

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein’s book, which is due out next year, features female pilots; one white and one black. They are part of a group of pilots trained at Tuskegee, who came to Ethiopia in 1935 to set up the Ethiopian Air Force during the second Abyssinian war. The Emperor wanted to have planes and black pilots from the US.

Both Elizabeths have written other books set in Ethiopia; EW’s A Coalition of Lions is set in the sixth century, and EL’s Prince Who Walks With Lions is about a young prince during Victoria’s reign. Liz managed to forget the title of her book momentarily, and made a joke out of it. In fact, both of them are really very amusing and they should make something of this.

They said they will now need to agree in advance who gets to write about what, so no doubt they will divide up Ethiopia between them. EW admired EL’s fictional grandparents, and EL proceeded to unwrap her real grandfather’s real WWI medals. And she didn’t just show us them, but trusted us enough to allow the medals to circulate round the room.

Elizabeth Laird

Asked about writing, EL told the audience to write from the heart. Only you will know your story. Read, write and live/do stuff (which includes being strapped to the outside of planes). EW thinks people should write about what they are passionate about, and she is sure she will have to fight EL for Haile Selassie’s lion.

The best things about Ethiopia according to EL is the weather, how beautiful the country is and the people. EW agrees about the wonderful people and told us about the clever children she met in the middle of nowhere, who were able to write in three different languages.

Books they would recommend were Holes, Journey to the River Sea, Goodnight Mister Tom, Code Name Verity (EL), Noughts & Crosses and Coram Boy. EW added the books by Hilary McKay. (No cause to disagree there.)

Elizabeth Laird writes in her study, which has got a woodstove, while Elizabeth Wein is the wandering type who writes everywhere, liking the noise in cafés and on trains. She thinks it’s important to ‘get out there’ to get the right feeling for what to write. And we were unable to end the event without a very brief description of the time EL was forced to leave Ethiopia, accused of murder…

Boring these ladies are not.

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.

Sigh.

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.