Tag Archives: Henning Mankell

Nordic Noir

Before I knew what I was doing, I was hauling a Nordic (well, Swedish) crime novel off the shelf to read. That’s how fired up I got once I started on Barry Forshaw’s Nordic Noir guide book.

He knows a lot about this subject. More than most. Certainly more than I do. And that made me envious and I wanted to begin my new career as a Nordic crime specialist, which is when I discovered the book I’d found was in English. So I put it away again, and I will pick something else. Later.

I will never be an expert on Nordic crime. Barry didn’t set out to be. It just happened to him. Now he has read quite a bit, and he has met most of who’s who in this genre. And in Nordic Noir he shares it with us.

This slim volume is probably more for looking things up in, than to sit down and read from cover to cover. Barry lists books from all six countries, includes interviews with authors, as well as talking about recent films and television shows. There’s not much that’s missing.

The Swedish section is the largest – naturally – and the Faroese is definitely the smallest, with the other four countries nestling in the middle. For a non-Nordic speaker Barry has steered an almost perfect route between å and ä and ö, past ø and ð. The few near misses could be due to printers, and not the author. Only the one Norwegian writer has ended up listed as a Swede, but these things happen.

And when Henning Mankell saw mice, he did so in a posh London hotel. These things happen, too.

Any fan of Nordic darkness could do worse than equip themselves with Barry’s guide. You know, you could show off a little next time you’re in the right kind of conversation.

Leave my archipelagos alone!

In his review last week of Camilla Läckberg’s The Lost Boy, the Resident IT Consultant mentioned the standard clichés you tend to encounter in Nordic crime fiction. OK, neither abuse nor suicides are terribly enjoyable, albeit facts of life and probably quite appropriate in crime novels that tend to deal with death and violence.

But I claim the right to have my motorcycle gangs, and my archipelagos! They are a way of life. They are also common enough not to merit cliché-dom, simply because you expect them.

Waffles

Motorcycle gangs are rarely young killers in real life, though. They are middleaged and orderly, living their dream. What’s not to like about wearing black leather and driving around the beautiful Nordic countryside? Stopping for coffee and waffles at some scenic outdoor café, and life is just perfect.

But the crime novelist might be better off not mentioning the waffles.

As for the archipelago; we ‘all’ have one. Strictly speaking, it needn’t be an archipelago. A beach will do. Somewhere by the sea. Or the side of a lake. If the water is missing, there will be forests. And in that forest or by that stretch of water – on or off an island – is a cottage.

Your cottage. You either own it or rent it or borrow it or simply visit someone else’s. Preferably with an invitation. Although the urban myth (?) depicts how you just decide to go visit the Nilssons for the day (or the weekend) because they own that nice cottage, and so by default will be desperate for your obnoxious company. You arrive armed with a packet of biscuits, ensuring they will be so dreadfully appreciative…

You don’t have to be rich. Not on the breadline either, obviously, but you can be – and most likely are – completely ordinary.

Varberg

I have had an ‘archipelago’ all my life, in the shape of a beach on the Swedish coast. The landscape looks like Kenneth Branagh’s Ystad. My first trip I was one week old, and we spent the next eleven summers in the same cottage. It belonged to Favourite Aunt, and the cottage next to hers was Aunt Motta’s, and all the cousins crowded in and slept packed like sardines.

Beach and sardines. Privy. It couldn’t have been more wonderful if it tried.

And it goes without saying that had we been the murderous type, we’d have done the dirty deed in this idyllic and sunny setting. That’s why you set your crime novel in an archipelago. Not because everyone else does.

By my twelfth summer Mother-of-witch wanted her own cottage, so saved and scraped and bought one. (Come to think of it; that’s where the postman thought we’d done the Retired Children’s Librarian in.)

Crab fishing in Steninge

We still holiday there and whenever we go for waffles, the motorcycle gang is sure to follow.

Henning Mankell OAP

Thank goodness someone had the sense to celebrate some kind of birthday at last! I’ve been thinking it’d be nice with a birthday. But it had to be someone special, and I wanted a good number.

Henning Mankell is 65 today, but despite what it says in the heading, I very much doubt he’ll be retiring. Does he look like the retiring type?

No.

Henning Mankell

Here he is, looking a bit grumpy. Perhaps he’s thinking about his presents. Or just ‘when can I get out of this?’ And ‘I want my cake now! With coffee.’

Bookwitch bites #48

I so want to go to the Oxford Literary Festival. And that does sound pathetic. I know. I found this really good selection of events that would suit me perfectly, on Sunday 3rd April. And do you know, the trains aren’t running that morning. This is Britain, after all. Thwarted by a train! Or lack thereof. When I started looking, the fare was even quite reasonable. But you don’t buy a ticket in order not to get somewhere. Candy Gourlay, Michelle Magorian and Meg Rosoff… How can I not want to go? Christ Church College frowned on people sitting on their quad wall last year. I suppose that sneaking in the night before and sleeping on the very same wall wouldn’t go down any better.

Pity.

Some people are off to Bologna next week. That’s another place I’ve not tried. Not sure it’s suitable for the likes of me, but whenever people say they are getting ready to go I feel a pang. It honestly doesn’t hurt much at all. I’d rather do Oxford.

Henning Mankell

Antibes now, that’s something else. I’m not sure that’s where my guest blogger Declan went to interview Henning Mankell. It’s probably just the Guardian who sent their interviewer there for their Mankell interview. The current glut of Mankell interviews suggests a new book. It’s the end for poor Wallander, in some way or other.

And please note that we have our own Mankell photo from the same session as the Guardian’s. I’ve learned to recognise that green backdrop now.

After this week’s travelling I have an excellent quote from Julie Bertagna. It really should go on the cover of my book, but I haven’t written one yet and it seems like a long wait expecting that to happen. Julie was reading Bookwitch, as any self-respecting author ought to, and found she couldn’t ‘get off the site’. She suspects an entrapment spell.

No comment.

Guaranteed Norwegian

Nordic Noir on BBC4 on Monday was a lesson in many things, but pronunciation was not one of them. The Resident IT Consultant (who fell asleep towards the end) fondly imagined that the Danish Mariella Frostrup would cope well with the Nordic names. Not even the Norwegian-born Mariella could do anything but sound British, though at least she did so in that sexy voice people go potty over.

The programme didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, so was one of those I sometimes moan about, which assumes the customer is new to the topic, and there is no need to take it further. Quite fun to tick the number of people who took part who I’d met. Poor souls.

The wise participants, like actor Krister Henriksson (Wallander) and author Maj Sjöwall, were interviewed in Swedish. It must be tempting to say yes to requests to do an interview in English. When you can. But it’s worth remembering you ‘can’ less than you think. Krister and Maj came across as intelligent, rounded people because there was nothing to stop them from saying exactly what they wanted to say.

Val McDermid

Val McDermid, likewise, sounded good, Scottish accent and all. She knows her stuff when it comes to Nordic crime. And OK, Jo Nesbø speaks good English. But it’s not as good as his Norwegian, I’d guess. It was he who mentioned some form of music (Norwegian metal?) and CDs in Latin America labelled as being ‘Guaranteed Norwegian’.

Karin Fossum sounded somewhat less bloodthirsty in English, so it might have been a blessing she didn’t speak Norwegian after all. After hearing Karin in Bristol I remember having a good look at her books, and coming to the conclusion I wasn’t up to reading them.

They rather skirted past Arnaldur Indridason and Iceland. Some nice scenery. Though speaking of scenery, I wonder whether much of any of it was of what they talked about. Ystad is always Ystad, of course. Even when it’s Yshtad.

That wasn’t the only disappointment. I can see that a non-native speaker may choose to put the stress on the first syllable only. Or the second syllable. You’re allowed to get it wrong (though I have said before that most people would try to get a French name correct, and you can always ask around if you are presenting for the BBC). But how come the stress-on-the-first-syllable words invariably got stressed on the second and vice versa? Wallander and Sahlander rhyme. Stress-on-second-syllable names. Mankell is a stress-on-first-syllable name.

Henning Mankell

With Wallander the programme went a little tabloid over the suicide of an actress. Sad but irrelevant. And Stieg Larsson was fat. Really? Maybe Stieg lived off junk food and smoked himself to death, but I wouldn’t call him fat.

His friend John-Henri Holmberg would have come across much better in Swedish. He was obviously in a position to say a lot about his friend, but could have said more. I dare say he’s saving it for the book about Stieg he’s writing with a few others.

In fact, this whole programme confirmed why we often think foreigners are idiots. They are not. And it’s time British television interviewed more people in their own language. In this case we had a bunch of interviewees who make a good living off their mother tongues. I’d have liked more considered facts, spoken by people who were comfortable with what they were saying.

But other than that, I enjoyed my hour on Nordic Noir. It confirmed why I don’t read more of it, though.

Knowing when to stop

I’m knackered. I’m so grateful I’m not ‘on the road’ right now. But I most likely would have been if lack of funds had not prevented me from booking a few more trips to do with books. So that’s good.

It’s very easy to decide to do something when that something is in the future. I just look at the programme and think how much I’d like to see X or hear Y, or simply that it’d be generally fun to be at the Z book festival. It’s like going shopping for food when you’re hungry.

Today is the last day of the Gothenburg Book Fair. Despite this year’s programme not being totally to my taste, I was very tempted by it. A good many of the Nordic murderers were there. Along with Alexander McCall Smith, on account of this year’s theme being Africa. Hence Henning Mankell, and Deon Meyer. Nadine Gordimer. Sophia Jansson, various famous singers (Swedish ones) and Eva Gabrielsson of Stieg Larsson fame. This year’s ALMA winner, Kitty Crowther. Etc.

Luckily Experience spoke to me. She said that after Edinburgh I’d be so relieved not to be going anywhere else. I’m glad she knew.

On that basis, and had I gone to Gothenburg, I knew I wouldn’t get to Bath this year either. I’ve spent several years not going to Bath. Bath, of course, is special in that it’s only children’s books and children’s authors. So it’s really where I ought to be. But then, half the authors in Bath I’ve already seen elsewhere.

I’ve not even looked at the Wigtown Book Festival. Well, truthfully, I have, but only just now. I had to quickly avert my eyes, and I told myself that finding somewhere to stay would be really hard. And travelling could present problems. Probably. I only knew it’s on, as everyone on facebook seems to be going.

Smile

And don’t get me started on Cheltenham. I so want to go. But at the same time I’m blessing every day I have at home, with nothing special happening at all. I wake up and (almost) smile at the thought that I can cook and clean and blog and not go anywhere.

I may even get to my two remaining interviews. Once I’ve found a little more of the house under all the assorted debris. One thing Experience forgot to mention was the effect of seven weeks away while the house still had someone living in it.

No Wallander this

Anyone used to Henning Mankell’s crime novels, or his other adult books, or for that matter his children’s books about Joel, might be surprised by The Cat Who Liked Rain. It’s for quite young readers, around seven, like its main character Lukas, I should think. It’s a very gentle tale about a boy and his beloved cat.

It’s also very Swedish, for all that it’s been translated (by Laurie Thompson whose name crops up often in these circumstances) into English. You’d need to understand why a seven-year-old doesn’t go to school yet. You also get introduced to the Swedish way of holidaying. And I was more than surprised to find a stay-at-home mum, which is very unusual, even for 1992.

The seasons confused me until I thought that perhaps I mustn’t be quite so southern about it. If this book is set in the far north of Sweden I can just about accept that you sweep leaves before school starts around August 20th, and that you might ‘catch your death of cold’ by going outside without shoes in August.

Lukas is given a kitten for his seventh birthday, and it changes his life. The quiet little boy simply falls in love with his cat, and they are never apart. At least as much as is possible with a cat. And then of course the cat does what cats often do. It disappears.

This story doesn’t end quite as you’d expect, or might fear.

Some more photos for you…

if you haven’t already had enough. In fact, here are more photos even if you have.

Ian Rankin 2

Lynne Chapman and Julia Jarman 2

Gerald Scarfe 2

Linda Strachan and friends

Judith Kerr 2

Neil Gaiman

Val McDermid 2

Debi Gliori signing 2

Henning Mankell

Michael Morpurgo

Malorie Blackman 4

Adèle Geras and Jonathan Stroud

Anne Fine

Keith Gray 2

Rachel Ward

Michael Holroyd

Steve Cole

Jacqueline Wilson

Klas Östergren

Lucy Hawking

Henning Mankell

Theresa Breslin and Adèle Geras

Nicola Morgan

Keith Charters 2

Gillian Philip 2

Marina Lewycka 2

Philip Ardagh

Patrick Ness 2

Melvin Burgess

Elizabeth Laird 2

Bali Rai 3

Louise Rennison

And that’s it. So called ‘normal’ service will resume here really soon.

‘This boy will never amount to anything’

Well, he did. Last week he received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama, accompanied by his daughter whose ‘charm is no substitute for hard work.’ I’ll get back to this father-daughter team later.

Steve Cole

I will never ever get teenagers. Ever. Given the choice between seeing Jacqueline Wilson or Steve Cole on Sunday morning, Daughter went for Steve’s talk about his Astrosaurs. She enjoyed it a lot, although she felt she was the oldest child there. Wrong thinking I said; she was the youngest adult. Steve was so noisy I heard him through the walls. The press people apparently wondered what was going on next door to their yoghurt pod.

Jacqueline Wilson

Meanwhile, the witch went to see Jacqueline, along with a vast number of girls and mums, and a sprinkling of dads. Jacqueline wore black jeans and a black and turquoise top, and the famous rings shone along with the bangles on her arms. She talked mainly about her teens, because the subject for the day was My Secret Diary which was out in the spring. And she did say that she might write a third autobiographical book about her time in Dundee, writing fake horoscopes and readers’ letters, as long as she can censor her diary notes a little. Sounds good to me.

Per Wästberg

As I raced along to the talk by the ‘lazy’ girl from paragraph one, Daughter was anything but lazy. Her task was to shoot Per Wästberg, part of the Meeting Sweden programme (How did they know I was going to be there this year?), when he emerged for his photo call. Except he didn’t, so when she saw a likely Swede she inquired, in Swedish, if he was Per. The poor man said he wasn’t, but took her all the way into the authors’ yurt ( a real no-no) and put her in front of this famous Swedish writer, who was even more confused with the idea of the Bookwitch blog, but posed anyway.

Lucy Hawking

When the witch goes back to school, she wants to have Lucy Hawking for her science teacher. I can’t think of anyone who can talk so well and so sensibly on physics and space and anything else related. Lucy kept the attention of her roomful of children, while explaining dad Stephen’s ideas, which they have turned into two books for children. George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt is new this year, and there will eventually be a third book about George. Lucy and Stephen are, of course, the people mentioned above. I think they turned out OK in the end.

We got to see how (not) to gargle in space. Asparagus will be a suitable crop on Mars, when the time comes. Comet’s go ‘very fast’. Robots don’t get homesick in space. The questions from the children were really very good, but not many people can say what went before the Big Bang or why it happened. Not even Lucy. And look out for the toothbrush in orbit round earth, if you happen to be up there. I asked Lucy if she wants to travel in space, and she does. Preferably to the moon. I was too shy to ask for the phone number for her co-writer for book one.

Henning Mankell

Lunch was gulped down fast, in order to catch Henning Mankell’s little publicised signing in the childrens’ bookshop. In fact, there was hardly a soul there, but I don’t think that was why he was pleased to see me. (Anyone would be pleased to see me, wouldn’t they?) He looked so morose that I addressed him in his own language, though his English is very good. The ‘mini interview’ went something like this:

‘Hello, we’ve met a few times in Gothenburg.’ ‘ Yes, I remember you.’ ‘Uh-oh, that sounds ominous’, said Daughter. ‘What do you mean?’ asked Henning. ‘Only that you may remember me for all the wrong reasons. I could be one of those bl***y old women you get everywhere.’ ‘I don’t think so. I’d have remembered. But there are a few of them around.’ ‘Yes, and I’m often one of them.’ He looked remarkably happy after this exchange. But you would, wouldn’t you, when ‘one of those’ leaves him in peace.

Klas Östergren

Next victim for a photo shoot was Klas Östergren, except he didn’t show, initially. Just as we were leaving for our next rendez vous he turned up in the rain, and as we departed he had someone’s lens half an inch from his nose. The man’s quite good looking, but that’s ridiculous.

The two witches had been invited to afternoon tea at the Roxburghe Hotel by the very, very kind Theresa Breslin, so the road was crossed, and the comfortable lounge was found. Daughter has clearly been deprived, and was very excited by the posh surroundings. Thank you Theresa, it was wonderful. The perfect respite to a busy day. And I’m not averse to similar offers, if anyone is feeling generous. Not all at once, though.

Adèle Geras

Back across the road to see Adèle Geras, and photograph her. We enticed her round the back, where all the big names get shot. As she left again, Theresa turned up, so we all trotted back to the ‘studio’, whereupon the paparazzi fell out of their little pod and descended on Theresa big time.

Theresa Breslin

Resting in the yurt, Klas Östergren appeared, looking for a place to be interviewed, so we offered our seats. He was also quite grateful to be encountering Swedes in a Mongolian tent in the middle of Edinburgh. He’s been brought up properly, so we shook hands.

Bali Rai

In case nobody has noticed, my social calendar for Day 5 was quite full, really. We met up with Clare from Random (a really Randomy weekend), and apart from the fact I thought she’d have blond hair, it was as good to meet her as I’d thought. Clare brought out Bali Rai for a short chat. And more photos round the back. Predictably the paparazzi emerged again, just needing reassurance that Bali was indeed a real writer and a little famous. Even my copy of his book, City of Ghosts, was photographed. Don’t think Bali knew what hit him.

Adèle Geras

Jonathan Stroud

We breathed for a few minutes before trotting off to the talk by Adèle Geras and Jonathan Stroud. Really liked the way the two of them had planned it, with short introductions, followed by a reading, and ending with them asking each other questions, before letting the audience loose. Good way of doing it.

Our final port of call for the day was back in the same tent again, for the much awaited discussion with Rachel Ward, Melvin Burgess and Anne Fine. Daughter said she didn’t want to miss the Anne-Melvin encounter for anything. I wanted to see if they’d both survive it, and I think Melvin had wondered the same thing. There were one or two references made to the blasting Anne did of Melvin’s Doing It some years ago.

Melvin Burgess, Rachel Ward and Anne Fine

They were all alive and well when we left for the day. And the discussion was good.

(Photos by H Giles)

‘Do you know Donna?’

I do. Sort of. I was going to meet Donna Moore, author of Go To Helena Handbasket, and the best blogger in Glasgow, on Day 4, but she was attacked by migraine, so didn’t make it. I don’t mean she’s dead; just that Edinburgh was too much for her. But I didn’t quite expect to have one of Donna’s fans come up to me, knowing who I am, too. Bloggers are the next super stars, I suppose. Tim – the fan – found me in the children’s bookshop in Charlotte Square, and we had a long chat. I sort of knew who he is, seeing as he’s featured in yet another blog. Small world.

It was hard work getting out of bed on Saturday. Early start. I woke at 4.20, and just couldn’t work out if I had 30 minutes or 90 until the alarm was meant to go off at 5.50. (I don’t need answers on a post card; I know now.) First out was Debi Gliori, with her un-green dragons, whose life style threatens the survival of the planet. Recycling for the youngest readers. (Fittingly my copy of  The Trouble With Dragons had arrived in my recycling bin, when the postman failed to find me in.)

Debi had some very good photos and ideas to bring environmental awareness to the young. It’s not much fun if Father Christmas has to wade in water up to his knees because the snow melted, is it? Debi drew and read and generally educated and entertained her audience.

I’m amazed that so many people turn up so early. Andy Stanton and his Mr Gum had a tremendously long queue first thing, even though adults like Tim had no idea whatsoever of who that funny looking man might be. Adults! They don’t know much.

Malorie Blackman

That was proved when we discovered Malorie Blackman being photographed outside the yurt, just as we gobbled down our lunch sandwiches inside. No official photo session for her (after all, she is ‘just’ a children’s author), but we dashed out and begged to take a few more photos. Very pleased to find that Malorie’s minder was Random’s wonderful Kelly, who was more than helpful when she realised she was up against the witch. I was eager to undo the damage to Malorie’s image I caused with my poor photo skills back in November. The other photographers fell out of their own little yurt in order to find out what they were missing. Hah. It’s high time the paparazzi learn to recognise authors, too. Read books, boys!

Henning Mankell

Anyway, we left Debi’s talk a little early (sorry) to catch Henning Mankell who had agreed to face the cameras. I was surprised to find he didn’t bolt, but he’s a big fish these days, so maybe has to give in occasionally. We ran back to see Debi sign books, only for me to remember that her signings are the slowest in town, and she hadn’t got very far, what with all the friendly ‘doodling’ she does. (Debi –  just joking, you know. You draw, you don’t doodle.)

Debi Gliori, about to 'doodle'

This being before the previously mentioned sandwiches we were feeling a little peckish. But that’s nothing compared with the family who decided to have a picnic right on the floor in front of the unoccupied signing table in the bookshop. They all settled down and opened their bags and tucked in.

Another eye opener was the fantastic tantrum over the book Olivia by Ian Falconer. He must have just left, but his fans were still milling about in the shop. One pretty little girl was very set to have the book. Mum said no. There followed the kind of tantrum you see over the sweets in Tesco. Mum grabbed her child and threw the book on the table above the picnic and left. We stared at each other. Within minutes I caught sight of the girl again, back in the shop with another copy of Olivia in her arms. Mum explodes back as well and throws this book on top of the first, and drags her very unhappy child out. I hope there was a good reason, as you’d kind of expect people going to book festival events and visiting bookshops to be pro-book.

Oliver Jeffers

Apologies to the bookshop, because it must have seemed as if the witches had put down camp in the shop for the day. Emily from Bloomsbury was kept busy, too, with Sarah Dyer signing next to Debi, once the ruckus and the picnicking was over. When Tim found us, we were overseeing Malorie’s signing, and had managed to snatch a quick word with Oliver Jeffers, as well.

One signing we failed spectacularly with, was Michael Morpurgo’s. He had an interminable queue, but in the end we left it too long. We did, however, get a good photo session with him and his new friend Sarah. She’s the eight-year-old who won a competition to spend a day with Michael Morpurgo. Sarah got to introduce Michael at the start of his event, which she did very professionally. On the whole, I have to say that Morpurgo fans are very clever and capable.

Michael Morpurgo and Sarah

Sarah likes Michael’s adjectives, and it seems he quite likes hers, too. He spoke about the three new books that are published this autumn, but I have to protest a little here, because one of them sounded very familiar to me. It must be based on the short story he wrote for the Amnesty International anthology Free. He is also improving on the traditional Nativity for Christmas, because it seems a shepherd will never leave his sheep. As a farmer, he knows this. And there is a tsunami inspired novel out soon. Michael made the children in the audience hold their breaths, and he also has opinions about the number of books J K Rowling has written. So, a pretty mixed sort of talk.

Malorie Blackman signing

Daughter, meanwhile, listened to Malorie over in another tent, and by all accounts it was full and it was good. Malorie read to her audience, and she showed them how happy she was when her first book was accepted. And she is writing something now, but won’t say what.

By now you are all begging me to stop, and that’s what we did, too. With a heavy-ish heart I decided we didn’t have the strength to stay on to see Alexander McCall Smith in the evening. Maybe another time!

(All photos H Giles)