Tag Archives: Tove Jansson

The Red Tree

Shaun Tan, The Red Tree

It has a rather Finnish, Tove Jansson kind of feel to it. The Red Tree by Shaun Tan is a book I’d not read before, and I was struck by how Finnish it seemed. Not surprising, but still.

Shaun Tan, The Red Tree

I can’t make my mind up whether it is sad or not. It deals with feeling sad. Days that start bad and get worse. Shaun’s pictures show pretty vividly how bad you can feel; lonely and dark, and unsure of who you are, even.

Reading this book and discovering you are not alone in feeling alone, ought to be a good thing. Finding you can share your thoughts and feelings with someone who has been there.

Shaun Tan, The Red Tree

And then there is the ending…

A very beautiful book.

Translated

It should have been like Desert Island Discs, where you are encouraged to think beyond the world of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare. The authors should have been told that ‘no, you can’t have the Moomins; people always pick it. Think of another translated book!’ (Apologies to Gill Lewis who was allowed to choose the Authors’ Author.)

After all, the rest of the world must be able to offer one or two children’s books not originally published in English (which is a great language, but not the only one). There’s the Moomins. Still leaves at least one other book.

In The Guardian’s list of favourite – translated – children’s books nine authors have picked theirs. It’s everything from Tove Jansson and Astrid Lindgren to Janne Teller and Kim Fupz Aakeson and Niels Bo Bojesen. It is a varied list. But I suppose I’d hoped for something different. As I said, ban Astrid and Tove, and probably Erich Kästner, too, and what do you get?

The Resident IT Consultant muttered about classics, but it’s hard enough to get children to read English language classics. I’d like to see more recent fiction translated. You know, the kind of books German and Italian and Finnish children have enjoyed in the last five or ten years. (And I don’t mean Harry Potter!)

I don’t know what they are. That’s why I rely on publishers, whose job it is to bring out books. But I do know that the few modern French books I’ve read, have all been better than average. I’m suspecting there could be more where they came from.

Even setting aside very country specific fiction, there must be a few books that would appeal to British and American children? I’m not counting the Australians or readers in New Zealand, because those countries seem more open to books from ‘other’ places.

Mårten Sandén, whose book I reviewed on Monday, has written lots of books. He’s not the only Swede to have done so. Take a group of successful children’s writers from maybe ten countries, and you should have a lot of choice. Nordic crime is popular with older readers, so why not for children?

There are one or two ‘crime novels’ from my own childhood which still stand out in my memory. I have no idea how well they’d do today. It could be that the grass seemed greener then. In which case there must be some fresh grass to replace my hazy memories.

Gunnel Linde, Osynliga Klubben och Kungliga Spöket

And if you think children don’t want to read about strange children in strange places, there were millions of us who consumed Nesbit and Blyton despite their foreign-ness, and don’t even get me started on Harry Potter…

There’s Nuffin like a Puffin

‘It’s a shame it wasn’t in a better place,’ the Resident IT Consultant remarked as we left Lyme Park after seeing the Puffin exhibition there. And he doesn’t complain at the drop of a hat. (That’s my job.)

Don’t misunderstand me; Lyme Park is a wonderful place and Lyme Hall is a great house, and the There’s Nuffin like a Puffin exhibition put together by the fantastic Seven Stories was interesting. But it would have helped tremendously to be able to see all of it.

A dark corridor leading to the toilets and the restaurant is not the place in which to see.

I’d been sorry to miss the original exhibition in Newcastle and I was excited when it came to my neck of woods (even though it took me forever to find a free weekend to go and have a look) so that I could take it in after all.

They had long (wide) photos of Puffin book spines. Close to knee height for me, so I didn’t see so much of those. They had letters from Puffin’s past, shedding some light (hah!) on how the literary business was handled in those golden days. Except, letters behind glass, high up on a wall in the dark…

Sometimes exhibitions exhibit old things which would die very quickly if subjected to daylight. But most of what we saw were facsimiles of letters and illustrations. They would have survived some lamplight.

One bonus of Lyme Hall as a venue was that we were allowed into rooms I’ve never seen before. One rather nice one where children could paint and have stories read to them. There were boxes of older books, too, but I suspect it’s less likely that parents bring that age group to this type of thing. A piano to bang – sorry, play – on was a nice touch.

The room for fans of Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl was empty, apart from the bemused room steward who tried to tell us why we were in the wrong place (for our age group). The room for the Borrowers, on the other hand, was just perfect. Daylight and stuff to see and touch. Stig’s room of rubbish, likewise.

There's Nuffin like a Puffin - Borrowers' room

We came to the conclusion we were too old for the Puffin trail through the gardens, so finished off in the Orangery where we found a by now not so hungry caterpillar. He was resting on the echeveria, looking quite content. Bet they will soon realise it’s a mistake to put a caterpillar in an Orangery. They eat stuff.

In a hitherto unknown room behind the scenes, we could have coloured in butterflies, and they had Puffin bookmarks to design. Very nice. I took one home to do. Two, actually.

We were glad we went as adults. It would have been hard to hit just the right age with a child or two in tow. It’s easy to think that children’s books are just right for ‘children.’ Any age.

Who wants to read letters to and from Kaye Webb? Not your average six-year-old. I wanted to, but couldn’t. I was glad to find that even back then authors were lovely people who would draw and paint for someone they liked and cared for. There was a wonderful letter from Jill Murphy to Kaye Webb, and a card from Tove Jansson, featuring a Little My doodle.

So, as the Resident IT Consultant so rightly said, somewhere else, where we could have looked at all of it, with enough lighting and enough space to allow necks to remain un-cricked and knees not being required to bend to toddler level, it would have been most enjoyable.

The Moomins and the Great Flood

Moominmamma is definitely me. In this new version of Tove Jansson’s first Moomin story, The Moomins and the Great Flood, both Moomintroll and Moominmamma are slimmer than ever before. It’s almost to such an extent they don’t yet look as lovable and friendly as they do in later incarnations.

But whereas the illustrations still have some developing to do, as people they are definitely themselves. I mean, as Moomins, they already are what they have always been. The book was first published in 1945, and here it is in a fresh new English translation by David McDuff.

The images of these slimmer Moomins are in black and white or in sepia, and are a far cry from the plump and colourful television cartoon creatures. But they are still the same on the inside. And it’s fascinating meeting Moomintroll and his mother and Sniff at such an early stage, before they have even found their lovely tall house, and before they know all the people they are friendly with in the later books.

Tove Jansson, The Moomins and the Great Flood

I suspect the book will appeal more to adult fans than to children. Some of the illustrations are a little scary, and a young reader could feel as intimidated at times as Moomintroll does. In fact, Moominmamma feels scared too, except she needs to put a brave and calm face on for Moomin and Sniff. And, when you look braver than you feel, you might find that you become a little braver after a while.

Moominpappa has disappeared and Moomintroll and Moominmamma have gone to look for him. There has been a great flood and lots of creatures have been displaced and are (feeling) lost.

This is the most wonderful Moomin-journey tale, and even someone as jaded as I am, found it both charming and strangely soothing. I am more than a little scared of the Great Serpent, and almost wish it hadn’t been given such a prominent position. But you can always turn the pages faster.

Preface by Tove herself, from 1991.

Philip Pullman x 2

He doesn’t do many events these days, but not even Philip Pullman can say no to Carol Ann Duffy. That’s why we could all pile into the large lecture theatre at MMU to hear him talk about, well, stuff. And a little Dust, although we were left fairly much in the dark about it. Literally too, until someone finally switched on all the lights, and stopped switching them off again. (James!)

Sherry Ashworth and Philip Pullman

Sherry Ashworth acted the fan-struck moderator who wanted to know what most of us wanted to know. It’s reassuring that even Philip first read and loved Noddy, almost like a normal small person. He loved Arthur Ransome’s books, but not the awful illustrations, and he read Moomin, whose creator Tove Jansson was a real artist. The sex in the Alexandria Quartet made him want to grow up to be just like the characters in the books.

Philip enjoys being a ‘totalitarian’ when he writes. ‘I kill people, I bring them back to life, and I like it.’ Whereas when people read, they can read as they like, with no one seeing into their heads. Writing books, and persuading readers they want to read them, should be like sitting in the market, telling a story. People can stop and listen if they want, and they can pay a little, if they think it’s good.

Philip Pullman

There is a Lyra in every school class, and it’s love that Lyra does best. What Philip does, or so he says, is write three pages of Dust every day. He maintains there will be a book, eventually.

But one of the things that kept him from Dust was the archbishop’s challenge to write about Jesus, so that’s what he did. Philip said he thinks about God all the time. He also had to write the two short books set in Lyra’s world. (So that sort of explains the last six years, then?)

While Philip took a break, Sherry collected questions from the audience. It was a surprisingly young audience for an author who appeals as much to adults.

Pullman fan with books

He reckons his parents were mainly surprised that their dreamy son got a book published, but he is sad they didn’t live to see his real success. His advice to get published is to write a good book, and not to plan too much. He planned his second novel so carefully he got bored and had to write something else instead.

The armoured bears came as a surprise when he was writing Northern Lights, and he feels that if you’re writing things at school, you should write first and plan after. That way the two will agree and you will get much better marks. Philip doesn’t believe in writer’s block, and says you have to sit at your desk, because that’s where the ideas will come, and if you’re not there you will miss them.

His reasons for writing are to earn money, and because it’s therapeutic. It becomes a habit, it’s fun when all goes well and he likes getting language right. (Who or whom?) Page 70 is always the hard one, and he once gave up reading a book after two words. (That was the Booker winner.) Don’t start with a pronoun, or you’ll drive Mr Pullman crazy, and steer clear of the present tense. He loves The Magic Pudding and has re-read it many times.

When asked how he feels the Golden Compass film could be improved on, he suggested it would have been a good idea to put in the scenes actually filmed but not used. He’d also have preferred the real ending, instead of a resolution coupled with a cliffhanger. By now Dakota is too old and Daniel Craig too expensive.

Philip Pullman

Thursday evening finished with a signing in the next room, and it was good to see the stampede as the audience tried to get there first.

We didn’t need to, because we had our own appointment with Philip on Friday morning. We ran a little late in the downpour, with our train deciding to sit just outside the station for ten minutes. But Philip had checked out, and sat in the Midland’s lounge when we arrived, so all was well.

Philip Pullman

Greetings from shared friends were exchanged, and we reminisced about our last interview in Gothenburg seven years ago (and still no Book of Dust!). We did talk Dust a little, but you’ll have to wait to read what Philip said. There is another book that has sneaked in, and we talked about the various campaigns he’s involved in, and many other things. The advantage of doing it this way round is that we could concentrate on what wasn’t mentioned the night before.

Philip worried a bit about the possible cost of the tap water we had ordered, but I suggested he make a run for it, so he left to catch his train south through the floods. We stayed on, nursing our iced water for a while, reluctant to go back out into all that other water.

A masterclass with Shaun Tan

Those pillows were definitely not necessary. Or perhaps the couple in Shaun Tan’s audience last night had been shopping?

The word masterclass makes me suspect that whatever is coming will be boring. But I didn’t for a moment think Shaun would be, and he wasn’t. In fact, I almost wish more events were done in this way. It’s not for everyone, but for those who can.

Charlotte Square’s Corner Theatre was almost full to bursting. I was glad to see Mal Peet there, making up for missing the other Aussie earlier on. Nikki Gamble was there, but Andersen’s Clare was stuck on the train home and was devastated to miss Shaun.

I occasionally worry that I shouldn’t use words like weird in connection with this marvellous – but weird – artist and author, but he used it himself. So that’s all right, then. Shaun had a presentation on his Mac, which he described as ‘very weird stuff, somewhat autobiographical’. As Janet Smyth who introduced him said, it’s been a good year for Shaun. He won an Oscar for The Lost Thing, and then there was that pile of money from Sweden, which now that I think of it, isn’t nearly large enough for Shaun’s talents.

He usually imagines himself talking to his brother, who has a ‘radar for pretentiousness’, and this decides how Shaun describes things. His mother is responsible for the phrase ‘it’s a cultural thing’ which I have recently adopted, because it is so useful. And it’s his architect father who inspired his style of drawing.

Shaun often kicks off with Eric, the tale about the foreign exchange student. It seems they once had an ‘Eric’ themselves, and he was Finnish. That’s why he didn’t talk much. The emotion is under the surface, but it is there.

I was struck by the Tove Jansson quality of the picture that stayed as Shaun’s backdrop for most of the talk. More Finnish-ness. Shaun has travelled from dinosaurs at age three via sci-fi and Star Wars at school to books like The Arrival which took five years to make.

Let’s hope that the Astrid Lindgren award money doesn’t go towards a dishwasher. Shaun does his thinking over the washing up, and where would we be if that stopped? Also, he doesn’t like work, so tries to prune as much as he can off potential work before he even begins.

That’s my kind of person!

And so is his art. Except as he said, he leaves enough space in his work for the readers to put themselves there. So maybe it’s just that he has left what I need to make those beautiful books mine.

Little My and the H₂O

I always worry when I visit School Friend and need to wash my hands. (And I don’t mean her place calls for extra hand-washing, just that one does have to wash one’s hands occasionally.) Her guest hand towel features Little My, and anyone quite so angry looking is a wee bit scary. You know.

Lilla My

But on Sunday I decided it’s not my hands that make her angry, even as I wipe them on her face. It rained. When it stopped raining we wanted to go out and sit on the deck. I was fine, because I have never done the Swedish taking shoes off indoors (and apparently even for stepping out on the deck…) thing, so didn’t mind the H₂O spread out all over. School Friend, however, objected to wet tootsies, so wiped the floor with – you guessed it! – Little My.

That will be why she’s perpetually upset.

Last time chez School Friend I was a little shocked by the new table decoration. It looked anything but child friendly. Or even people friendly. That sword (something LOTR-ish, I gather) is sharp. And on the dinner table. With flowers, but still.

The Sword, and some flowers

Now Pizzabella, the owner of the sword, has her own little flat which we went to inspect the other day. The sword went with her. But, oh dear, it sits on top of a (Billy) bookcase, and I can just visualise how it falls down…

Permanent Rose

Permanent Rose

The room where I sleep where the New Librarian used to reside is now an art studio for School Friend. I sometimes use her desk for my blogging, and was ridiculously pleased to find an old friend on there; Permanent Rose, Hilary McKay’s darling girl.

There are so many uses for Philadelphia Cream Cheese, aren’t there?

The Resident IT Consultant was puzzled to find an ‘unknown’ Mary Hoffman in our hosts’ bookcase and wanted to know which one it was. I told him it’s Falconer’s Knot in Swedish, and if he looked closely he’d find that it had been signed by the author. Just as with the copy of Troy by Adèle Geras, nestling dangerously close (i.e. below) to the aforementioned sword.

Scaring me, scaring you

My heart has resided in my throat for a little while now. It’s an uncomfortable place to keep it, but it’s Halloween. Or very nearly. I thought I’d go in for some horror and other scary stuff for a few days, but quite frankly had not anticipated being scared by Tove Jansson.

Detail of front cover 'The Dangerous Journey' by Tove Jansson

The very last Moomin illustrations by Tove herself are about to be published in English as The Dangerous Journey. The story is in verse, which was first translated and then handed over to Sophie Hannah for some poetic English. And while I don’t know the original (though I did check online and found the odd quote, which looks just right) I feel the result is terrific.

It’s the illustrations that make this book so marvellous. Though it’d be better to call them paintings, as they really are Art with a capital A. They are sort of scary, but so beautiful that you can just sit there and look at them. And look at them.

Detail of back cover 'The Dangerous Journey' by Tove Jansson

The story is another matter, however. One Swedish reviewer pointed out that bedtime was not a good time. It’s about Susanna and her cat, and the little girl unwisely wishes things would be different. And the next thing she knows, they are. Scarily different.

So she wanders off through this new landscape, seeing weird and frightening things, and meeting many of the characters from the Moomin stories, and together they walk on, still seeing a changed world.

Until they suddenly find themselves in Moomin’s garden with all the regular – and friendly – people waiting for them. It’s like being in a book, she thinks.

Well, maybe she was.

My heart is still up there banging away. But I do remember being read scary young children’s stories when I was small, so it could be that it’s just because I’m old that I feel like this.

She was no Moominmamma

Instead it was Tove Jansson’s own mother who inspired the creation of Moominmamma. (And yes, that’s an awful lot of m’s all at once.)

Here is the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s first Bookwitch interview. Tove’s niece Sophia talks about her famous aunt and those ‘ugly’ creatures, the Moomin family, as well as the new books.

I really, really wish you could hear this interview in the original. Well, half of it, anyway. The witch sounds absolutely awful, but Sophia’s Finnish-Swedish accent is so beautiful. It’s like listening to Little My, except she’s not angry, or even a little sharp.

Sophia Jansson

Sophia’s English is extremely good, but it still felt natural for us to speak Swedish. Any peculiarities in the translation are entirely my fault. And as tends to be the case these days, not even native speakers can manage without the odd English word.

(And as Tove Jansson seems to get out and about all the time, here is a link to Normblog from the last few days.)

Not totally translated yet

But almost. However, sleep beckoned before the Sophia Jansson interview had been fully translated. And those best laid plans of witches went slightly awry. The idea was: have a day off and get all the pending work done.

Hah!

There just might be two or three readers who will feel they can do the original Swedish interview justice. So pop across and do your best. I suppose you can always look at the pictures. Sophia looked lovely in lime green.

Sophia Jansson

So what do you people expect to get up to in an outhouse? According to Sophia the beginnings of Moomin may have taken place in one. Always one to call a spade a spade (which might be stored in the outhouse) I’d rather call the possible birthplace of Moomin a privy.

Where you… Well, you know. And while you’re at it you can just start a new literary success.

And if that’s not how Moomin began (authors do lie a lot, don’t they?), then it was that uncle of Tove’s, in Stockholm, who had Moomins in his kitchen. Something about cold breaths.

Fairly sure someone had come across Hattifatteners in a privy, too. So, lots going on in those places.

Actually, better not to think about it. Now that I think about it.