The Goldsmith and the Master Thief

Pushkin Children’s Books know when they are on to a good thing. So does the Resident IT Consultant who has, yet again, got his mitts on the most recent of the new translations of Tonke Dragt’s books. And I have to say, they always look very appealing:

“The Goldsmith and the Master Thief, by Tonke Dragt, is another translation of a Dutch children’s classic from Pushkin. Originally published in 1961, De Goudsmid en de meesterdief is essentially a series of fairy tales set in a medieval world which, in my mind, seemed to owe something to Bruegel’s paintings.

Tonke Dragt, The Goldsmith and the Master Thief

Laurenzo and Jiacomo are identical twins, and many of the stories depend on the fact that no one can tell them apart. As we read, we see their characters develop through a series of exciting adventures. Magic pays no role in these, though it often appears as if it might. Nevertheless, the tales, twelve in total, have something of the character of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. At other points they could almost be the plot of one of Shakespeare’s comedies.

The translator, Laura Watkinson, is the same as for Tonke Dragt’s other books published by Pushkin. As with these, her clear, straightforward language probably makes a significant contribution to the readability of the book.”

I am obviously still in Hans Christian Andersen land, and it really does seem as if this would also make an excellent Christmas present for someone. You will know who.

That’s Noble, that is

‘Who on Earth is the Princess Sofia?’ I asked myself a week or two ago. Odd, as the Resident IT Consultant and I, prompted by a viewing of The Crown, had just a day or two earlier discussed how big the Swedish royal family is. And by that we meant how many of them actively go out cutting ribbons and the like. I guessed an answer, but exile doesn’t help with names of new royals.

I follow Kungahuset on Facebook – yes, really – so should be better at names. Anyway, I read that Prinsessan Sofia had opened a primary school. Or was it a secondary school? It was one she has attended as a child, now rebuilt or enlarged or improved. She’s the ‘ordinary’ girl who married Prins Carl Philip, son of the King. A few days later I learned it was her 35th birthday.

And then, after a few mutterings from Daughter on Tuesday night, I cyber stalked a bit more and discovered Sofia was the one who was escorted into the Nobel dinner that evening by none other than Didier Queloz, who you all know shared the Nobel Prize in Physics. Hence the mutterings all the way from Berlin.

Prins Carl Philip med Esther Duflo, Nobelpristagare i ekonomi, Prinsessan Madeleine med William G. Kaelin Jr, Nobelpristagare i fysiologi eller medicin och Prinsessan Sofia med Didier Queloz, Nobelpristagare i fysik. Foto: Pelle T Nilsson/SPA

His former PhD supervisor Michel Mayor was also in Stockholm, at the same dinner, since they shared the prize. He, in turn, got to share Crown Princess Victoria at dinner with the third, but first, Nobel laureate in physics, James Peebles.

Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz are Daughter’s former colleagues from Geneva, and they have – more or less – done research on the same kind of thing. The other two have a head start on her, so we’ll have to wait.

But what I really wanted to know was whether my Cousin GP was there, pouring the wine.

Marie Fredriksson always said hello

Marie Fredriksson has died. I know that has very little to do with books, but it affects me. Part of her past happened in the place where I lived with Mother-of-witch. I had long moved away when Roxette burst onto the music scene, so I came late to that wonderful voice of hers.

The odd thing was that last week when countless Roxette tracks made their way into my iTunes shuffle I stopped and thought again what a great voice she had.

When Offspring were small we spent part of what was still term time in England going to the playgroup near my old home, because we had weeks and weeks and needed something to do. “The other mothers had cause to gossip about rich foreigners with houses nearby, and people too grand to behave like normal people. ‘But at least Marie Fredriksson always says hello’, was the verdict. She lived near at the time, in the house Mother-of-witch desperately fancied living in. Perhaps if she’d been a rockstar?”*

So, basically, Marie behaved as though she was a normal person.

I recall when she was diagnosed with the brain tumour. I had just arrived in Sweden to sit with Favourite Aunt as she lay dying, and saw the tabloid headlines on my way past the newsagent’s. It’s a memory that has stayed with me, and I was so grateful when it seemed Marie had beaten her illness. After all, with two small children, that’s what you’d hope for.

Ten years later she was well enough to tour, and did a concert at the Manchester Arena with Per Gessle. Offspring and I went, and Marie was definitely the star. Better voice than Per and much prettier. Nice memory, and we were lucky to catch them.

There is a book, actually; Kärleken till livet, by Helena von Zweigbergk. After the brain tumour Marie could no longer read and write, but she still had a story to tell.

Marie Fredriksson

*From CultureWitch August 2010

The Ruth Rendell Award

I first met Tom Palmer eight years ago, at Media City in Salford, where he arranged games of rugby in his book event for the Manchester Literature Festival. I have to admit I only went because it was one of fairly few children’s books events on offer. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if I didn’t join in with the ball playing. (It was on the fifth floor..!)

Tom Palmer

A year later he was back, and so was I. This time it was football in Manchester Town Hall.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Tom writes sporty books featuring both team sports and running. Things he likes. Things that many boys like, and because of that they read his books. This is the man who didn’t read as a boy, unless maybe it had to do with sport. Tom knows what it is not to read.

Many of us well meaning book experts don’t actually understand enough about this. Which is why I’m so terribly pleased, and not in the least surprised, that Tom has been awarded the Ruth Rendell Award for his outstanding contribution to raising literacy levels in the UK. I didn’t know there was such an award, and it couldn’t have been given to anyone more deserving.

I haven’t read quite all Tom’s books, but I have read more than my share of these energetic tales, and they are all extremely good. I intend to keep reading them, and to keep telling others to do the same.

Last week when the Resident IT Consultant and I discussed abridged and adapted classics for children, and I listed examples of books that the little Bookwitch had enjoyed, he said ‘but they all sound like books for girls.’ And he was right. I pointed out that what we need for boys are books like Tom’s.

The next day I learned of his award. Very well deserved!

Letters from Tove

I’d like to think that even people who don’t know anything about Tove Jansson would enjoy reading her letters. As the publicist for the English translation of Letters from Tove said, one can enjoy dipping in, reading a bit here and a bit there. You sort of eavesdrop on Tove’s life, which looks to have been both long and full of events.

Tove Jansson, Letters from Tove

The translation by Sarah Death is so spot on, that if I didn’t know whose letters I was reading, I could easily believe they were from a young, arty English girl. At least, were it not for the people Tove writes about, and the recipients of the letters.

For the most part I don’t know who they are. Some are obvious, others might be names I vaguely have heard of, being Swedish. But many correspondents are just that, someone Tove knew and exchanged letters with. The Resident IT Consultant felt he didn’t know enough, but I suspect that’s because he believed that a Swedish speaker would automatically know all about Tove’s people.

Well, we don’t, and the book is more exciting for it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that someone Tove’s age would have spent time in prewar Paris, mixing with other arty people. But somehow I’d not thought about this. And I know the grass is often greener, but I am always struck by how interesting life in the past seems.

And then there is the more normal life at home, which is surprisingly normal, even for non-arty me, so much younger than Tove. It’s as if there is something timeless and Nordic about certain aspects of how we live.

I think this will be interesting to read, whether or not you are a Moomin fan. And perfect to keep near you for dipping into. There are many years of numerous and long letters to discover.

(Starting today as Book of the week on BBC Radio 4.)

Launching When We Get To the Island

When he discovered he was wanted to drive me to Alex Nye’s book launch last night, the Resident IT Consultant spent the afternoon reading her book, When We Get To the Island. And as he said, it’s very Thirty-Nine Steps and a bit James Bond and quite exciting.

Alex Nye

It was a successful evening. The librarians kept carrying in more chairs, and then some more, and offering tea because it was such a wet and stormy night, as well as the wine and crisps. They have a nice library in Dunblane. And enough chairs, eventually…

Kirkland Ciccone and Clare Cain

Alex started by telling us a bit about the background to the book, the refugees being smuggled into the country, and the state of being a ‘looked after’ child in foster care. She read an excerpt from the last bit of the train journey, only partially insulting the Duke of Sutherland. (Not much at all, really.)

Talking about the petrochemical industry near ‘Grangefield’ her dog worriedly joined in. I had thought the ‘carrot topping’ business in the story somewhat farfetched, but it seems Alex has experience of this herself, including the dangers of trying to cut semi-frozen carrots with a sharp knife.

Alex Nye

She had had some difficulty seeing a happy ending to a book about trafficking and fostering, which both the Resident IT Consultant and the Nye dog loudly agreed with. Here Alex’s publisher Clare pointed out that it’s an exciting adventure book, and the dog on my right reckoned she was right. (She is.)

Nye dog

Before we were allowed to mingle again Alex read another short piece about her characters in a flooded tunnel and then she stopped right there, leaving a library full of people on a cliffhanger! They’d need to buy the book after that.

Clare Cain was selling books in a corner, but rejected the dollar bills offered by Alex’s sister who was visiting. It’s hard to remember what money goes where…

Clare Cain

And then we gossiped a bit with Kirkland Ciccone before braving the storm to go home again.

Vikings in Wexford

I’m a bit late to this, but found Eoin Colfer’s column for the Guardian on where he’s from (Wexford) such fun that I just have to force the link on you.

And I didn’t know about this, despite two interviews and countless encounters and conversations. Just goes to show you need to know to ask the right questions.

Also just goes to show how almost anything can set the imagination rolling, be it the Viking [Bookwitch] village underneath Wexford, or Philip Ardagh’s beard (for which there is no explanation and I will assume Eoin was merely being polite…).

Suffice to say, Eoin’s Dad sounds like a great father, and I’m very pleased to discover that there is in fact a requirement for all Irish writers to write a fairy book. It’s only right.

I also understand the issues between the Lower Elements and the humans far far better now. Bring on The Fowl Twins!