Monthly Archives: July 2010

On the beach

Swedes are mad. Culture mad. At the tiniest sign of a culture offering they break shelter and flock to whatever.


We may be marooned in a small (=quiet and sometimes ‘boring’) holiday resort (though one of the best in the country, I hasten to add, lest you think I’m a nobody), but things do happen. Just look at Harplinge library’s book sale on Monday! Saw the ad in the paper for their table top sale. ‘Harplinge has a library?’ said the Resident IT Consultant.

Library sale

Regardless of the small disadvantage of not knowing where it was, he managed very nicely in taking us to the previously unheard of library. The books were all in Swedish, so I purchased a Maj Sjöwall, and left the rest. But I have to say that when they are ready to part with their old armchairs, I’m wanting first refusal. Daughter couldn’t recall having been there before, and we worked out she may have been 18 months old at the time. On that basis I’m willing to forgive her.

Over the last months I have have come across the name Björn Ranelid several times. Swedish author of ‘normal’ books, i.e. not children’s or crime. With hindsight I know this was a witchy premonition. He was speaking at a Halmstad library event on Monday night. We didn’t go.

Mobile library

The ad mentioned we could catch Björn at Båtabacken the next morning, and this being in Haverdal, we did. Daughter grumbled at being got out of bed (and here you have to consider I’d just had a nightmare featuring Björn), and she said how she hates being the only one at events.

Ranelid's Jag

It was hot. Very hot. The mobile library was in place. So was Björn’s Jag. And there was a stream of people streaming towards the beach area. We streamed along, and Daughter snapped. There were at least 150 people there, frying in the sunshine, and listening. More if you count the dogs.


According to his website Björn has several talks that he is word perfect on.

Björn Ranelid

We left to go swimming.


Björn Ranelid

An hour later, and very slightly cooled off we returned to see if there was action still, and caught the tail end of the signing queue. How Björn and his fans didn’t all faint I don’t know.

We made another hurried escape.

But at least we weren’t the only ones there.


(Photos by Helen Giles)

Nice and neurotic, and a nut

A nice Artemis Fowl is not a pretty sight. But it’s what you get in Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex. After so many books it goes without saying that Eoin Colfer has to try the new and the shocking, and ‘ruin’ Artemis for us.

Not really ruin, though. There is method behind the madness, and there is the charming and poetic Orion to, ahem, make up for Artemis’s  shortcomings. Most seem to have something to do with bivouacs. Always a reliable thing, bivouacs.

I thought I detected a stain in my copy, so asked the obvious question of the Resident IT Consultant. Had he already read it? No, he didn’t see the need to read yet another one. That man is so wrong, you know. And I’m fairly sure he will read, and very soon. And most likely leave some remnant of tea or orange juice behind.

Nice Artemis. Yes. It’s not nice. But the boy is ill. Atlantis Complex sounds worse than chicken pox. And four is unlucky in China, as we well know. Build a bivouac.

It’s all very well having Artemis lose his grip, but I was seriously concerned for Butler for a moment, and that is serious. Mulch Diggums, on the other hand, is so reliably gallant and cowboyish as to be almost abnormal. Thankfully the toilet humour is still there.

Foaly has a few blind spots this time. About time, I say, that the centaur gets to see what it’s like ‘in the field’.

Thank goodness for Holly Short, though. Holly is the real heroine. And you know, I do believe Artemis quite likes her. It’s just that being Artemis he can’t admit to it.

And Mrs Fowl is turning into a promising character. I’d say Artemis didn’t get all his cunning from daddy Fowl. Also, should Eoin have a need to branch out, there is scope to do things with Myles and Beckett. Not to mention Orion. Perhaps they could build a bivouac?

At the receiving end

For that last maths lesson Daughter wanted to make cookies. If you ask me, they eat far too much in their maths lessons at her college. She’d found this new Swedish recipe which she was going to try. And never mind that it required 500 grammes of chocolate (!). I tried to concentrate on the fact that she was practising her language skills.

She had popped into Sainsbury’s on her way past and bought all that chocolate, and as I tidied the carrier bag away I looked at the receipt before crumpling it up. I was very surprised. Very very surprised. It seemed that my faddy eater had purchased no chocolate, but sushi. Two kinds of sushi at that. Some sort of drink and a large exotic fruit something-or-other.

It was clearly someone else’s receipt.

On our first day in Sweden we chased more recipes, without a receipt at all. When the fledgling bookwitch left home some decades ago, mother-of-witch bought her a cookbook. It’s still in service and Daughter occasionally works her way through the msk and the tsk and the dl of ingredients when making or baking. When she learned of her grandmother’s cookbook buying she wanted the tradition (once does not make for tradition!) to be carried on, so I promised she could have her own when she leaves home.

But then I thought of her getting to grips with her msk and tsk with no responsible adult present, and felt that maybe we could jump the gun and get it a year early. She can practise by feeding the old people over the next year. Having half fainted over the price of the thing in the bookshops last month, I ordered a copy online, with delivery to coincide with our arrival.

The trick with a country that has got rid of its post offices, is to work out how and where to get hold of your mail order goods. (Home delivery? You must be joking.) I was able to choose, so discarded the default and picked the kebab place in one of the main streets in town. (Appropriate for a cookbook.) When we eventually found the kebab restaurant the nice young man explained that I must temporarily collect my parcel across the road in the sweetshop, so we toddled across. After the shopkeeper had finished his phonecall and started manipulating his computer to see if I could have my parcel (because I had not received the text message confirming my pick-up), the shop was packed to the gills.

That’s what happens when you abolish the post office.

But at least Daughter now has a reasonably priced copy of Vår Kokbok, that old stalwart of the Swedish kitchen.

I can tell you she won’t be producing sushi. Or kebab. And not much to do with fruit either. Large exotic, or otherwise.

I’m feeling peckish. Room service!

Getting it right

I’m afraid that while I’m on holiday you may have to put up with some more lightweight blog content. Not that I’m terribly heavyweight normally, except in my own personal way.

It was not my veggie instincts that sat up a little straighter on the plane on Friday. But when I heard the steward announce the reindeer sandwiches, my language guard hiccuped a wee bit. I know full well what they are, but I wavered between visualising a whole reindeer with a slice of bread either side, or purely a sandwich for reindeer.


Or as the Resident IT Consultant said, when the tiny (not ours, obviously) children ask why there are no Christmas presents come December, someone will have to break it to them that the plane passengers ate Rudolf & Co.

Daughter and I got it fairly right by requesting seats at the plane’s kindergarten end. Whereas Son hates it, and the Resident IT Consultant asked to be seated by a window not over the wing (which meant we didn’t actually have to sit with him), Daughter and I have discovered the amount of legroom you get in two particular seats on this particular kind of plane. But you do have to share the baby end of the plane. Although we saw such cute babies, it was OK.

The engine sound made Daughter turn into a Dalek, so possibly we belonged in kindergarten anyway.

Luckily we weren’t seated in the train’s quiet coach, as our journey continued. The guard was very linguistically able, since how many Virgin guards do you get making announcements in French? But it was a relief not having to engage in ‘lower kinds of conversation’. One works so hard at bettering oneself, that this type of instruction would feel like taking rather too many steps backwards.

Mr and Mrs Vet took time out of their heavy work schedule to bring us their spare car as we stepped off our multilingual train. They foresee so many ill animals over the next week or so, that they have an unwanted, but oil-thirsty, Saab to lend.

It’s been a busy couple of days. With a bit of luck the bookwitch will soon be back to reading books. What I won’t be reading immediately is the newspaper. For the first time in years it looks like I forgot to arrange my subscription to the local paper.

Must have been busy. Or simply forgetful.

Bookwitch bites #17

Big Beat From Badsville

I’m satisfied beyond belief by the above screen cap. I have worked so hard and for so long and until now everyone has been nothing but kind and polite. Thank goodness for someone like Donna Moore who understands my level of sickness.

Another clever woman, also based in Scotland (could it be the water?), has an excellent idea for the forthcoming Edinburgh International Book Festival. Look here for Nicola Morgan’s plans for meeting up in Charlotte Square.

Continuing with the ladies, Lucy Christopher won the Branford Boase award for Stolen this week, receiving the prize from the fair hands of Jacqueline Wilson. Wish I’d been there. Wish I’d read the book. I don’t know what’s become of me. No time for anything at all.

And finally, I need to announce the birth of Photowitch. There can never be too many witches, and now there is somewhere for you to go when all you need is something to look at, without tiring yourself with reading. Tortoises, roses, whatever next?

The Cathy Hopkins interview

I’m really not sure why I waited three years to nail Cathy Hopkins down. When I set up this blogging industry, Cathy was one of my top choices for an interview. Could be it’s like you never go to the art gallery in your home town, while visiting every gallery you come to on your travels.

But with Cathy’s new series just starting, and her doing several events near me, I felt it was time to strike the hot iron. Luckily Cathy thought so too, so we met up on the borders of Wilmslow and Alderley Edge. Cathy looked like she belonged there, whereas I’m fairly sure I didn’t. Football is not my thing.

We talked about Sophie McKenzie while I fiddled with the recording equipment, because she was also around somewhere that day. Cathy was having dinner with Sophie later. As we were talking, the photographer discovered a fancy car coming through those gates we had had such trouble negotiating. ‘Oh I got brought in one of those. Felt like a real celebrity,’ Cathy said, laughing.

It’s not every author that invites me to see their bedroom afterwards…

How To Survive Summer Camp

Not only have I lost Millions (the Frank Cottrell Boyce kind, as mentioned the other week), but I can’t find my sense of humour. Which is a real nuisance, as I was going to do a fabulous blog about it. Oh, well. Some other year, perhaps.

Michelle Lovric did a nice blog post on humour on ABBA a few days ago, and I fancied doing something very similar. I have a good collection of funny somethings. Somewhere.

You’ll be wondering what all this has to do with summer camp, and the answer is that I’m in more of a muddle than usual because we’re just getting ready to go off on our summer holidays. It may not be a camp, but the witch who runs the place is not nice, and she has no sense of humour. Having just lost it. As I was saying.

So, 25 years on Jacqueline Wilson’s How To Survive Summer Camp is being republished. Unlike other similar occasions this really means that a new audience can be reached, since the target reader wasn’t born in 1985, and there is a possibility, however slight, that the parents of the new reader knows the book from childhood. Almost.

I read it a long time ago, and remembered it as less Jacqueline Wilson-y than it actually is. We still have a typical JW heroine who finds herself in a new and unwanted situation, and who has to get used to it and sort things out. Stella sorts quite nicely in the end, and summer camp isn’t as bad as she expected.

An added bonus are the activity pages at the back of the book. Tips, recipes, wordsearches, crosswords and things to make. The child who takes this on holiday is well catered for.

As for me and the witchlings, I will not have time to do all that I need to before leaving. I’m still short of a complete outbreak of hysterics, but it can’t be ruled out. I have the Cathy Hopkins interview to finish baking, and I had various chores which there is now no longer time for. And I just know there will be some discovery (and not of Millions) that will come as a nasty surprise.

Excuse me. I just have to go and do my Kermit impersonation and scream a little. Will feel better soon.


Is it a book?

Stupid question, perhaps. It is obviously a book. It’s sort of a picture book, and kind of a comic. And maybe an ordinary illustrated short book/story. My mind wants to pigeonhole, and I can’t. Not totally.

The Dunderheads

The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman with pictures by David Roberts had been lying around for a while. It looked quite interesting, because I could tell it was a more grown-up creature than a small child’s picture book. Too many words to count as a comic, and yet…

It’s pretty good, actually, with overtones of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. I was also going to say that it reminded me of something else I’d recently blogged about, on the subject of group solidarity, but I can’t think what it was now.

There is a not very nice teacher. ‘Confiscating was her speciality.’ So that’s what she did. Took things from her students. Until the day she took something and they decided to take it back. It’s a really good story about children cooperating, and someone knowing exactly who is good at what.

One-eared china cats are more loveable than you’d think, and someone gets their comeuppance.


I’ll let the article from The New Yorker by Nora Ephron kick off this dottiness. I know that The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut did the rounds on blogs and on facebook last week, but it’s a good one. I think someone said it contains spoilers if you have yet to read Stieg Larsson, but I’d expect those five people not to mind.

I could really do with some input from non-umlaut speakers here. To me it looks so very empty with an a where my soul is crying out for å or ä. But I don’t honestly want aa or ae in their place, which seems to be what newspapers still offer. How – in this day and age of computers – they can have a problem with dotting their letters, I will never understand.

But, if I encounter an ĕ, I have absolutely no idea what it does, so I’d be happy to ignore it. Just as you lot ignore my ö. It’s fine. It really is. And I’d much rather hesitate over that o, than stare at the oe.

Though that is a matter of taste. Someone was wanting a book title for their next novel containing a name with an ö in it, but wasn’t sure it would work for English speakers. I had no problem with it, naturally, but I know how I break into a sweat over Carl Hiaasen. And I’m panicking all the more because I don’t know how his Scandinavian name has been altered while in America. It’s one thing to know how to say it, and another to know how – or if – to mistreat it the correct way.

Take your average piece of IKEA furniture. Outside Sweden I have more trouble than most with the stupid names, because I have absolutely no idea of which way to ruin them. I once wanted a new kitchen table and didn’t know how to talk about it, and I’d never have guessed what the English sales staff called it. Bought Son a duvet a few years ago, and had to ask for it in the store. I waved my hand at the shelf and inquired if they had any more. The duvet was called Mysa Måne, and I’m still quivering with admiration for its new identity ‘en anglais’. (Bet I got that wrong.)

And how can he be Sven-Goeran? I ask you. He is not. Sven-Göran or Svennis are fine.

I mentioned the Danish or Norwegian aa, which has been modernised to å. However if it’s a name, you may prefer to still be Haakon and not Håkon. Or not. And any Håkon with an old typewriter will have to be Haakon anyway, since that’s all you get.

Then we have the new Swedish shop Clas Ohlson, which is not making matters any easier with their almost amusing advertisements. ‘A really useful shöp’. Honestly. And the Resident IT Consultant is still very fond of the bad thermometer he found in this shöp.

Ï’d bëttėr léãvê whìlē thè gøing ĩs gőōd.

Dare I recommend a book?

Well. Do I?

Some discussion broke out the other day after my review of Losing It. I was halfway to sending an email to a young reader of my acquaintance, suggesting he/she read Losing It, when I came to my senses and thought I might have to ask permission from the parents first. And my next thought was that they’d think ‘there goes that tiresome woman again’. So I didn’t.

Steve Augarde left comments saying he thought recommendations were fine, but even he felt he’d prefer it to come to him rather than directly at any child of his. I brought the subject up with some visitors to our house yesterday. They also felt recommendations were OK, but they too would like any ‘sexy’ recommendation to come via them.

So we’re back to my old complaint about school libraries where they are afraid of parents turning to the press if any child comes home with a dubious book.

I could position myself in a bookshop near the shelf that hopefully houses Losing It and point it out to prospective readers. How long until they kick me out? I know it can work a treat with ‘ordinary topic’ novels, but probably not with sex. And as I said the other day, there is really very little of it in Losing It.

When I read Tabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden a few weeks ago, I was struck by how sensitively, but graphically, she wrote about the taboo lovemaking. It made me compare it with William Nicholson’s Rich and Mad, which the press have written about a lot more. Presumably because that lovemaking is OK, where incest isn’t.

I’m doing a lot of remembering all of a sudden, wondering why old people believe that young readers will copy any behaviour they read about in a book. Someone I knew had a son aged fourteen at the time Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now was published, and she felt that if her son was allowed to read HILN, he would automatically assume that sex between young cousins is perfectly all right, and go ahead and do it. Why would he? Reading such a marvellous novel won’t instantly change your intelligent child into someone with no sense at all.

Let’s face it. Do young readers even want old people to recommend books with a potentially sexy content? We’re embarrassing.

And did Son clear reading Doing It by Melvin Burgess with me? He felt a strong need to vet it. You can’t let a mother read just anything, can you?