Monthly Archives: February 2011

Här ligger jag och blöder

It’s challenge time again!

My Swedish novel took some choosing, but my blog research led me unfailingly to Jenny Jägerfeld’s Här ligger jag och blöder (I’m lying here bleeding), which I was only uncertain about because of the blood. I even asked advice and was told that, no, it was a bit gory but it wouldn’t make me faint or anything.

Oh yes?

I didn’t read chapter one. I squinted carefully at chapter two, before skipping the beginning of that as well. After a day’s rest I tried approaching the beginning of the book by taking a running leap at it, but it was still pretty faint-inducing stuff. But, you know, I could tell from the bits in between the blood and gore that the writing was pretty good and very witty.

I came to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with starting a novel halfway through chapter two. Anyway, faint heart never read a challenge book.

Jenny Jägerfeld, Här ligger jag och blöder

Oh, ah, you are wanting to know what caused all this faffing about, aren’t you? Maja, the 17-year-old heroine, is in her sculpture lesson at school, making a shelf for her mother’s impending birthday. (Yes, we know a shelf is no sculpture. It’s a running gag throughout the story.) So, Maja accidentally saws the tip of her thumb off.

Yes.

But after that little happening things normalise as much as they can for this novel. Maja’s parents are divorced and she lives with her father. The mother is a little distant, to say the least. Maja is occasionally bullied at school, doesn’t socialise too well, and always checks out her father’s email and Facebook. This way you find things out that it might have been better not to know.

With a shorter thumb than before, Maja travels for her ‘every other weekend’ at her mother’s house, only to find her mother isn’t there. She stays anyway, and ends up meeting the boy next-door. He’s not called Justin Case (it has something to do with Justin Timberlake), but it’s a while before we find out who he really is. Also, his friend is not Debbie (Harry).

Maja falls in love, and experiences more mishaps with her poor body. Then she returns home and has some run-ins with her father, people at school and finishes off her non-sculpture, the shelf. Maja finds out where her mother is.

I don’t want to say too much, but let me just mention that this is an Aspie novel (which I didn’t know when I picked it) and that the Aspie aspects were quite obvious from the start, and that for plot reasons it’s been given too much of a dramatic turn. That is the only thing which I found jarred somewhat.

Other than that, Här ligger jag och blöder is a very warm and funny and slightly different story. I suspect it’s fairly typical of current trends in Swedish teen literature, but this was my first. I really enjoyed it, and the writing is intelligent. And fun.

And in actual fact, I revisited the beginning of the story towards the end, and it was almost fine. I must have become sufficiently desensitised by then.

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Is the emperor really wearing clothes?

I believe I’ve found a Swedish Martin Amis. He seems to be called Bengt Ohlsson. He’s such a great author that he’s allowed to write ‘not so nice’ things about others in the name of culture and entertainment in a newspaper column. Unlike dear Mr Amis, Bengt didn’t suggest that children’s books are simple to write. He said (and here I get very nervous, because I saw what others didn’t see, and how can I be sure that what I saw is right, when it seems that most people whose opinions I normally value saw the exact opposite?) that nobody much likes the crime novels by Camilla Läckberg. He put her name in the same sentence as Auschwitz. I believe he meant (apparently) that her books are bad, but it’s fine to enjoy bad books. He does so himself, except obviously not the bad books by Camilla.

She got upset, which is so unreasonable because she makes a fortune on those books of hers, and she wrote a reply. That was proof that she’s unable to read (because he really didn’t say what she thought he said), and anyway when you are being bullied in the school playground it’s not the done thing to cry. Stiff upper lips are so much better.

I came across this spat on Annika Bryn’s blog, and immediately clicked on her link to see what witty column Bengt had written, seeing as Annika appreciated it. I read it over and over and at no time did it look like anything but an unpleasant comment. I swallowed my not inconsiderable pride and admitted that like Camilla herself, I had not grasped the ‘real’ meaning of the column either.

Now you see, I have heard of Camilla Läckberg, but have never felt the urge to read her books. But that’s not picking on her. I didn’t know Bengt Ohlsson, however, and admitted it. That was considered strange. He’s a great writer of literary works and he’s won prizes for them. I just feel that in that case his column, even if the topic was above my head and carried connotations unknown to me, should have been an example of good and interesting writing. And I don’t feel it was.

And he was rude. Had he managed the rudeness with flair and wit and intelligence I might have overlooked it. But he didn’t. And why not, if he’s the prize winning type?

The generally confused musings of a tired witch. And rotten oranges

I sat opposite a pair of leather boots on the train. Their owner deserted them for a pair of shoes, despite the train being really quite full and I could barely look after my own boots, which at least had feet in them. Mine, I hasten to add.

We went for pizza. When we were off the train, that is. We suspected we might find shopping for food easier on full stomachs. I knew I needed to stop off at three places. Wrote two down and forgot the third. It was Three. The phone shop. Yes I know that’s not food. Easy to get confused.

Earlier Daughter had dealt with a lack of breakfast by visiting the Royal Burger place, where about the only veggie thing is the chilli cheese bites. Four. Bites. A week ago in London the same Royal chilli things came in packs of six. Inflation in cheesy chilli?

Left Daughter with the OAPs outside the foodshop, minding the suitcases. Two of them. Cases. More OAPs. They had their zimmer frames to sit on. Daughter had nothing. I zipped (in mind, if not in body) round grabbing milk and cheese and oranges. All the oranges came in bags with a rotten one. Spent some time picking the least rotten oranges.

The drive outside the house was covered in ice. (There was ice on the sea in places, too.) The daytime temperature was probably not bad, seeing as it was sunny. Inside the house it was 18 degrees, which is very good. Now, it’s a bit less. It’s also considerably colder out. Full moon, and all that.

Wondered about the age of our pilot. The one on the plane. Having learned recently that some of them can be twenty and still pilot commercial aircraft, you just wonder. He sounded intelligent enough.

It might be winter, but the ever eagle-eyed Daughter found a spider in her room. Not dead, either. But at least we don’t have to mow the grass.

The Rebecca Stead interview

Rebecca Stead

Meeting someone new and interviewing them is a lot harder than when I’ve been reading someone’s books for years and feel as if I know them inside and out. But it’s a fun sort of challenge, once in a while. There are authors you’ve heard of but never read, and then there are the Rebecca Steads, where I haven’t even heard of them until just before meeting them. What you need then is a book that you like a lot.

And I loved When You Reach Me, and the idea of seeing Rebecca in London and finding out more about her was a great idea. It rained rather, but the ginger cake was good. And Rebecca turned out to be a really nice person. Thank goodness for that unusual New York education!

Read the interview here.

Then read When You Reach Me.

Goodnight Mister Tom

Should you make novels into stage plays? Some books dramatise better than others, and it’d be unfair to expect any novel to seamlessly turn into something of the same quality as a Shakespeare or an Alan Bennett. Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. I just minded a little bit that Lyn Gardner in the Guardian found the new production of Goodnight Mister Tom ‘too safe’.

What did she mean? People were dying all over the place, but maybe that’s not what she had in mind. It’s a novel first, and it can’t work in the same way that a play written exclusively for the stage would. There is a difference. And she seemed to mind that it’s such a safe choice, box office wise. I saw a packed theatre where everyone enjoyed the performance. As Daughter said, there were a lot of old people there. And those that weren’t old, were mostly around ten or eleven. Neither a category that would be looking for avant garde drama.

WWII is popular. And all those junior school pupils were presumably doing the war for history. I bet Michelle Magorian never expected to have her children’s novel put to use as a school book. I well remember Son in Y6 being told to watch the film when it was shown on television. Was meant to be, and then didn’t happen. He was dreadfully upset, and the only way we could remedy the failings of the BBC was for the video to magically magic itself into a birthday present a couple of weeks later.

Goodnight Mister Tom

This production only had time to fit in the bare bones of Michelle Magorian’s novel. But that’s fine. It was all there in spirit, including the best puppet dog I’ve ever seen. Sammy must count as a first cousin to Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse horse puppets, and he truly helped with William’s transition into Tom Oakley’s home.

‘The Sad Man’ – which is how I always think of Oliver Ford Davies – came into his own as Mister Tom. So much more right for the part than John Thaw was in the film. He had an impressively worthy William in Toby Prynne, who was both small and powerful at the same time.

William and Tom in Goodnight Mister Tom

The villagers milled about as villagers do, but in such a way that you could believe in the friendship with the small and frightened evacuee. Clever use of one actress both as the kind teacher and as William’s mother, bringing their differences into the open. The simple set worked well, adding enough period feel without going over the top.

Goodnight Mister Tom is a lovely, heartwarming dramatisation of a wonderful book. It might not be the greatest play in the world, but it’s very enjoyable – apart from the sad bits – and I would guess we all went home happy, albeit in tears.

(This is a reworking of my CultureWitch theatre review on Tuesday. And the William in the photo is not my William.)

A fan letter

I received a fan letter yesterday. It’s not my first, but the others were regular letters from fans (what do you mean, of course I have fans..!), whereas this is a letter to the fan. Me.

“An open letter to the Bookwitch on the occasion of her fourth birthday.

Dear Witch

It is nigh-on impossible to believe that only four short years ago you were a mere civilian witch, ‘my stalker’, as I fondly named you all those years ago when the thought of a person who was not a member of my immediate family travelling all the way from Stockport to hear me speak actually frightened me a little.

I don’t remember when the subject of blogging came up, whether it was on that day or sometime later.  But it did come up – clearly anyone with as expansive, informed and passionate an interest in YA books was wasted as a mere reader.

Since that day, you have developed a vast appreciative following, acquired a reputation as a reviewer with the world’s driest sense of humour, and attracted a mountain of books from publishers jostling for your approval.  Your interviews are legendary, ditto the witchling’s literary portraits.  You have predicted the outcomes of any number of awards (frequently incorrectly, but who else manages to read through so many shortlists?)  You have read the books we all know we should read, and guided us in directions fresh and new and important.

In short, you have become indispensible.

Poisoned Chalice

As I enumerate these many excellent qualities, I can not help but take credit for having landed you a four year, full-time, unpaid job, without overtime compensation or holiday leave, a job that has undoubtedly cost you a fortune in unreimbursed expenses, destroyed your family life, consumed far too many late nights and early mornings, and filled every room of your house with unbound proofs of dubious quality.  Where once you were merely a joyous, carefree reader, you are now a professional blogger, weighed down with responsibility, behind on your deadlines, slave to your daily readership stats, doomed to devote the best years of your life to feeding your public’s insatiable hunger for words.

I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me.

Yours, with affection, admiration and remorse,

Meg”

A love story – kind of

It’s that pesky pestering power of the PR person. From Puffin this time, just to use up every last of my ps.

They kept asking ‘have you received it?’ to ‘have you read it yet?’ to ‘have you read it yet?’. Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to. ‘Bad’ boys and care homes are not top of my list for happy topics. But there was the pestering. (Note to PR people: This kind of behaviour won’t always work.) And Jacqueline Wilson liked it. So did half the rest of the children’s books world. I would guess the other half just haven’t read it yet.

Tracy Beaker it ain’t. I gather children actually wanted to go into care because it seemed such fun. No one will want to be taken into care after reading Being Billy. But it’s more uplifting than you expect. Jacqueline is quoted as having been moved to tears, but I wasn’t sure if they were good tears or bad tears.

Phil Earle has a background working with children like Billy, and it looks like he knows his stuff. And it may be a first novel, but he can write, too.

15-year-old Billy lives in a care home with his twin siblings who are nine. He is aggressive and generally difficult (there’s a reason, but anyway), although good with his sister and brother. He hates the Colonel, as he calls Ronnie who works at the home. Ronnie has to pin him down every so often, and he hates Ronnie. He hates others, too, but Ronnie has been there the longest, so gets the most of Billy’s hate.

A failed foster – possibly adoption – placement keeps upsetting Billy, and so does the fact that his mother turns up again. He hates school, obviously.

And then he comes across someone different. And he slowly starts looking at some things in a (very) slightly new light. I could see the two major things coming a long way off, so am unsure whether I’m terribly astute or simply that it’s meant to be obvious.

Couldn’t quite work out how some of the other things would turn out. There is love out there, even for the Billys of this world. Just not where – or how – you imagine it.

I cried too. But I’ll forgive the constant pushing. It’s a fantastic book.