When I heard that Rachel Ward was going to Stockholm to open a bookshop I could barely contain myself. Never mind that it might actually be fun for her, and an honour and all that, but I could get her to tell us what it was like. So here she is, spilling all on the cutting of ribbons (I trust there was a ribbon?) and eating ambassadors and other little things:
“‘I’ve got nothing to write in my blog yet,’ I say to Husband on the train from the airport into Stockholm.
‘You can start with how expensive Swedish public transport is,’ he replies grimly. (Well, sorry!)
Expensive, yes, but feel the quality. Whisked from the heart of the airport at great speed in a train where all the carriages look First Class. The space! The upholstery!
Husband is here to talk science with our host, Wilhelm Engström. For me, the business part of our trip is an evening at the English Bookshop in the company of members of the Swedish British Society. The bookshop is fairly new and sister to one in the university town of Uppsala which has been open a lot longer. It’s tucked away in a sidestreet on Lilla Nygatan in the Old Town (Gamla Stan).
I meet Christer Valdeson, one of the partners, and Tiffany, his lovely American assistant. Their enthusiasm for books, reading and their shop is infectious. They’re genuinely committed to creating a community around the shop, running reading groups and story times, tailoring recommendations to their customers and looking for new services to deliver, like printing out English language mini-newspapers on demand. It’s a wonderful place and one that deserves to succeed. Do call in and see for yourself if you’re ever in Stockholm.
There’s just enough room for the audience to squeeze in. I give them a quick rattle through my route to publication, and what it’s like to be published, including a few trusty anecdotes that won’t let me down (e.g. how I met my publisher, Barry Cunningham, the man who signed J K Rowling to Bloomsbury – a story always met with smiles and even the odd gasp, very satisfying), followed by reading the London Eye bit from my first book, minus the swearing. I’m pleased by the reaction to my talk, given that they’re not my normal target audience. There are lots of questions and even some sales.
After a short break, I’m followed ‘on stage’ by Wilhelm. If the term ‘gentleman scientist’ doesn’t exist then I think we should bring it into play – it certainly applies here. He’s very entertaining company, with seemingly boundless interests and energy. He’s recently channelled some of it into publishing a joke book gently poking fun at Americans and his presentation is warmly received, even from the several Americans in the audience.
Presentation over, I’m now officially on holiday. Stockholm is a wonderful place to walk around. There are enough attractions here to amuse a visitor for plenty more than three days, but you don’t actually have to visit anything. You can just walk and walk and walk. The last couple of years in the Ward household have been a tad alarming and stressful, and Husband and I both appreciate the chance to spend some time together just chilling. Of course, there’s always a café around the next corner for when we need to warm up.
Or we can retire to our hotel, The Lord Nelson, which is quite literally packed to the gunnels with Nelson memorabilia. Portholes, binnacles, and yes, gunnels – they’re all here. We do call in at Junibacken, a story museum/experience based around the work of Astrid ‘Pippi Longstocking’ Lindgren, but including other writers as well. We felt a bit self-conscious as the only adults there without children, especially on board the ‘story train’ as it chugged slowly out of the station in full view of the long queue, but it was well worth the embarrassment. The train takes you on a charming, even moving, journey through Lindgren’s storyscapes. Not afraid of an unhappy ending was Astrid – it’s amazing that Swedish children appear so emotionally unscarred.
Courtesy of Wilhelm, our evenings are spoken for; dinner with the ambassador and a trip to the opera. It’s so like our home life that we fit right in…hem, hem. Actually, it’s a little glimpse of a different sort of life altogether. Strange the places that being a writer will take you to…”
Yeah, Rachel’s posh frock went from Stockport to Stockholm, unlike me, who went the opposite direction. And I would say that it looks as if she wore that divine coat again, which I admired last year.