Monthly Archives: October 2015

Another wolf

Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

I won’t say that this is the coolest cover ever of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. It is very cool, though, and I like it a lot, and it makes me want to read the book.

Which I don’t ‘have to do’ as I have already read it, many covers ago. Not that it isn’t a book you could read many times. It is. It’s the first part of one of the best children’s series in the world, with the best of girl characters. (And Dido Twite isn’t even in the first book.)

So whenever there has been a revamp and I see a new Wolves cover I just want to read it again. I hope the cover has the same effect on readers who don’t know Joan Aiken’s books. I envy them the opportunity of starting their friendship with Dido and Simon.


Goodbye Stranger

You remember those fire drills at school? They still have them, and possibly even in New York. The school in Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger [also] has intruder practice. Very sensible, when you stop and think. And more frightening as a concept than the fire drill. They have to practise making themselves small, and staying silent.

Rebecca Stead, Goodbye Stranger

Goodbye Stranger is another sweet story about children of that in-between age where you are not a small child, but you are not yet a proper teenager. Although in seventh grade some of the students are beginning to outgrow their friends, and this can cause problems.

Bridge is a survivor, having had a serious accident in third grade, missing a whole year of school. She is currently wearing cat ears to make herself feel better. Her friends Tabitha and Emily each have their own problems to worry about, with Emily being the early maturing one, receiving attention from boys and older, popular eighth graders.

She’s not the only one, though, as Bridge makes friends with Sherm, who really likes her. They all appear to lead ordinary, happy lives, were it not for that one little thing that bothers each of them. Sherm’s grandfather has suddenly upped and left his grandmother, and Bridge had her accident, and Bridge’s older brother has the wrong friend.

Emily learns the hard way about exchanging texts with the boy she likes, and Tab and Bridge are there to help her. And then there is the anonymous girl who is having a really bad day, as we follow her around, without knowing who she is, but learning all about what troubles her. We can tell she’s close to the others, but not who she is.

As the year progresses the children develop, and they learn from their mistakes. It’s all pretty middle-class, and for the overseas reader it is charmingly New York-y.

And there is the question of whether Apollo 11 really landed on the moon, or if it was all a hoax.

The Compleat Discworld Atlas

‘Oh, it’s not a real map,’ said the Resident IT Consultant on seeing the newly arrived Discworld Atlas. Whereas I would say it is as real as Discworld. But what do I know?

In fact, I feel it looks suspiciously like Earth in some ways, which is odd for something supposedly flat, which rests on tortoises and elephants and stuff. (I know. Discworld experts are fainting left, right and centre on hearing – reading – my ignorant musings on Discworld. Sorry.)

It’s just, my Discworld looks different, in my head. And yours, and theirs, will be different still inside your respective heads. Which is where it should remain, unless it’s to get messy.

The Compleat Discworld Atlas

But it’s a lovely volume of regional maps (I’d forgotten, or possibly never realised, quite how many areas there are), with all sorts of information on people and money and anything else you might want to know.

And when you get to the end there is a big fold-out map, which could get very nicely tangled in windy weather or turn soggy in the rain, were you to take it out when you go places.

All in all, this is a nice book. At least, I think so. If it has anything new to offer the Discworld nerd, sorry, specialist, I couldn’t say. It has plenty to offer me, and that’s what matters.

(You could always play with the elastic band which keeps the atlas under control.)

In conversation with Dr Death

There were many jokes and puns based on death last night at the University of Edinburgh event with Sarah Death, eminent translator from Swedish, in conversation with – the also quite excellent (cough) – Ian Giles. Although, as a mere woman Dr Death can only be a Member of the Order of the Polar Star, whereas her colleague in the audience last night, Peter Graves, is a Knight. (Graves, Death..?) But as someone said, it’s not often you find yourself in the same room with one, let alone two, such eminent polar stars.

Ian mentioned how he’d been pleasantly surprised to be approached by Sarah, when he was doing translation for his MSc. It was the idea of being contacted by the person he wants to be when he grows up…

This ‘110% clueless mother of a demanding child’ went part-time with her PhD back in the day, and started translating books on the side. The only time available to do it was when she was babysitting other people’s children, who were good enough to actually sleep. But eventually Dr Death emerged with her thesis on Fredrika Bremer and Elin Wägner; both good Swedish feminists from the olden days.

Sarah’s favourite author to translate would be Kerstin Ekman, who is so popular that she’s being shared by many translators, and Sarah has several other authors she likes, and some that she has yet to persuade a publisher to take on. So far she has translated 26 books from Swedish and two from Norwegian.

She is the former editor of the Swedish Book Review, having taken over after Laurie Thompson. The SBR is highly thought of for being independent, and publishers are happy for their books to be reviewed there. Sarah has reviewed around 70 books for the SBR, but feels she needs to limit herself so that she actually has time to translate as well.

The ‘mushrooming’ agents are a new concept in the bookworld, and a very new thing is the idea of sample commissions, translating a book without definite plans to publish. It’s a good way for the emerging translator to practise, but with no guarantees if the book does make it into being published. Likewise doing book reports, which takes time and pays badly, but which could be considered part of the apprenticeship.

You don’t necessarily get to translate the books you like. You translate the books you are offered, and then you might find your dream book gets offered to someone else. Sarah’s advice to the emerging translator is to get a foot in the door, to make contacts. And not to take on too much work. She compared herself to Judi Dench who claims to feel more scared the more she does, suffering from ‘prestationsångest’ as Sarah called it. (Interesting to find someone who borrows words in the opposite direction!)

And then you wait for someone like Joan Tate to die. (Before you worry too much; Joan Tate is already dead.) Basically, if there is someone older than you, someone very good, you may have to wait for them to die, or possibly retire, before the plum jobs come your way. And no, Sarah has no retirement plans. Translating is a slow career, so you don’t stop at 65. And like Bookwitch, she ‘suffers’ from loyalty; to publishers, to authors, so can’t really slow down too much.

Working with authors varies. Some want to ‘help’ a lot, some can’t be bothered. The dead ones are not difficult, but nor are they helpful. Sometimes Sarah has books queueing up to be translated, and it can be hard to keep her enthusiasm for as long as it takes to start on a book. She has been known to begin a book in the middle, and she always tries to get the first draft as good as possible, as there is only so much editing she can tolerate. That’s why she likes short books best.

Then there was wine and crisps, as well as some freebies and useful leaflets. Dr Death professed pleasure at meeting the Bookwitch at long last, which is surprising, but understandable. Afterwards the emerging Ian Giles guided us safely (well, Peter Graves tried to make us turn right instead of left…) to a nearby restaurant for dinner. It was him, plus eight old people. We all had a good time. And I trust Daniel Hahn’s ears burned nicely all evening.

Carnegie medal nominations 2016

While you wait for me to wake up and tell you other stuff, I will just mention the almost completely fresh list of books nominated for the 2016 Carnegie medal.

It’s long, it has some good books on it, and, well, it’s almost impossible to guess who will win. I can probably guess which books – of the ones I’ve read – will make the longlist, and even some for the shortlist. But then there are the books I’ve not read, and they won’t all be insignificant. In fact, none of them can be, or they wouldn’t be listed here in the first place.

Sally Gardner’s The Door That Led to Where, aka the third best book ever [according to Bookwitch] will most likely do well. As, I hope, will the new book by Bookwitch second best book author Elizabeth Wein, Black Dove, White Raven.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Or ‘Not Everyone Has to be the Chosen One’ as it also says on the cover of Patrick Ness’s new novel. It makes sense. We can’t all be chosen as some kind of figurehead, although we are all special in some way.

Patrick Ness, The Rest of Us Just Live Here

You can’t tell where this book is going, which is refreshing. It’s so ordinary in its setting, telling us about the last few weeks before graduation for a group of five high school students in a small town in north western USA. Except, there are odd things happening around them. Each chapter begins with a short piece about the ‘indie kids’ and all the weird and awful things done to them. It’s like a fantasy element that doesn’t belong in this ordinary town, were it not for the fact that our five characters hear about when someone has been found dead, or has gone missing, the same way the reader has just witnessed in the chapter intro.

Indie or not, this is basically about growing up and leaving home to go to college, leaving friends behind, and not believing in yourself or suffering unrequited love (particularly bad if it’s one of your best friends). Being gay. The possibility of your high school being blown up. Or maybe about being killed by zombie deer.

It seems every generation has suffered some odd or dangerous threat, like vampires. ‘Our’ teenagers have these inexplicable deaths in the ‘indie’ camp, as well as the odd blue light seen in the woods. And the zombie deer.

Mikey, who is the narrator, feels he’s somehow less than the rest of his group of friends (rather like most of us do), and he suffers from OCD, and from having a politically ambitious mother who occasionally forgets her family needs to be normal.

It’s odd. Not much happens, if you don’t count stuff that might determine the rest of your life, or your indie school friends being killed, or the school being blown up [before graduation]. Or the zombie deer.

Patrick understands the power of names. The indie kids are mostly called Finn, which is as it should be, or Satchel, Kerouac and Dylan. Mikey’s best friend is Jared Shurin, who came in second place after Mikey’s secret love Henna Silvennoinen in the charity auction to be a character in Patrick’s book. I share his gratitude to Henna for winning, because it’s a name that really, really makes this character.

This novel is crazy and calm at the same time. It’s compellingly good, not to mention different in just the right way.

It’s a Wonderful Book

Sju förtrollade kvällar is the title of Mårten Sandén’s new book. You might remember Mårten from an earlier book of his which was translated into English, published by Pushkin, or his profile on here a couple of years ago.

This one isn’t, but I have been somewhat bewitched by his Seven Bewitched Nights (dreadful translation, I know, but roughly right), and I can’t not mention it. It’s another of the far too rare perfect little children’s books you dream of. Short and relatively simple, it still catches the interest of an adult reader, and there will be things in the book that perhaps the child reader won’t see.

Mårten Sandén, Sju förtrollade kvällar

It felt surprisingly familiar in some way, and it took me a while to work out where I was (a romantic time travel film) in my mind. So, not terribly original; just very nicely executed.

The book is about 12-year-old Buster, who boxes and struggles with his homework. His dead, older brother Jack was his complete opposite. Buster suddenly gets talking to The-Girl-Who-Reads at school, and he also discovers what life is like for an older boy who is bullied, by one of Buster’s friends. And one evening Buster is given  seven old-style cinema tickets by an elderly man in town. From then on nothing is quite as it was.

I was transported right back to my childhood, in a charming way. Yes, OK, there were bad things. But this is nostalgia, as well as a story about how you live your life. And the cover is gorgeous.

(Life as an untranslated book isn’t easy. There are many good ones. But I hope this one can have a future in English too.)