Monthly Archives: November 2016

To Sir With Love

I freely admit to having a Reader’s Digest past. Somehow some sales person must have managed to bypass Mother-of-witch and her frugal approach to most unnecessary things in life, and persuaded her to subscribe to those books. I have no idea how many of the abridged novels she read, but I got through a lot of them. I was at the age when there simply weren’t enough books around to read, and I searched the bookcase daily for more entertainment, and discovered that quite a lot of those odd looking titles were not that bad. Nice, easy reads, and quick, due the their abridged nature.

To Sir With Love by E R Braithwaite was one of them. It was probably also one of my best loved books on the RD shelf. That will be why I introduced Offspring to the film starring Sidney Poitier, when the opportunity arose, years ago. When Daughter was last home, we watched it again. It made us talk, and think about things.

Do you remember my Canterville Ghost Favourite Teacher? I thought of him then. Not long before I had read a letter to the editor in a Swedish magazine, and I’d wondered if the writer might have been him. Right name, and I believe, right town. And what he said seemed to fit as well.

So I Googled a bit, as you do, and came to the conclusion it very likely was Favourite Teacher. On Swedish sites you get some odd information, like date of birth, and thanks to Mother-of-witch who was also a teacher, I knew how old he’d be. And then I hit on the idea of Google images, and found a photo that could very well be him, ‘a few years on.’

At my age you can’t take for granted your teachers will still be alive.

Apart from being such a great teacher, and managing the difficult balance between fun and friendly, versus knowledge and discipline in the classroom, he was also the politest teacher I’ve ever had. We were between the ages of 13 and 16 and he addressed the boys by surname and the girls were Miss and surname.

Just like Sidney Poitier, in fact. That was one of the details I’d forgotten, but which came back when I watched the film again.

There were two Misses C in my form. I was Miss C at the front, while the other Miss C sat at the back. ‘Mats hört immer zu’ is a phrase I still remember, helping me know what to do about the German verb zuhören, while chuckling about Mats who never did any kind of zuhören whatsoever. And as all you English native speakers must know, ‘skulle heter would, skulle heter would, skulle heter would.’ As opposed to should, which is what we might have guessed and what Favourite Teacher was there to prevent.

And there were many more where those came from.

Two languages, for all three years of secondary school. I was very lucky.

He wasn’t easily taken in, either. When one girl asked to copy my homework, I wasn’t worried. She came back and said he’d given her [her first ever] full marks, while adding he thought she had ‘cooperated with Miss C.’

The last year we gave him a – collective – gift when we left school, because he had been our form teacher that year. He wrote each of us a thank you card, posted to our home address. That’s what I call class.

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The Territory – Escape

The second instalment in Sarah Govett’s trilogy set in a future Territory is as great as the first. With all my newfound fears regarding dystopias, I worried that Escape wouldn’t be able to grab me. For one, I felt the premise that two of the – teen – main characters would willingly attempt to enter the dreadful place where others are sent to die, in order to rescue the third main character, was a bit much. I mean, how could they, and surely there couldn’t be a happily ever after even if they did?

But, the story drags you in before you know where you are. Which is the Wetlands, since you ask.

You know that something will go wrong, and something else will – hopefully – go right, but my first theory proved incorrect. Which is good, because it wasn’t a terribly good one.

Noa and Raf seem pretty naïve in their planning to go after Jack, but by sheer determination these two get further than you’d think. And that’s when things don’t happen as expected, for anyone.

Sarah Govett, The Territory - Escape

This is exciting and inspiring, but – given our current circumstances – worrying nevertheless. I’m glad there are characters out there, in fiction, doing what many of us would never dream of attempting, let alone be successful at.

The way the book ends, I can see what they must try and do, but I can’t see how they will be able to make it happen. As it’s fiction, I imagine it will work, somehow, and not quite everyone will die trying.

So, not just ‘another flooded dystopian romance.’ And I suppose knowing what moss or seaweed you can or can’t eat will come in handy one day.

Those murdering Scots

How I love them!

It’s Monday morning, and it’s Book Week Scotland. And here at Bookwitch Towers, I am most likely to spend it reading, rather than being out and about, despite all the events on offer. I feel as if I’ve finally got into the swing of reading again, after far too much travelling, or agonising over things, and it does my mental state a lot of good.

And you really don’t want me too mental.

Scottish Book Trust have looked into what everyone else in Scotland is doing, and it appears that Scots are into crime, in a big way; ‘crime/thriller books are the single most popular type of fiction in Scotland.

In a recent Ipsos MORI Scotland survey of 1,000 adults, just over 1 in 4 Scots (27%) who read for enjoyment said that books which fictionalise crimes, their detection, criminals and their motives topped their choice of reading or listening genres. — While the crime genre was the most popular among readers of all ages, the second most popular genre among young readers (aged 16-34) was science fiction/fantasy (15%). — Eight in ten Scots (79%) read or listen to books for enjoyment and 39% do so either every day or most days. Additionally, among those —  50% read or listen to more than 10 books per year.’

Well, that’s good to know; both that people read, and that they like what I like. (If I hadn’t given up ironing, I’d be listening to more audio books as well.)

I suppose that with their fondness for a good murder, the Scots really are – almost – Nordic. It’s dark up here, although possibly more cheerful than ‘over there.’

And, on that cheery note I will dive back into my waiting book mountains, before the January books arrive. There tends to be this brief lull for a couple of weeks, or three, as one year [in the publishing world] comes to an end and the new one begins. When the publicists go off on their Christmas holidays, they might fire off the ‘first’ 2017 books. (That’s apart from the ones I’ve already received and filed away because 2017 was such a long way off…)

After the apocalypse

I don’t remember if I have mentioned my strong dislike of the smell from bonfires? It’s quite a nice smell, really, but it was much nicer before the fire. After the fire – which luckily wasn’t too bad, but worse than we like to think about – that smell only brings back a feeling of worry. You are constantly checking that the neighbours are ‘just’ having an innocent bonfire, and that you’re not actually on fire.

It’s the same with fiction about ‘bad’ things. I’m sure my fondness for war fiction would evaporate if I was experiencing war myself. And then there’s the future dystopias. Wonderfully exciting and thought provoking, as well as entertaining.

Post apocalyptic sign

Perhaps you have come across this picture recently? It is very amusing, or would be, if things in the world were different. It’s not quite on the same scale as similar photos of boards outside shops promising puppies and cups of coffee to all unattended children.

In the last year, I’ve read several dystopias that featured a worrying future [but one that you confidently feel ‘will never happen’], often with a crazed leader in charge of America. Sometimes Britain. In the last few months I’ve sometimes felt that these fictional leaders have resembled a certain presidential hopeful far too much for comfort.

And now that time is here. It is current affairs. And I’m finding it much harder to read about.

Treasure your library

It’s not new, this idea of saving libraries. People are working hard to prevent closures, or this idea of ‘merely’ giving the school librarian the sack, leaving the books to look after themselves. Lots of authors, and others, were out marching a couple of weeks ago in London. I wish I could have been there.

And then there was this open letter during the week from Chris Riddell and Malorie Blackman and all the other former laureates, to save our libraries. I don’t feel that this should even have to be on the to-do list for children’s laureates, past or present. The threat should not be there.

Yesterday I mentioned the effect of libraries on a couple of authors, one of whom won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize this week. Alex Wheatle’s obvious joy on winning, and his totally unrehearsed speech on how the library [in Brixton] made him who he is, was very moving.

Whether we blame national government who really could shift spending money from weapons to libraries, or the local councils who are financially squeezed everywhere and ‘must’ save, is a matter of opinion.

Halmstad Library

Melvin Burgess BH library

But it shouldn’t be like in my former home town in Sweden, which has a lovely, newly built library, where clearly no expense was spared, which now has problems with vandalism. Mindless teen gangs come in – maybe because they are bored – and they are rowdy and they break things [toilets, for instance] and generally disturb the users of the library, forcing staff to call in security.

It seems they are now trying ‘youth leaders’ and they will hopefully have a positive effect. Or, they could try putting books by Melvin Burgess [see yesterday’s post] in their hands and making them read.

Let’s hope it’s not too late. I don’t have much hope, but let’s hope anyway.

The effect of jail, and stealing a book

Or how good comes from bad.

Very pleased for Alex Wheatle who won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize last night, with his book Crongton Knights. Congratulations!

I know very little about Alex, who’s not been on my horizon long. But I like the sound of him. The one fact that seems to stand out when people write about him, is that Alex discovered books and reading while in jail over thirty years ago. So something good resulted from a fairly negative event; both the starting to read, and eventually writing books himself. And I believe there’s an MBE in Alex’s past as well.

Another vaguely criminal background story was given some attention this week when Chris Riddell illustrated a story by Jenn Ashworth about how she discovered YA books in her library as a child. In her case it was finding Melvin Burgess’s Baby and Fly Pie and reading it in one morning in the library, before stealing it.

Chris Riddell and Jenn Ashworth 1

Chris Riddell and Jenn Ashworth 2

Chris Riddell and Jenn Ashworth 3

Yes, that’s not to be recommended, but to find yourself in a book to such an extent, and to be guided by this new reading experience into becoming an author feels right.

Sometimes bad leads to good.

(And I seem to have done my normal thing and borrowed very freely from Chris. And I can’t claim never to have taken something that wasn’t mine.)

Another ‘Girl’ crime novel

I wonder how long the ‘Girl’ phenomenon will last? And would we have had it at all, had someone not made Lisbeth Salander a ‘girl’? For someone like me, the plethora of girl-titled crime novels now means that I cannot tell them apart. But presumably they sell a bit better for it.

Anyway, this one, by Liselotte Roll, was called Tredje Graden [third degree] in the original Swedish. The translator and I have spent some time discussing a suitable English title, and I felt we came up with some good ones. But on the other hand, I do quite like the sound of Good Girls Don’t Tell.

Liselotte Roll, Good Girls Don't Tell

Published today by a Dutch publishing company, recently bought by a UK publisher, I have to say I also like the look of the actual book. It has curved corners, and the font used on the cover looks good. And as with most female Swedish crime writers, Liselotte has ‘been compared to Camilla Läckberg,’ which I suspect isn’t always a useful thing for authors. But there you are.

The blurb on the back gives away too much of the plot, in my opinion. Knowing what has to happen, someone like me would read on tenterhooks, just wondering when ‘it’ would come. And then the next ‘it.’

Translation by Ian Giles, as you may have suspected.