Monthly Archives: May 2017

Meeting Danny the Granny Slayer

Charlotte Square comes to Cumbernauld. I might have mentioned before that the Edinburgh International Book Festival have decided to branch out, and are touring five New Towns in Scotland over the next year and a half, with little pop-up festivals for a weekend, and this is the Cumbernauld weekend. The first weekend, and with a really good looking programme.

I could have wanted to do more, but limited myself to the children’s event on Saturday morning. I couldn’t resist David MacPhail, Lari Don, Barry Hutchison and Jenny Colgan. Barry unfortunately couldn’t come and was replaced by Mark A Smith, but that was also fine. Not that I knew Mark, but he had a very jolly song for us.

Lari Don and Macastory

As did Macastory; two oddly dressed men from the future who sang a lot, and required hands to be clapped and shoulders shaken and other energetic stuff. The venue got changed to the pop-up Waterstones in the shopping precinct, which I thought was odd until I understood there was no ‘real’ Waterstones there. I did see the yellow buckets I’d been told about by Kirkland Ciccone, however.

The Resident IT Consultant came along to make sure I found the way, and he discussed getting lost – or not – with David MacPhail as we waited. David was first up and had some fun Vikings he told us about. I liked the polite one best, who apparently was modelled on David himself… He read a bit from one of his Thorfinn books, and then he told those brave enough to ask, what their Viking names would be. We had Danny the Granny Slayer on the front row.

David Macphail

Lari Don came next and talked about her Spellchasers trilogy (I know, I covered this a few weeks ago), and she wanted to know if any of us had the urge to be turned into an animal. One girl wanted to be a dragon, with an interesting idea for how to deal with the 45th President while in her dragon state. Long live creativity!

Lari Don

Mark A Smith followed, talking about his hero Slugboy, who seems to be some kind of anti-superhero. Unless I got that wrong. He Slugboys it out of St Andrews, which I felt was rather posh for slugs. Mark, as I said, had a song written about his hero, which we had to sing, to the tune of Glory glory halleluja, so it was terribly uplifting and all that, as well as a clever idea for audience participation.

Mark A Smith

Last but not least we had Jenny Colgan, who brought ‘her child to work’ and then proceeded to use her – fairly willing – son to hold the iPad to illustrate her Polly and the Puffin story as she read it to us. We had to do the puffin noises, so thank goodness for Macastory who didn’t seem to mind making fools of themselves.

Jenny Colgan

They also provided fun interludes, with songs and commentary, and we learned some sad facts about the future.

And that was it. The Resident IT Consultant led me safely back to the car (free parking in Cumbernauld!) with only one wrong turn. I’m hoping the authors were suitably accompanied back to somewhere they wanted to be, too. If not, there are authors to be discovered in downtown Cumbernauld.

Cumbernauld New Town Hall

Not CrimeFesting at all

I had to agree with the facebook friend who pointed out yesterday that she wasn’t at all jealous of those of her ‘criminal’ friends who are currently in Bristol, enjoying the 10th CrimeFest. She obviously didn’t mean it. We’d both like to be there. Maybe not kill to be there, but severe jealousy is a painful thing.

One of my American colleagues is there, again, and has been ever since he first sat on ‘my’ chair the year after I went. Which is now nine years ago, and I’d not have believed it could – would – be that long. (That’s [not] me on the left. As you can see.)

Dinner Friday Night

And the funny thing is, the less time I have to read adult crime novels, the more I feel like a fraud for even wanting to be there. ‘I won’t know anyone,’ I tell myself. But looked at realistically, I must know many more people than I did in 2008. I suppose I just threw myself right into things then, with my youthful energy, and now I sit here in my dotage, doubting my criminal credentials.

It’s so long ago that I even used the word Ceefax in a blog post the same month! I know because I went back and looked, to remind myself of Bristol. I have promised myself countless times to really try to go back ‘next year.’ I suppose the best thing would be if I could book right now, long before I know what I will or won’t be doing in May 2018.

In 2008 I made the rash decision to go, when discovering that my Irish colleague Declan Burke was going. Just like that. Have I become responsible? No, actually, I haven’t. I just caught a glimpse of the dates for Bouchercon, and almost saw myself in Toronto in October.

This will not do! Bloody Scotland is a short walk away. Much more convenient.

Launching The Pearl Thief

Elizabeth Wein was clutching a bunch of flowers when I found her just inside the doors of the Perth Museum last night. (I hadn’t thought to get her anything…) She introduced me to a fellow American, whose name I immediately forgot. Sorry.

I said hello to Elizabeth’s publicist Lizz, and it is so nice to find that London-based people occasionally venture this far north. I mean, Perth is practically the North Pole. I stepped outside again to fortify myself with a sandwich, where Alex Nye found me. She had also braved the travel situation, but had to drive (trains stopped at her station going north but not south, which is no way to get home), unlike me who had the luxury of the London train. Very nicely timed.

Gavin Lindsay, Jess Smith and Elizabeth Wein

After bagging a seat on the back row, I was greeted by ‘Mr Wein’ who was doing his utmost not to pass on his cold. And five minutes past the starting time the museum’s lecture theatre was just about full.

Elizabeth was joined by Jess Smith, another local author with a traveller background, who’d been an early reader of The Pearl Thief. They were kept in order by Gavin Lindsay of the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust. We were treated to the first chapter in Elizabeth’s book, and she apologised for not being able to read with a Scottish accent. (That’s OK.) Then Jess read a long poem called Scotia’s Bairns, accompanied by a slideshow of old travellers, showing how they lived. She described it as a fading culture, that has to be grabbed before it disappears.

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth made her heroine Julie posh, so she could be educated and well-read in the 1930s. The reason the travellers are in the story is due to her PhD in folklore, having been introduced to them by her professor, and Jess was there to see to it that she described them properly. ‘Casting’ a pair of traveller siblings balanced Julie and her brother Jamie. Jess said she ‘lived’ in the story, but both she and the editors demanded more action. And apparently the villain was the wrong one.

Jess Smith

Jess spoke of writing her first book, about her life growing up in the travelling community, explaining how she could deal with the bullies. She just learned to run fast. She hopes that young people will read her books, and she spoke fondly of her mother. Both writers agreed there is a lot of freedom in fiction.

Gavin Lindsay, Jess Smith and Elizabeth Wein

‘A homecoming’ is how Elizabeth described The Pearl Thief. It’s the first book set where she lives. Lara, the librarian from Innerpeffray Library, was in the audience, and I wasn’t the only one to have visualised her as the librarian in the book. Asked when Elizabeth knew she wanted the library in her story, she said she’d always known it was a part of it.

The reason Elizabeth wanted to return to writing about Julie was that her voice is so easy, although in this book she needed to adapt because Julie is younger. And the back story had to be expanded, as Elizabeth only had a name for one of Julie’s five brothers. She doesn’t know whether it’s best to read The Pearl Thief before or after Code Name Verity, but said that the experience would be different, whichever of the books came second.

Jess had a cousin in the audience who’s read all her books and loves them, and Jess suggested she would like Elizabeth’s book as well, and that she’s not getting paid to say so.

Logboat

Before finishing Gavin Lindsay mentioned the museum’s archeology programme for 2017, which includes the logboat that features in The Pearl Thief. And as long as we didn’t bring drinks in, we were allowed to have a look at the boat, which was much larger than I had imagined. It was surrounded by notices not to touch, and I was overcome by this dreadful urge to disobey, but didn’t…

Elizabeth Wein and Jess Smith

People bought books, had books signed, had more to eat and drink, and chatted. I explained my conundrum to Elizabeth that I didn’t know which of my copies of The Pearl Thief I would like to have signed, so in the end I’d brought both. Yes, I know it’s greedy, but this is the prequel to the second best book in the world. A bit of greed is fine.

I helped myself to one of the free maps of Perth, having got there totally mapless (someone had left the printer without toner), and set off on the walk back to the station. Halfway there I was asked to rescue my new American friend, who felt a bit lost. I could do this, but I’m warning you; don’t ask if you actually want to catch your train. She had so much spare time that we talked about books and reading and she very nearly didn’t make it and had to run. Which was entirely my fault.

But it is good to meet other book fans.

After this I discovered that one route to my platform involved getting the lift up to a glass-fenced bridge over the station. Aarrgghhh.

Reader, I did it!

And the evening also solved a little problem I’d had. So it’s all good.

Perth Museum

Finding home

It certainly takes the glamour out of being a refugee. Kate Milner’s picture book My name is not Refugee, tells the story of a mother who prepares her young child for leaving.

Kate Milner, My Name is not Refugee

She takes him through the various steps of what will have to happen; leaving your things, and your cat, behind. Living without running water, surrounded by rubbish. Being alone, or being with too many people close up. Eating strange food and sleeping in strange places.

And maybe finding somewhere in the end where you can be safe. Some place where you will eventually learn to understand the language, and maybe make new friends. Another cat.

In The Road Home by Katie Cotton, and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby, we meet a young hare and his parent. They are also trying to get home, and the way home takes them through beautiful and strange landscapes, past many other animals, friendly and not so friendly.

It’s different from the human trek, but maybe not so different after all. We want the same thing in the end.

‘For safety is a precious place, a place to call our own. This road is hard, this road is long, this road that leads us home.’

Two beautiful books.

Katie Cotton and Sarah Jacoby, The Road Home

Naondel

This sequel-prequel to Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff hits even harder for the feminist camp. Naondel makes you feel that – almost – all men are evil, but when you stop and think, you see it is mainly one, very bad, man who causes all that happens.

In Naondel the reader learns how the world we meet in Maresi came to exist, and why. At first I wondered if this was the right order to present the Red Abbey Chronicles; today, followed by 50-100 years earlier. But I feel it is. You need to know the world that was made possible through the sufferings of the seven women in Naondel. It’s not just their own escape that you come to root for, but that of all women.

And because you have read Maresi, you know they will escape. It just takes several hundred pages of back-story of suffering before they do.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Naondel

Told by all seven women, we first meet the women’s tormentor Iskan as a young man, when he is almost charming. Actually, he is always charming to begin with. We meet the girl who becomes his first wife, followed by many other women, slaves and more willing concubines. Iskan wants to, needs to, lead and will stop at nothing.

Naondel shows us how strong and resourceful women are, if you didn’t already know. The story also shows us how sisterhood can develop between women who have little reason to be friends.

It is actually quite hard to describe how inspiring these women are. You want to look away in horror at what is done to them. After a slow start, once it was clear how this was going to develop, I just had to read on and on.

I have no idea what the next book will be about, but I know I want to read it.

(Translated by A A Prime)

The route to permanent secretary

Meeting Sara Danuis’s predecessor Peter Englund didn’t make me feel we shared a background, especially. Apart from being Swedes. Reading about the current permanent secretary to the Swedish Academy I hoped Sara and I might have had more in common. She’s six years younger, but that’s nothing between peers. At our age, anyway.

And she looks familiar, but her name was completely new to me when she made the Bob Dylan announcement last autumn. Sara lived with her single mother, who wrote books in the bathroom. I lived with my single mother, but she definitely didn’t write books, anywhere. And it seems we had more books at home.

But when I read that Sara’s mother was Anna Wahlgren, the penny dropped. They might have been poor, and she might have written books in bathrooms, but Anna was famous and she and her children featured in countless magazine articles (which I read). Maybe that was where I ‘recognised’ her from.

Sara Danius in Vi Magazine

Her first own book that she bought was Ture Sventon, which wouldn’t have been my choice, but I can see where she’s coming from. Having a secretary who brings you Lent buns on demand is not a bad thing. All year round. Then, like me, Sara read what was available, which in her case was Sven Delblanc. I remember him too, including learning – like Sara – how to say his name. But I didn’t read his [adult] novels.

From there on my inferiority complex grows. While I did grapple with books typical for upper teens to read, I rarely enjoyed them, and I moved on, which in my case seems to have been backwards. Sara read Homer, Balzac, Sartre and Proust. And enjoyed them.

That‘s how you come to be permanent secretary to the Swedish Academy.

Passing for White

Reading about a married couple, two slaves in the American Deep South in the mid-19th century, who manage to escape to freedom due to the fact that the woman could ‘pass for white,’ you’d probably admire the author’s way of solving a difficult situation for her characters, and mutter something about it being unbelieveable.

Tanya Landman, Passing for White

But as they say, truth can be stranger than fiction, and in this case Tanya Landman has based her story on a real life couple, who really did get away from their owner, purely because the woman had white skin. That, and the fact that they were hardworking and brave, as are Tanya’s fictional couple Rosa and Benjamin.

Written for Barrington Stoke, this short but strong tale is truly inspiring, showing us what people are capable of. Rosa is ‘white’ because she was fathered by her owner. She was then sent away from her mother, to a new owner who uses her in the same way her father did her mother. It seems they ‘all’ did this.

That alone means Rosa’s marriage to Benjamin can never be quite as real as you’d expect, nor can they live together. So it’s not only freedom they are escaping to, but they hope to finally be able to lead a normal life, to live together, to be sure whose baby they could be expecting, and much more.

Unlike fictional characters whose creators have allowed them to learn to read and write, for instance, Rosa and Benjamin don’t have these necessary skills, and that becomes a problem as Rosa is trying to pass herself off as her husband’s [male] owner. She doesn’t have the knowhow to be a white man. But there are good people out there, as well as really bad ones.

And it’s fascinating to see quite how racist the people who worked against slavery in the North actually were. There are setbacks and there are successes, and we know they will escape, but we can’t foresee what almost insurmountable problems they will face.

Passing for White is an essential read.

ABCs and much more

I do miss Sesame Street. We used to watch every lunchtime; me in the corner of the Klippan sofa, lunch balanced on the armrest (I think it only fell off once or twice), Daughter on my lap and Son nestled next to me.

Presumably we moved away from it gradually, or school got in the way. I can’t recall. And when I woke up missing it, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I have been thinking about Sesame Street on and off over the years, trying to convince myself I’m too old for it. That I don’t need it.

But when I read about their new autistic character, I was seized by a strong wish to start watching again. This time I researched a bit more. And it is on, but only on some pay channel I’d never heard of and that I can’t get. I mean, I suppose I can, but we don’t believe in paying for parcels of programmes that will rarely if ever be watched.

So I’m feeling a bit disappointed, to be honest.

I’m wondering, too, how it ended up on a pay channel. Is it because it is so valuable that you must pay, like for new movies and sports events, or is it because it’s so uninteresting that none of the regular channels could be bothered? Had a quick look at a typical day on CBBC and it was dire. I used to enjoy watching after school. Not everything, but quite a lot, and would have to drag myself off to cook dinner. Mornings were also good, but I could rarely fit in more than a minute here and there as we were getting ready to leave the house.

Whereas I’d actually sit down for Sesame Street. ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ…

Eurohearing

They call it Eurovision in Sweden these days. I’m sure it used to be Melodifestivalen, even when it was the European finale, rather than the qualifying rounds at home. What’s more, each country had to sing in their own language. Maybe it’s ‘fairer’ when all can be heard in English. I don’t know. Sometimes there is a lot to be said for the sounds of home.

People rarely sing in local dialect. Somehow you adopt a one-size-fits-all approach when singing, despite speaking with a local accent. In my teens there was a [political] rock group who sang in dialect. It just wasn’t my dialect.

So to find HishultaBörje on a local [to me] CD some years ago, was quite refreshing. Gunnar Bringman (who seems to be a local dentist, of all things) sings the sad story of Börje from Hishult (southern Halland, in southern Sweden) with a Halmstad accent. It’s a catchy tune and the tale is sort of fun, as long as you’re not Börje himself. But it’s the accent I like. It takes me home, every time.

And I believe there is something important being lost. Not only do most people not sing in dialect, but they often sing in English. It does bring the lyrics closer to more listeners, but still. In my part of the world as I listen to children talk, I have discovered they are ditching the accent, and swapping it for some ‘posher’ sounding mongrel dialect which only tells me someone is ashamed of what they are and is trying to sound ‘better.’ Except by now it’s so general, that children will believe it’s the real deal. And if it has usurped the way we used to speak, then by definition it probably is the local dialect today.

So I rather wish they’d remove the English from Eurovision, except from the UK, Irish and Maltese entries. The UK one won’t win anyway. (And Swedish songs are always great, no matter what language.) Oh, and maybe the Australian song.

This well know European country is most welcome if only for their enthusiasm for the whole thing. I’m still not sure about Brugel, though. I was under the impression this tiny state had never been allowed to enter, but on checking my facts I see that [author] Ebony McKenna describes her small country as never having won. Maybe. Possibly they are so small we never see the Brugel entries. I’m a little hazy on what language they would sing in. Although the lovely part-time ferret Hamish speaks with a Scottish accent, so perhaps that is it. And ferrets are tiny, which could explane why Brugel is less visible.

Ebony McKenna, Ondine books

I do like an author who isn’t too cool to admit to a fervent love for Eurovision. This is presumably the attitude that brought Australia into the midst of the European Azerbaijanis and Israelis and so on. Soon it is only the UK who will neither win, nor be able to call themselves European.

Sweden hasn’t won for year at least. Must be time again?

Seeing Catherine Clarke

Well, no, I haven’t. Not recently.

But I was pleased to hear that literary agent Catherine Clarke – responsible for Meg Rosoff, among many others – has been chosen Literary Agent of the Year. Which is very nice.

My impression is that Catherine works hard. She is ‘responsible for’ by far the most sightings of any agent I am capable of recognising when out and about. Once in London, I reckon Daughter and I managed to come across her three times in one day.

A couple of years ago Daughter reported seeing someone on the tube as she travelled through London, someone who ‘had to be an author, and who could it have been?’ I told her people look the same.

Then when she arrived in Oxford, she ran into Meg Rosoff, which made me a bit jealous. I don’t run into my favourite author, just like that. And within minutes ‘that woman off the tube’ appeared as well, at which point it became clear she really had recognised her, because it was Catherine. Who also must have accidentally run into one of her authors.

So basically, she’s everywhere, and I’m sure that helps in knowing what to do about authors and their books. If I hear that an author is looked after by Catherine, I feel that is a recommendation in itself.

Congratulations!

The Bookseller - Catherine Clarke

(Apologies to The Bookseller for borrowing their page.)