Author Archives: bookwitch

Master Will and the Spanish Spy

You can learn new things, even in the short 80 pages of a Barrington Stokes book. Here is Tony Bradman with another brief Shakespeare tale. This time it’s set while Will lives at home with his parents and siblings, going to school and getting bored and skiving off to go and see the theatre company come all the way from London.

He meets Mr Burbage, and although we can’t know what actually happened back then, it feels like true history is taking shape as Will gets to know the travelling actors, and meets ‘real’ people. The way he falls in love with the theatre is truly inspiring, and feels like it could have happened that way, and it would explain all those famous dramas we still have to enjoy.

Tony Bradman, Master Will and the Spanish Spy

The Shakespeare parents have their troubles, and life isn’t always easy or safe. Will sees something odd when he’s out and about, and feels it needs dealing with, just in case. Sensibly, he speaks to the older generation, and something can be worked out.

I had no idea that Spanish Spies could have such a devastating effect on both themselves and on others. And then there’s the plague…

‘Don’t show your ghosts too soon’

Jonathan Stroud had been in Gothenburg before. 11 years ago, he reckoned, which is true, as that’s when we met him the first time. Then he had his Bartimaeus trilogy to talk about, and now it’s Lockwood.

On Thursday morning Jonathan did a short event with his publisher, and he only had to warn her once that she must be careful with spoilers. I’m glad I was already past that bit, so it didn’t upset me. I’ve been reading the 4th Lockwood all week (and the reason I’m not done yet is not because I’m slow, but simply that there hasn’t been enough time in the week) and it has been just the right background for a bookish few days at the Gothenburg book fair.

Jonathan feels there’s a bit of Pippi Longstocking about Lockwood. And needless to say he wants to be him. (So it was interesting to hear him tell Lotta Olsson on Friday that when he tried to use Lockwood as narrator in book two, he gave up as he didn’t want Lockwood’s interior monologue.)

Everyone is impressed by his extensive research (this is fiction, folks!) into ghosts and the weapons he gives his characters in their fight against the ghosts. Poltergeists are – sort of – real, but most of the rest he obviously made up.

Mats Strandberg, Lotta Olsson and Jonathan Stroud

Lockwood began when Jonathan wrote a short introduction, featuring a boy and a girl outside a door, and he wanted to find out who they were and what they were about to do. Lockwood and Lucy and George emerged from that short opening. The reason he uses – an alternative – London as the setting for a fantasy is because it’s more realistic and exciting in a real place. He doesn’t know much, but builds things up slowly.

The agencies in the books are growing increasingly corrupt, so he made the ghost hunters young because they are more open than adults. Jonathan compared the work the young agents do on a nightly basis with our own everyday tasks that we just have to do, whether we want to or not. He feels that by implying things and being sparing with details, you have a more powerful story.

In his event with Lotta Olsson, he and scary author Mats Strandberg discussed the difference between horror and terror. It could be that horror is more for children, while terror works better for adults. Mats, who has been inspired by Harry Potter [the films…] described his new book as being a bit like The Walking Dead, set on the ferry to Finland. (Which sounds pretty terrifying, if you ask me.) And apparently in his next book Mats is even scaring himself.

Jonathan believes in suspense, which is why he doesn’t want to show his ghosts too soon. You will be more frightened by not knowing what’s coming. There’s the bump in the night, versus machine guns. Mats said that in terror it is generally the underdog who fares best. Asked by Lotta how the easy access to violent [real] videos for even quite small children will affect future writing, Mats hopes that empathy can save the world.

Freedom to Think is a campaign Jonathan is involved in, which wants to give our far too busy children some time to themselves, when they can simply sit and do nothing; dream up new ideas and maybe learn the skills to be an author or to do other creative things. Not to be ferried round by parents to ever more activities.

Lotta wondered if Lucy was meant to be the main character in Lockwood, and Jonathan felt that the fact she is flawed, brave, and has anxieties, makes her a useful and very suitable hero, and why he discovered that Lockwood was no good in that role. Finding your voice is the best thing.

Asked by someone in the audience for their favourite writers, Mats confessed to being a Stephen King fan, while Jonathan likes M R James and his ‘short and nasty’ stories.

Jonathan is currently writing the fifth and last Lockwood novel, which is nervous work. But he finds that the scary bits make the jokes better.

Fair Haughton

I’d forgotten how nicely Irish Chris Haughton sounds. I wasn’t surprised that this wonderful picture books author and illustrator had been invited to the Gothenburg book fair. Swedes love their picture books, after all.

But they’d added another aspect to Chris, by calling his event something like Fair Trade Picture Creator, and that is even more of a Swedish thing. So I don’t know if the ladies flocked to his event because they like sweet picture books, or they enjoy beautiful rugs, or they just like nice Irishmen.

Chris Haughton

That was the thing when I saw Chris in Edinburgh last year; I didn’t quite get the bit about making rugs. And appearing with Chris Riddell and Oliver Jeffers, maybe there wasn’t room for the rugs. But now I do, and I love them. They even had some at the fair to look at. (I had sort of imagined him at a loom, making rag rugs, when in actual fact Chris makes beautiful designs, which are then tied in the traditional way by professionals in India, and they look marvellous.)

Anyway, Chris started off his event talking about his picture books, with a slide show, and reading selected bits from a couple of books, showing us how he had developed his ideas. The young Chris had gone from being told he could work as a graphic designer, to enjoying making caricatures, and then discovering the use of computers at college.

The next stage was collaborating with The People Tree, designing various goods for them and being paid in t-shirts, which Chris liked. He travelled in India, and saw things he found interesting, and only got on to the rugs by accident when being shown yarn dyeing and felt he had to be polite about it. He quickly worked out where the rug makers were going wrong; making good quality rugs depicting the Manchester United logo. It was this that made him come up with attractive alternatives.

Chris’s next venture was making an app called Hat Monkey. This is for young children to do fun things, like dancing and singing. Great pictures as with all his stuff.

In Shh! We Have a Plan Chris solved his illustration problems by making it as a collage, and showed us a photo of him playing on his kitchen floor, putting the pieces together. He read us his new book Goodnight Everyone (featuring a beautiful sky at night) where basically everyone falls asleep. So many picture books are about falling asleep…

For school visits Chris has put together a shape kit, which allows young children to play with his characteristic shapes and colours, making new pictures every time.

Chris Haughton

As well as having a display of his rugs and some dolls down on the market stall level, there were books for signing outside. Amazingly all his picture books have been translated into Swedish, and the audience clustered around, eagerly awaiting a doodle or two in each book. I’d have liked to linger, but had another event to run to, so left Chris to ‘his’ ladies.

Slurp

You might remember that Meg Rosoff left me in the corridor on Thursday afternoon. I was still there when she woke up on Friday morning. Or so I tried to claim. I had returned to the same spot, sorting out my plans for the day, when Meg came up and asked if I’d come for coffee with her.

On the understanding I’d not actually have to have any coffee, I agreed, and that’s how I ended up slurping my own pink blueberry yoghurt drink after all. Meg had one as well, and also coffee (Swedish coffee, where you don’t get to choose what kind) to set her up for the day.

(It must be tough to find that the only person ‘in town’ you know is your long time ‘stalker.’ A bit like when friends of ours moved to a new town and the only person they knew there was the bishop. Talking of whom, the bishop was the only famous person I encountered in the corridors during my two days at the fair. Except I refer to him as the former archbishop. Same difference.)

We talked about amusement parks, and nearly falling off carousels, and I recommended Liseberg [across the road] if she wanted a walk. Anyway, it turned out Meg had even more mini-events to appear at than I’d been told about, so I attempted to steer us towards the Brombergs stall, except in the end Meg did better than me. Oh well.

Meg Rosoff

It’s amazing how at a fair this size, with thousands and thousands of visitors you ever accidentally find people you know. As I was making my way to see Chris Haughton, my attention was caught – with some difficulty – by the New Librarian, who was standing there eating lunch with Pizzabella and School Friend. So we chatted over their Thai food, until it was time for me to eat my own lunch during Chris’s event.

My next event was 45 minutes on horror with Jonathan Stroud and Mats Strandberg talking to Lotta Olsson. And from there I ran to the stage where Meg was appearing, again, and where I’d arranged to meet both School Friend and Pippi. Failed to see School Friend, even with the help of the New Librarian and Pizzabella, who both passed by individually, and who both failed to find their mother. Pippi turned up and we chatted until it was time for me to force a couple of signed books from Meg. At this point School Friend materialised, but when offered the opportunity of meeting Meg she vanished, claiming she had another event to queue for, so in the end Meg only got to say hello to Pippi, who then insisted on buying me tea. And a kanelbulle.

Meg Rosoff

I just might have noticed Sven Nordqvist, of Findus fame, walk past. But on the whole I don’t recognise Swedish celebrities. I decided that gossiping was more important than a third Jonathan Stroud event, and when we were done I sent Pippi on her way to look at books and things, while I chased Jonathan for a signature, but missed him.

And that was that.

I went to pick up my suitcase from Miss Vet’s, called in at a bookshop on the way to the station (because I’d not had enough, and because the fair didn’t have the book I was after), and caught a train to go and spend the weekend with School Friend. And that is where I am now.

Halving your equations

It was really very interesting. I may not know too much about maths and physics, but that doesn’t mean an event where people who do know about these things and talk about them, can’t be fascinating.

Christophe Galfard and Ulf Danielsson spoke to Karin Bojs about the universe, last thing on Thursday at the book fair. Christophe is famous for having done his PhD with Stephen Hawking, but they were at pains to point out that Ulf had studied with David Gross of Nobel fame, and he is now Professor at the University of Uppsala. Words like theoretical physics and string theory always have entertainment value.

Christophe Galfard, Ulf Danielsson and Karin Bojs

Apparently it was ‘quite easy’ to become a disciple of Stephen Hawking. You just turn up as sober as possible, the day after the May Ball in Cambridge, and you talk to the people there and decide who you like best. It was hard work once he got in, though, but also good because in such illustrious company you get to meet the greatest names in the business. You have to ‘think the unthinkable’ to get ahead.

Karin made Christophe explain the rather famous E = mc2, which seemed to surprise him, and this led to the wisdom of avoiding equations when you write for us normal people, as you halve the number of readers for each equation used. (That strikes me as an equation on its own.)

Ulf also worked hard, and he once carried Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair. It was heavy. During his time working for his PhD he also became a father, while Christophe said he didn’t, or at least not that he knows of. A bit risqué, perhaps.

David Gross insisted Ulf had to learn how to keep his papers in order, and Christophe remembered the time Stephen’s computer voice broke as he was about to talk to his peers, and first year Christophe had to do the talking in his place.

Christophe Galfard

The first book for Christophe was George’s Secret Key to the Universe, which he wrote with Stephen and Lucy Hawking. He said the name helps sales. It’s a story everyone can understand. He is interested in what we don’t know, but also what we don’t know we don’t know. Christophe no longer works with research, but writes full time. He explained why we can’t fly, as well as why we don’t sink through the chairs we sit on. Something to do with quantum physics. And there’s some string theory at the end of his new book, The Universe in Your Hand.

As a professor Ulf has other work to do, but gets his writing in at night on the principle that a little will eventually become a book. He used words like dark matter, dark energy and a Star Wars-y title (Mörkret vid tidens ände), but also has thoughts on geography. His new book, Vårt klot så ömkligt litet, is about Earth and how we are no different from stone age people. And he’s flying back to Uppsala.

The bad news from Christophe is that the Sun will die. And if only the dinosaurs had had a university, they might have learned about theoretical physics and done something about becoming extinct. Not sure if this had any bearing on his trilogy on climate for children. He feels it’s important.

As I said, this was really very interesting.

Afterwards I hung around at the signing, just so I could walk up to Christophe and say hello and tell him we’d met before, and that I wasn’t buying his book. And ‘does he really speak Swedish?’ A little, it seems. Who’d have thought?

At last! Meg at Bokmässan!

A mere eleven years after I told people in no uncertain terms that they must invite Meg Rosoff to the Gothenburg book fair, she’s finally here. She only had to go and win the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for it to happen, but at least she got here in the end. And it’s not just me who’s happy. A great many people have gone all star struck over meeting Meg, so I reckon this is a good thing. I’d like to think I helped, but I probably didn’t.

Gothenburg book fair

And I actually didn’t run up to her when I first saw her yesterday, feeling she might need the respite. Five minutes later I knocked on her back, however, as she was waiting to go on for her first of four events, one of the many free floor events they put on in Gothenburg, meaning you can see your stars without forking out a fortune. Or being a librarian. I was introduced to Helen Sigeland from ALMA, who remembered meeting Son a few months ago. (There’s no stopping this family.) I also accidentally saw Meg’s iPhone password when she needed to show me a photo from Tasmania… As you do.

IMG_0447

Talking to Boel Westin, she covered everything from getting the news of the award (good news can be as much of a shock as bad news), believing they’d made a mistake, past the prairie of silence when you need to start a new book (generally early January), the sexy horse book, her mother’s dog who is not allowed on the couch, and possibly basing her male and female characters on her husband and their daughter. A little.

IMG_0454

One hour later it was the turn of magazine Vi Läser to host Meg at their stall, and the seats were long gone (so I borrowed one from the University of Lund). The conversation was slightly different, and Meg talked about the beginnings of her adult novel Jonathan Unleashed, and leaving Penguin over it. At the signing afterwards I tried to buy a couple of copies of Jonathan in Swedish, but as my faithful readers know, you can’t always buy things with cash in this country.

Meg Rosoff at Vi Läser in Gothenburg

Jonathan-less I made my way round the corner to Piratförlaget and their little stage, grabbing a comfy seat early on. Which is where Meg found me, slurping something rather pink. Her slurping; not me. She showed me a photo of her with Patti Smith, so I said they were on at the same time. Meg told me to go and see Patti instead of her, again. Meg also offered to buy me my own pink blueberry yoghurt drink.

IMG_0484

Her lovely interviewer asked Meg about coming to Gothenburg, and she mentioned she’d been hinting for years with no luck, and talked again of the strain of surprise on hearing about the award and how they must have had the wrong number. Many Swedes seem to like What I Was best of Meg’s books, which she – probably accurately – explained by saying how she’d based it on her own ‘feral existence’ in Suffolk, and this is pretty much a Swede’s dream life. Meg told us about her very responsible daughter (she has to be, with a writer and an artist for parents), and how her own mother had confused her early on by saying she was bound to meet Mr Right one day, and how Meg feared she’d be in the wrong place at the crucial time.

It was a good thing I rejected Patti Smith, as the queue for her event was worse even than for Desmond Tutu last time I was here. I and all the librarians managed to sneak past the hordes to get to Meg’s ‘big’ Thursday event, with Boel Westin. I was joined at the last minute by the New Librarian, as well as others made late by the ‘Patti effect.’

IMG_0488

Life after ALMA is fine, with everyone wanting to see her, and travelling like crazy. She’s not writing anything at the moment, and Meg probably wants to remember to pay her car insurance this time, as she finishes her to-do pile. Skirting past the sexy horse book, she told us how she acquired her agent, relishing being told to write ‘as fiercely as you can’ after having grown up being told the opposite. When How I Live Now meant Meg could give up her job, she had to ask how to do this, more used to being fired.

Meg talked about finding one’s voice, (apparently it can be a bit like a horse and its rider), telling us that her husband brings her coffee in bed, and she reckons that for this she will hang on to him. Not being good at remembering things, she suspects that what she does remember will be important. Boel said she feels Meg is good at coming up with great book titles, so we learned about Googling ideas for titles to see if you’re original or not.

She doesn’t know what logarithms are, and sometimes she and her husband wake up to the sudden awareness that they actually live with animals. And art is important, as is thinking about death all the time (Meg not being the type of person who thinks about what car to get). She finished by reading from the Swedish favourite, What I Was.

I saw her again as I was enjoying a well earned armchair rest in a corridor. Meg stopped to say she needed to go and lie down, and she was heading for her hotel room, except she wasn’t entirely sure where it was. I realised belatedly that she was walking in the wrong direction…

Lit hotel

Take one old(ish) communist millionaire, allow him to have quite a lot of opinions about a lot of things, and you can work out that he will make enemies as he goes about his daily business. Which includes running a couple of hotels.

I have known [about] this owner of Hotell Gästis in Varberg for many years, and been vaguely acquainted with him since that literature module at university nearly forty years ago, but haven’t seen him except for a couple of years ago at Uncle’s funeral.

I have been aware of the hotel all my life, as it’s opposite the block of flats where GP Cousin grew up. But this was my first stay there, and I was intrigued to find owner Lasse Diding sharing his latest feud on facebook only a day before I travelled.

Hotell Gästis - wall art

He likes books, so is well suited to host a Bookwitch. The rooms are stuffed with books to read (and if you haven’t finished when you leave you can take it with you), and the corridors and the bar and the restaurant are even more stuffed. With books.

Hotell Gästis - book cover poster and books

So, the feud. I gather Lasse doesn’t get on with the leader writer on the local paper Hallands Nyheter. The latest trick is to uninvite him to sponsor the annual Book Day in town, where visiting authors have been put up in the hotel. It seems a shame, as this centrally placed book-hotel couldn’t be more ideal. (Well, perhaps anyone similarly afflicted to your Bookwitch might have opinions on the outlandish arrangements for ablutions in the bathroom, but we are not all like that.)

Hotell Gästis - the bath, shower?

(There is also a Lenin spa. Obviously.)

An earlier feud was over the statue Lasse bought and donated to the town. Some twenty years ago a woman somewhere in Sweden witnessed a neo-nazi march and got so furious that she hit them with her handbag. This has now been made into a statue, and not everyone is keen on it. It’s a shame, since we need more of this kind of courage.

Hotell Gästis - books

What I personally needed as I arrived, was plenty of tea. Lasse is not a member of the kettle in your room brigade, which I’m afraid I feel is a service that cannot ever be over-rated. There is a fridge. Books. Lovely period armchairs. Old-fashioned desk, and broadband. (The password is a literary one.) Books. Shoehorn. Magazines. Art on the walls. Fan. Outlandish bath/shower arrangement. Books. ‘Oriental’ rugs everywhere.

He does, however, include a buffet dinner in the room price. I drank a large cup of Earl Grey after dinner. Then another. Whoever chose that blend of Earl Grey should have a statue made of them.

Hotell Gästis - armchair

And if the coffee is as good, I can – almost – understand the local conservative politician who regularly calls in to steal cups of coffee and biscuits. I believe this is now in the hands of the law. I’d just about be prepared to nick some tea when passing through town. Except I wouldn’t. Just because someone is well off, and a communist, doesn’t mean we should steal from them.

But we could accept their statues.

There is obviously no way I will be helping myself to a book for the onward journey.