Category Archives: Blogs

The instruction booklet

It can be hard to read. And understand, I mean.

Daughter dug out the board game she got a while ago, but we had been too busy to play, and now, with no Christmas or anything else getting in the way, we made an evening of it.

Ticket to Ride, Europe

But first you have to read the instructions. While Daughter unpacked all the cards and the colourful little plastic trains (this was Ticket to Ride, Europe) and the railway stations, she told me to read the rules.

I read and I understood all of the words, but I had great difficulty making sense of those words, in an all-together-now kind of way. I handed the booklet back to her, and the Resident IT Consultant and I waited dutifully while she deciphered those sentences.

It brought home to me how hard any kind of reading can be, depending on who reads, what they read, and where and when and why. And possibly some other wh-words, but these will suffice.

To play it safe, we avoided the railway tunnels like the plague, at least to begin with, until we had almost grasped what you had to do. I never mind if I don’t win, so felt safe enough merely playing, waiting to see how it would go, not needing to know exactly how to plot and plan.

Whereas the Resident IT Consultant had that smug face he always has when we play games and we know who will win.

But it was fun anyway.


We know that!

I love Tim Dowling. I just had to mention this. His column in the Guardian Weekend ten days ago was almost like a re-run of Daughter’s attempts with her pub quiz book and me.

Parents are amazing! Especially so since their children appear to have little, or no, concept of what makes for relevant knowledge.

At last Tim was able to show his sons what he’s made of! (Mostly old sitcoms, it seems.)

I know very little about some areas of pub quiz terrain. I don’t mind this. But how Daughter could believe, even for a minute, that the Resident IT Consultant or I would know 1980s pop music is incomprehensible. We’re ancient!

But ‘What is the name of the pub in Emmerdale?’ is a different kettle of fish. I’ve not even heard of many later television shows/soaps, let alone would know who’s in them. It’s just not important.

‘The Woolpack,’ I replied.

‘How the **** do you know that???’

Honestly. Children.

Kepler, take 2

Translations can be tricky. I’m sure that in some cases it doesn’t matter what they are like. In the case of instructions for household appliances it does help if they don’t cause people to be injured, or worse. On the other hand, it has been claimed once or twice that a good translation of mediocre literature can win awards for authors, including the Nobel.

But does a bad translation prevent sales? After all, you tend to buy before you discover this, if you are able to tell. Sequels might suffer, though.

I read about the plans to reissue the crime novels by Lars Kepler, with new translations into English, and was reminded of a comment on here when I reviewed The Hypnotist, which was their first. Adèle Geras felt quite strongly that the translation was what put her off finishing the book. On the other hand, Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril (aka Lars Kepler) reckoned the translation was good. And I found no immediate fault with it, but could have been handicapped by having already read the book in Swedish. It was just not a favourite of mine.

Now, however, Niclas Salomonsson of the Salomonsson Agency believes he knows why the books haven’t done as well in the US as he feels they deserve. When he ‘discovered’ that the translations were bad, he first spent a lot of money on buying the agency which owned the rights and then he bought back the US rights and hired a new translator to retranslate the first three books (of six). And he has high hopes of success, second time around.

It will be interesting to see if he’s right.

Another ‘fascinating’ aspect is how this all goes down in the translating community. A job is a job, so I can understand if the new translator feels OK about this improvement task. But it must surely also feel a little icky, re-doing what your colleague seemingly has ‘failed’ at? And if you’re the ‘failure’? Except, according to my in-house translator, we don’t know who did the first translation, as it was a pseudonym, so I imagine no one will be publicly embarrassed.

In the end, I wonder if it will make a difference. I believe more in a good publicity effort, even if it is second time lucky. After all, we mostly don’t read crime novels and thrillers for any literary chills that might run down our spines. We want quick thrills.

But the blurb by Lee Child probably won’t hurt.


A very kind person gave me this mug for Christmas.

Bookwitch mug

I don’t deserve it – I didn’t give the giver anything – but I obviously embrace every bit of kindness and generosity coming my way.

Bookwitch mug

And tea.

Pay authors, or make them pay?

That on-going discussion about authors being paid to come to book festivals? Well, I’ve come across a different way of looking at it. You could charge them to attend.

OK, so in the first place there is a difference between countries; how you do things. And a book festival is not the same as a book fair. It’s just that in Gothenburg the fair does look a lot like a festival, too, with events all over the place. So someone wishing to organise a smaller fair such as the one I’ve read about, is clearly identifying with the market stall idea, rather than the public performance.

Not to worry, in order to save the participating authors from having to fork out actual money – although it’s around £5 in advance if you want coffee on the day – they are being asked to give [at least] one book as a raffle prize. And they’ll get a table from which to sell or market their books.

Meanwhile, someone ‘neutral’ will do a couple of talks; mostly about the books available to buy.

Whether the venue will charge to enter, I have no idea. I believe they should, and that way no one who’s come to do actual work there would need to give anything but their time. The venue will presumably make money on the raffle tickets as well as any ice creams or coffees bought by the plentiful visitors.

What gets me more than the ‘give us a free book’ idea, is that the authors who probably are quite interesting people, with tales to tell, are doing the bookselling, while someone else who might as well keep shop, is going to talk… The least this person could do would be to talk to the authors, giving the audiences a better idea of who they are and why their books might be fun to read.

One more thing; the organisers would like the authors to publicise the event.

But as I said, we all do things our own way.

Who will sell a book?

I have been a bit naïve. After all these years I still don’t know ‘everything’ there is to know about bookshops, and the politics between publishers and shops, or chains. I’d know more had I realised that there was stuff to learn and find out about, rather than me believing in common sense in the book trade.

For all the mutterings I’ve done over the years about ‘the buyer from Waterstones’ and how they might not like a cover, say, so the publisher bends over backwards and makes a cover that will please ‘the buyer from Waterstones,’ I hadn’t understood that not all books get ‘accepted’ by – shall we say – Waterstones.

In fact, I still don’t know whether the non-acceptance of a new book by ‘John Smith’ means that you can’t even go into the shop and ask them to order it for you. I should try and find out.

If you can’t, then it seems that there is only Amazon and other similar online shops. If you want ‘John Smith’s’ book, that is. 999 Nuances of Grey and books by comedians are obviously always an option.

I used to think the hurdles you had to overcome were a) write book b) have book accepted by agent c) agent sells book to publisher d) publisher publishes book and sends it out into the world, where e) you hope someone will buy it. Perhaps f) read it. I just had no concept of the gap between publishing a book and it being available for buyers to find.

It appears that if you have a Land’s End novel and a John O’Groats novel, you shouldn’t – necessarily – expect bookshops at the opposite end of the country to stock it. This is just so weird. It’s sort of the continuation of the situation where if you are a white Londoner you must only write a novel about white Londoners, and now you should only expect to see it for sale in a London bookshop.

I can see the reasoning happening. I just don’t understand it.

Most bookshops in the UK probably stock Jo Nesbø’s novels. They were written by a man in a country with five million inhabitants. The population of Scotland is the same, but it seems Scottish books don’t necessarily make it to bookshops outside Scotland. (Because it can’t be that smaller publishers are discriminated against, I hope?)

Many shops are also likely to stock the crime novels by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, who hails from a small country with a population less than Cornwall. I actually have no idea if Cornish novels are treated differently, but if they aren’t, I wonder about the Scottish apartness. The referendum (the first one, about going it alone) was full of people saying we are the same and belong together. If so, what’s happening with books?

Bengt Ohlsson?

Some years ago in a comment on someone’s [Swedish] blog I said I didn’t know who Bengt Ohlsson was. Another blog reader told me that since he’s a really great literary author and columnist, this was impossible. I [hope I] replied that I had no cause to lie. In the end I was allowed to not know Bengt because I was living abroad.

Anyway, yesterday I read a short story by Bengt. Vi magazine is celebrating their 20th Literature Boat (where authors and readers take to the high seas for book events and food) and have asked some of their former performers to write a short story for the magazine. The theme is literature at sea. The first story, last month, was about stalking an author.

The second one, by Bengt, was – seemingly – about boarding the Literature Boat for one more trip. It started in a fairly pedestrian way, but by the end it actually became something quite different.

It was interesting, and entertaining, but it didn’t necessarily make me want to join one of the sailings.

What I really appreciated, however, was the almost supernatural coincidence Vi provided me with. You see, there are more authors of some repute that I don’t know; not only poor Bengt. His story was in the December issue, and I’d saved it for ‘reading later.’

Yesterday morning, before reading the short story, I had glanced through the January edition of Vi. It very conveniently had an article about three shortlisted authors for the Vi book award; none of whom I’d heard of.

Within an hour, one of the three turned up as a character in Bengt’s story. And I wouldn’t have realised!