Category Archives: Blogs

That’s Noble, that is

‘Who on Earth is the Princess Sofia?’ I asked myself a week or two ago. Odd, as the Resident IT Consultant and I, prompted by a viewing of The Crown, had just a day or two earlier discussed how big the Swedish royal family is. And by that we meant how many of them actively go out cutting ribbons and the like. I guessed an answer, but exile doesn’t help with names of new royals.

I follow Kungahuset on Facebook – yes, really – so should be better at names. Anyway, I read that Prinsessan Sofia had opened a primary school. Or was it a secondary school? It was one she has attended as a child, now rebuilt or enlarged or improved. She’s the ‘ordinary’ girl who married Prins Carl Philip, son of the King. A few days later I learned it was her 35th birthday.

And then, after a few mutterings from Daughter on Tuesday night, I cyber stalked a bit more and discovered Sofia was the one who was escorted into the Nobel dinner that evening by none other than Didier Queloz, who you all know shared the Nobel Prize in Physics. Hence the mutterings all the way from Berlin.

Prins Carl Philip med Esther Duflo, Nobelpristagare i ekonomi, Prinsessan Madeleine med William G. Kaelin Jr, Nobelpristagare i fysiologi eller medicin och Prinsessan Sofia med Didier Queloz, Nobelpristagare i fysik. Foto: Pelle T Nilsson/SPA

His former PhD supervisor Michel Mayor was also in Stockholm, at the same dinner, since they shared the prize. He, in turn, got to share Crown Princess Victoria at dinner with the third, but first, Nobel laureate in physics, James Peebles.

Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz are Daughter’s former colleagues from Geneva, and they have – more or less – done research on the same kind of thing. The other two have a head start on her, so we’ll have to wait.

But what I really wanted to know was whether my Cousin GP was there, pouring the wine.

Marie Fredriksson always said hello

Marie Fredriksson has died. I know that has very little to do with books, but it affects me. Part of her past happened in the place where I lived with Mother-of-witch. I had long moved away when Roxette burst onto the music scene, so I came late to that wonderful voice of hers.

The odd thing was that last week when countless Roxette tracks made their way into my iTunes shuffle I stopped and thought again what a great voice she had.

When Offspring were small we spent part of what was still term time in England going to the playgroup near my old home, because we had weeks and weeks and needed something to do. “The other mothers had cause to gossip about rich foreigners with houses nearby, and people too grand to behave like normal people. ‘But at least Marie Fredriksson always says hello’, was the verdict. She lived near at the time, in the house Mother-of-witch desperately fancied living in. Perhaps if she’d been a rockstar?”*

So, basically, Marie behaved as though she was a normal person.

I recall when she was diagnosed with the brain tumour. I had just arrived in Sweden to sit with Favourite Aunt as she lay dying, and saw the tabloid headlines on my way past the newsagent’s. It’s a memory that has stayed with me, and I was so grateful when it seemed Marie had beaten her illness. After all, with two small children, that’s what you’d hope for.

Ten years later she was well enough to tour, and did a concert at the Manchester Arena with Per Gessle. Offspring and I went, and Marie was definitely the star. Better voice than Per and much prettier. Nice memory, and we were lucky to catch them.

There is a book, actually; Kärleken till livet, by Helena von Zweigbergk. After the brain tumour Marie could no longer read and write, but she still had a story to tell.

Marie Fredriksson

*From CultureWitch August 2010

The Ruth Rendell Award

I first met Tom Palmer eight years ago, at Media City in Salford, where he arranged games of rugby in his book event for the Manchester Literature Festival. I have to admit I only went because it was one of fairly few children’s books events on offer. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if I didn’t join in with the ball playing. (It was on the fifth floor..!)

Tom Palmer

A year later he was back, and so was I. This time it was football in Manchester Town Hall.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Tom writes sporty books featuring both team sports and running. Things he likes. Things that many boys like, and because of that they read his books. This is the man who didn’t read as a boy, unless maybe it had to do with sport. Tom knows what it is not to read.

Many of us well meaning book experts don’t actually understand enough about this. Which is why I’m so terribly pleased, and not in the least surprised, that Tom has been awarded the Ruth Rendell Award for his outstanding contribution to raising literacy levels in the UK. I didn’t know there was such an award, and it couldn’t have been given to anyone more deserving.

I haven’t read quite all Tom’s books, but I have read more than my share of these energetic tales, and they are all extremely good. I intend to keep reading them, and to keep telling others to do the same.

Last week when the Resident IT Consultant and I discussed abridged and adapted classics for children, and I listed examples of books that the little Bookwitch had enjoyed, he said ‘but they all sound like books for girls.’ And he was right. I pointed out that what we need for boys are books like Tom’s.

The next day I learned of his award. Very well deserved!

Launching When We Get To the Island

When he discovered he was wanted to drive me to Alex Nye’s book launch last night, the Resident IT Consultant spent the afternoon reading her book, When We Get To the Island. And as he said, it’s very Thirty-Nine Steps and a bit James Bond and quite exciting.

Alex Nye

It was a successful evening. The librarians kept carrying in more chairs, and then some more, and offering tea because it was such a wet and stormy night, as well as the wine and crisps. They have a nice library in Dunblane. And enough chairs, eventually…

Kirkland Ciccone and Clare Cain

Alex started by telling us a bit about the background to the book, the refugees being smuggled into the country, and the state of being a ‘looked after’ child in foster care. She read an excerpt from the last bit of the train journey, only partially insulting the Duke of Sutherland. (Not much at all, really.)

Talking about the petrochemical industry near ‘Grangefield’ her dog worriedly joined in. I had thought the ‘carrot topping’ business in the story somewhat farfetched, but it seems Alex has experience of this herself, including the dangers of trying to cut semi-frozen carrots with a sharp knife.

Alex Nye

She had had some difficulty seeing a happy ending to a book about trafficking and fostering, which both the Resident IT Consultant and the Nye dog loudly agreed with. Here Alex’s publisher Clare pointed out that it’s an exciting adventure book, and the dog on my right reckoned she was right. (She is.)

Nye dog

Before we were allowed to mingle again Alex read another short piece about her characters in a flooded tunnel and then she stopped right there, leaving a library full of people on a cliffhanger! They’d need to buy the book after that.

Clare Cain was selling books in a corner, but rejected the dollar bills offered by Alex’s sister who was visiting. It’s hard to remember what money goes where…

Clare Cain

And then we gossiped a bit with Kirkland Ciccone before braving the storm to go home again.

Vikings in Wexford

I’m a bit late to this, but found Eoin Colfer’s column for the Guardian on where he’s from (Wexford) such fun that I just have to force the link on you.

And I didn’t know about this, despite two interviews and countless encounters and conversations. Just goes to show you need to know to ask the right questions.

Also just goes to show how almost anything can set the imagination rolling, be it the Viking [Bookwitch] village underneath Wexford, or Philip Ardagh’s beard (for which there is no explanation and I will assume Eoin was merely being polite…).

Suffice to say, Eoin’s Dad sounds like a great father, and I’m very pleased to discover that there is in fact a requirement for all Irish writers to write a fairy book. It’s only right.

I also understand the issues between the Lower Elements and the humans far far better now. Bring on The Fowl Twins!

When stuck

I should have realised. I watched as the taxi driver put my rucksack in the boot, next to my suitcase. But I thought, ‘I don’t need access to any loose change, or anything, and it’s only 20 minutes…’

But it’s that thinking that does it. You don’t know why it’s important, but it will turn out to be.

Apart from a u-turn when the second road blockage caused by Glühwein was necessary, it seemed the journey to the airport on a late Monday morning would be uneventful. But there was that rucksack in the boot issue.

Near the airport, where various biggish roads meet, there was jam. Very non-moving [traffic] jam, at that. But I was calm. I had time. I was being driven, and therefore looked after.

But after a while of non-movingness, my nerves kicked in, and I knew it was time to read something to take my mind off the jam. Except, the book was in the boot (because I’d never read in a moving vehicle). Except, it wasn’t moving.

It could have been worse. I could have been on the bus, in the same jam, standing up, crushed by lots of people.

After some consideration, I realised I did have one thing in there with me. My phone. Facebook proved very boring, by which I mean, no one had had the courtesy of posting lots of new titbits for me to read.

So I did the Gwendolen Fairfax thing and read my own writing. Not a diary; just Bookwitch.

It sufficed. Even the more recent posts took my mind off the jam.

Phew.

New set of new shelves

So, a few days ago Daughter could finally put books on her new Billy. There was a slight delay because Billy had to be handcuffed to the wall first. The room he’s in has a spectacularly wonky floor.

But I’d say he’s now unlikely to fall over, even if he leans this way, and also that way.

The books – on those shelves that are not yet full – are also unlikely to slide, because I brought my small collection of bookends. For some reason I don’t seem to need them any longer…

There is still room for knick-knacks, but not for long, and certainly not if I were to insist that Daughter’s UK based book collection leaves Bookwitch Towers. On the other hand, I’m not sure we are up to fixing any more Billys to any more leaning walls.

I might insist that she sticks to ebooks in future.