Category Archives: Blogs

Farewell to Mal Peet

Football. Who’d have thought I’d like novels about football quite so much? The answer is that I obviously wouldn’t, had it not been Mal Peet who’d written them. And now Mal Peet has died, which is not only a dreadful loss for his family and friends (one of whom was thoughtful enough to let me know how things were, only a week before Mal died), but for his readers.

Mal Peet

Lots of people write very good books. Only a few manage what Mal Peet did, which is to write exceptional books. I remember the buzz on Facebook among his peers, last September when the proofs for The Murdstone Trilogy became available. I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite so much admiration, or read so many quotes, as I did then. And they were right. Murdstone is a marvellous take on fantasy literature, executed in a way only an expert could.

I felt then that it was really quite autobiographical in many ways, despite Mal -sort of – saying it wasn’t. And when I re-read the ending of the book just the other day, it felt even more as though he had put himself in there.

Mal Peet

Mal didn’t have hundreds of novels published. There wasn’t time for that. I don’t know if he wrote hundreds. That wouldn’t surprise me. I believe I’ve read all the published ones, and they belong to the category of books you just don’t get rid of. The Keepers. And now that I knew Murdstone was going to be Mal’s only adult novel, I simply had to go and move it from the adult section, to join its siblings on the YA shelves. It didn’t seem right to have poor Murdstone sitting there on his own, as it were.

I only met Mal a few times. First when he won the Guardian prize in 2009. And then at the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2010 and 2011. I introduced myself again, but it seems he remembered me. Mal even allowed himself to be taken out to ‘the tree’ for a photography session.

Mal Peet

Thank you for everything.

(I must add the link to Meg Rosoff’s tribute to her dear friend in today’s Guardian. I will be discreet and not ask who she’d like to see dead instead.)

The well-travelled library bed

I spoke too soon. It could be that Son would quite like the hifi somewhere in that room. The – ahem – library-cum-guestroom-cum-firstborn’s bedroom. We’ll have to see.

The much-thrown-about bed has been slept in. It’s the one Son adopted from some people in the Wirral a few years ago, which – on arrival in Edinburgh – proved too large to go down into the tenement basement flat, and which instead was walked round half the block, taken into the tenement opposite, through and out into that ‘garden’ and chucked over the fence into Son’s garden and in.

Bed move 2

A year later it was similarly chucked uphill back over the fence when it was time to move elsewhere, but at least this had been planned and there were more chuckers.

Another year on and Son sent the bed to us to be his bed in the new bedroom. And because there was a lot of decorating and unpacking needing doing, the poor bed has been shoved back and forth, with no room to call home. Until now. For a while it thought it would always have to stand on its side in the livingroom. But then it was displaced by the Christmas tree and spent December in the hall.

To make up for all this, the witch went to Glasgow and bought it something new to wear.

Flying bed

And then, when the hifi had been pondered and the now stationary bed slept in, the Resident IT Consultant and Son crept into the Grandmother’s flat while she was out and stole her kitchen table. But not her one and only. She has a collection of them. We needed a temporary desk for the boy.

They also lifted a rather nice bookcase, which I’ve had my eye on for almost 25 years. Although that was with permission.

Almost there

Bookshelves

And here they are, the ‘final’ shelves with actual books on them. Son is coming to inspect ‘his’ room, and the question is whether he will approve. Or will he notice there is no space for his hifi? I mean, who cares? Who in their right mind would use a large machine to listen to music?

We also need to get our three-book joiner to come and secure the whole shebang to the wall. Or else we could have a repeat of that time over twenty years ago when Son reckoned these shelves looked like ladder… The crash was very loud. Luckily both Son and the shelves and the books and the floor were pretty much as before, afterwards.

The eagle-eyed blog reader might feel like pointing out that there are some gaps still. That’s because I expect to have more books to put in there. Next week. And the week after. Also, there are double rows. Any book I want to find in future will be behind.

On editors

The frequency with which I mutter things like ‘the editor should have caught that’ is increasing. From reading only for pleasure, it seems I can no longer ignore what should have been fixed before that book made it out into the world. And I rarely blame the author, now that I’ve discovered editors.

But they are only human. And sometimes young, and new to the job. Someone needs to show them the ropes. These days it appears as if rope-showing is increasingly rare in the workplace. Thank god for Anne Rooney. I’d happily have her show me any kind of rope she can think of.

This week I’ve been in full admiration mode for Anne’s blog post on what a good editor should know, and it has far less to do with catching spelling errors than treating writers like Anne so well that they will want to write another book for them. It seems writers are also human beings, and their weekends are of a similar length to those of the editor’s.

Do click through and read this. Even if you have no need for this type of advice, it is a masterpiece of writing; a kind of rope-showing that no one could possibly argue with.

It’s a shame that the piece had to be written at all, but a blessing that it’s Anne who did it, and not some vindictive shrew. Like me.

Triggers

Whenever I think of the run-up to my interview with Debi Gliori (almost six years ago!) I feel ashamed. Ashamed, because she wanted to feed Son and me, and I gave her a very long list of what not to give me. In a way it doesn’t matter. As I made clear last week, I can always not eat the chocolate dessert, but it’s easier not to in a restaurant where I won’t worry too much about anyone’s hurt feelings. But I know that if I’ve slaved over a hot stove to cook something for a visitor, and it turns out to be the one exact thing they simply can’t eat, we’d both have been happier if there’d been a list. Even a long list.

Do not feed Bookwitch

(And in the end Debi went for simple and utterly delicious and I can recommend her kitchen to anyone. Which she might not thank me for.)

But you’d think that when I cook my own dinner I’d know what to do. Or not to do. And I do, but sometimes I have my moments. On Monday I could either have put no onion in the soup, or used a little, frozen, onion. I put lots of fresh onion in instead and didn’t cook it enough, and as a result you are now not reading about James Oswald’s visit to the Stirling branch of Waterstones.

C’est la vie. Sleeping off migraines is all right, too. Apart from my date with James I have the time, so it could have been worse. Perhaps I’ll write myself a list to look at in the kitchen, before I start telling others what to do.

I’m reminded by what Asperger guru Tony Attwood told the audience at a long ago conference I attended. Some people have found they get a bit more ‘normal’ by following a fairly strict diet. Or less ‘aspie.’ Tony was having a meal out with aspie child author Luke Jackson and his mother. Luke followed this diet, so his mother asked for various things to be taken into account when ordering his food.

Tony said that after a while they became aware that Luke was behaving unexpectedly badly. They asked the waitress if any of the things they’d mentioned might have ended up in Luke’s meal anyway. It had.

‘We didn’t think you’d notice,’ she said.

Translating the Peripheries

Remember Maria Parr? I read her Waffle Hearts a couple of weeks ago, and here she was, at the NRN conference, along with fellow Norwegian (well, half, anyway, and a quarter Dane and a quarter Swede, unless I misunderstood the maths) author Harald Rosenløw Eeg and Danish Merete Pryds Helle. They had come to talk about their writing, as well as take part in the discussion on reading translated children’s fiction.

Maria Parr

Maria read from Waffle Hearts (with her translator Guy Puzey right there in the room) in English, and then in Norwegian. I didn’t understand a word of the latter (well maybe a little, since I had actually read the book) as Maria’s accent is very hard to understand.

Harald Rosenløw Eeg

Nordic mix Harald came next, saying how Jostein Gaarder paved the way with Sophie’s Choice twenty years ago, showing that you can do anything you want. He didn’t feel he wrote YA, but simply wrote to please himself, in a Catcher in the Rye way. He’s grateful for the Norwegian state support to writers, which in effect means they get a sort of minimum wage. Harald read from his untranslated Leave of Absence, a novel inspired by a forgotten rucksack on the Oslo underground, which he’d finished just before the 22nd July 2011. His book felt too close to reality, so he changed a few things after the Oslo bombs. He said he speaks Nynorsk (New Norwegian) but writes in ‘Ordinary Norwegian.’

Merete went from ordinary adult fiction to what she calls digital fiction for children. She has tried a variety of techniques or media, and has settled on apps for iPads. She showed us one ‘book’ featuring children from all the Nordic countries, where the reader would start by choosing their language, and then the characters would meet and talk to each other, and you could learn to recognise different languages.

Merete Pryds Helle

By asking an IT friend what you can do with iOS 8, Merete then wrote stories to fit the technical frames, which could mean (does mean) that the reader might need to shake their iPad violently in order to make the pine cones fall off the tree. Or you could light up the forest by showing your iPad something yellow. Very effective. She had a more traditional looking picture book, where the child can see themselves, and get to choose what happens next (like meeting pandas in China, or ending up on a pirate ship).

If you’d asked me beforehand, I’d have said this didn’t sound like anything that I’d be interested in. If you ask me now, I’d have to say it looked brilliant.

The discussion moved to films, and Maria said she was lucky with the Waffle Hearts film. Harald reckons you have to let others do their work, and that once there is a film, you will never get your characters back. Merete does choose the illustrators for her digital books, but not the voices. And her multiple choice advent calendar has four endings, but also two set days when the choices end up the same, to restore order.

As for language and dialects, that’s a big deal in Norway, while Merete reckons there are barely any regional accents in Danish. People use social accents more, and switch to mainstream Danish when it’s required. Maria is always asked if Nynorsk is important to her writing, which she thinks is strange, because it is simply what’s natural and normal. Harald’s children are better at English than the ‘other Norwegian.’

Guy Puzey

After a break for air – and more cake – we continued with the translation side of things, where the authors and Guy were joined by translator Kari Dickson, who volunteered that she has done ‘a lot of crime.’

Kari Dickson

Too few books in the UK are translations. 2% here as opposed to maybe 30% in Europe. And as Daniel Hahn discovered when he counted books in a bookshop recently, children’s books fare even worse. Kari feels it’s important to read foreign books to help a better understanding of other people and countries.

We were asked about the first translated books that we were aware of reading as children. Astrid Lindgren came first for many, and both Harald and Maria loved Saltkråkan. Roald Dahl is big in Norway. Merete didn’t read Lindgren, but Laura Ingalls Wilder and Agatha Christie (at age 7-8), and Dickens, and she feels Danish children’s fiction is too harsh and doesn’t like it. Guy enjoyed Babar, and discovered Pippi Longstocking at university.

Others mentioned more Lindgren, Paddington, Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas. There was the young Swede whose mother made her her read books about Africa and Vietnam, with not a single Donald Duck anywhere…

And then the peripheries where we live re-appeared in the debate, except for Merete who pointed out that Denmark is the centre of the world, and how her characters dig all the way to China.

Translating picture books is like writing the book from scratch a second time, because the translator has to work out how to make the original shift into another language. Harald’s opinion was that the translator might as well write their own stuff, as he won’t be able to read it anyway.

Squeaking wet snow is a problem. A lot of Nordic fiction describes things that the receiving language and country might not have. London is well known to most, but what the hamlet in Waffle Hearts looked like will be almost unknown, even to people in Oslo.

The session ended with the Norwegian authors saying we need real books to relax with on long journeys, and Merete disagreeing and saying how she would have loved an iPad as a child.

So, we’re all different, but we would benefit from reading each other’s fiction, travelling in our minds, making us feel calmer.

Read, witch, read!

A most unexpected thing has happened. My blog admin was left by the wayside all week (no, that’s not the unexpected thing), what with me being out more than I was in. And as always happens when my attention is elsewhere, books flowed in. On Saturday morning I decided that since I was sitting down anyway (so very restful, after my week of Edinburgh ‘hills’ that had to be walked up, or down), I might as well prune the newcomers. That way I would at least get my bed back, as I had had to hoist the pile on and off it every day.

In my mind I arranged where the must-reads would go and where the rejects. The must-read pile grew. By the end of all twelve new books – six picture books and six ‘real’ books 😉 – I discovered they were all in the one and only pile.

Twelve books

Not sure that has ever happened before, that I’ve not managed to steel my heart against at least one book, even if it’s a reissue of something previously read.

This is a really weird feeling.

Sorry, I just felt like sharing it with you.