Category Archives: Blogs

A Bookwitch interview

Only it’s the other way round. This time I have been interviewed, by the Swedish Book Review, in their autumn edition which is mainly about children’s and YA authors.

They have translated short pieces by several authors, and they have interviewed publisher and translator Julia Marshall. And me.

Swedish Book Review

The authors are Per Gustavsson, Annelis Johansson, Cilla Nauman, Frida Nilsson and Malte Persson. All good, honest Swedish names, and no, I don’t know much about these writers, either. But then they are not part of my area of expertise, and perhaps I don’t really belong in this illustrious company.

But there I am anyway.

It was fun to be included, although now I can see how hard it is to be on the other side, coming up with answers to what might not be the questions you’d imagined someone would ask.

Swedish Book Review

Swedish Book Review


Our GP has an online system for requests for repeat prescriptions. It could be better, and in fact, it was better before they ‘improved’ it a few months ago.

The medicine is already listed online, so you only need to tick a box. Before, you could also scroll down a list of all the local pharmacies (there aren’t that many) and tick the one where you wanted to pick up your medicine.

The improved way is you simply write it in the box. Simple, as long as you can remember what it’s called. Even the Resident IT Consultant, whose job it is to go and get it, can barely remember.

So each time we have to look it up. (I know I have made a note somewhere to remind me, but I can’t remember where it is.) What I do know is that I want to call it Gilderoy & Lockhart. I suppose it’s sort of literary.

That’s not their name, however. It’s a little bit the same, though, and both versions have an ampersand. Which the online ordering system can’t support…

Not here you don’t

‘Would you like a different ending with that?’ Or how about a new first chapter?

Book publishing is hardly the same as ordering chips with your meal, instead of the boiled new potatoes. And still, publishers will insist on things being done their way. Sometimes that’s probably wise, because they have the experience. On the other hand, the author has the book in his or her head.

I remember Fletcher Moss being bemused by Chicken House telling him that his competition winning – first – novel had to be turned round quite drastically, to be publishable.

And now Cornelia Funke has been told the Americans need a different beginning to her new book, already published in Germany. Americans are a bit more cautious about what’s acceptable or not. But the book is already out there, and it’s not as if they were forced to buy Cornelia’s book.

So she’s self-publishing, which feels the last thing you’d expect someone like Cornelia having to do. But she’s lucky, because it seems she was handed back the rights to the entire series (the ‘problem’ is with the third book), thus enabling her to do this. Many authors struggle for years getting the rights back to their books, even when the publisher wants nothing more to do with it. Perhaps because she’s Cornelia Funke and not some minor, unknown writer?

Cornelia Funke

I think I have heard of novels where there are differences in other languages. But I trust only minor ones. I’m thinking of the discussion I had with my First Best Friend in our teens. Strangely enough we both liked the same band, and the same track too. Except we argued about what album the track was on. We were both right, of course. I’d bought my LP in London, and she hers in Sweden. The LPs were different. But I’d rather not have the same argument over how a novel ends; did they live happily ever after? Or not?


Tomorrow is Birgitta. You may well wonder what I mean by that. In Sweden each day has a name, or two, in the calendar, and if that’s your name, then it’s your nameday. You might celebrate a bit, depending on what you’re used to.

These days I tend to forget my own, and most other people’s. Although, some stand out, for various reasons, and tomorrow is one. It’s Birgitta.

I was surrounded by Birgittas as a child. My best friend and closest neighbour was a Birgitta. Everyone seemed to be a Birgitta (pretty much like all the Davids I find myself knowing now).

And you may well wonder why I mention it today, when it’s actually tomorrow. My first Birgitta was born on October 6th. And it’s her nameday the following day. I’d say it’s fairly clear that her mother looked at her new baby daughter and looked at the calendar for the next day and decided that Birgitta would be a good name for her child.

It would make more sense if you picked the name on the actual day of a baby’s birth – assuming the sex is right – and I’m sure people do that too. I was very certain that Son would be born on January 13th (can’t recall why now) and that day was Knut. I knew he couldn’t be a Knut, should he turn out to be a boy, which he did. Not even in Sweden would you have been ready for a Knut back then. Maybe now, when old-fashioned names have come almost full circle. In England he’d have been a [K]nut. And that’s not a good name. Even if we did live close to Knutsford.

Today is Jenny. Nice enough name. But she became a Birgitta. And she’s not the only Birgitta I know, born on October 6th. Must be plenty of mothers – sorry, parents – who have looked one day ahead for inspiration.

Happy 60th Birgitta! And happy nameday tomorrow.

Hej då, Henning

By now you probably all know that Henning Mankell died this morning. His death is in the news everywhere, which just goes to show how far crime will get you. Even when you’re a foreigner, as Henning undoubtedly was to most of you.

I never did get that interview, apart from my impromptu four-minute one in the children’s bookshop in Charlotte Square; the place where he wasn’t guarded at all, unlike for his adult events. But we did speak very briefly, several times, including that first meeting when Son startled him by wanting a book signed that Henning didn’t recognise as his. It was his, though, and after some discussion it got sorted out.

Even then, Henning was a grand person, while on Swedish soil; walking round with a bit of an entourage. But that’s how Swedes do their worshipping. His star status in the English speaking world came a little later.

I knew he was ill, and ever the pessimist I expected the worst. But as recently as last week I felt a moment of optimism. I have a Facebook friend, whom I barely know, despite having ‘known’ him for decades (he’s GP Cousin’s very good friend). He’s rich, and he’s a rather radical leftie, and he does unusual things with his time and money. His latest venture is some museum for another well known Swedish radical, which is opening next month. And the encouraging news was that Henning was to do the honours. So I thought, ‘Oh, he’s well enough to do that then?’

Today’s sad news took my radical millionnaire by surprise too, as he was due to have lunch with Henning a few hours ago. Which I suppose was a good sign in itself; that he’d felt able to make such plans.

As for me, I’m glad we met a few times, and I’m even glad I cried at his event in Gothenburg eight years ago. He was a good man who did lots of good to lots of people, and that’s not counting entertaining us with Wallander.

Henning Mankell(I prefer this photo from some years ago, to the one my local Swedish newspaper used, where you can clearly see how unwell he was.)

The Henning Mankell mini-interview

Recreating a 1960s newsroom

I’m old enough to have worked at a desk with a spike, on which to save your work as proof until no longer needed, although mine was only ever about money. Here Peter Bartram (whose novel Headline Murder the Resident IT Consultant reviewed here yesterday) tells us about those smokey, crazy days in the 1960s, when they could make newspapers despite having no mobile phones or anything.

When I decided to set my Crampton of the Chronicle crime mysteries in the 1960s, I had to travel back in time to recreate the atmosphere of a newspaper’s newsroom of that era.

I first walked into a newsroom as a young reporter in 1966. Newspapers were very different in those days. No computers. No mobile phones. No digital cameras.

The new technology has been essential to keep newspapers alive. But it seems to have made newsrooms less exciting places. I love those old Hollywood newspaper movies – such as The Front Page – where newsrooms pulsate with a kind of chaotic energy.

I wanted to emulate that in Headline Murder, where Colin Crampton works in the Evening Chronicle’s newsroom as the paper’s crime correspondent. So I needed to cast my mind back to those far-off days when I was a reporter.

What were the sights and sounds like? Well, first thing I remember is how 14 of us – all reporters – were crowded into a room sitting at desks grouped mostly in fours. We pounded away at old sit-up-and-beg typewriters. As deadlines approached and everyone was typing together it sounded like a volley of machine guns firing.

We typed on sets on paper, called folios, interleaved with carbon paper, never more than a paragraph or two on each folio – so that if the sub-editors wanted to change the order of the copy they could easily re-order the folios. (No on-screen cut-and-paste in those days.)

On each of our desks there was a big black telephone and a spike on which we’d impale carbons of old stories we’d written. (No Cloud back-ups!). We worked in an atmosphere of constant noise – telephones ringing, shouted conversations, the rattle of typewriters. (Elsewhere silence may be golden, but on a newspaper, it means there’s no news!)

There were a couple of telephone booths at the side of the room into which we retreated if we needed to make a call to a special contact we didn’t want colleagues to overhear. The room was lit by harsh fluorescent lights but most of the time they were shrouded in a fug created by cigarette smoke.

Research is important for writers – and there are many ways to do it. Yet the best research often comes from personal experience. Although not all memories are reliable. Did I really hear the editor cry: ‘Hold the front page’?

Headline Murder

Oh, Brighton, how we miss you! (I suppose we could go back for a visit…) The Resident IT Consultant swiftly read his way through this somewhat nostalgic crime novel by Peter Bartram, set in our former home town. And here he is, review at the ready:

Set in 1960s Brighton, this first crime novel features Brighton Evening Chronicle crime reporter Colin Crampton. It is high summer and Colin is desperate for a decent crime story. But nothing happens: a bicycle stolen from a house in Maldon Road, a minor motor accident at Fiveways – nobody hurt – and a dog lost in Stanmer Park (a King Charles spaniel). Then the owner of a miniature golf course on the seafront goes missing. The owner is linked to an unsolved murder twenty years earlier and Colin senses he may have a story.

Peter Bartram, Headline Murder

Assisted by his Australian girlfriend and the staff of the newspaper’s clippings department, who have to be encouraged with regular deliveries of cream cakes, Colin uncovers a tale of shady developments, municipal bribery and police corruption which ultimately uncovers a double murderer and leads to an exciting cross-Channel chase.

The story is told in the first person, by Colin, in a brisk style that is a little reminiscent of Chandler. It was fun remembering and recognising the locations in which the action was set.