Category Archives: Education

Filed

‘You have an Author file?’ said Daughter. Of course I do. But it’s not as voluminous, or as important, as it once was, back in my more fledgling Bookwitch days.

It rained heavily yesterday. Even the Resident IT Consultant was prepared for a wet day, possibly – horror of horrors – spent indoors. I quickly replanned the expected chores for the day and embraced the project I’d been putting off and putting off; the decluttering of the filing cabinet. I’d got far enough in the thinking about it, to decide that with three of us, two could look and chuck, and the other could ferry and shred.

It mostly worked.

It was a Very Long Day. And Daughter didn’t enjoy it, but she said it felt good that the task had got done.

Unfortunately it killed off Daughter’s beloved shredder, so I now owe her a new one. Luckily there was also a parental shredder, which had to be pressed into service. It survived. As did we. I realise it sounds like you might use it to shred parents.

But there is a certain entertainment value in sharing one’s old school reports and class photos. And Daughter found her brother’s letter to me, asking for a raise in pocket money, absolutely hilarious. I can’t recall if he was successful.

By the end of the day I could barely think, feeling as though I had been through the shredder myself. Luckily there was previously frozen soup for sustenance. And pudding.

Plague event

Here’s one I went to earlier.

A chance encounter online, with a fairly cute looking plague doctor, reminded me of my real life encounter with one of those. Real life, but, I think, not real plague doctor.

On the other hand, the way things are going, how could I possibly be sure?

It’s now nearly seven years since I made the jump and crossed over the Scottish border to live, which was a generally wise choice, or so I believe. Within days there was an event at an Edinburgh school, featuring none other but another Stopfordian, who has since also moved, but hadn’t then.

It was he, Philip Caveney, who had written about a plague doctor, and ever the good publisher, Clare at Fledgling had spirited one up, complete with stick and all. Mercifully I don’t recall what he was supposed to do with the stick.

But a good day was had by all, I’m sure, and I reckon his mask was a lot more uncomfortable than the ones we are wearing now. And we’re not getting into strange cars at all.

‘What if you’d been dead?’

That’s crime writers for you; coming across an unusual event with a happy outcome, and then making it worse by killing someone [in a book]. In Meet the Author event with Dr Val McDermid, organised by the University of St Andrews on Tuesday afternoon, Val described how she came to write The Distant Echo by murdering former students, and how someone unwittingly provided her with the spot for the original death.

This was a well-run online event, as you’d expect from a leading university, when treating their students to a talk by one of their Honorary Doctors. After an introduction by the Principal, Sally Mapstone, Val talked to Professor Gill Plain, who teaches a crime fiction module. With two new books, Val had lots to say. Still Life is her new crime novel, and then there is her 2020 bonus book, the Christmas is Murder anthology.

Sitting in her library, with a lovely Christmas tree next to her, Val talked about various aspects of her writing career, and not only stuff I’d heard before. At the beginning of the year there was only Brexit as a cloud on the horizon, until it became obvious that there would be more. Her yearly pattern of writing, followed by events, was broken, and the short crime stories in Christmas is Murder filled a gap.

Val had a bout of Covid in March; 17 days when she can’t really account for what she was doing. Writing took longer when spending a lot of time on following the news. The online events she did lacked the sense of camaraderie she loves, and she misses the conversations with colleagues. Walking with friends helps.

She doesn’t think people will want to read Covid books. Coming up with an idea for a quintet of novels set in 1979, 1989, 1999, 2009 and 2019 respectively has given her some breathing space.

Meanwhile, we have her new short stories that were a struggle to write, including the one titled Holmes for Christmas… Val hopes for a Christmas equivalent of Norway’s Easter crime reading.

The conversation moved on to Hamish’s hipster porridge. Yes, really. Seems Val has been ‘Cooking the books’ on YouTube. There will be a Christmas special, and maybe one for New Year, but she will call it quits while she’s still having fun.

Generally she knows where she will start a book, and where it will finish, but the road in between she can only see glimpses of as she writes. For the new Karen Pirie novel, Val had to make up some sort of art, which turned out to be a collage of a person, cut into pieces and reassembled as a portrait. Or something like that. And it’s important to keep track of what you are withholding from the reader. She introduced a new detective as a plot device; someone who might now stay on.

When asked who people will still read in a hundred years’ time, she hoped she’d be one of them, but more seriously said it will be the game-changers, and compared this to who we read today, like Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, and Allingham and Marsh. Authors with memorable characters. So perhaps William McIlvanney, Patricia Highsmith, P D James and Thomas Harris.

I shall have to look into these cooking sessions.

OK with the UK

I read the book. Of course I did. But only once, with some second glances at certain parts. I’m talking about the book that prepares you for the Life in the UK Test. It’s got a lot of superfluous stuff in it, but stuff which you are encouraged to commit to heart.

Now, over a month later, I still know more about British history than I used to. I trust it will soon go [away]. There were too many years to learn, too many James and Edward and Henry and those others, with numbers after their names. Who killed whom, and what was their religion?

But there were other things I’d read, that helped a lot. Read, as in the past. Because much to my surprise the historical fiction, for children, that I’ve read in a fairly organic kind of way, turned out to be useful. I mean, not just enjoyable. And I remembered it, when I can more often than not even recall characters’ names after a bit.

Useful in that I suddenly came to have gut feelings as to when the Romans did that thing, or the Christians or the Vikings. And I have finally sussed the Marys. Some of them, at least. Bloody Mary Queen of Scots, for instance. Plus that other one. 🙂

So yes, I believe in reading. Not so much the test. Perhaps save people the agony at what is often a difficult time in their lives anyway, and just prescribe each of us a few good British background novels.

To start you off, I recommend Elen Caldecott’s The Short Knife. This book helped with several aspects of people who invaded this country in the past, as well as the people who were already here. Which, I suppose, makes it sound like there were some that could have done with sitting test back then, too.

An Engineer Like Me

I’m the first person to be in favour of more science for girls.

So this new picture book about a young girl asking her gran a lot of questions about science, is just right. Zara does seem to notice absolutely everything, but then, her gran has answers for all of it as well. She’s a useful gran to have.

They go for an outing, and they come past all sorts of things that need questions asked and answered. Personally I’m not sure I trust the ideas behind loop-the-loops, but I have no intention of looping anything anymore.

And I have always been fascinated by Hedy Lamarr, who despite being a beautiful actress could do serious and useful science. It just goes to show how prejudiced I am. I shouldn’t be more impressed by her than, say, by gran.

Gran has all the answers, because she is, of course, an engineer.

Exam Attack

Yes, it will feel like that, at least to some of you. That those exams are out to get you. But mostly Nicola Morgan’s new book with the title Exam Attack is there to help you with your exams, and preparing for them.

Admittedly, in Scotland, the National 5 exams for 2021 have just been cancelled, which could set off a different kind of exam anxiety. But I reckon by reading Nicola’s excellent books with advice on just about everything, you can probably find something to help you with non-existent exams as well.

As ever, it feels like Nicola and I are on the same page, advice-wise. Without her book, I did the advising when Daughter had exams, but had we had a printed book to refer to, it might have been faster and easier.

It’s all common sense, but sometimes we need someone to spell out that sense, or we risk running around in circles like so many headless chickens.

If you’re lucky enough to have exams coming up, maybe check Nicola’s guide out. I am a great fan of self-help books. At least when they are sensible.

(I used to love exams. There was clearly something wrong with me.)

Starting school

Where do the years go? It feels like mere months since Boy Tollarp came to the Resident IT Consultant’s and my 60th birthday lunch. He was five weeks old at the time. Now on social media I see him wearing a blazer and tie and – admittedly – school shorts, as he starts school this week.

He’s not alone in this. Even a year like 2020 has children going to school for the first time. And it can be scary. I remember my first day, and I remember Offspring’s first days. Also scary. At least to me.

So books on what to expect and how to deal with any little problems are a useful thing. The two picture books I’ve just read will probably not become long term classics, but if they help a few children now, that’s enough to make me happy. It’s often impossible for the adults to guess which books will turn out to make a real impact on their small child. These are both lovely and might do the job.

Today I’m Strong, by Nadiya Hussain and her illustrator Ella Bailey, shows us a child who is often happy going into school. But not always. Some days she is bullied at school and would rather stay at home. She talks to her [toy?] tiger, who looks pretty much like Judith Kerr’s tiger, except less likely to eat you up. And Tiger provides her with the solution, and one day she goes in and deals with the bully, firmly and maturely.

So that’s that.

In My School Unicorn, by Willow Evans and Tom Knight, we meet another young girl, about to buy her first school uniform, and feeling worried about her life changing. In what looks like a magic uniform shop, the proprietor slips her a unicorn to keep with her at school. It’s a little thing, but it helps. School turns out to be fine, and one day that unicorn can go on to some other child.

Both books are diverse, and there is a [single?] dad looking after the unicorn girl. I’m hoping these books will help many young children as they begin the rest of their lives. And the usefulness of tigers and unicorns should not be ignored.

Killing the teacher

Benjamin Zephaniah’s Teacher’s Dead is a book well worth revisiting. More than a dozen years old, I’d say none of the problems have gone away. Black people have it as bad as ever, their rights eroded rather than having got a bit better. It was a YA novel I really wanted to read back then, and I was not disappointed, except for how life ends up for too many people.

With hindsight, I find my own review of the book quite lacking, although I seem to recall Benjamin was terribly polite about it. He didn’t do email, so actually spent time and money on sending me a proper card.

Now, I have looked for a better description of the story than mine, and I hope Bookbag won’t hate me for this. It’s so good, and the screen grab below is simply to motivate you to follow the link.

It’s more recent than mine, which just goes to show that this story will move the reader at any time.

More interesting than Sanskrit

After my earlier moan about there not being any events to attend, I did manage one yesterday. Not physically, obviously, nor ‘manage’ if by that you mean I could suddenly cope with IT issues. But after five or ten minutes of abject failing to connect to SELTA’s The Path Less Trodden: Different Routes into Translating Swedish Literature, Son sent me a clickable link, and there I was. So to speak.

As were they: Deborah Bragan-Turner, Rachel Willson-Broyles and Paul Norlen, chaired by Alice Olsson and ‘teched’ by Ian Giles. They were all lonely, and welcomed being able to talk to the world about their work. Admittedly, when it came to questions, Ian inadvertently dragged one questioner from the kitchen where he was doing goodness knows what.

One very important question was whether they had to have such impressive bookcases as their backgrounds. Or if they were even real. All five who appeared on our screens were backed up by books. Probably an unfortunate coincidence… Some tried to claim they had to be real because they were so untidy (but then I don’t believe they have ever seen untidy).

Translating is a fun job. All right, so sometimes an author might reckon they know best and have opinions on the English these people are paid to translate their books into, but it’s rare.

How they started was quite similar. Some early experience, maybe at university level, enthused them so much about Sweden and Swedish that they just had to learn more, which they did by spending time in Sweden, discovering how we live (I still don’t know) and having fun, and withstanding suggestions like why bother with a boring language like Swedish. Why not Persian or Sanskrit?

These days you learn a lot by attending the Gothenburg Book Fair, where you can speed date agents and make contact with useful people. There can be financial help with attending, too, from Kulturrådet. Good stuff.

Agents are the most useful. Not so much publishers. You might contact an agent, or more likely, they will find you. Sometimes an author finds you. There can be short – and fun – sample translations, and there can be full novels translated on spec.

Questions to authors are varied. ‘Lagom’ – not too many nor too few – is best. That way the author knows the translator cares, but is neither too unconcerned or too fussy.

Literary translations seem to be the norm with these translators, but they do get other work as well. It can be restful working on something different. But basically, this is a fun job. Maybe not so much the editing, but that is fun too…

You can listen to it here.

(There wasn’t so much as a ‘Hej, Mamma’ at any point!)

Laureate on ‘being lazy’

You can – probably – find time for ‘proper’ education some other time. You can do things late. If and when the children who are now at home all day return to school, I’m assuming the teachers will more or less continue where they left off six weeks ago.

Because even parents who have taught their children with diligence, and success, over this period, will not have done the same job as their children’s friends’ parents.

And for anyone who finds the current situation beyond stressful, any teaching will be hard to do. It’s enough to keep your child safe. And maybe do some of your own work, and also put food on the table every day.

I was glad to see that the Children’s laureate, Cressida Cowell, pitched in the other day, saying that now is a good time to encourage imagination and creativity at home. I sincerely hope she wasn’t wanting to burden parents with even more work, but intended it to mean that children should be allowed to work things out for themselves. A bit like the young Cressida did, in her television-free summer holidays.

The laureate herself is not being lazy. She has just had her two years of laureating extended to three. Well, it would have been a shame for all her plans to come to, if not nothing, then less, due to the virus. Besides it might prove hard to start looking for a replacement just now. We have other things on our minds.

But ‘just hanging out’ with the children at home could be nice (when you don’t feel like killing each other, that is). That’s what you will remember, and benefit from, once this is over.