Category Archives: Education

Nordic grey – The Origin Story of Nordic Noir

I have a certain bias, but I felt that the Translation studies research seminar at the University of Edinburgh yesterday afternoon was pretty good, and really interesting. Even for me, with some prior knowledge as well as interest in the subject of Nordic Noir.

Nordic Grey with Ian Giles

The talk by Ian Giles, aka as Son, was part of a series of seminars in the next few months, and it was merely a happy coincidence that they kicked off on what was International Translation Day.

The Resident IT Consultant and I both went. We were pleasantly surprised to find Helen Grant there too, but shouldn’t have been, as she’s both a linguist and proficient translator, when she’s not simply killing people. I introduced her to Peter Graves, making rather a hash of it. Translator Kari Dickson was also in the audience, as were other Scandinavian studies people and aspiring translators. And I was surrounded by a whole lot of Chinese whispers. Literally.

Nordic Noir didn’t begin with something on television five years ago. It’s been coming a long time, and Ian is on its trail, trying to determine where and when we first met ‘dark storylines and bleak urban settings.’ It’s more than Sarah Lund’s jumpers or Lisbeth Salander’s hacking skills.

The trail might begin (or do I mean end?) with Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell, via Peter Høeg to Sjöwall and Wahlöö. But that list is not complete without mentioning the murder of Olof Palme or Kerstin Ekman’s Blackwater. And apparently some critic recently accused the new Martin Beck on television of imitating itself.

Here there was a slight sidetrack to a Turkish writer, translated twice in the last twelve years, long after his death, and only because his compatriot, Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk said he liked him. Knut Hamsun had something similar happen to him.

Because yes, the trail goes a long way back. Before Sjöwall and Wahlöö we had Maria Lang and Stieg Trenter, for instance. Earlier still, Hjalmar Söderberg’s Doktor Glas would have qualified, as would Norwegian Mauritz Hansen. And maybe even Carl Jonas Love Almqvist and Zacharias Topelius.

And when it comes to the crunch, Peter Høeg’s Miss Milla’s Feeling For Snow is not a true progenitor of Nordic Noir. It seems to be, but isn’t. People would have read the book no matter what. Hindsight tells us Peter Høeg doesn’t belong to the origin story.

Anyway, there are many more books translated into English than there used to be. The 3% of translated books has recently become more like 4 or even 5%. Swedish books come sixth if you look at language of origin, but make that Scandinavian books and they end up in third place, and if you count all the Nordic languages, they are the second most translated.

Nordic Grey with Ian Giles

So, it’s not all jumpers, and Scotland has just claimed to have more words for snow than the cold Nordic countries. The latest idea for selling books on the international market is to translate the whole book into English, rather than a few sample chapters, making it possible to offer an almost finished product, as well as facilitating sales to countries where they don’t have a steady supply of translators from Scandinavian languages.

As I said, I found this interesting. And Ian’s a tolerable speaker, too. The right amount of jokes, and a good selection of slides and videos to show what he’s on about. The beard, however, was rather a surprise.

On the perpendicular

Yeah, so I can spell it. I can say it out loud. But I don’t really (I mean really really) know what perpendicular means. In a way I’d rather people didn’t use the word so much, at times when I actually need to know the actual meaning of it. Usually it crops up in vaguely mathematical circumstances, and in ways I don’t understand, so the exact meaning of the word is irrelevant.

It probably has a Swedish translation that I would understand perfectly. But I’m lazy.

Daughter went to Geneva. Did I say that? Where they speak French, which we don’t speak, although that has nothing to do with perpendicular.

Anyway, she told me about her new office. The desk was perpendicular to the window. (Which, on the whole, I thought was nice of it.) I sort of guessed roughly what it meant when she held up her laptop on Skype to show me the room. All the desks lined the window wall, at what I might call right angles to said wall. No slantiness or anything, which is what I would have guessed.

So, the office and its desk positions are really not that important. They stand there and they do the job, and so do the people at them. Perpendicular or not.

But then she went into Geneva city for various important-ish errands. And she appears to have not taken her map of Geneva. Which, it has to be said, would have helped.

When the first errands had been done, she needed to find an estate agent’s office. I texted her the address. Then I texted her the name of the nearest tram stop, after which I tried to explain how walking would be easier, and which direction to head off in. Because I had Google maps. At one point I asked to speak to the Resident IT Consultant (yes, he was there too, equally mapless), as it seemed to me that the south/north aspect of where to go was his area of expertise.

That went well, apart from when I was told they were ‘next to a tram stop and which direction was it now?’

Luckily there were more addresses to be found. I only texted the wrong address once. Not much difference between nos. 10 and 23 to my mind.

But this is where the conversation got harder, for me. Attempting to describe the turns to take from errand four to errand five, Daughter threw perpendicular into the equation. How was I to know if said street was perpendicular to some other street or not? When I didn’t know what it meant. I tried recommending parallel streets instead, because I could see those on the map.

Well, they didn’t get lost. Much. And that was mainly the 10 v 23 issue.

(I have now looked it up. Right angles. 90 degrees. Vinkelrät. I won’t remember for long. I much prefer right angles.)

The Go-Between

It’s idiotic. With all the technological advances we have, you can watch all the television you like [have time for]. You record one and watch one. You use watch-again services. No need to fret over programmes that clash.

Like Downton Abbey tonight, and The Go-Between. As the Guardian Guide says, ‘The Beeb brings out a big gun to spoil Downton’s party.’  They describe and praise this new version of The Go-Between. And then finish by saying ‘skippable if you’ve seen the 1971 movie.’

Yeah, so in other words, it’s not that good?

What I thought was, what about the book?

It was a set book at university, and I dutifully read it. Hated it, but that’s beside the point. And so, I never watched the 1971 film (which, incidentally, provided the cover for my copy of the book). Because, I didn’t enjoy the book, I never felt I wanted to repeat my non-enjoyment of it. But I still feel I can be excused from watching tonight’s offering.

Because I read the book. And because I reckon I’ll enjoy Downton.

Liberty’s Fire

Lydia Syson’s Liberty’s Fire is set during a most interesting historical period. My ignorance showed itself again, but I’d like to think I’ve picked up a few facts about the French Third Republic now.

They had a lot of empires and republics in France back then, and in the history classroom I recall feeling bewildered by them all, and they were hard to keep apart when all you might read is a few paragraphs before you move on to the next Napoleon, or whatever.

Lydia Syson, Liberty's Fire

Liberty’s Fire takes place mainly in 1871 during the brief Paris Commune. Young Zéphyrine is poor and doesn’t even know how to pay for her grandmother’s funeral. She meets violinist Anatole, and they fall in love. Zéphyrine gets involved with the communards and she shows Anatole how things might be. He, in turn, educates her a little in cultural matters, and introduces her to his photographer flatmate Jules, and to Marie, who sings at the theatre.

War and revolution are the main characters in this book. The hopes people have for the commune and the hate and violence from its enemies are striking. There is much bloodshed and cruelty, but also friendships and solidarity, the latter reminding me of the early 1970s.

There is also a tender love story nestling in this book, although not the obvious one between Anatole and Zéphyrine.

This is an excellent history lesson, mixed with romance.

Work Experience

In the end I imagine it was only chair Jane Sandell and me who had read Andy Mulligan’s new novel Liquidator.* And that’s because it’s not out yet, but they did make an exception at the book festival and keen fans could buy a very early copy there on Sunday afternoon.

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

I was relieved to hear that Jane had had to read the book in one sitting, as I’d had the same feeling myself and wanted to know I wasn’t wrong. (Not that I usually am, obviously, and as you know, Andy writes Very Good Books.)

It’s all about work experience when you’re at secondary school, and how things can go a little wrong. Andy reckons he was lucky to be made redundant in the 1980s, which meant he ended up travelling to India to work, and then to train as a teacher, before starting to write. The man harvests his characters in the schools where he works or has worked. With the right children in the right school you have a lot of fun.

He grew up in south London, had Enid Blyton values, went to a boys’ grammar school, and so on. His father wanted a ‘real boy’ but thanks to a great teacher who encouraged him, Andy always sat in his room writing stories.

Jane reminded us of his shot to fame as the author of the book that was kicked off the Blue Peter book award shortlist for p 65. That little spat gave him more publicity than winning the award would have done.

In case people in the audience didn’t know what work experience is, Andy explained it. I suspect we have all done it, in some form or other, but these days it’s harder than ever to get something worthwhile to do. As a teacher he always hopes that his pupils will come back having been allowed to land the plane or wield the scalpel in the operating theatre, being inspired in what they could do when they are older.

Liquidator took Andy two and a half years to write, and he said his lovely publisher David Fickling was very critical at times, and told Andy to ‘make him cry,’ meaning he hadn’t yet. What Andy wanted to achieve was real jeopardy for his characters, not the Blyton style risk that ten-year-olds want.

Ribblestrop is a mishmash of several schools (which for obvious reasons can’t be named); ones with troubled pupils, and because of them, troubled teachers too.

Andy Mulligan

Asked how he knew what a rubbish dump in the Philippines was like, he explained he’d taken his public school pupils on a school trip to one, so that they would know and understand life better. And he’s very shocked that pupils don’t ever read newspapers these days.

Andy writes books covering lots of genres, but can’t see himself writing fantasy, so had to say no to the child who suggested he put a nice dragon into Trash. You’re allowed to stretch reality and you can break a few rules. But no dragons.

The next book has already reached the first draft stage, and is about a dog that wants to be a cat. (Someone in the audience said she has one like that.) He sees himself only as a children’s books author, and has never dabbled with adult books. Andy is comfortable where he is, and especially so with age group 11 to 16.

*Patience! There will be a review here soon.

Bookwitch bites #130

At times this summer it has felt as though everyone has died. I know that’s not true, but over a few weeks, many people left us. One such person whom I’ve not mentioned earlier, was Helena Forsås-Scott. She was Honorary Professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

I only met her a couple of times, but we had enough in common that it was nice to speak to her. She was a filosofie magister from Gothenburg, and so am I. She also had a PhD from the University of Aberdeen, which I don’t. But you know, the similarities were there. Helena attended the Nordic conference in February, and she was most friendly and supportive of Son in his work at the department.

Moving slightly south of the Scottish border, Newcastle’s Seven Stories has just re-opened. When I was there a few years ago, I felt everything was perfect, but it seems you can improve on perfection, which is what they have achieved with their recent overhaul. Some of the things they have to offer are Painting with Rainbows – A Michael Foreman Exhibition, Rhyme Around the World, A Bear Called Paddington, and a new Harry Potter installation in the Attic. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Who knew spoons were so important? I didn’t, and I speak as one who uses them every day. Explorer and education advocate Justin Miles travelled in Kenya, and he found that if school children could use a spoon to eat their food, instead of their fingers, it’s possible to stay healthier, save on days lost from school, and hopefully prevent spreading disease further.

QED Publishing have just agreed to donate at least one spoon to ‘Educate The World’ for every copy of Justin’s Ultimate Explorer Guide for Kids sold. You can support the cause by donating or raising awareness for the #SpoonAppeal.

In our rich western world we worry about other things, like how untidy our children’s rooms are. Here is a clip of Nicola Morgan talking about the way teenagers function, and showing photos of one teenager’s very messy bedroom. There might even be a spoon or two lying about in there. Nothing to do with me though… Or very little.

Enough research? The right research?

Complaining is such a satisfying thing to do. Sometimes, anyway. I caught the tail end of something Lucy Coats said on Facebook, and which I feel entitled to mention here as she tweeted it at TES, making it public. Lucy was dissatisfied with their list of recommended books for children.

Keeping in mind my own moan a few months ago, on a similar topic, I read all the comments, feeling quite enraged. Then I read what school librarian and children’s author Dawn Finch said about it on her blog, including her own list of suitable books. Many great books, and I couldn’t agree more.

Finally (yes I know, I should have started there) I had a look at the offending list the TES had put together. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared, especially considering the list had been compiled by asking teachers. I suppose the TES could hardly go around asking accountants for their recommendations, so the question I have is why ask teachers?

Why not the school librarians, while they are still not totally extinct? Is it that teachers are supposed to know more? Or was it to see how little they are aware of books?

The thing is, as I’ve said on other occasions, by asking fewer experts and more people in general, you end up with the same general lists, because that’s the kind of knowledge we have on things we don’t specialise in.

As I said, the list was nowhere near as bad as it might have been. But if the purpose of the listmaking was to guide adults guide children, then they should have asked the librarians.

One of the first things I was involved with at Offspring’s secondary school library, was the voting for favourite books. Admittedly it was probably mostly the keen readers who responded. But it was illuminating for me, who thought I knew it all. Among boys, the two books that stood out were the Guinness Book of Records, and Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called ‘It’ and both surprised me. Had it not been for the school library, I’d have assumed the winner would be one of the well known novels for children. If not Harry Potter, then one of the others that we adults ‘have all heard of.’