Category Archives: Education

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.

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!

Bookwitch goes speed dating

Seems the trolleyful of wine wasn’t for us. It was Jackie Kay’s, for her Black History Month event at the University of Edinburgh’s language department.

Oh well. I was on a date night, as was the Resident IT Consultant. We had come to speed date a new generation of Swedish authors, who’d been invited to Edinburgh to talk writing and translation, with a group of translators from SELTA. Their debut novels had not been previously translated, but the translators present had worked on some parts of the books, which we were able to read.

Not being entirely sure where we were heading, I decided to follow Son – because this was his baby – when he took his group of authors and translators off to the meeting room. And then they just disappeared!

I was only three steps behind and saw them go down the stairs and turn left. They were not in that room. The only thing remaining was the unlabelled door next to it, which led to a short corridor, from where Son appeared again, letting me through a door on which it said No Access.

So that was straightforward enough… Tried to text this info to the Resident IT Consultant, but there was no signal. He got there in the end.

Swedish Speed Bookclub

I wasn’t sure about this speed dating thing. One author and his or her translator sat at each table. The rest of us joined one of the tables for a brief reading, followed by a discussion. And then we were rotated anti-clockwise to the next author and translator. I was with two of my favourite translators, A A Prime and Guy Puzey, plus another translator and ‘Mrs Perera’ who belonged to one of the authors.

Adrian Perera and Kate Lambert

We started with Adrian Perera, who is that very unusual thing, a Swedish-speaking Finn, with a Sinhalese parent. His book Mamma, written mostly in Swedish, also features Finnish, English and Sinhalese; some of it spoken badly by the various characters. I gathered this made translating the text a bit tricky for Kate Lambert, because how do you convey how bad the Swedish or the English spoken by the Finnish doctor is?

But it wasn’t until I asked how old the main character is (seven) that sentences like ‘The whole Looney Tunes gang is covered in vanilla ice cream,’ made sense. Really fascinating.

Joel Mauricio Isabel Ortiz and Hanna Löfgren

Anticlockwise movement brought us to Joel Mauricio Isabel Ortiz and his Aussie translator Hanna Löfgren. Himself coming from Latin America, Joel had borrowed the title of a poem by Gabriela Mistral for his novel, The Story of a Son/Sången om en son. I enjoyed his reading from the book, and we were amused to be told that Joel feels there is so much sex in his novel that he won’t ever write another one like it.

He also reckons he has finished the book and moved on, and he had worried whether he’d be able to discuss it with us. (Seems to have gone just fine.) Translator Hanna brought up the necessity for her to add the word ‘I’ in lots of places. Joel had been told by his publisher to remove most of them, because that’s how people speak these days. Except it doesn’t work in English.

Fiona Graham and Balsam Karam

Up and on to Kurdish Balsam Karam and Fiona Graham, whose translation of Event Horizon/Händelsehorisonten was very beautiful. It really got to me when I read it. Balsam read a page out loud, if rather quietly, from this story about refugees and some kind of rebellion, where the punishment when getting caught is either execution, or being sent into a black hole in space.

I’d be interested to know how that goes, but understand that there is no clear description of what actually happens. Balsam feels that Swedes don’t have much idea of what martyrdom means, whereas Fiona had been shocked by the torture described in the book.

Kayo Mpoyi and Alex Fleming

Last but not least we came to Kayo Mpoyi and Alex Fleming, where Kayo was exclaiming about reading the same extract for the fourth time. But for us it was new, and I’d like to think that the subsequent discussions didn’t all go in the same direction for every group. Set in Tanzania, the story is about a family, two young siblings, maybe a curse on a name, and there is – possibly – a young god who appears every now and then. More a god like the Greek ones, rather than the One Up There, whom so many of us think about.

Kayo has a lot of thoughts and theories about life, and she’s not sure what language she uses to think about it in. Her characters are not Swedish, although the book is written in that language. She herself thinks in several languages.

Swedish Speed Bookclub

This whole speed dating was a lot better than most of us had been expecting. We got up close to four authors and four translators and got a brief look at a book we’d probably never otherwise have encountered. Also, what good English they all speak!

It was fun.

And I didn’t have to marry anyone.

Sharing the plot

On the cover of Catriona McPherson’s latest crime novel Ann Cleeves calls it ‘disturbing.’ Obviously in a complimentary way, but disturbing is disturbing. A facebook friend – I forget who – mentioned reading it and said what a great book it was, but perhaps not for bedtime.

I immediately decided I wouldn’t read it, and that lasted until Catriona said she’d send me a copy, and then there I was, reading it – because it looked so very good – alone in the house and bedtime was approaching. What to do?

Instantly devising a solution of reading Catriona’s book in the daytime, and moving on to Jenny Colgan’s new romantic novel for evenings, I felt quite satisfied.

And then I realised that the two plots have a lot in common. Both feature women going somewhere new, starting new jobs. Both new jobs are in some far flung dark corner of Scotland, in a small community, and there are rumours about the ‘man in the big house.’

Whose mother was it? And were there plans for coffee or something on Friday?

When I got this far I suddenly realised my own life had similarities, too. It was the week Daughter started a new job somewhere a longish way away. Hopefully there are no weird ‘lairds’ in big houses where she is. But perhaps the coffee on Friday was hers?

I just don’t know.

(And this is not a review, of anything. Those will come later, assuming I sleep at night, and the Friday coffee plans get sorted.)

How To Be an Astronaut

‘and other space jobs,’ as it says in the title of Sheila Kanani’s book about becoming an astronaut. I never wanted to be the one to go into space, but this book reminded me that I did rather fancy a job in mission control. Yes.

As illustrated non-fiction books go, this is a great one. I don’t say this because it’s about space and astronauting, but because it has been intelligently written, with just the right amount of humour, and no talking down at the young reader.

Sheila Kanani and Sol Linero, How To Be an Astronaut

Sheila did tell us a lot of these facts in her event at the book festival, so it was mostly not new to me, but it still makes for fascinating reading. And I do like Sol Linero’s pictures, which are factual and beautiful, all at the same time.

(I would have preferred no white text on dark blue background, though, but I am old and perhaps wannabe astronauts are just fine with that. They probably have to be, now that I think of it.)

There are so many jobs you can do for space, and still stay on the ground. It means you don’t have to live off dried food or send your poo into space, or use special velcro to scratch your nose if it itches.

The book also tells us that there were women – a very long time ago – who discovered about eclipses and gravity (I would say long before that Newton chap), even if there was a risk of being thought of as a witch.

This is an excellent book to put into the hands of children. And you will enjoy it too.

Farewell to EIBF 2019

Tom Palmer and Alex Wheatle

This may surprise you, but I occasionally wonder if I’m doing the right thing. In this case the ‘thing’ is children’s books and their authors. But the event honouring Judith Kerr this week, proved to me I was in the right place, and not even crime – the fictional kind – can hope to reach such heights, pleasant though it it.

George Street

There was such a perfect feeling of how good it can be, and I suspect that this is hard to achieve away from children’s books.

And chatting to Chris Close about Judith, I was pleased to find that he too had special memories of her. I was also a little surprised to discover that while he couldn’t instantly recall Daniel Hahn’s name when he walked past, he knows perfectly well what t-shirt Daniel wore in 2010. As you do.

What I was really wanting was to talk to Chris about his photo of Sheila Kanani [in Space], and I like the way he remembers virtually all the people he has shot in his spot in Yurt Gardens. Apparently most of Space this time was made up of St Abb’s Head, which I suppose is the photographer’s ‘bottle of washing up liquid’ in using whatever comes to hand.

Sheila Kanani by Chris Close

When it doesn’t rain, the new style Yurt Gardens is a good place to hang, as proven by the gang of crime writers just round the corner from my sandwich spot. There’s ducks, Chris, and the passing through of many people, who either are very famous, or carrying trays of food. All are important. (Though no ‘Kevin Costner’ this year…)

Ian Rankin and Phill Jupitus

What’s always good in the festival’s second week are all the school children. They have come for the same thing as I have, and often getting the most exciting events combos. I even spied a few teens wearing the authorial blue lanyards the other day. Made me green with envy, that did.

It’s not only old age and feebleness that determines when I attend. Trains have a lot to do with it. They were better this year; partly to do with the new electric rolling stock (pardon me for getting nerdy), and partly because I tried to avoid the worst hours of the day. But when the doors refused to open as we got to Haymarket one day, I learned from the guard that it’s all down to computers now. I wish I didn’t know that!

Elizabeth Acevedo and Dean Atta

We mentioned teeth in connection with Mog’s nightmares. I haven’t been able to ignore the fact that so many authors also have teeth. Well, I suppose most people do, but I am always struck by the wide smiles, full of perfect teeth. And not just the Americans, either. I’ll be spending this winter practising smiling in front of the mirror, but am not hopeful.

Here’s to EIBF 2020, when we will see more clearly?

Jim Al-Khalili

(Most photos by Helen Giles)

Cracking the Reading Code

You can’t hear enough about getting children – or even old people – to read, especially if they have extra obstacles to deal with. Well, I can’t, anyway. And I’d already heard the background stories of Tom Palmer, Sally Gardner and Alex Wheatle, but they can do with being repeated. Often. Until everyone who wants to can read.

Sally Gardner, Tom Palmer and Alex Wheatle

The three guests were ably interviewed by Mairi Kidd in Tuesday’s event hosted by Barrington Stoke, where she used to work. She knows about this business of dyslexia friendly books. And so do the three; with Tom probably having written the most books for Barrington Stoke, Sally being the most dyslexic while still writing the the most wonderful stories, and Alex for knowing what his readers know.

Tom Palmer

I do like the sound of Tom’s mother, getting him to read by giving him books and articles on football. And then he went to night school where he was supposed to read Shakespeare and Chaucer! It wasn’t until a tutor introduced him to poetry about Leeds United (!), and took students out to the actual ‘Wuthering Heights’ that Tom felt he could get on with this reading.

Sally Gardner

Not sure I like the sound of Sally’s school for maladjusted children (whose fault is it if children are maladjusted?), but at 14 when she tried reading Wuthering Heights for the second time and she suddenly was ‘in the f***ing book,’ things changed for her. As Sally said, you can be good at something and it needn’t be only academic for it to matter. We need ‘diversity in the brain.’

And Alex, who did read a bit as a child, from Huckleberry Finn and Ivanhoe to sports books, finally discovered books in jail at the age of 18. His cellmate, and mentor, gave him The Black Jacobins to read, as he ‘wouldn’t have anything better to do in there.’

Alex Wheatle

Asked to read to us, Alex again chose the bit from Kerb Stain Boys about being in detention, and this time it was Sally who asked if he reads his own audio books. And after Sally had treated us to a dyslexic pirate in Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Sea Dragon, Alex returned the compliment. Sally does have a great voice. Last but not least, Tom read from Armistice Runner, which is close to his heart, featuring both running and fells, and it still makes me cry.

Mairi asked the three about graphic novels; if they make reading easier. Sally mentioned Shaun Tan, and the ‘most genius book ever,’ which has no words at all. Both Alex and Tom were fans of Shoot Magazine, but understandably Sally’s not. Talking about Tom’s novel Scrum, and the revelation it brought a young boy at a school; ‘Miss, I can read this!’

Sally gets angry when people say to those who have listened to an unabridged novel as an audio book, that they ‘haven’t really read it.’ This is snobbery. She suggested to someone in the audience that if the can get a certificate from their GP that their child is dyslexic, then they have the right to access audio books for the blind and partially sighted.

The last question of the evening was not a question but a thank you, from a teacher who uses these books in her school. And it seems that Scotland might be better in this instance, not having reading rules, which means that teachers can let the children read anything, even if it’s not from the right part of a reading scheme. (This brings back dreadful memories of Son being forced to read ‘backwards’ so as not to rock the boat of equality.)

We then gathered in the bookshop where people were so keen to continue talking about this important subject, that poor Tom was unable to sit down at the signing table for quite some time.

This is what we like.