Category Archives: Education

One Thousand Things

This is more fun and useful than you might think at first. One Thousand Things by Anna Kövecses is simply that; lots of words for the beginner.

Aimed – I assume – at the young learner reader, it would work very well for someone older, but new to English, too. The whole book consists of pictures of fairly ordinary things, with the word next to what it describes.

Anna Kövecses, One Thousand Things

I haven’t counted them, but one thousand seems likely. And that’s quite a lot. You can go a long way with that kind of vocabulary. OK, they are mainly nouns, but you could always mime a verb to go with it.

Stirling Literary Society

The Resident IT Consultant had been a couple of times, but I needed something special to tempt me out on a wet and dark Monday night, so it was my first time. Stirling Literary Society meet at The Smith [local museum] once a month, and the thing that got me out of the house was Scottish Children’s Literature. Dr Maureen Farrell from the University of Glasgow drove through floods to tell us about it.

When she realised that her degree didn’t cover any Scottish books Maureen decided to do her PhD on Scottish children’s literature, but was dissuaded because it was thought there wasn’t enough material for a doctorate… (I was unsure in the end if she went ahead with it anyway, or not. But whichever way, Maureen knows a few things about those non-existent children’s books.)

In the ‘beginning’ there were books, and some children read them. And there were chapbooks, sold by travelling chapmen. In the 18th century James Janeway published A Token for Children. Often books were written by puritans who wanted to educate, and needed to use language accessible to children. As early as 1744 there were ‘magazine giveaways’ with balls for boys and hoops for girls.

Then we had Sir Walter Scott. Naturally. He wrote a book for his grandson, but as a ‘very wordy writer’ it probably wasn’t all that easy to read. But he enjoyed it so much he wanted to give up writing adult books. The first proper children’s book in Scotland seems to have been Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House, where children played and were naughty.

Maureen Farrell’s criteria for what counts as Scottish literature are books by someone Scottish, set in Scotland or about Scottish people. If not, we couldn’t lay claim to J K Rowling or Julia Donaldson.

There wasn’t really time enough to talk even quite briefly about most Scottish authors. Maureen galloped past Treasure Island, The Light Princess, Peter Pan, and on to Theresa Breslin and Eric Linklater, explaining what the Carnegie Medal is (very elderly audience, but maybe not necessary?), Molly Hunter, Joan Lingard, and she showed us covers of lots of books, including The Wee Free Men.

She described the beginning chapter of Nicola Morgan’s Fleshmarket, and I decided I could possibly avoid fainting if I was lucky. Jackie Kay cropped up with both fiction and poetry, local author Rennie McOwan got some attention, as did Mairi Hedderwick and Debi Gliori.

And then there were the books in Scots, of which she had many to show us. I particularly liked Roald Dahl’s The Twits, which became The Eejits.

I reckon you can deduce that there’s enough for a PhD there, somewhere. We could have gone on for hours and only skimmed the surface. There was a lot I knew about, obviously, but there was also quite a bit I didn’t, because I was never a small Scottish child, unlike others in the audience who had strong and fond memories of many of the books mentioned.

Fling and Sling

Or Fling, Sling and Batter your way to Victory as the full title reads. It’s ‘all you need to know about medieval weaponry.’

What’s more, this ‘book’ written by Philip Steele is as much toy as book, since you can build a working catapult with the 15 model pieces and the two rubber bands. (I like the preciseness of the number of rubber bands…)

Fling, Sling and Batter your way to Victory

It’s actually quite interesting. I learned things I didn’t know before. You know how when you read medieval novels (ones set in those days, rather than being quite that old) and there is fighting, they will mention ‘stuff’? Well, I’m the kind of person who just reads on, not necessarily able to visualise quite how these warriors are fighting each other.

Mobile towers (no, not anything to do with phone reception) and battering rams are both concepts from past reading. And it’s not until now I actually know both what they look like and how they work!

I’m not totally sold on catapults, however, and the trebuchet looks lethal. I know which end of it I’d prefer to be. And ‘storming the breach’ looks much more dangerous than the words suggest.

I suspect that real catapults didn’t depend on rubber bands, either.

This is very hands-on non-fiction reading.

In conversation with Dr Death

There were many jokes and puns based on death last night at the University of Edinburgh event with Sarah Death, eminent translator from Swedish, in conversation with – the also quite excellent (cough) – Ian Giles. Although, as a mere woman Dr Death can only be a Member of the Order of the Polar Star, whereas her colleague in the audience last night, Peter Graves, is a Knight. (Graves, Death..?) But as someone said, it’s not often you find yourself in the same room with one, let alone two, such eminent polar stars.

Ian mentioned how he’d been pleasantly surprised to be approached by Sarah, when he was doing translation for his MSc. It was the idea of being contacted by the person he wants to be when he grows up…

This ‘110% clueless mother of a demanding child’ went part-time with her PhD back in the day, and started translating books on the side. The only time available to do it was when she was babysitting other people’s children, who were good enough to actually sleep. But eventually Dr Death emerged with her thesis on Fredrika Bremer and Elin Wägner; both good Swedish feminists from the olden days.

Sarah’s favourite author to translate would be Kerstin Ekman, who is so popular that she’s being shared by many translators, and Sarah has several other authors she likes, and some that she has yet to persuade a publisher to take on. So far she has translated 26 books from Swedish and two from Norwegian.

She is the former editor of the Swedish Book Review, having taken over after Laurie Thompson. The SBR is highly thought of for being independent, and publishers are happy for their books to be reviewed there. Sarah has reviewed around 70 books for the SBR, but feels she needs to limit herself so that she actually has time to translate as well.

The ‘mushrooming’ agents are a new concept in the bookworld, and a very new thing is the idea of sample commissions, translating a book without definite plans to publish. It’s a good way for the emerging translator to practise, but with no guarantees if the book does make it into being published. Likewise doing book reports, which takes time and pays badly, but which could be considered part of the apprenticeship.

You don’t necessarily get to translate the books you like. You translate the books you are offered, and then you might find your dream book gets offered to someone else. Sarah’s advice to the emerging translator is to get a foot in the door, to make contacts. And not to take on too much work. She compared herself to Judi Dench who claims to feel more scared the more she does, suffering from ‘prestationsångest’ as Sarah called it. (Interesting to find someone who borrows words in the opposite direction!)

And then you wait for someone like Joan Tate to die. (Before you worry too much; Joan Tate is already dead.) Basically, if there is someone older than you, someone very good, you may have to wait for them to die, or possibly retire, before the plum jobs come your way. And no, Sarah has no retirement plans. Translating is a slow career, so you don’t stop at 65. And like Bookwitch, she ‘suffers’ from loyalty; to publishers, to authors, so can’t really slow down too much.

Working with authors varies. Some want to ‘help’ a lot, some can’t be bothered. The dead ones are not difficult, but nor are they helpful. Sometimes Sarah has books queueing up to be translated, and it can be hard to keep her enthusiasm for as long as it takes to start on a book. She has been known to begin a book in the middle, and she always tries to get the first draft as good as possible, as there is only so much editing she can tolerate. That’s why she likes short books best.

Then there was wine and crisps, as well as some freebies and useful leaflets. Dr Death professed pleasure at meeting the Bookwitch at long last, which is surprising, but understandable. Afterwards the emerging Ian Giles guided us safely (well, Peter Graves tried to make us turn right instead of left…) to a nearby restaurant for dinner. It was him, plus eight old people. We all had a good time. And I trust Daniel Hahn’s ears burned nicely all evening.

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.