‘I like his bookshelves’ said Daughter about Arne Dahl, as she saw him in his writing ‘cupboard’ online. ‘They are quite black’ she added. And I suppose that fits in with Nordic Noir. His books are better for being a bit black.
We watched Arne’s interview with Dr Noir, aka Jacky Collins, who fan-girled to a hitherto never seen extent. She almost bounced off the ceiling, were such a thing possible for someone seated on a chair in front of her computer. Never mind; I like an interviewer who really, really likes her ‘victim’.
So it was unfortunate that Barnet Libraries who hosted this Teams chat managed to silence Arne. Not forever, and not in that way, but we all agonised a bit while someone found his voice again.
It’s a rather Swedish voice. And he admitted to having had that typical Swedish childhood, with summers spent in the Stockholm archipelago, where I understand he’s not averse to killing people now. It is darker in winter.
We now also know where to hunt Arne down, as he was forced to tell us about his favourite café. It’s Vurma. Except, maybe he led us astray by making this up? There was also something important about Andalucía, but by that point I’d lost the plot.
Jacky very generously mentioned Arne’s [latest] translator, our in-house favourite, who was also listening in. Arne did a sort of ‘nice to see you, Ian’ wave. In as much as you can wave, or clap, on Teams.
There were questions from the worldwide audience, with a prize for the best one. They were all good. I was going to say except for the last one, because you can’t expect an author to know where one can find his books in the original, in another country. Arne assumed anywhere. Because you would, wouldn’t you? But thanks to Ian and Jacky it was made clear that due to Brexit you just can’t. And that is so wrong, and perhaps it was time to make that point publicly.
It was good to have ‘gone out’ for an evening, and I do like authorial cupboards.
And don’t you just love the ‘bullet’ holes in the wall?
Marcus Sedgwick died this morning. He was far too young to go, and I understand it was unexpected. Many very good books will now not be written.
I have a small bookcase near my bed, with some of my favourite books. There is more than one by Marcus, because you just had to like them.
When I first became aware of him and his writing, I was surprised to learn that he was taking Swedish lessons. I wrote to him to ask. Because that’s the kind of thing I did. And when I looked back on our correspondence today, I discovered that occasionally he wrote to me in Swedish, completely unprompted. (Maneter are jellyfish, and to the English-speaker they sound like man-eaters. This is something Marcus incorporated into an event, or two.)
Eight years ago I interviewed him on the day of his adult book launch for A Love Like Blood. It was a fun, but slightly traumatising, event for me. Mostly because of it happening on the 16th floor, and less because of the blood. But we sort of agreed on roller coasters.
I was sad to discover that Budge Wilson died last year. It felt as though this Canadian children’s author could, would, outlast us all. It’s been nearly fifteen years since we met, but I still have her address in my address book – both her summer address and the regular one – in case I might want to look her up if I ever get to Canada, and more specifically, Nova Scotia. These days of course, I live in the old Scotia.
“Meeting Budge Wilson was rather like meeting a long lost Canadian aunt, if only I had one. I met Budge at her London hotel during her whirlwind British publicity tour for her book Before Green Gables. Things at the hotel weren’t working out very well, so Jodie from Puffin had some complaining to do, before we were given somewhere to talk. Once the practicalities were sorted and a number of confused hotel employees had got their act together with pots of tea and endless bottles of water, we were fine.
Budge looked lovely in a pink top and matching pink lipstick, which is the kind of colour co-ordinating I like. When I said that she looked just as she does in her photographs, she wondered if I’d also been able to see how short she is. To start with Budge is concerned because she’s not feeling a hundred percent well, but she perks up during the interview.
The meeting-my-aunt feeling continues when Budge starts off by interviewing me, which is very sweet, and I just wish I had more important information to share. I confess that I’m worried because I know very little about Budge, but she says “it’s lovely for me”. Being so well known in Canada, and particularly so in her native Nova Scotia, she has got tired of being asked the same thing over and over again.
Still feeling guilty about the insularity of the British book scene, where we tend to know far too little of even English language books from the rest of the world, I tell her that I Googled her the previous day, and was surprised to find my own review of Before Green Gables on the first page. If Budge hadn’t made a point of telling me her age, I wouldn’t have known she’ll be 81 in May. It makes the travelling to publicise a book much more impressive, and I’m amazed at her stamina.
I ask whether she has been to Britain before, and Budge tells me of the trip the family made in the late sixties when the children were young, touring the length of the country in a dormobile during five weeks. She describes it as “a fate worse than death”, which I suspect was more because it was tiring, than that this country was particularly horrible. It was a “hard, hard trip and I remember very little”, she says with a rueful smile.
This time, having left snow behind in Canada, Budge and her husband Alan really noticed the green fields of England as their plane came in to land. “All so tidy. I’m not used to tidy countryside. Like Prince Edward Island, with the hedgerows, like a child’s drawing.” Budge had time to study the London suburbs as the traffic crawled on their way in to central London, especially the architecture and people’s homes; “the stick-together houses” made from different materials than she’s used to.
As I admit to understanding the Canadian style wooden houses, on account of them being similar to Swedish ones, Budge reminisces about a trip she once made to Finland. It “was so like Nova Scotia you wouldn’t believe it”. She feels rather guilty over placing Anne Shirley in the middle of the woods in Nova Scotia, and says if she could write the book all over again she wouldn’t. But we discuss this, as there is obviously a need for Anne to have lived somewhere very different to Prince Edward Island, which strikes Anne as paradise.
It was L M Montgomery who gave Anne’s past a day trip to the seaside, and this forced Budge to give her somewhere inland to live. She spent days driving round trying to find where to place Bolingbroke and Marysville and “up the river”. She had to settle on a fictional area after finding red soil somewhere, which meant that it wouldn’t do for Anne, who had never seen that colour soil before coming to PEI. Budge reckons Bolingbroke might have been Truro, as it fits the description given by Montgomery.
“Prince Edward Island has so many Japanese in the summer, it’s surprising the island doesn’t sink”, says Budge, adding that she feels she has “short changed my province”. I suggest that she couldn’t very well write her Green Gables prequel with an eye to the tourist industry.
I’d read somewhere that Budge had been reluctant to take on the task of writing about Anne’s early years when she was approached and offered the job. “I didn’t want to write it”, she says. “I said I’ll think about it. I thought about it for two months”. One reason was that Budge had another book on the go, a collection of poems for the Swiss Air disaster near Halifax ten years ago. Being two thirds of the way through this, she knew she couldn’t both finish it and write the Green Gables prequel. And “I was concerned L M Montgomery might not want me to do this”.
Budge was also fully aware of the strong feelings she would incur by writing the book. There are many Canadians “whose hearts beat so strongly for Anne, they’d not want me to do this”. After she had decided to do it, Budge found that when it was announced to people, there were a few who didn’t have time to “fix their faces” on hearing about it. On the whole, though, reviews have been favourable, with only “one that did tear me to shreds”.
As she approached the task, Budge found it was “a puzzle to solve, with a heroine not of my making”. Here was a girl who had suffered verbal abuse, there was physical abuse that she was seeing, drunkenness, postnatal depression, and so on. Budge had never written anything historical before, so that was another challenge. She likes to do her “research by asking human beings”.
I ask if Budge knows when Anne was born, and whereas she had thought it might be in 1876, careful counting backwards from when Anne’s son Jem joins World War I, puts her year of birth as 1866. This meant Budge had to be careful and “never mention the date”, and she had to stay vague to avoid inconsistencies. Budge considered bare light bulbs for the orphanage, but was told not to “touch electricity”, which is wise advice in more ways than one. Other problem areas are clothes and how people work, where both safety pins and assembly lines needed avoiding. For those readers who remembers Anne’s puffed sleeves, it seems that L M Montgomery got that wrong, but Budge guesses she just wanted to use them, and so she did.
As Budge talks about the process of getting started, she waves her arms about, indicating Penguin to the right and the Montgomery family and law firm on her left. She first had to provide sample chapters, as well as a long outline of what she would write.
To her astonishment, Budge loved writing Before Green Gables. “I tend to write the first draft extremely quickly”, and she wrote a chapter a day, in 71, non-consecutive, days, finishing on her 80th birthday.
Usually Budge likes to take a long time over “the lovely editing process”, sitting in her bed, with all her papers spread out, and writing by hand. This time she had a deadline to meet, so had to rush things rather more. Penguin originally wanted 300 pages and Budge’s reaction to this was that she couldn’t possibly write that much. The finished book is 465 pages, and that’s after some of the pruning Budge had to do. She tried very hard and managed to cut about 2000 words, initially. The Americans wanted her to cut another 32,000 words, but all she felt able to prune was another 4000. The scenes between Anne and Mr Thomas were some of the ones they suggested removing, but Budge stuck to her guns and kept those passages.
While writing, her “saddest moment was when Anne gave the teddy to Noah”, and she muses over the fact that as the author she could have changed this, but felt she shouldn’t. Anne couldn’t have kept the teddy when she got to the orphanage anyway. I ask how much research Budge did as regards what orphanages were like. She looked into things very carefully, and found to her astonishment that whereas Canada had laws about the humane treatment of animals, the humane treatment of children came later, in the 1900s.
We discuss the dead men in Anne’s life; Mr Thomas and Mr Hammond, as well as Matthew. I admit to a fondness for the Eggman, and Budge says how “very crucial” he is, and how she had to delay things in the plot to prevent it being possible for Anne to be adopted. In all, there were so many possible good outcomes for Anne, and it was heartbreaking that Budge needed to “keep” Anne for Matthew and Marilla.
Something that had puzzled me when reading Budge’s book, was what age it’s intended for. Somewhere I’ve seen 8+, but whereas it’s about a young girl, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s suited for that age group. And I wouldn’t say Budge’s style is difficult, but it’s not dumbed down, either. Budge herself feels it’s very much a book for all ages, but it seems that most readers are adults.
Once Budge had finished Before Green Gables, she had a lesson in saying nothing in interviews, as the publisher wanted nothing given away too early. Budge says her blood pressure shot up, until she learnt to talk without saying very much. Unlike with me, where Budge suddenly starts worrying that she’s talking too much. She gets out a copy of my review of her book and asks me about the Ipecac. She felt it had to be included in the book, but she was so uncertain about whether it was safe, and Budge was intrigued to find I had used it. That brings us on to homeopathy in general, and then I feel it is I who talk too much.
We get chatting about book covers, and Budge shows me the Canadian cover. Under the dust wrapper the Canadian edition is really very attractive, with an old style faded look. I ask how the book is selling, and in Canada it’s “selling extremely well”, and had sold out before the launch. The launch, incidentally, was held on a day with a blizzard, which caused most of her family to be late for the event, although they arrived safely in the end.
Budge gets out her bag to show me. Her daughter made it specially for this trip, and although it’s not Budge’s usual colours, she really likes it. So do I. It’s a beautiful green fabric, with BGG appliquéd in orange on one side and the name Budge on the other. The handles are plaited in orange wool, and they are of course Anne’s hair. It’s the perfect Anne bag. Budge had expected the British to be so sophisticated that they wouldn’t appreciate a hand sewn bag, but everyone has liked it.
I say that people here have less time to make things, and Budge has noticed how much “everyone is rushing”. Apparently a sure sign of a Nova Scotian is that they stand still on escalators. I wonder what that makes me?
I ask Budge to sign my copy of her book, and I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone consider so carefully what to write. When I read it, it’s an invitation to come to Nova Scotia, and that’s definitely a first. Budge has described her home province so vividly, that I don’t think she needs to be concerned that she’s not “selling it”. Their “springs are very grim” and Budge says she never makes school visits outside town in April, because it’s “ a hideous month”. She tells me to come in September to see their “magnificent fall”. I get the impression that autumn colours are better in Nova Scotia than anywhere else. And her description of the varying seascapes near her home, almost has me on the first plane to Halifax.
The next day, Good Friday, Budge and her husband Alan are going to Oxford to visit old friends. She’s brought a book to give them. Not Before Green Gables, but something else. Budge starts to tell me something to do with this, and then forgets what she was going to say. “Don’t you feel that the things you lose are always the ones you think are the most interesting?”
It’s an unkind thought, but I’m almost grateful for the migraine that cancelled Budge’s next interview, which gave us twice as long to talk. Had it not been for my train home, I may well have been there for much longer still. We find our way out, and Budge grabs the large, almost full, bottle of water, and says she’ll take it to her room. I admire someone who is sensible and thrifty.”
(This interview was first published in March 2008.)
OK, so the Society of Authors’ afternoon tea with Daniel Hahn might have been more like him wielding a mug – though not a Moomin one – of coffee. But it was nice anyway. He might be busy, but it never shows. Danny always seems very cool and calm, and that rubs off on the rest of us. It was good to have an event ‘to go to’ even if it was no further than our own screens and our own mugs of tea/coffee/wine. And this was last week, so I offer my apologies for the late report. Stuff happens.
There he was, and there we were, and there was Antonia Lloyd-Jones, his translator colleague. (I have it on good authority that she is nice.) They discussed translating, as you do. And no, Daniel does not have a chimpanzee in the basement. He does all the work himself.
We discovered to our great delight that he has a ladder – for his library – when he walked us from one room to another, in order to find the thing he’s working on now, so he could read to us. It had been printed out and he read it with red pen in hand for any necessary corrections that might make themselves known to him. And he did, indeed, note down something that was wrong, meaning we were sort of useful.
The reason Danny doesn’t read the books before he translates, is that he hates first drafts and the payoff is the discovery of reading something for the first time. ‘There is nothing like it.’
And the reason he translates what he does, is that you can only choose the opportunities that exist. And there is the mortgage that wants paying. To help with that are the several translations at different stages, because he needs to work on different things; not just the first draft. He works fast, which is his good fortune, and he’s good at multitasking. Moving between translations is energising.
Danny enjoyed cooperating with a recent author, being able to ask her questions. His current author is long dead, which is not terribly practical. And he’d have liked hanging out with this man who died 114 years ago.
Co-translating is great, and tends to make for a better book, because two people have looked at everything, and thought about it, and discovered the mistakes. He’s doing something with palindromes and anagrams, which seems not to be as hard as his audience felt it must be.
For pleasure Daniel reads mostly the same as when he works, but he also reads a lot of children’s books. He tries to engineer things so that he can do some interviews or festival work, chatting to authors, and being allowed to ‘deduct it off his taxes.’
To assist with his tax paying, you could always look into his new book about translating, Catching Fire: a Translation Diary. It’s both fun and interesting. As was this event. We want more, please.
It’s half term, and Arvon – with Mary Morris – wanted to entertain children needing entertaining, so they brought in Frank Cottrell Boyce, who is just the man for it. He was backlit by the Solway Firth, but we could still see most of him, and the internet cables were only marginally gnawed on by sharks.
Frank read a couple of excerpts from his new book Noah’s Gold, about the dangers of incomplete addresses for the GPS in the school’s minibus taking children on a trip to the Amazon warehouse. You can guess the rest. The book is about being unexpectedly marooned on an island, where there is no need to be horrid to the others when you can be nice and helpful instead.
He loves ‘ending up where you shouldn’t be’, which is why his own day trip to Oslo, allowing him plenty of time to get back to his daughter’s school assembly, didn’t quite go to plan. (The heading is a hint at what happened, but don’t ask me how. Though Frank strikes me as the kind of man to make little mistakes like that.) He has personal experience of being marooned on Muck with his children and a packet of Bourbon biscuits.
Frank’s own start on writing happened in Year 6, when his friend Graham was off sick and he ended up writing a long story in class. His teacher couldn’t have been more surprised by this ‘if he’d laid an egg’ but she read it out and it felt good.
This, in fact, is the solution to the question on how to get secondary school pupils to read. You read to them. People like being read to. You can’t teach pleasure, but you can share it. Frank acquired his own confidence when he was kept back a year – although he didn’t actually notice – and grew very confident during his second Year 6, and this has never left him.
These days he writes in a notebook, and at the end of the day he reads what he’s written aloud, to his mobile phone, which in turn saves it as text before he continues working on it on his computer. The app isn’t very good, it seems, but it only cost 59p.
It is, apparently, easy to write film scripts, which is what Frank did first. But it’s hard to get one made into a film. On the other hand, if you write a book, it’s relatively easy to get it published, because it’s so much cheaper than film making.
The last reading we got was from Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth, the lightsaber episode. It’s odd. This must have been at least my third time, but I swear it sounds different every time. The thing to remember, when you are a dog from space, is that you do not eat the children. Nor should you actually make the lightsaber work, even if cutting children’s hair with it is the new face painting.
I’m a lot later with this than the Resident IT Consultant was. He’s the one around here who listens to the radio, and four weeks ago he sent me the link to Michael Berkeley’s interview with Meg Rosoff. I think he sort of suspected I wouldn’t mind listening to this. It was Private Passions on Radio 3, which seems to be a classier Desert Island Discs, like with more classical, proper music.
I kept intending to listen, but so many things got in the way, and the available number of days left shrank at an alarming rate. This is why I’m only letting you have just over a day to listen. Depending on when you read this. Although Daughter said she thought these things last ‘forever’. She could be right. Or she could be wrong.
Anyway, I finally hit on the solution to finding time. I had some Seville oranges to cut for the Resident IT Consultant’s marmalade making. It takes time. And it’s better for some audio entertainment to jolly me along. It clearly sounded so irresistible that Daughter said she’d slice the oranges with me.
So there we were, Meg’s Number One Fan and her Second Favourite Physicist, slicing away with increasingly sticky fingers. Yes, we used knives, obviously, but it’s still sticky business.
I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know any of Meg’s music choices, and worse still, while I enjoyed most of them I really didn’t care for the one described as her favourite… I think it was the one where she uttered the probably more truthful phrase than Mr Berkeley credited, ‘words fail me’….
I’m not sure I knew quite what ailed me. Or what I wanted.
But I lasted something like two days before my two typing fingers were itching again. Watched an online Society of Authors Afternoon Tea interview with Jacqueline Wilson, where Dawn Finch asked lots of pertinent questions and got many interesting, neither stale nor old, answers from Jacqueline. I couldn’t quite adapt to the ‘watch only, take no notes and do not write about it afterwards’ regime.
If I can do this at my own pace, with no gifted books or events tickets breathing down my neck, I might well be able to share my opinions with you regularly.
‘Oh, goody,’ I hear you say.
Yeah, well, that’s life.
I’ll work something out. I have far too many opinions wanting to get out there, for me to hold them in. What if I burst?
His inhaler, a bag of helium, and a games console were the single luxuries Wednesday morning’s three time travelling fantasy writers chose from life today. They should have thought this through more, shouldn’t they?
The indefatigable Ann Landmann was at the book festival to chat to Jonathan Stroud – who played it safe by remaining in Hertfordshire – and who’s written three gazillion books (Ann has read every one of them), and to relative newcomer Ben Oliver and debut author Femi Fadugba. This was, not surprisingly, another really good event.
They all had to start by describing themselves, so now I understand better what’s been happening at earlier events. It’s so people with impaired vision knows who’s who. Ben regretted getting his hair wet on the way, and Femi seemed to wish he’d picked a different t-shirt (I liked it).
We were promised a spoiler-free conversation, and I’m grateful, having read just Jonathan’s Scarlett & Browne, but not the other two books. I want to.
Ben is a teacher from Glasgow, who writes about a character on death row, in a world maybe 150 to 200 years in the future. It’s very dark.
For Femi Physics comes first. His book is two narratives of 4D space time, in Peckham. No, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either, but it’s how I heard it. (The short excerpt in the Guardian is Very Promising.) And as time travel goes, Femi moves only 15 years into the future. He wanted it to be somewhere well known.
Jonathan on the other hand, has placed his characters in a submerged England, maybe 500 years away, and no one much knows what happened. I expect we’ll learn along with the characters. Jonathan likes using humour, because everyone’s mostly like they would be now. Except Scarlett who started life as a middle aged man, but is now a teenage girl.
Asked if their worlds could become reality, Femi feels that maybe his already is. Ben hopes sincerely not, whereas Jonathan is full of optimism, despite the giant otters. Another question was about possible actors for any films they may have given life to. Femi already knows, but can’t tell. Ben would like young, unknown actors. Plus Hugh Grant. Jonathan, too, goes for someone unknown, as long as she has red hair.
This just left me wanting to read. And that’s really what this should all be about. More. Reading.
Thursday morning’s bookfest event featured a talk between Barbara Henderson about her version of the Lewis chessmen and Dr Alice Blackwell from the ‘local’ museum who also knows a lot about them. The one keeping the ladies in order was dinosaur professor Steve Brusatte, who’s no dinosaur, but he knows about them, and they are even older than the chessmen.
It’s always good when grown-up academics can demonstrate so much enthusiasm for children’s fiction on a subject they might know a lot about. It’s not just me who rather liked The Chessmen Thief.
Barbara started off by reading from the beginning, where her hero does his best not to drop the walrus tusks. They will break into smithereens if you do.
She has long been fascinated by Vikings, and by board games, and the fact that not only did they carve these chess pieces nearly nine hundred years ago, but they actually played chess!
When it became impossible for Barbara to travel to Shetland for research, she re-routed to Orkney instead, which is why her characters stop by Orkney on their way from Norway to the Western Isles which they called the Southern Isles. It’s all relative. And when they got there, the much older Callanish stones were already waiting, although they were not necessarily as ancient as the dinosaurs…
Alice took over and talked about the chessmen in her museum. They have eleven of the 93 pieces found, and the British museum have some of the rest. Because we – they – don’t know everything about the chessmen, they lend themselves well to be used in fiction like this. They’re not all walrus; some pieces are carved from sperm whale teeth. Alice is their carer, and when some of the pieces are lent to other museums, she gets to travel with them.
There were questions, both from our dinosaur expert (on Skye, you should always keep your eyes open in case you find a bit of dinosaur) and from the audience. Barbara has plenty of new plans, with an eye on the Forth Bridge, and not forgetting Mary Queen of Scots.
The one event I wanted to go to on Saturday was Malorie Blackman talking to Gemma Cairney. Turned out she was only appearing remotely, but you can always record from your attic, which is what Malorie did. I’ve heard her talk many times, but never knew she went by the name Lorie. So I live and learn.
It’s what she does herself as well. Malorie likes taking a new course at City Lit every year, just to learn. And these days she gets paid to daydream. Take that, teachers!
Her Noughts & Crosses series is an alternate Britain, a recognisable here and now. It’s not dystopian; Malorie simply flipped reality. Callum is most like herself, and she gave him a couple of her own experiences. One was the time she was on a train travelling first class and the guard thought she’d stolen the ticket. The other was at school, being told by a teacher that there were no black scientists [to tell them about].
Imagination is like a muscle. You need to use it. And you should read read read. Malorie calls herself nosy, which is another way of talking about research. One should be curious.
Othello was her first coloured character. Later on she frequented the black bookshop, (New Beacon Books), in Islington. They stocked mostly African and Caribbean books, as there were relatively few black British books.
After a slow start for black authors, according to Malorie, about fifteen years ago they were ‘almost fashionable for a while’, but six or seven years ago it was down to her and someone else again. One of her early books was accepted by a publisher purely for their ‘multicultural list’ and they said no to her second idea for a book.
Reading The Colour Purple Malorie felt that ‘maybe I can do this too’. Before that she read Jane Eyre, Rebecca and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (leading to her reading all the other Agatha Christie novels as well). This was due to the influence of the librarian who pointed her in the right direction. These days she often gets sent books, or her agent does. One recent book she recommends is The Upper World by Femi Fadugba, which is out soon.
In answer to a question whether she waits for the muse or just starts to write, Malorie said you ‘sit down and get on with it’. In her case it’s from nine to six in her attic office, with an hour for lunch. She’s looking forward to the second television series of Noughts & Crosses, and feels very lucky to be able to experience the bizarre, lovely feeling of seeing her own thoughts translated onto the screen.
To finish, Malorie read chapter 16 from Endgame, the last in the Noughts & Crosses series, publishing in September. We’ll just have to wait.
Should you really have to prove you are alive? Actually, stupid question. I do this once a year to qualify for my pension. But otherwise? There will probably always be magazines who like to write and print sensational untruths about … Continue reading →