Category Archives: Languages

The Silent War

This time round it’s a lot easier to visualise the British as the bad guys, the way they continue to act in Andreas Norman’s second novel featuring the Swedish Secret Service, returning to see more of its agent Bente Jensen. The gloves already being off, I was quite prepared to hate the British agents. I felt almost as if it was my own fault – for ignoring the [untranslated] part of our most recent former PM in Into A Raging Blaze, the first novel by Andreas – that what happened happened. I remember laughing at her…

Andreas Norman, The Silent War

Anyway, we see much more of the two main agents, both Swedish Bente and her British counterpart Jonathan Green, and we learn a lot about their private lives. It might seem too much, but it’s all relevant. And the title, The Silent War, is so apt. Just wait and see, as their lives fall apart. They are no James Bonds.

The bad stuff is mostly what MI6 get up to in Syria, in ‘secret,’ and we meet Jonathan’s highly unpleasant London boss. The thing is, they are all really nasty types. I kept hoping for a ray of sunshine somewhere.

The slow start eventually develops quite explosively. I can’t possibly divulge more, though. You’ll have to read the book.

(Translated by Ian Giles)

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Icelandic books

I might have mentioned that my Photographer went off to Iceland at a most inopportune time in the book festival period. But, that’s the way it is.

Round about the same time I saw a link to something about Icelandic publishers abandoning covering their books in plastic. I was quite proud of myself for guessing this much (but obviously checked by running the article through Google translate).

Yes, it seems Icelandic books have been appearing covered in plastic, the way I scornfully mentioned in connection with a London bookshop once, who did this covering to make the books collector’s items. (They didn’t appreciate my opinions.)

Anyway, this made Daughter – yes, it was her – pop into a Reykjavik bookshop to check up on the plastic situation. She reported that some, but not all, books were indeed covered.

But her main comment was how expensive the books were. I tried to suggest that Iceland probably is as expensive as Geneva, and for a good reason, but she reckoned it was worse even than Switzerland. It seems that the books just inside the doors were the most expensive, with the cheaper books further in.

What shocked her was that people (=tourists) were buying, what I thought she described as ‘books about sh*tty puffins.’ But my hearing isn’t what it was, and the ‘phone line’ across the North Sea* might not have been at its best. I imagine they were lovely puffin books. Albeit expensive.

Which apparently also went for the Marimekko socks I presumably won’t be getting for Christmas.

Perhaps it was due to the sheer number of prime ministers she came across. All the Nordic ones were there, causing the conference elevators to be out of use, and so was Frau Merkel. There. Not out of use. Whether they shopped for socks or puffin books or anything else I couldn’t say.

*It’s the Atlantic, isn’t it?

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.

Too tired to haiku

You know how it is with those subject lines in your inbox? Whatever it was you started discussing, it follows you around, even when you’ve moved onto something quite different.

I emailed Theresa Breslin about something, and then back, and back again, we went. Until she declared she was ‘tired’ of me being ‘tired’ in the subject line, and she was going to write a poem. As you do.

Since I don’t go on Twitter as often as others, it was pure chance that I discovered Theresa’s Haiku.

Theresa Breslin haiku

I have absolutely no idea what it is about. Am I dead? Or is there bird poo?

But I’m impressed that I could ‘inspire’ some inbox poetry.

Feminist Fantasy

By the end of her event on feminist fantasy with Deirdre Sullivan, whose most recent book is Perfectly Preventable Deaths – or PPD for short – we ‘all’ wanted to marry Maria Turtschaninoff’s husband. Apparently she felt ‘Mr T’ needed to be in one of her books, and he’s the really rather lovely man in Maresi, Red Mantle.

Maria Turtschaninoff

And while I’m wishing, I’ll have Deirdre’s dress (and the right shape to wear it).

Deirdre Sullivan

This event, chaired by Philippa Cochrane, introduced two authors who believe in women in fantasy, and for them to be powerful and successful without resorting to swords and magic. It’s the kind of thing we need more of.

I was cheered by Maria’s answer to the question whether they ever feel they are not good enough. Maria apologised and said she didn’t understand the question, as would be the way for someone who not only writes about feminists, but who lives like one. She has always wanted to be an author, but realised at an early age that it was best to keep this secret. Her cover was ballerina or deep sea diver.

Deirdre didn’t know one could aspire to become an author. To her it was like wishing to be a unicorn, or an orange, or a mermaid. She now loves writing, being able to build something that is her own. And if she doesn’t quite hear everything her husband says to her when she builds her worlds, that doesn’t matter.

Maria Turtschaninoff and Deirdre Sullivan

Both authors have recently written dramas for the theatre. Maria said that her play for the theatre in Vaasa was her first, and last. It sounded as if Deirdre’s experience was similar, and she would not write a play again, or at least for a very long time.

It was clear that the audience was very keen to hear what these two had to say, and they wanted to read their books. And after the loss of the signing table in the bookshop had been resolved, a good time was had by all. Especially Maria’s Polish fan who had come all the way here, and who’s responsible for people in Poland reading Maria’s books. It’s the kind of thing that warms the heart.

As Deirdre said, we must respect people’s voices, give them space, and we have to remember we are all human beings.

Maria Turtschaninoff and Deirdre Sullivan

(Photos by Helen Giles)

The Starlight Watchmaker

I could be wrong, but I don’t normally associate the Barrington Stoke books with science fiction. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover Lauren James and The Starlight Watchmaker.

Lauren James, The Starlight Watchmaker

This story was both fun and sweet and a little different. There is an android, my second in mere weeks, and little green men, not to mention a sort of stone character. They are all people. Although, the androids are perhaps seen as less than others.

Hugo is an abandoned android watchmaker, living and working alone, when he meets student Dorian, who is rich and spoilt.

Dorian has a problem. And soon it’s apparent that the problem is more widespread than it seemed at first, and it’s down to Hugo and Dorian to solve the puzzle and hopefully solve the danger that the planet might be in.

This is about friendship and equality, and how we are all different, but we are still valuable in our own way. And it’s exciting!

The hottest defence

Yes, we did make it, to the year’s hottest defence. In the midst of a continental heatwave four of us from Scotland sweated our way through the kitchen duties and the astrophysical elements of Daughter’s PhD defence, in those woods on the outskirts of Geneva. Our two guests had not imagined anything like what they found…

Observatoire de Geneve

Dr Son was unable to make it, having some prior date with Daniel Hahn. Which is understandable. Dr Dodo was off to a dark corner of the US. We did, however, have the company of Cousin Riverside and Helen Grant, without whom we would most likely have ended up as two sad puddles on the Observatory floor. I don’t have words to describe how wonderful they were.

But I will obviously do so, anyway.

Serendipitously I had last year’s dress rehearsal to guide me, and as I cleverly managed to have knee issues on the day, I mostly directed the others from my spot in the kitchen, where our multitalented linguist Helen quickly grasped the finer details of the dishwasher instructions from the Observatory’s ‘dinner lady.’

Tables were shifted and food laid out. Riverside opened wine bottles, Helen threw streamers and I blew up the balloons. The Resident IT Consultant did much running and lifting. Daughter lined up her fan – the kind that blows cold air at you – plus her large bottle of Evian and her slides, and even remembered to change out of her ‘pyjamas’ before we trooped into the Aula to hear her talk on planets and stars.

Helen's PhD defence

45 minutes later, the 45 minutes for questions from the six-strong jury grew to over an hour, followed by a half hour of deliberation. We used the time for progressing the wine and nibbles, making sure nothing melted too much.

Helen's PhD defence

Helen's PhD defence

And then it was back to the Aula for the verdict, which was ‘très bien’ which is just as well, as there was no need for any rash action from me. Hands were shaken, the thank you speech was delivered, and so were countless – mostly Moomin – gifts. Unicorn slippers. (I waited until Dr Daughter came upstairs to hand over my flamingo…)

Helen's PhD defence

Helen's PhD defence

Wine was drunk, and much water, and the nibbles were nearly all eaten. There was even some haggis, which people enjoyed. (Presumably because they didn’t understand what it was.) There was chatting.

Eventually we – by which I mean the other three – cleared things away, and then we got into the car to go to Geneva for a post-doctoral dinner at Little India. Dr Daughter guided the Resident IT Consultant past all the roadworks, and then we hopped out, leaving Helen Grant to assist him with finding a parking space!

A very nice meal was had by all who came, including five sixths of the jury and those friends who had not decamped to see the solar eclipse in Chile.

Helen's PhD defence

After all this we were suitably tired. And, er, sweaty beyond belief.

Massive thanks to Helen Grant for doing photography duty as well. And to Riverside for being so calm and well organised.

Helen's PhD defence

(You have to admire their colour coordination!)