Category Archives: Languages

Excuse me! Sorry!

Don’t you just hate it when you don’t speak the language?

I know. More than two years in, I ought to have mastered a little bit of French for those trips to Geneva. But I haven’t, other than a few extra odd words. That’s a few extra words, not especially odd ones. I did join Babbel, the online language school, but I had very little discipline, and I found the tasks tedious. It went too quickly in the direction of verbs in the past tense for every kind of person imaginable.

Which doesn’t help with what I want to say, which is ‘no I’m not queueing to use the toilet; just waiting for my friend’ kind of thing. Otherwise I could be preventing people from ‘going’ without intending to.

I do say ‘bon jour’ when entering a shop. The trouble with that is that I apparently bon jour so well that people think they can say anything they like to me after that.

There is also that automatic need for when you bump into a person, or you want them to get out of your way. I am aware I am somewhere that doesn’t use the English pardon or sorry. So I pick some other foreign word, one belonging to a language I don’t [really] speak.

I say ‘undskyld.’

Because Danish is such an obvious choice for apologising in Geneva.

If that was your toe, then undskyld!

Bon jour, merci. Au revoir.


They’re all women!

They all seemed to be women. Or perhaps I merely happened to choose Book Week Scotland events that featured women. I picked what interested me, and what was nearby enough to be doable, and at times convenient to me.

Four events, though, and a total of nine women speaking at them. Only the last one, about gender violence, had a subject that determined who was likely to be taking part.

The audiences were slightly different. For Mary Queen of Scots there were three men. The gender violence had one man in the audience for part of it, one man to operate Skype (!) and one man who seemed to be working in the room where we sat. Several men for both Lin Anderson and the autism discussion, while still being in a minority.

Three events were during daytime, but that doesn’t explain the lack of men, when the women were mostly well past 70.

Do they read less, or are they not interested in events? Or do they go to the ones with men talking? (I’d have been happy to see Chris Brookmyre, but he didn’t come this way, or James Oswald, but he was sold out.)

Anyway, whatever the answer to that is, over on Swedish Bookwitch we have women today. My interview with Maria Turtschaninoff is live, and it’s mostly – just about entirely, actually – about women. And it’s in Swedish. Sorry about that. (Translation will follow.)

On ruining Othello

If I have to go back to school, I want Claire McFall to be my English teacher.

She is such fun, and so cheerful, and doesn’t hesitate to ruin Othello if the syllabus demands it.

Claire McFall

I have to admit that Claire proves I am wrong in preferring to interview authors whose work I know well. When I met her I had only read half of Ferryman – the book that went to China and was a huge success. And China does seem to be the way to go. Maybe the country could change the fates of more British YA, and children’s, authors.

So here, only two months late, is our conversation over cookies and juice (yes, really) at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, with Claire’s thoughts on China and how to get school pupils to write.


By now you all speak ‘Hygge’ don’t you? Sometimes used correctly, sometimes not. But you know about the Danish hygge. I was quite pleased when it appeared in the media, because finally, after all these years, the Resident IT Consultant understood what he’d had to put up with for so long. It made sense. I mean, I made sense.

That’s all in the past, however. Now it’s about lagom, which is a very lagom kind of word. Not too much, not too little. Just right. Goldilocks, really.

The most recent copy of the church newsletter from the Swedish church in London contained an interview with two Swedes who, separately from each other, had both written books about Lagom. The interviewer joked and said she felt that was lagom. Maybe.

When the Resident IT Consultant returned from the library the other week, he was also bearing a Lagom book. Not one of the ones I’d read about. Seems there is no end to how lagom you can be with books about lagom.

Lola A Åkerström, Lagom

This third one, by Lola A Åkerström, contains very attractive photographs. Not sure they are terribly lagom in any sense, but never mind.

And I’m not sure that lagom is a topic suitable to be written about by non-Swedes. The other two were, whereas Lola has arrived in Sweden from Nigeria via the US and Oxford.

Nothing wrong with that, but as the Resident IT Consultant remarked, he felt that some of her comments about life in Sweden would also be true of many other European countries. And if you come from outside that area, you might not know.

A book on lagom might be more lagom if coming from a Swede. But the photos are certainly attractive to look at, and definitely more than lagom.


It’s funny how, looking back, you don’t know what is to come. Spring 2009 I didn’t know the Grants; Helen and Michael. And no, they are not a couple. Helen has her Mr Grant, and Michael isn’t actually a Grant.

I connect both of them with Germany. Helen had lived in Germany for many years, and her first book – The Vanishing of Katharina Linden – was set there, in Bad Münstereifel; not too far from Köln and Bonn.

Because that’s where Daughter and I were heading, that weekend in March 2009, and I was reading Helen’s book on the plane, and I’d just got to the bit where one of the ‘innocent’ characters says ‘Scheisse.’ It made me giggle. Childish, I know. Anyway, it was good reading a book set in Germany when I was actually in Germany. I mean, above Germany.


When Daughter and I had done what we came for, which was to attend a Roger Whittaker concert in Köln, which was great, and made greater still by being preceeded by an interview with Roger, we went to visit an online friend near Bonn. I had a suitcase full of books for her, because you have to get rid of books somehow.

One of those books was Michael Grant’s Gone, the first in the Gone series. And I only gave it away, because I had been sent two copies. My friend liked the look of it so much that she read it almost there and then. Although, being a writer herself she went on to pick the plot to pieces and had opinons on almost every aspect. But that’s fine.

So, The Vanishing and Gone – both books about disappearing – were my first meetings with Helen and Michael.

And now, I’ve read so much more by them, and seen so much more of them, that they feel like old established friends. Helen lives relatively near me, and Michael is so successful that he’s over in Britain most years, and sometimes more than once.

But it began in that plane, with a Scheisse, and a spare book.

(The witchiness does not end there. The second, literally, that I typed Roger’s name, my Messenger pinged, with a question about him from a relative.)

And today…

I’m taking the day off, planning to have a weekend in Switzerland. Doing nothing. Not taking my computer with me, or anything.

I might tell you about it later. Or not. Taking two books; one for the outward flight and one for the return flight. Sorry, make that three. One should always carry a spare.

Lake Geneva


You were promised a book most of you can’t read, so here it is.

I have continued reading my way through Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing. And while I get why her Red Abbey Chronicles were translated into English, I can’t see why her other work hasn’t been too. Consider this an invitation.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Arra

The world that you might have met in Maresi and Naondel is a world Maria uses in her other books as well, rather like our own world. This means that one book is set in one country and one period, while another can be somewhere completely different, but still in the fantasy world Maria made up, and perhaps set earlier or later than the other stories.

Arra is set furthest back in time, and feels very much like many real world settings; the poverty suffered in a far from everywhere small village, somewhere a bit like Finland. Maybe. I can’t place it in time, but they use horses and carts, and candles, and old-fashioned weapons.

The reader meets Arra when she’s born, and you soon discover that her parents really didn’t want her. But for some reason they don’t kill her. She grows up neglected and alone among her many older siblings. Arra is mute, because no one talks to her and she’s considered stupid.

Not our heroine! Arra has plenty to think about in her head, and she has many unusual talents, which unfortunately also bring her trouble. After much deprivation in her first years, Arra ends up in the capital, living with her sister and her family, where she is used as a slave and still treated as a burden and an idiot.

Now, this will sound very fairy tale, but Arra meets and falls in love with the country’s prince Surando. He also experiences difficulties in his life, and more so when he is forced to go out to war, and when things get really bad, Arra goes to search for him, to rescue him.

I know, that too sounds quite unbelievable, but it’s not.

This is a beautiful and stirring tale, with much cruelty, but also beauty and love. I wish you could all read it!