Category Archives: Languages

Reckless and Swedish

Those Swedes are fortunate. Cornelia Funke has such a good relationship with her Swedish publishers that she wrote a short Reckless story, exclusively for them.

This does mean that most of you won’t be able to read it, but who cares? Strömkarlens fiol, en Stockholmsnovell, is sheer magic, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Set in the Stockholm of Mirrorworld we meet a new city. Old, obviously, but new to me. I think that’s the thing. Stories set in old Sweden usually don’t have this magical feel to them. This was as though Stockholm has grown up, and become a proper fairy setting like many others, all over the world.

Jakob and Fox travel to Sweden to try and retrieve a violin. It’s not just any old violin, but a real Strömkarl violin. A Strömkarl is that man who stands in a river/waterfall, playing and mesmerising those who hear him. And now one such instrument has been stolen, and a young girl’s life depends on it being found.

Short but exciting, with plenty of charm. I could read more of this kind of thing. And nice illustrations by Cornelia.

The English Companion

This ‘Idiosyncratic A-Z of England and Englishness’ was put in the get rid-of-pile during our last clear-out of books. The grown-up books.

We decided we’d grown up, and away, from this previously much enjoyed volume by Godfrey Smith. The book is over thirty years old and the information in it pretty out of date. Much of it can presumably be found online if you need to look anything up.

So I decided I’d blog about it and then bin it. Sorry, probably meant Oxfam it. Not sure. Once we might have known who Godfrey Smith was. I have a feeling we did.

Godfrey Smith, The English Companion

He did [does] have a nice way with words, though, both the selection of which ones to include, and how he explains them. Much of this Englishness I have discovered for myself, in real life. You know, make a child call you mummy, and then wait to see what they do a few years into your relationship. Awkward, is what it is.

Afters versus puddings. Or sweets. He quotes George Mikes a lot, and that is definitely good. The English are interestingly quaint.

There are not very many words or names to look up, which in my opinion is an admirable way to go about things. You can so easily have too much to find out about.

So in a way this re-visit to my past didn’t go as planned; quick look-through followed by bye bye. There are problems if I am to keep the book, however, as it is literally dying in my hands. The spine is collapsing and the pages are fluttering loose, and I suspect that any subsequent reading wouldn’t be much fun.

What to do?

Secrets

Who knew there were so many secrets to be kept in the children’s books world? Well, I knew, but I didn’t realise there were quite so many, nor that so many people share the secrets quite so freely. If you tell me, I will tell no one. Except possibly the Resident IT Consultant, but he is equally discreet. Besides, he won’t know what I told him, nor will he remember it five minutes later. And whom would he tell?

Maureen Lynas blogged about secrets on Slushpile a while back, and call me naïve, but I had no idea quite so many people are in on so many secrets. I trust no one (see above). Besides, apart from one spectacular time when I lost my poker face, I know how to lie so as not to suffer the mishaps Maureen mentions.

But then I began thinking about all the other secrets, like Christmas University Challenge, which is recorded in one fell swoop, well before Christmas. How do the winners avoid walking round with smug faces? How come the audience can keep the secret of which team won? (Judging by who was in the audience, it could be they have only very special people watching, like members of last year’s teams, and this year’s losers and so on.) Based on this I decided not to email Adèle Geras to ask how her team did, in case she would be unable to lie convincingly.

On New Year’s Eve we watched BBC Alba (that’s Gaelic television) celebrate the New Year. After some rude comments [from me] about how the place reminded me of Oldham Town Hall, Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant said it looked like Stirling Castle. A few camera angles later, it turned out to be Stirling Castle. You know, a short walk away from where we were. In a town where they have recently stopped celebrating New Year at the castle. One of the performers was a Daughter favourite, Julie Fowlis, and Daughter would quite have liked to know about this so she could have attended.

Except, we worked out that the audience was small enough, and clearly Gaelic speaking enough, that maybe it was by invitation only. So, as the rest of town celebrated elsewhere, upset that the castle was not for ‘all of us’ it seems others were celebrating and televising from up there. My old favourite Calum Kennedy (was not there because he’s dead) provided a contribution through his daughter Fiona Kennedy. And it was fascinating listening to the almost completely incomprehensible Gaelic, which sounded pretty much like Norwegian with lots of ‘ch’ sounds added to it. Except I didn’t understand a word. I reckon the audience might have been shipped in from Uist.

But it was nice. And ‘secret.’

We’ve also entertained ourselves with a new, used, board game called The London Game. It’s where you have to keep secret which London tube stations you wish to travel to, so that the other players don’t put too many spanners in the tube stations around you. We reckon the Hazard cards could do with being more plentiful, as each hazard comes round a little too frequently; aunts visiting, forced trips to watch a match at the Oval, and some weird kidnaps to Kensal Green.

Today sees the announcement of the 2016 Costa Book Awards. I don’t know the shortlisted children’s books well enough to have any witchy premonitions as to which one will win. But on seeing that one of Daughter’s Christmas presents is on one of the other shortlists, and the giver mentioned its topical-ness, I wonder if he could be in on a secret? I mean, I don’t know. (The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry.)

So, yes. It’s all secret. Unless it isn’t.

Carl Larssongården

It’s probably a fair assumption to make that most Swedes would like to live in Carl Larsson’s home. And of those who don’t, quite a few might not actively object if they ended up there.

I have friends who used to live next door to Carl Larsson’s home, and it was they who gave me this book, by Torsten Gunnarsson and Ulla Eliasson, about his house for my birthday this year.

Sundborn

In a way Swedes don’t need books like these; we seem to be sufficiently familiar with Carl’s home anyway. But the pictures are nice to look at, both the photos of the house and the paintings by Carl. And looking at them we see not only a home that would still be just about perfect to move into, despite it now being more than a hundred years later, but it looks pretty much like some house many of us have known at some point in our lives.

It makes me think of my grandfather’s house, which was nowhere near as big or fancy, and it was more recent, but there is still that Larsson vibe in my memories.

Swedes know the house from countless postcards and Christmas cards, not to mention Christmas wrapping paper. We have all torn pictures of the garden or the Larsson family in our eagerness to see what’s inside our parcel.

At some point I talked to Nick Sharratt about this. Maybe when he heard where I come from, he told me about having slept in Carl’s bed. It appears visiting artists can do that, under some circumstances. When I heard about it I felt this seemed quite reasonable. But I understand the bed was short. Nick isn’t. Oh, well.

The bed is in the book (and somehow I can’t stop wondering what the guest artist does when visitors who’ve paid to see the house turn up.)

As I said, Carl Larsson’s style is never wrong. Except it wasn’t his, but his wife’s. She did all the work, and we still know it by Carl’s name.

When books become retro

In the end it was the fonts that made me go all nostalgic.

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Här är Lilla Anna

I was reading Scandinavian Retro, a style magazine, featuring mainly mid-20th century things. I’d expected furniture, china, textiles. That kind of thing. But here were all 105 books by Inger and Lasse Sandberg; every cover of every book they wrote and illustrated together for over fifty years.

First I wondered why, when they started in the mid-1950s, I hadn’t really read any/many of their books. I’ve always been aware of them, but had somehow felt they were after my time as a picture book reader. And mostly, it turned out they were. They had a slow start and I must have missed the early books while I was still young enough.

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Är det jul nu igen? sa Spöket LabanI did read about the little ghost, however. Both for myself, and later to other young people, including Offspring. Lilla spöket Laban (Laban, the little ghost) is rather sweet. He is scared of many things, including the dark, which is awfully inconvenient for a ghost. Apparently he was born to help the Sandberg’s middle child who was afraid of the dark, after his older sister locked him in a wardrobe.

But, as I said, I can only have read a handful of the 105 books. They all look thoroughly familiar, however, and I worked out it’s because of the font(s) used on the covers. The pictures are also quite typical for that era, but there being so many, for me they blend into one and the same. There’s probably a name for the font, but for me it will always be the ‘Swedish children’s books font.’

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Fixa fisk, sa Pulvret

And, as I also said, there were obviously more than one font, and styles developed over the years, but mostly they all look soothingly familiar.

Just as Laban was born to deal with the dark, many of the books were written by Inger to cover a small matter of some importance to small people everywhere. I really like the sound of the story about the man who suddenly shrinks and discovers what it is like to be small and treated like a child again. He becomes a children’s politician after that, with notes explaining to young readers what a politician is.

Never mind your ABCs. You can have a book about the number 0, which when standing next to other numbers, becomes terribly important.

And when all is said and done, this whole concept feels frightfully Swedish and egalitarian, besides being trendy and nice to look at.

To Sir With Love

I freely admit to having a Reader’s Digest past. Somehow some sales person must have managed to bypass Mother-of-witch and her frugal approach to most unnecessary things in life, and persuaded her to subscribe to those books. I have no idea how many of the abridged novels she read, but I got through a lot of them. I was at the age when there simply weren’t enough books around to read, and I searched the bookcase daily for more entertainment, and discovered that quite a lot of those odd looking titles were not that bad. Nice, easy reads, and quick, due the their abridged nature.

To Sir With Love by E R Braithwaite was one of them. It was probably also one of my best loved books on the RD shelf. That will be why I introduced Offspring to the film starring Sidney Poitier, when the opportunity arose, years ago. When Daughter was last home, we watched it again. It made us talk, and think about things.

Do you remember my Canterville Ghost Favourite Teacher? I thought of him then. Not long before I had read a letter to the editor in a Swedish magazine, and I’d wondered if the writer might have been him. Right name, and I believe, right town. And what he said seemed to fit as well.

So I Googled a bit, as you do, and came to the conclusion it very likely was Favourite Teacher. On Swedish sites you get some odd information, like date of birth, and thanks to Mother-of-witch who was also a teacher, I knew how old he’d be. And then I hit on the idea of Google images, and found a photo that could very well be him, ‘a few years on.’

At my age you can’t take for granted your teachers will still be alive.

Apart from being such a great teacher, and managing the difficult balance between fun and friendly, versus knowledge and discipline in the classroom, he was also the politest teacher I’ve ever had. We were between the ages of 13 and 16 and he addressed the boys by surname and the girls were Miss and surname.

Just like Sidney Poitier, in fact. That was one of the details I’d forgotten, but which came back when I watched the film again.

There were two Misses C in my form. I was Miss C at the front, while the other Miss C sat at the back. ‘Mats hört immer zu’ is a phrase I still remember, helping me know what to do about the German verb zuhören, while chuckling about Mats who never did any kind of zuhören whatsoever. And as all you English native speakers must know, ‘skulle heter would, skulle heter would, skulle heter would.’ As opposed to should, which is what we might have guessed and what Favourite Teacher was there to prevent.

And there were many more where those came from.

Two languages, for all three years of secondary school. I was very lucky.

He wasn’t easily taken in, either. When one girl asked to copy my homework, I wasn’t worried. She came back and said he’d given her [her first ever] full marks, while adding he thought she had ‘cooperated with Miss C.’

The last year we gave him a – collective – gift when we left school, because he had been our form teacher that year. He wrote each of us a thank you card, posted to our home address. That’s what I call class.

Another ‘Girl’ crime novel

I wonder how long the ‘Girl’ phenomenon will last? And would we have had it at all, had someone not made Lisbeth Salander a ‘girl’? For someone like me, the plethora of girl-titled crime novels now means that I cannot tell them apart. But presumably they sell a bit better for it.

Anyway, this one, by Liselotte Roll, was called Tredje Graden [third degree] in the original Swedish. The translator and I have spent some time discussing a suitable English title, and I felt we came up with some good ones. But on the other hand, I do quite like the sound of Good Girls Don’t Tell.

Liselotte Roll, Good Girls Don't Tell

Published today by a Dutch publishing company, recently bought by a UK publisher, I have to say I also like the look of the actual book. It has curved corners, and the font used on the cover looks good. And as with most female Swedish crime writers, Liselotte has ‘been compared to Camilla Läckberg,’ which I suspect isn’t always a useful thing for authors. But there you are.

The blurb on the back gives away too much of the plot, in my opinion. Knowing what has to happen, someone like me would read on tenterhooks, just wondering when ‘it’ would come. And then the next ‘it.’

Translation by Ian Giles, as you may have suspected.