Category Archives: Languages

No room on the broom?

Axel Scheffler was awarded the inaugural Nibbie for illustration this week. He was ‘very grateful’ that the judges ‘chose me, a foreign EU citizen in Brexit times – that’s a nice gesture.’

I have had many thoughts about Brexit, and I have shared some of them with you. But I am always extra grateful when someone more important can say it for me, using better words. Axel is one such person. And this gifted man felt the award might be ‘a consolation prize. Or even a farewell gift.’

And there is that thing; a let’s be kind to this minority figure, just to show we mean well.

He points out that ‘it’s just ten months until “Freedom Day” – next March – and I – and my fellow EU citizens, many working in the UK book industry – are still living in uncertainty. We have, so far, no guarantee that we can still live and work here in the future. In a worst-case scenario, I might not be allowed to stay here by the time my next book with Julia Donaldson is launched.’

He quotes Michael Morpurgo who said,'”My uncles fought for peace, not for Brexit,” that Britain doesn’t really like the rest of Europe. And he’s right. That hurts, and it makes me angry every day.’

Axel goes on to mention someone I have often thought of in the last year, ‘my friend, Judith Kerr. Here, in this room, you have a refugee from the Nazis. — But after the Brexit vote it feels, despite our contribution, as if this country is saying, “It was all a mistake! We don’t really want you after all.”‘

Axel Scheffler

And he’s concerned for the country’s children. Did the adults who read Room on the Broom to them miss its ‘message of the importance of solidarity, partnership, friendship and kindness? The book wasn’t called No Room on the Broom.’

Well said, Axel, and thank you.

The full speech is here.



The Gothenburg book fair has joined forces with Crimetimes, which I believe used to be its own separate book festival. And here, well before the main book fair programme, is the programme for crime fans, for the Saturday and Sunday, 29th and 30th September.

They have both the full seminars, as well as the shorter 20-minute sessions, into which it is possible to pack a surprising amount of book stuff. I know, because the ones I’ve been to have used their time really well, and small is at least as good as big.

You can also buy a crime pass, which will work like the book fair pass, except covering only the crime, and being a little cheaper.

Most of the authors are Swedish, but since they are all the rage right now, that should make it all the more exciting. Except possibly for the fact that you will need a crash course in the language first. You have four months!

(For apostrophe purists, there is an event on “do’s and dont’s…” It’s so hard.)

Jessica Fellowes and Donna Leon are among the English language authors, and among the Swedes you get Håkan Nesser, Camilla Läckberg, Lars Kepler and many more. You also get some very capable chairs/moderators.

It’s never too early to plan ahead. Well, it could be, but now is not it. I hope you already have a hotel room booked, because if not…

Apero in the woods

Did you miss me?

Space thingy

I’ve been away, stabbing tomatoes in the woods. Or more precisely, that was Daughter. I was standing by. Her friend, Rosetta Girl, had a PhD to defend. It’s what they call it in Switzerland. And Daughter said she’d help with the food for the apero, which is what they call all that drinking of wine afterwards, and I said I’d help her help.

So there we were, in the woods in Switzerland, a stone’s throw from the French border, stabbing tomatoes with toothpicks. I had my passport with me, in case I strayed. I’m so impressed by the language skills of these people. Rosetta Girl is a native Spanish speaker, but did her PhD-ing in English and French. Just imagine being clever in two foreign languages in a subject like astrophysics.

Kitchen sign

I was allowed into the kitchens, where it appeared Daughter’s French had improved to such an extent that she didn’t understand the instructions on how to use the dishwasher much better than I didn’t understand them. While the defending was going on in the Aula, Daughter and I watched empanadas cook in the oven, eyed the Chilean sweets, and carried lots of food and drink into the Observatory café.


We made it into the Aula for the verdict, which even if it was in French, I understood to be ‘very good.’ Daughter then showered Rosetta Girl with gifts, before the professors and assembled postdocs ran for the wine and nibbles.


(This served as a good dress rehearsal, for when we will have our own apero.)


After the last professor had been forced to finish the last wine by some careful wielding of damp cloths for wiping everything down, and the furniture was rearranged back to normal, and my performance had been so impressive that another friend wanted to book my services for her defense later this year, we did end up almost going to France, if only to avoid too long a wait at the bus stop.

No more wardrobing

I’m guessing Son’s had it with working in wardrobes.

Personally I liked – or rather, I preferred – to have my [holiday] desk in a wardrobe than not to have one at all. Although I will admit to moving to the dining table more these days, so maybe my wardrobe days are over.


When it came to serious writing some months ago, Son clearly didn’t want to sit tight, so to speak, so he sourced a leftover, cobwebby desk and carried into a ‘free’ space. I suspect he just wanted to sit next to the cardboard fish on the wall. Not everyone has them.

Temporary office

After all, if he was that fond of ex-wardrobes, he could have stayed at home and sat in his own closet office.

The office

And now, he’s finally some place where he can build a proper workspace, even if it doesn’t look so promising yet.


Maybe I should get him a fish.


Well, isn’t that just fantastic?

Less than a year after I wrote about Sara Danius, permanent secretary to the Swedish Academy, she’s been forced out. I’m fairly certain her being a woman is not immaterial.

It’s so bad the King is planning on knocking some sense into the remaining members. Except, I’m fairly certain this is another instance when there are already too many ‘posh’ older men involved, and we don’t need another one, even if he is the boss of the so called geniuses of the academy. He’s also been in hot water, in the not too distant past.

As Jonas Gardell, who is someone very famous in Sweden, wrote in one newspaper, if it happens behind locked doors, it’s not going to be good. That’s true in more everyday circumstances, and I’m fairly certain he’s right. It was just we didn’t think about it before.

Klas Östergren i Edinburgh 2009

I somehow believed people, even when they are men, could be decent. The two academy members I’ve met have been. That’s one ordinary member – Klas Östergren – and one former permanent secretary – Peter Englund. And presumably I was right about them, as they were two of the three who resigned first. I was surprised when I read about that, but should have realised it was a sign worse was to come.

Peter Englund

In a year when women are standing up for their rights, it’s sort of interesting that in a country like Sweden, the establishment feels so established that they can ignore reports of rape and generally inappropriate sexual behaviour by people in and out of, but close to, the academy. That they can just get away with it.

It seems it’s one or two of the former permanent secretaries who can’t quite give up being boss, and who are of an age where they feel entitled, who are [mostly] behind all this. As Jonas Gardell wrote, they’ve won the battle, but they won’t win the war. I hope he is right.

And how can you have a member who passes on academy secrets, such as who’s about to get the next Nobel Prize for literature, to her husband? And if she didn’t do it, it appears the husband is tight with enough members that he could have heard it from any of them. He is the sex pest, apparently. As an exile I’d never heard of him, but it seems he runs a business financed by the academy, where he has access to women to pester.

I’m fairly certain that this will be a tough problem to solve, if it’s even possible. But I fail to grasp how this could have been the fault of the relatively new, and female, permanent secretary. My bet is on a few of the men. Perhaps kick them out in Sara’s place?

The problem being, of course, that you are supposed to die on your chair. You can’t resign or be fired. That’s why there are now too few members left.


The very young witch found it terribly amusing that when the French count, they go eight-oink-ten. If you’re OK with a bilingual example not featuring any French at all, that is?

As native English-speaker Keith Moore, married to a Swede, discovered, Old McDonald is not only called Per Olsson, but his pigs go nöff-nöff. Or they do, if you are bringing your baby up to speak Swedish.

It’s tricky, this bilingual business.

I’m not all that sure I know what pigs sound like. They grunt, don’t they? Both nöff and oink are a little wrong. Luckily some animals sound much more like their European neighbours, and as long as we don’t get involved in actual spelling, a mjau is as good as a meow. Same with mu and moo, and [almost] vov and woof.

See, I’m bilingual in animal as well!

That same young witch happily repeated what others at school taught her, with no grammatical feel for what makes English correct, when they said ‘I buy pink sheet.’ This was a way of ‘speaking English’ while also covering three ‘Swedish’ toilet-based words.

But I continue to feel sorry for the French who go oink every so often.


Where was I? Last week I claimed to have taken a leaf out of Chris Riddell’s book, albeit not literally. He had a blank sketchbook when I saw him, and I simply had to have one too, when I found some for sale in the Bodleian’s shop.

There were several books on a table. All very attractive, but one spoke to me more than the others, despite being a bit beige and plain. It reminded me of something Mother-of-witch might have read when she was young.

Blanks - Anne de Vries, Ratje

Once upon a time it had presumably been a Dutch children’s novel, whereas now it ‘just’ had the cover, with blank pages inside for Riddell masterpieces, or stupid words by me. The author was Anne de Vries, and I was rather taken aback to discover that Anne was a man.

Anyway, Anne’s book is called Ratje, Een jongen van de straat, which I take to mean Ratje was a child of the street. He looks it, if you apply the standards of maybe 80 years ago. Haven’t found a date for the story.

It’s a bit worn, and a bit watermarked. It’s lovely.


As with that other notebook I told you about once, chances are I will never ruin it by writing in it… And it wasn’t quite as cheap, I have to admit.