Category Archives: Languages

Travelling books

Is one book as good as another? Interchangeable, just like that?

I was surprised to find the answer to an online query from a Swede in the UK whether there’s anywhere they could order books from, which wouldn’t be quite as expensive as the standard online Swedish bookshops he’d used so far. My feeling is that you have to be ‘grateful’ they will send anything abroad at all.

Swedish companies have been pretty slow to embrace this internet thing and credit cards from foreign lands, and all that. You can’t really trust outsiders.

Anyway, the reply suggested that he could look in the local (Swedish owned) bars to see what they had in the way of books. That’s all very well if you are desperate for just one book to read in your own dear language. But anyone who is buying books online might have specific needs and wishes. Just not to pay a fortune for the pleasure.

Fortune (albeit a minor one) is what Daughter paid to shift her books to that abroad last week. For some reason she also wants to have certain, specific books to aid her in her current task, and being academice ones, they cost enough the first time round. Hence her willingness to pay for them to travel once more.

Travelling boxes

They have arrived, too, however damp they might look. And in a mere six days. On that internet thing, you can track your darlings, so we knew the boxes reached Dortmund in two days. Which isn’t bad. And they sat in the delivery vehicle by 05.45 yesterday morning, which could be why they are trying to dry out next to the radiator. Brrr.

And her credit card provider found the whole business so suspicious that they declined payment and then blocked her account. Yes, why would anyone try to pay a worldwide shipping company?

Floods

The Retired Children’s Librarian phoned to ask if we had been flooded. She and her sister had discussed this after seeing the news. I said we were all right.

She asked after everyone in the family, finally checking if I was out meeting authors all the time. (As if.)

Then she said ‘You know the one who wrote Harry Potter [she hasn’t read the books], who has now written some other books? What do people think of them? Because I like them.’

I replied that people who feel they must dislike J K Rowling on principle won’t have much good to say about her Galbraith crime novels, but that those who are not thus afflicted tend to say they like the books. She was a bit surprised that there are people who can’t stand fame and riches in others. And I admitted to not knowing J K personally and that she’s definitely not one of the authors I might see, frequently or otherwise.

Her next question was whether the press here had reported on Henning Mankell’s death, and I said they had, as he’s quite big here. She was a bit surprised, especially when I went on to mention the number of people who try to, or want to, learn enough Swedish/Danish to watch crime on television without subtitles. (I didn’t mention that I think they are doomed.)

Knowing we are safe from the rivers, she hung up, because she needed to phone to order a bus timetable. The internet is so taken for granted in Sweden that they feel passengers can look up their next bus there. Or travel to Stockholm to pick one up. Which would be easy enough if it wasn’t 70 kilometres and almost an hour away by bus. And if you had a timetable.

Let them read crime novels instead.

China, or children’s books?

I have to admit to a certain level of addiction. The older I get, the more interested in mid-20th century design I become. Not only is it fashionable, but it reflects my childhood. And Mother-of-witch might have been relatively poor, but when she bought things she bought nice things.

Anyway, this is about books. Whenever I see something by Orla Kiely in a shop, I know it’s by her. The style is distinctive, and I first encountered her and her designs in two boardbooks. Hence my belief that she has to do with books more than interior design. Had I known at the time I’d probably have turned my eyes heavenward and muttered something about how everyone thinks they can do children’s books. But I didn’t, so my eyes stayed where they were.

Besides, I liked the books.

Här dansar Herr Gurka - Stig Lindberg

But I got confused when reading recently that one of my favourite – and very popular and expensive – Swedish designers had illustrated one of the picture books I had as a child. Turns out he didn’t. Stig Lindberg, who is best known for his green leaves – and yes, Mother-of-witch had a lot of green-leaved china – did in actual fact illustrate Krakel Spektakel by Lennart Hellsing [who died last week].

Här dansar Herr Gurka - Poul Strøyer

Except, not my edition. That was by Poul Strøyer, who is also very good, and I’m a great fan. It seems Stig Lindberg only did some early Hellsing books, before he went on to concentrate on dining implements. That’s why I didn’t know the Lindberg version of Mr Cucumber dancing the mazurka. (It rhymes in Swedish.)

So I don’t mind having read the other book as a child, but the adult in me rather fancies the original illustrations too.

He’s no Olaf

OK, so anyone, just about, could be called Olaf. In principle, anyway. But occasionally I feel there are more unfortunately named Olafs in non-Nordic language fiction than there are actual boys in Sweden, bearing that name.

Yes, Sweden. If you at least could make Olaf Norwegian. If you did, I wouldn’t even know what age he ought to be. (Although someone else would.)

There are skills in naming people. In your own language, or more narrowly, within your own area, you probably know who might be called what, and how old they are likely be.

I don’t know whether to blame Olof Palme. There are two main facts about this former prime minister. One, his name was Olof. Not Olaf. And he was ‘old’ even when he died, by which I mean a boy Olof would not be someone today. But there is a real fondness among authors for naming their Swedish characters Olaf. As they have every right to do.

The other thing that sets my teeth on edge is a surname ending in -[s]sen. Doesn’t matter if it’s single or double s. If the letter e follows, they are either Danish or Norwegian. Originally, I mean. I went to school with a Jensen, who was pretty Swedish, apart from his Danish passport.

Sweden has so very many -sson names that it’d be a shame not to use one of them. Johansson, Nilsson, Svensson, to list but a few of the very commonest. (This is why I can’t take Scarlett Johansson seriously.)

If in doubt, ask a Swede. Find a phone directory if possible. Try to avoid the immigrant names. I believe Philip Pullman found Serafina Pekkala in a phone book. Wise man, because it rings (pardon) true. At least to me, who will have to count as a foreigner in this matter.

City Atlas

Travel the World with 30 City Maps. It’s Non-fiction November, and here is an atlas to inspire the reader to visit lots of cities all over the world. Or possibly ‘only’ read about them, which is equally fine.

Written by Georgia Cherry and illustrated by Martin Haake, this atlas is a little on the large side to actually travel with. It’s more for inspiration. The double page spread for each city is not so much an actual map, as a colourful sketch of the city, showing many of its most famous landmarks and pictures of people and possible activities. And for every city, if you look closely enough, you will find a small person saying hello, in the langauge of that country.

City Atlas

Sketch it might be, but looking at the cities I know, I feel it’s quite accurate. For Stockholm they’ve got Långholmen to the west and Gröna Lund to the east; just where they should be.

In London Henry VIII is skateboarding just where he always does… hang on, maybe not. But you get the right flavour for each city. (Not sure that fried fermented herring will tempt the Stockholm visitor, but it’s genuine.)

It can be quite tricky finding the small person greeting you, which is presumably intentional. That way you see everything there is to see while you search.

Booked – Elizabeth Laird and Daniel Hahn

Booked

As Janet Smyth – who organises the children’s books programme for the Edinburgh International Book Festival – said yesterday, away from August and Charlotte Square it can be a lot of fun to revisit events and ideas in greater detail. So that’s what they are doing, with a programme under the [extremely clever] title Booked. What’s more, we are no longer suffering from bookfest fatigue.

The Bookwitch seat

I arrived at Assembly Roxy with plenty of time, and as the first one there (I know…) I was not only given the choice of best seat, but was more or less led to the most comfortable seat in the place, which happened to be a high-backed leather armchair [with just the right support for an ouchy back] which I sat down in and then simply never left. (Feel free to copy this idea at other venues.)

My back and I had come for Elizabeth Laird in conversation with Daniel Hahn, on the occasion of her nomination as the UK representative for the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen award. This IBBY book award is a global one, which looks at an author’s whole body of work. Liz has written around 30 novels, translated into about 15 languages, and she has lived in several countries, including Malaysia, Palestine and Ethiopia.

Asked how she feels about her nomination, Liz said it’s ‘absolutely stunning!’ She spoke of having a couple of her books translated into Arabic, which led her and Daniel to talk about the way so many children’s books in English are translated into other languages, as witnessed by them at a big book festival in Tehran. And Daniel compared this to the relatively few foreign books that are translated into English.

Janet asked if you have to be dead to make it into translation, and he said yes, or you are Cornelia Funke. From his own childhood he knows that children don’t care (possibly don’t know) that books are foreign. He grew up with Moomin and Asterix, and feels that publishers worry too much about what you can put into a book, in case it doesn’t translate well, and this goes for the illustrations too. As for the difficulty of translating rhyming verse, he says that doesn’t seem to stop Julia Donaldson’s books from selling abroad.

Liz said we don’t want child characters who do what their parents say, and Daniel pointed out that’s why we have so many orphans in books. As an example he mentioned James and the Giant Peach, where the parents are killed by a rhinoceros on page one; presumably because Roald Dahl felt he had to get it over with.

Children will engage in a story, and offer hope, endurance, forgiveness and love. Liz likes happy endings, and said that she wants to write hopeful, if not happy, endings. Children’s books should be something to remember as an adult. These days we have emasculated stories, making Grimm and Noah into tame versions of the original stories, in order not to upset.

Daniel Hahn and Elizabeth Laird

When it came to the Q&A, no one knew what Hans Christian Andersen did when he visited Edinburgh. (Did any of you see him?) Daniel reckons this keen but neurotic traveller probably worried about losing his passport, and that he would have had a rope in his luggage, just in case. And he’d quite like to be able to read HCA in Danish.

Asked for a racy story, Liz told us her favourite about the beautiful girl and her silly husband, equally silly father, and hopelessly silly neighbour.

They talked about Liz’s book A Little Piece of Ground, which is about football in Palestine, and she finished by saying she’s not ‘holding her breath’ as regards winning the award.

I think she could. Should.

Elizabeth Laird

There was a signing afterwards, but not before Liz had rushed to put her warm coat on, as she must have been freezing up there on stage. I finally cornered Daniel with my copy of his Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, ‘this lethal weapon, a nightmare,’ and it has been duly signed.

Daniel Hahn

Bookwitch bites #131

Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own

David Almond scooped the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize on Thursday. Congratulations to him, and commiserations to young ‘Master Sally Nicholls,’ who at his very young age let his disappointment that Mummy didn’t win be known. I like a baby who can cry when the time is right. And apparently he was passed round like a – very valuable – parcel, so I’m quite jealous I wasn’t there.

Sally is also on the shortlist for the Costa, so perhaps the young Master will appear at another awards event soon. Because as he well knows, Mummy’s is one seriously good book, and he will read it as soon as he can.

Someone (Muckle Media. And you know, I blogged about muckle only the other day) has been looking into who is most popular on Twitter in Scotland. It seems J K Rowling does quite well with followers and such. And what’s fascinating is that I’ve never heard of some of the top names, although Ian Rankin and Val McDermid ring a bell. As do Bookwitch favourites like Gillian Philip, Nicola Morgan, Julie Bertagna and Helen Grant. Long may they tweet.

On Twitter (where else?) I learned that Teri Terry was interviewed when she was in Denmark recently. Her answers are perfectly easy to understand. For those of you who still don’t read Danish after all those Killings and Bridges, I can only suggest you guess what Teri is replying to, as the questions are in Danish.

Anne Rooney has been interviewed by the Society of Authors about non-fiction (I thought of it first!), and it makes for very interesting reading. Times are hard. Being interested in everything is good. Anne is good.

If all this feels like it’s getting on top of you, counselling is at hand. Nicola Morgan is now the proud owner of a Certificate of Counselling, part of her Diploma in Youth Counselling. She is so good at so many things. And I’d have happily unburdened myself to Nicola even before she was certified.