Category Archives: Languages

Coming of Age

Waiting for the two double-Cs to appear in the Bosco Theatre, I studied those cracks in the floor again. It’s not just the poor stiletto heel that needs protecting. You could chuck pens down there, even the whole notepad. Or why not your mobile phone? I mean, I know why not the phone, but it’d slip so easily. I held on to my pen and pad and put everything else away.

I was sure there’d be plenty of people, because Cat Clarke has lots of fans, meaning that even though Christoffer Carlsson might have begun the evening a relatively unknown foreigner, he’d win fans during the event. So, lots of teen girls and a few older girls like myself. And two grown men, one of whom was fellow author Jared Thomas.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

When the CCs and their chair Ann Landmann arrived, walking down those steps to sit underneath the glittering disco ball, I noticed that Christoffer carried a Fjällräven rucksack, blue with leather straps. Naturally.

Ann urged us to come closer, to get ready for the audience participation, saying the trapeze would be lowered later, and that perhaps they’d better lock the door so we couldn’t escape. Not a soul, apart from Jared, moved…

She also said there’d be a signing afterwards, in the signing Portakabin, the ‘white kind of box’ near the theatre. I’m glad she said it. I’d hate to be complaining about its, erm, lack of space.

Having forgotten the title of the event, Ann referred to Death & Murder, two of her favourite subjects, pointing out that Swedish Christoffer has a ‘real degree’ – to which Cat added, a PhD – in criminology. ‘A terrible over-achiever.’ And Cat is ‘not quite homegrown,’ having been born in Zambia, but Ann doesn’t think she has ‘a strange accent.’

So that Ann could shut up for ten minutes, she handed over to her guests, asking them to read. Cat said her book Girlhood is set in a boarding school (she loves them!), and she read from chapter five, about some sort of initiation of a new girl which, to be honest, is why I don’t want to go to boarding school. But I can see that it’s better to be wearing the Trump mask, as you don’t have to look at it.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

Christoffer told us about Halmstad, asking if anyone has heard of Roxette, and described the darkness of Småland, where October is the Coldest Month is set. He read the first chapter where we meet Vega. Both books feature darkness, rain and cold, so not much difference between Scotland and Sweden.

An obsession with Mallory Towers made Cat set this book in a boarding school, and needing a mix of the best and the worst in life, she gave her heroine a dead twin. Christoffer hears voices, by which he meant he talks to his characters. He has to write fast to get it down on paper, and many ideas don’t work. Unlike other Swedish authors who set their books in Stockholm or Gothenburg, or even ‘mid-level cities’ such as Örebro, he chose the countryside close to where he grew up. He wanted to write about violence against women.

This wasn’t planned as a YA book, but he realised he was writing for himself at 17. And that way you can have a smaller book; one that fits in a pocket and can be read on the bus.

Cat feels it’s fun to explore teenage feelings, and said the new girl is a bit weird. She had an idea to begin with, but it changed, and she feels Girlhood is more honest than her other books. But she never did pretend to be a prospective parent at a boarding school, to find out more, and left this to a documentary about Gordonstoun.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

Christoffer wrote his book during the summer, in Halmstad, where he now feels like an outsider, belonging neither there nor in Stockholm where he lives. A bit like Vega. His dad who never usually reads, has in fact read October is the Coldest Month, while his mum hasn’t, although this keen reader always reads all his books, at the expense of everything else. The title refers to the TS Eliot poem about April being the cruellest month. He set the story in October, because he needed Vega not to be going to school.

As for Cat, she had lots of titles for Girlhood, including one she might use for some other book. Regarding characters’ names, she has to like them, and they must type easily. Such as Harper in Girlhood, which unlike George is easy on the keyboard. She does find though that good names are running out. Even bad characters have to have good names.

I found that Christoffer used the word ‘sucks’ a lot. He needs to learn to be ‘crap at’ things in Britain. Anyway, he gets up early, to write from five am, until maybe eleven. He can edit anytime, but not write. Cat writes in chunks of 25 minutes, acording to the Pomodoro Technique, although she might be taking rather longer breaks than prescribed. She too has to write before noon. This book took her ten years to write, which is too long, for someone who is not famous.

Describing writing like go-karting, Christoffer swore enough that he had to stop and apologise, even if his replacement word was only marginally more sanitised… The pitfalls of a second language. He feels one difference between YA and adult novels is that the sentences can be shorter. He’s a middle class man living in Stockholm, writing about a working class teenager in the countryside, and the book needs to be accessible to everyone, including non-readers.

The last, and really excellent, question from the audience was on hating what you write. Cat said this is normal. You should write, even if it is crap. ‘Crap can be moulded.’

And on that note we piled out and over to the Portakabin.

Day 5

If you thought day four was short, then day five was – blissfully – shorter still. I went for one reason only.

Started my evening by quickly eating my sandwiches, because it’s finding a time and place for eating that has been the hardest. I sat on the press pew and stared at the rubber ducks for a few minutes.

Kathryn Evans by Chris Close

And then I took one turn round Charlotte Square, to see if there was anything new I’d not seen before. Any new crazy photographs by Chris Close, for instance. There weren’t, so I offer you some I found earlier and kept back, in case I needed them.

Juno Dawson by Chris Close

Walked over to George Street and the Bosco Theatre again, and was really pleased to find that the event was being chaired by Bookwitch favourite Ann Landmann. She had the double Cs to deal with. I’m sure someone knows I use initials when taking notes, and thought it’d be a hoot to have CC and CC talk to each other. (That’s Cat Clarke and Christoffer Carlsson.)

Signing queue

There was no way I was going to miss this, seeing as Christoffer and I come from the same place, and he has such a lovely surname. So I queued up behind all the fans afterwards, for my books to be signed and to chat. And having ‘missed’ my first train, I had 15 minutes to spare on Christoffer. Enough to have some water near the yurt, and find out why he’s ditched the accent. Apparently his Stockholm students couldn’t understand what he was saying in lectures.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

It was meant to rain, but it didn’t. How could it? I was there. In fact, I’d say that my walk back to Waverley around nine o’clock was the balmiest evening I’ve had so far, with no rain, and a comfortable temperature, and the lights and the [not too many] people. The kind of evening when you want to sit out, over drinks, and chat to someone.

Hang on, I did. OK, I didn’t have any water, but I had a companion, and we chatted. It was pleasant and warm. The poet laureate sat at the next table. There were [other] nice people around. Ticks a lot of boxes, that does.

Day 4

The days are getting shorter. Well, I suppose it’s that time of year. And it felt like even the long trains were also shortening; unless there really were that many extra daytrippers yesterday, being a Sunday and that.

DSCN0184

I didn’t quite make it to see Jo Nadin or Tony Ross at their signings, but you can’t have everything. I was there for the event with Maria Turtschaninoff and Alwyn Hamilton, chaired by the little known Daniel Hahn. It was in the new Bosco Theatre venue, out on George Street, and this was my first time. What I will say is that Theresa Breslin was spot-on earlier in the week, when she said it was lovely, but not for wearing stiletto heels in. At the time, Keith Charters and I looked at each other, both fairly secure in the knowledge that we wouldn’t be.

The other thing about the venue is that the signing tent is very small. No room for Bookwitches wanting to take pictures, except for this close-up of Alwyn’s handbag contents. But I dare say it wasn’t made with me in mind.

Alwyn Hamilton and Maria Turtschaninoff

I joined Daniel Hahn outside instead and forced him to sign a book (one he had edited, so I wasn’t being totally unreasonable) and then he made me want to go to Denmark with him in October…

After this fantasy event I wandered back to Charlotte Square, catching William Dalrymple signing for a queue of fans, after what looked like a full Main Theatre event. I feel I know, as I stood there trying to take photographs of Chris Close’s picture display, and I tried at just the wrong moment, when the whole tent walked past, very slowly. Well, obviously it wasn’t the actual tent that moved, but the people who had been in it.

William Dalrymple

Hoped to see Ross Collins and Claire Barker after their event, but they must have been busy chatting to admirers, as they hadn’t emerged when I had to make a move.

Because, dear readers, I had an interview to conduct, and was meeting Maria Turtschaninoff in the gap between her own event and seeing Jonathan Stroud. We sat in the sunshine on the deck outside the authors’ yurt, chatting about mothers and books and how arrogant Sweden is towards the other Nordic countries. I mean, I said that. Maria is far too polite to.

And as she went off with a bagful of Lockwood books, I walked to Waverley again, prepared to fight the other festival-goers, but struck lucky by finding an unexpected train going my way a couple of minutes later, and it wasn’t even full.

Bosco Theatre

Thrilling Fiction

They fought about who would sit on the middle chair, Michelle Paver or Peter Høeg, and while they did, their chair Daniel Hahn quickly sat down on the shiny red chair on the far side. In the end Michelle won, and Peter’s fame got him the chair between her and Danny.

I’d never thought about this before, but when Son pointed out earlier this summer that Peter Høeg hardly ever does events, it sort of made sense. So we made sure we were there to hear him speak, sparingly, about his new book The Susan Effect. (Everyone knows him for Miss Smilla.) And as I said last week in my review, I loved Michelle’s Thin Air.

Daniel began by saying they’d discovered they had one scientist and one mountaineer between them, and one book about science and one on climbing. But the trouble was that the ‘wrong’ person wrote the books; with Michelle covering the climbing and Peter the physics.

Describing Thin Air as a ‘thrilling, intense, really scary book’ that he shouldn’t have read alone late at night, Daniel asked Michelle how it came about. This story about the frozen world of Kangchenjunga began with her suffering from a frozen shoulder and when she couldn’t sleep, she got up and read something from her shelf of mountaineering books. Originally it was to be set in South America (she fancied making a research trip there), but in the end it had to be Kangchenjunga, with God at the top and the abominable snowman further down. And ghosts.

Peter Høeg and Michelle Paver

Peter usually gets his ideas during a ‘fleeting short moment’ in the middle of another book; this time about a woman who makes people speak the truth. He’s got a couple of such people in his own family, so knows what it’s like. It’s important how the character speaks. It has to be someone the reader can spend a week with, and the author maybe two years.

Like many Scandinavians, Peter speaks English well, slowly and with a marked Danish accent, but quite competently. He said Michelle ruined his reading of Thin Air, but Danny pointed out that this is what book festivals are for; having your illusions destroyed.

For her children’s series Wolf Brother she felt it important that children could like the characters, but for her adult books she’s quite happy to ‘be’ her new character, however unpleasant, or racist, they might be.

Peter tries to create something new each time, feeling it’s dangerous to repeat yourself. He was surprised by the humour in this new book. It’s warmer and more fun, and that makes him happy. Michelle mentioned that his line about a raisin made her laugh out loud when reading.

Peter Høeg

They both read from their books, with Peter apologising for his bad English as he read a short piece from the beginning of The Susan Effect. Michelle read the bit where her character wakes up in the tent, and how there might be someone out there…

As the middle of three sisters, she felt she had the necessary experience to write about sibling rivalry, and she mentioned the background of ‘beating the Hun’ and the public school ethos, and how men couldn’t admit to things like altitude sickness, which might affect a whole group.

Both authors admired each other’s books, and spoke about different – non-literary – genres, and how you need all kinds of books. The Danes, like other Nordics, read crime in the summer, a bit like porn. Michelle said that YA is good, because it tends to have a plot, and it doesn’t need to be literary.

Peter writes his first draft by hand, from beginning to end, and then he types it up, editing as he goes along. And if a day feels as if it won’t be a writing day, then he doesn’t force it. According to him, there are no books, only reading. We all read differently and there are as many versions of a book as there are readers.

Question time made a slow start, with Danny saying that if this had been a children’s event, all hands would be in the air. He mentioned one very important aspect about Peter’s book, which is that none of the words are his, but those chosen by his English translator (Martin Aitken). Peter said how grateful he is to him, and how all of Denmark relies on people to translate their small language. Daniel described the translating process as the translator first reads the book, then has to become arrogant – in a positive way – in order to rewrite the words so the book reads as though it is English. ‘Little Denmark’ likes this.

Michelle likes MR James, likes ghost stories, and she recognises that it’s unusual with ghosts somewhere empty like Svalbard (Dark Matter). Daniel said first you are scared because you are on your own, and then a stone moves, and you think ‘oh my god, I’m not on my own!’ And that is worse.

She does a fair bit of research, travelling to the places she sets her stories, and looking into things like illnesses and reading up on what others have already written, like the early climbers on Kangchenjunga.

Peter did research the first twenty years. And then the internet happened and he lost interest in old style research. He has a love for both science and music, but neither loves him back.

Peter Høeg and Michelle Paver

At the signing afterwards, I was delighted to discover that Michelle never travels without her paw print stamp for when fans bring copies of Wolf Brother. And she let me have a paw print in Thin Air. After all, we don’t know what’s out there on that mountain. Could be anything.

Day 2

That’s my day 2, not the Edinburgh International Book Festival, who were already on day 6. I’m pacing myself, as I keep telling people. It’s not that I’m lazy.

Press ducks

The sun shone again. My theory is that it’s pleased to see me. As I am pleased to see it. We kept each other company outside the yurt, eating, reading, watching famous people go by.

Photographed Siri Hustvedt, doing my best from behind the professional photographers. As you can see, I’m a little short.

Siri Hustvedt

Discussed Peter Høeg with someone on staff, as you do. Chatted to press boss Frances as we both enjoyed the lovely summer’s day on the pew outside, talking about the logistics behind the scenes. Watched Chris Close photograph Tanya Landman, and kept thinking he’d offer her the apple I could see. Turned out later it was for him to eat…

Chris Close and Tanya Landman

Talked with Tanya’s agent Lindsey Fraser, until we realised we’d better head over to queue for Tanya’s sold out event with Reginald D Hunter. Were joined by Elspeth Graham, who is practically Tanya’s neighbour at home.

Tanya Landman and Daniel Hahn

Hung out in the bookshop while Tanya signed her books, and said hello to Eleanor Updale, and was introduced to Lari Don’s mother who looked more like a sister, and finally met Kirstin from Barrington Stoke. Had some tea after that, but was a little disappointed with the scone. Encountered Carol Ann Duffy on my way to the Amnesty International reading. Not that we are pals or talked, obviously.

Daniel Hahn and Eleanor Updale

The Amnesty readings were not quite as harrowing as they usually are, by which I mean I didn’t burst into tears. The Thursday readers were Raja Shehadeh, Siri Hustvedt, Stef Penney and Denise Mina on the subject of ‘Love is a human right.’

Then I went out to dinner with Son and Dodo. We had tapas, followed by some enormous puddings (presumably to make up for the tapas-sized main course). Reckon if I display any more senior moments I will never be asked out again. It’s not easy getting old.

To finish the day we all went to an event with Michelle Paver and the very reclusive Peter Høeg, admirably chaired by Daniel Hahn. Again. He certainly gets around. And after that we hung out in the signing tent, where there was a satisfyingly long queue, and Son and Danny talked translations. Or something.

Peter Høeg, Michelle Paver, Daniel Hahn and Ian Giles

And then it was time to go home, to which I will add that it’s also high time ScotRail make enough trains and rolling stock available to dispatch all festival goers to their homes. What we get makes me long for the post-concert trains on the Continent where you don’t end a nice day out on the floor of a train. (And no, that wasn’t me. I had sharpened my elbows before I left, so got a seat. But plenty didn’t.)

There would be books

My major plan for this current – but ending soon – holiday was to buy books. Yes, how unusual for me. The idea came to me just before we left home, so I didn’t exactly plan anything, other than I’d go into the bookshops in town and see what they had by Maria Turtschaninoff in the Swedish original.

Having fallen in love with Maria’s writing this year, I wanted access to more than what has been translated into English. She’s won awards, and all her published fiction is recent, by which I mean the last ten years. So obviously there would be books.

Uncharacteristically for me, I only made it into town after over two weeks, or I could have gone to the library. By the time I realised that the two bookshops had exactly one copy of Maresi between them, and nothing else, it was too late.

If I hadn’t been too tired by then, I’d have sat down and wept.

After some belated research, I found that of the four books I wanted, only two had been imported from Finland. Because that is the crux. They are Finnish, but written in Swedish. I was stupid enough not to see this as an obstacle for big brother Sweden.

Those two books I have now ordered online, from a shop that supposedly does not object to foreign customers.

The other two, well… I found both in online second-hand bookshops. One might well let me buy theirs. We just haven’t agreed anything yet. The other one had two options for sending; Sweden or Finland. I left them a message, but don’t feel hopeful.

At this stage the Resident IT Consultant and I discussed languages, and after finding we didn’t really know, Wikipedia informed me that Swedish-speaking Finns make up 5% of the population of Finland, or under 300,000. That’s on a par with Icelandic. Both langauge groups publish quite a bit, but while Icelandic crime seems to travel well, I’m guessing that old attitudes towards Finns are harder to shift.

I won’t be reading these books by Maria as soon as I’d hoped. But I trust I will. Except possibly for the rarest one.

Is it too late to weep now?

Pillowing our holiday books

As the trend towards cabin luggage only grows, I am going in the opposite direction. I take a suitcase, and the Resident IT Consultant takes a suitcase. And we put books in them, and fill the gaps with a pillow or two.

We have some seriously well-travelled pillows.

Back in the more olden days, when Offspring were with us, I used to carefully choose books we could all read, or very nearly. That way we got away with maybe two books per person. And we went to the library when away, in case we needed to, or simply felt like it.

These days there are two of us and I try and save some especially good books in the run-up to any trip; ones that I think the Resident IT Consultant will also enjoy. The purpose is to prevent him from taking loads of books for himself.

This time round I stopped counting the books, and took what I felt like, which means I stand no chance of getting through them. But at least we will have a choice. And considering the Resident IT Consultant reads so damned fast, it could – almost – be enough for him. If we allow for the ones he picked himself as well.

And, actually, I am seriously contemplating going into a bookshop and buying a book or two. Yes, in the ‘wrong’ language, and paying actual money. If they have what I believe I want.