Category Archives: Languages

Sven Nordqvist is 70 today

And so is ‘his’ King. But never mind that little coincidence.

Do you remember Sven Nordqvist? Creator of Pettson and Findus, the cranky old man with the cunning – but kind – cat. I’m a bit surprised he is that old, to be honest, but like many Swedes he has aged well.

I like Pettson. And, all right, I like Findus, too. And Sven has a past in my old home town, so I feel sort of at home with him as well, and that crankiness is something I can sympathise with.

His famous characters first appeared 33 years ago, well before I required any picture books with lots of words for any Offspring, and had we not been given a copy by someone who knew what we were missing, we might never have been introduced. After all, who does not like pancake cake? (And when I make it, if I do, I don’t have to deal with hens and other complications first.)

Sven Nordqvist, photo by Leif R Jansson, for TT

Somewhat surprisingly he lives in a flat in the middle of Stockholm. You’d think he’d be hiding out in the wilderness, behind those clucking hens and other creatures.

And it seems that while Sven likes praise as much as the next illustrator of opinionated cats, he gets so much of it from people like me (that’s old and keen bookish females), that it no longer registers. He prefers to hear it from young readers.

According to an article in Hallandsposten the other day, these days Sven mainly works on what pleases him; drawing for himself.

I suppose today he could always pop over to the Palace with some freshly made pancakes.

Stirling goings-on

The Bookbug Week‘s flagship event will this year take place only a mile or so away from Bookwitch Towers. Scottish Book Trust’s annual book week for young readers runs from May 16th for a week, kicking off at Bannockburn with a day of, I think, poetry and stuff.

Bookbug

The rest of the programme happens all over Scotland, and the theme this year is international. Songs and rhymes from around the world.

This tallies with what you find in the programme for Stirling’s own Off the Page where, surprisingly, they offer both a German Bookbug session, as well as a bilingual event or two.

You can also do colouring in and design your own coat of arms, along with attending a teddy bear’s picnic. At the other end of the age scale (or so I imagine) is a vintage reminiscence tea party, which sounds really very nice. Except I hope I am not old enough for that sort of thing yet.

Somewhere there are dragons.

In schools (they have all the luck!) you might find Chae Strathie, Janis Mackay, Kirkland Ciccone, Alex Nye, Ross MacKenzie and Mairi Hedderwick.

But despair not, Mairi Hedderwick is also doing a public event. Maybe even two. This ten-day long festival starts on May 6th, and other public children’s events offer Lari Don and Nick Sharratt.

Helen MacKinven, whom I met at Yay!YA+ last week is also doing an event. As are several of the big names in Scottish crime, such as Lin Anderson, Helen Fitzgerald, Denise Mina and Caro Ramsay.

There are many more events and many more authors. And much upset on my part because I will not be going to any of these… The more attractive the event, the less convenient the date (for me).

Another Hamlet

Something, I forget what, made me remember the other Hamlet. I think of him every now and then, and I blogged about him once before:

‘Swedes have long admired the British for their wit. The English department at Gothenburg employed several such witty Englishmen to dazzle the Swedish students with their Englishness. They were usually called David something-or-other.

The short Hamlet was written by David Wright while he was still at school, if I remember correctly. He provided us students with copies of his admirably brief play, which was very funny, primarily because everything had to happen with such speed. I may still have it somewhere.’

I read through it again, and maybe it’s not the work of a genius. With added maturity I can see it’s more schoolboy wit, but still. It’s English schoolboy wit rather than Swedish. Not saying they are better. Just different.

The grown David Wright was amusing and entertaining too. I’d happily have gone to his lessons just for the fun of it.

At that time one of our set books was Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. For someone as witty as Tom Stoppard (I must have been collecting them at the time!), I seem to recall that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern struck me as more boring than expected. Perhaps it’s just me. I might have a Hamlet block somewhere.

Dessi and me

At least I have heard of William Shakespeare. I’ve read [some of] his dramas and I have seen [a few more of] them in the theatre. But I am woefully un-educated when it comes to the bard. Say Othello and I can’t necessarily name who else is in there with him. Although I am currently reading Malorie Blackman’s new novel, Chasing the Stars, which is set in space and based on Othello. And I read and loved Exposure by Mal Peet, which was about a footballer and also based on Othello.

It seems he has been a favourite with quite a few.

I know Dessi, of course. Short for Desdemona. I had only just learned to read when I had to ask Mother-of-witch who this Sharkers-peh-a-reh might be. He turns up on page one of Kastrullresan by Edith Unnerstad, if memory serves me right. It’s about the Larsson family and their seven children. The mother is a former Shakespeare actress, who wanted to name all her children after his characters.

The kind and sensible father manages to negotiate the right to name the boys, of which they have three; Lasse, Knutte and Pysen [Patrik, really]. Lasse is the book’s narrator and is most relieved not to be called Hamlet or Othello. You can see how that would have cramped your style back in the 1950s, in Sweden.

Edith Unnerstad, Kastrullresan

Ophelia is the mother’s favoured name, but her husband manages to negotiate away from that for a good many years, until the fourth girl and seventh child arrives and his defenses are low. So Ofelia she is, but always known as Little O.

The eldest is a girl called Desdemona, but is Dessi for short. I always used to think that was so cool, and I’d have a child and call her that. (I didn’t. Call her Desdemona, I mean.) Girl and child no. two is Miranda, called Mirre. I liked that too. The third is Rosalinda, and for some reason that’s also what people call her.

Then came the boringly named boys, and finally little Ofelia.

The thing is, I was so young, and knew nothing about Shakespeare, so I thought all the names were perfectly acceptable and normal, albeit previously unheard of by me.

It was a lovely book, and the plot is all about the father’s invention of a triple saucepan that whistles loudly when dinner is ready, and the sad fact that with seven children their tiny (two-bed?) flat is too small for them. So the father builds a couple of caravans on top of two horse-drawn carts, hitches up the two sturdy horses from the local brewery (can’t remember how they got the horses, except Rosalinda loves them…), and the family set off to visit the children’s aunt in another town, where they eventually settle down and live happily ever after.

And that was my introduction to dear old Will and his characters. Sort of.

Well, what a surprise!

What surprises me is that people are surprised. The Resident IT Consultant discovered an online Guardian article about foreign students at the University of Stirling. He found it interesting, and was only marginally disgusted by its accompanying photo, of a red London bus on Westminster Bridge in London. I thought that was the kind of rookie mistake made by foreigners, not Guardian editors.

So students come over here expecting it to be pretty much like it was at home. And it is, if you’re European. Sort of. It will be almost the same, unlike how it is for those from much further afield. But it will still be different. I believe that even somewhere small like Malta has ‘regional’ differences, and Sweden obviously has them, as does the UK. You can generally go somewhere in your own country where they eat funny food and speak in a way that forces you to ask again.

But then the natives that these students lived and studied with were also a bit odd, not grasping that a foreigner won’t know everything; that in their country they might not have (oh horror of horrors!) mince pies. The foreigner might politely decline eating them for years, believing the pies to be meaty (well, they were, originally). So you could explain a few things. And you, the visitor, could ask a few more questions.

I do agree with this article’s findings on [Stirling] public transport. It is very hard to find out about tickets and routes and all the rest.

As for what you wear when you go out, and whether that night out starts or ends at three am, is another matter. Ask. Adapt. Or avoid. By all means, be disappointed by the lack of your favourite food in the new place, if you must.

Having a favourite Blue Peter presenter is something else, however, covered in this article on not being quite the same as others. The half this, half something else. I have two of those myself, and whereas Offspring fit in best in Britain, they are not as ‘normal’ as those who are completely home made. Nor do they fit 100% in the other place.

I can talk Blue Peter reasonably well. Not only did I watch with Offspring for years, but as a student I benefitted from living with the G family, who had a Blue Peter aged child. I never quite got it, but it was a lot easier than Doctor Who.

Basically, though, we are all strange.

Go somewhere else, and see how your normality evaporates. Only a few weeks ago, a mortified Daughter quickly opted to order the Easter Bonnet at the local café, rather than have me continue my interrogation of the waitress as to what it actually was. (She did ask me to ask..!) That was no digestive biscuit, and that was definitely no teacake.

Oh, there is another kind of teacake???

How was I supposed to know?

Sun on Seacrow Island

I virtually am Tjorven, and summers on Seacrow Island are my past [well, you know], and I can feel the heat and the light in this sun-soaked spot. Because I – and most Swedes – have had summer after summer of this kind of life. It’s what’s natural; it’s what we still strive for, and want to give our children. The difference today is the cost of a house in a place like this. No Melker Melkerson could hope to strike lucky and buy his children’s summer paradise. Not even if he was awarded the ALMA. Well maybe, if he was content with some far flung summer beach a long way from the Stockholm archipelago.

Astrid Lindgren, Vi på Saltkråkan

I watched Seacrow Island on television in real time, being the same age as its main character Tjorven, and I know it back to front, as do Offspring and even the Resident IT Consultant. I only had to mention that the English translation has Pelle put on a windcheater when he gets on the boat with Malin and Krister, for him to burst out that ‘no, he doesn’t.’ (I clearly married the right man.)

It was wonderful finding a chubby seven-year-old as the main character, and despite my summers taking place on the west coast rather than on an island off the east coast, they were much the same. My summer shop was like their summer shop. I bet the smells were the same and we probably ate the same food (hamburger meat is not mince; it’s a sliced sandwich meat, that may or may not have a horsey background) and swatted the same wasps and hoped for ice cream.

For Christmas 1964 I received two copies of the book (which is unusual in that it’s the book of the television series, not vice versa), and I read one of them and loved it almost as much. I mention this mainly because the book might now strike you as too hard for that age group, but it certainly worked back then.

The English translation in this newly re-issued Seacrow Island is the 1960s one by Evelyn Ramsden, and I find it gives the reader the right feel of what it was like. The question, I suppose, is whether that’s what today’s children want. I hope it is. I wish they too could have summers like mine, and that they could watch the television series. But at least the book is available.

Astrid Lindgren, Seacrow Island

The new gorgeous cover should be perfect for attracting adult buyers, lovers of Nordic Noir, who want to give their child a children’s version of what’s so popular right now. Because this does not in any way look like my sun-soaked island, nor does it look like Sweden. Think the Lofoten archipelago in northern Norway, with a somewhat menacing sun shining on a chilly looking set of hills with church-like houses. Also, the ‘real’ Saltkråkan is not as empty of people as the blurb suggests. But hopefully any young reader will simply tuck in and enjoy.

I’m glad Seacrow Island is back in the shops once more, and please put this idyllic, but realistic, holiday book in the hands of a nearby child!

And it all comes back

As I was saying, the filing cabinet got the once over this weekend. You find an awful lot of rubbish, and wonder what it’s still doing there, and then you find memories and some quite nice bits of the past.

Philip Pullman

I must have looked more closely than on previous prunes, as I encountered virtually ‘unknown’ stuff, like the photos from the Gothenburg Book Fair 2005. Not as paper copies, but on a disc. ‘Can I just put it in the laptop to access the photos?’ I asked the Resident IT Consultant (I’m not used to photos on discs). ‘You can if you have a disc drive,’ he replied, and I do, so I did. I was puzzled by this antiquated way of storing photos until I remembered we didn’t actually own a functioning camera at the time, so had to borrow School Friend’s (interviewing Philip Pullman, and not even having a camera…), which is why we had to carry the photos home in this manner.

Gothenburg Book Fair

As I was very non-techy at the time, I left it to Son. This means he gave me a few photos to use, and I never saw the rest. Hence the relative new-ness of ten-year-old photos. Here they all were! In my filing cabinet, filed under ‘Authors.’

Philip Pullman

I’ve used the one of Philip Pullman and the ice cream many times. I know he likes coordinating his socks and shirts [or is it shoe laces?], but to coordinate your shirt and suit with the ice cream flavours? Takes a great mind.

Philip Pullman with ALMA judges

Ryoji Arai

Philip did a small platform chat with the ALMA jury, along with his co-winner Ryoji Arai. As it was our first time we didn’t know about these smaller pop-up events that are free, which is why we splashed out for the full seminar ticket. Glad we did, as it meant we saw other events we’d otherwise have missed.

There were pictures of authors whose events I’d almost forgotten, because I didn’t actually blog at the time, so had nowhere to put events memories. There were also pictures of authors who I simply couldn’t identify any longer. I’ll assume they weren’t all that great. Or I wasn’t terribly great at taking notes.

School Friend and Son

I’ve hesitated before about revisiting old Book Fairs, but after more than ten years, it seems almost like archaeology, so is all right. It’s only the last one in 2007 that I put on Bookwitch, so there is much I’ve not shared with you.

Yet.