Category Archives: Languages

Slurp

You might remember that Meg Rosoff left me in the corridor on Thursday afternoon. I was still there when she woke up on Friday morning. Or so I tried to claim. I had returned to the same spot, sorting out my plans for the day, when Meg came up and asked if I’d come for coffee with her.

On the understanding I’d not actually have to have any coffee, I agreed, and that’s how I ended up slurping my own pink blueberry yoghurt drink after all. Meg had one as well, and also coffee (Swedish coffee, where you don’t get to choose what kind) to set her up for the day.

(It must be tough to find that the only person ‘in town’ you know is your long time ‘stalker.’ A bit like when friends of ours moved to a new town and the only person they knew there was the bishop. Talking of whom, the bishop was the only famous person I encountered in the corridors during my two days at the fair. Except I refer to him as the former archbishop. Same difference.)

We talked about amusement parks, and nearly falling off carousels, and I recommended Liseberg [across the road] if she wanted a walk. Anyway, it turned out Meg had even more mini-events to appear at than I’d been told about, so I attempted to steer us towards the Brombergs stall, except in the end Meg did better than me. Oh well.

Meg Rosoff

It’s amazing how at a fair this size, with thousands and thousands of visitors you ever accidentally find people you know. As I was making my way to see Chris Haughton, my attention was caught – with some difficulty – by the New Librarian, who was standing there eating lunch with Pizzabella and School Friend. So we chatted over their Thai food, until it was time for me to eat my own lunch during Chris’s event.

My next event was 45 minutes on horror with Jonathan Stroud and Mats Strandberg talking to Lotta Olsson. And from there I ran to the stage where Meg was appearing, again, and where I’d arranged to meet both School Friend and Pippi. Failed to see School Friend, even with the help of the New Librarian and Pizzabella, who both passed by individually, and who both failed to find their mother. Pippi turned up and we chatted until it was time for me to force a couple of signed books from Meg. At this point School Friend materialised, but when offered the opportunity of meeting Meg she vanished, claiming she had another event to queue for, so in the end Meg only got to say hello to Pippi, who then insisted on buying me tea. And a kanelbulle.

Meg Rosoff

I just might have noticed Sven Nordqvist, of Findus fame, walk past. But on the whole I don’t recognise Swedish celebrities. I decided that gossiping was more important than a third Jonathan Stroud event, and when we were done I sent Pippi on her way to look at books and things, while I chased Jonathan for a signature, but missed him.

And that was that.

I went to pick up my suitcase from Miss Vet’s, called in at a bookshop on the way to the station (because I’d not had enough, and because the fair didn’t have the book I was after), and caught a train to go and spend the weekend with School Friend. And that is where I am now.

At last! Meg at Bokmässan!

A mere eleven years after I told people in no uncertain terms that they must invite Meg Rosoff to the Gothenburg book fair, she’s finally here. She only had to go and win the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for it to happen, but at least she got here in the end. And it’s not just me who’s happy. A great many people have gone all star struck over meeting Meg, so I reckon this is a good thing. I’d like to think I helped, but I probably didn’t.

Gothenburg book fair

And I actually didn’t run up to her when I first saw her yesterday, feeling she might need the respite. Five minutes later I knocked on her back, however, as she was waiting to go on for her first of four events, one of the many free floor events they put on in Gothenburg, meaning you can see your stars without forking out a fortune. Or being a librarian. I was introduced to Helen Sigeland from ALMA, who remembered meeting Son a few months ago. (There’s no stopping this family.) I also accidentally saw Meg’s iPhone password when she needed to show me a photo from Tasmania… As you do.

IMG_0447

Talking to Boel Westin, she covered everything from getting the news of the award (good news can be as much of a shock as bad news), believing they’d made a mistake, past the prairie of silence when you need to start a new book (generally early January), the sexy horse book, her mother’s dog who is not allowed on the couch, and possibly basing her male and female characters on her husband and their daughter. A little.

IMG_0454

One hour later it was the turn of magazine Vi Läser to host Meg at their stall, and the seats were long gone (so I borrowed one from the University of Lund). The conversation was slightly different, and Meg talked about the beginnings of her adult novel Jonathan Unleashed, and leaving Penguin over it. At the signing afterwards I tried to buy a couple of copies of Jonathan in Swedish, but as my faithful readers know, you can’t always buy things with cash in this country.

Meg Rosoff at Vi Läser in Gothenburg

Jonathan-less I made my way round the corner to Piratförlaget and their little stage, grabbing a comfy seat early on. Which is where Meg found me, slurping something rather pink. Her slurping; not me. She showed me a photo of her with Patti Smith, so I said they were on at the same time. Meg told me to go and see Patti instead of her, again. Meg also offered to buy me my own pink blueberry yoghurt drink.

IMG_0484

Her lovely interviewer asked Meg about coming to Gothenburg, and she mentioned she’d been hinting for years with no luck, and talked again of the strain of surprise on hearing about the award and how they must have had the wrong number. Many Swedes seem to like What I Was best of Meg’s books, which she – probably accurately – explained by saying how she’d based it on her own ‘feral existence’ in Suffolk, and this is pretty much a Swede’s dream life. Meg told us about her very responsible daughter (she has to be, with a writer and an artist for parents), and how her own mother had confused her early on by saying she was bound to meet Mr Right one day, and how Meg feared she’d be in the wrong place at the crucial time.

It was a good thing I rejected Patti Smith, as the queue for her event was worse even than for Desmond Tutu last time I was here. I and all the librarians managed to sneak past the hordes to get to Meg’s ‘big’ Thursday event, with Boel Westin. I was joined at the last minute by the New Librarian, as well as others made late by the ‘Patti effect.’

IMG_0488

Life after ALMA is fine, with everyone wanting to see her, and travelling like crazy. She’s not writing anything at the moment, and Meg probably wants to remember to pay her car insurance this time, as she finishes her to-do pile. Skirting past the sexy horse book, she told us how she acquired her agent, relishing being told to write ‘as fiercely as you can’ after having grown up being told the opposite. When How I Live Now meant Meg could give up her job, she had to ask how to do this, more used to being fired.

Meg talked about finding one’s voice, (apparently it can be a bit like a horse and its rider), telling us that her husband brings her coffee in bed, and she reckons that for this she will hang on to him. Not being good at remembering things, she suspects that what she does remember will be important. Boel said she feels Meg is good at coming up with great book titles, so we learned about Googling ideas for titles to see if you’re original or not.

She doesn’t know what logarithms are, and sometimes she and her husband wake up to the sudden awareness that they actually live with animals. And art is important, as is thinking about death all the time (Meg not being the type of person who thinks about what car to get). She finished by reading from the Swedish favourite, What I Was.

I saw her again as I was enjoying a well earned armchair rest in a corridor. Meg stopped to say she needed to go and lie down, and she was heading for her hotel room, except she wasn’t entirely sure where it was. I realised belatedly that she was walking in the wrong direction…

A letter B miscellany

We were away for a bit recently, the Resident IT Consultant and I. We had new windows to mastermind. (And as with most window-related things it wasn’t entirely as much fun as one could have hoped for.) We travelled on the ‘proceeds’ of last year’s flight to Copenhagen that took us to Oslo, so mustn’t complain. Over breakfast at the airport with Daughter, the Resident IT Consultant – for reasons known only to him – laughed and said ‘it could be worse, we could be going to Norwich.’

I sighed, because whenever he says things like that, something untoward happens. (Nothing wrong with Norwich.) So when we touched down at Billund after an hour, I was not surprised. And witch that I am I had harboured thoughts on the likelihood of doctors on board planes only a week before, and I had actually been sitting staring at the doctor on board for some time before he was called on and rose to deliver care to the ill passenger a few rows ahead, before saying it’d be a good idea to descend to Billund. It’s nice to know that emergencies can be sorted out.

We collected the hired car (which, typically, was enormous, unlike when there are more of us to cram inside), and I practised vertigo-desensitising by only closing my eyes a little on The Bridge. Stopped for buns and cups of disgusting tea at an old favourite watering hole. Should have gone to Burger King.

The window company has a name beginning with the letter B, but to avoid legal action, I won’t add the other letters. The fitters were lovely. The result less so. On the plus side only one window sill (bräda, in Swedish) broke, and ‘luckily’ it was the marble that broke, while the cheap brackets held…

Summer was in full swing and we made it to the beach, pre-windows. So did everyone else, which actually made the place quite crowded. We had books to read, and we made good time with those. A friend let me read her as yet unpublished children’s novel. Watch this space.

People wanted to discuss Brexit and how silly Britain had been. Sorry. I went looking at beds (with a view to getting a new one) and you can’t believe what hard work it is getting in and out of so many beds in one afternoon. I successfully bought some more ink for my Ballograf biros.

We returned home to Bookwitch Towers just in time for the Resident IT Consultant to be whisked away by Son for his birthday trip. Whereas I don’t seem to have been whisked anywhere at all, but I do have a Bloody Scotland to see to this weekend.

Sweet Pizza

This Guardian prize longlisted book is the kind of story where everything falls nicely into place as you read. I’m quite fond of that kind of development, so have to say I really loved G R Gemin’s Sweet Pizza. (I probably would enjoy the actual sweet pizza, too.)

G R Gemin, Sweet Pizza

Set in a small town (or is it a village?) in South Wales, with an Italian café at the centre of the plot, we meet teenager Joe who loves being Italian. His poor mother not so much, as she’s saddled with working in their slowly failing family eatery. Joe just wants to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

His Nonno is frail and becomes ill, but manages to share some of his and the family’s past with Joe, and this only confirms Joe’s wishes to make something of the café.

And then his glamorous – Italian – cousin Mimi shows up, turning everything on its head. All the males are besotted, and nothing is the same again. At least Joe makes something out of this, by studying Italian cookbooks and trying out the language, while also attempting to keep all his rivals away.

With Mimi’s help he slowly comes up with a plan for what he wants to do, for the café, for his his mum, for the village and everyone in it. It becomes a bit of a shared quest, which is good for the little community.

This is all slightly crazy, but also quite sensible and something you wish more people would do in more places. There’s a lot of quiet humour and lots of love in this book. (I do love Italians.)

And the sweet pizza doesn’t sound bad.

The Beginning Woods

This is a good book. Very good. Just thought I’d mention that.

If you’ve never heard of Malcolm McNeill or his The Beginning Woods, it’s because this is his first book and it was first published in German. I’d say it’s not only the language Malcolm has in common with Cornelia Funke. Here is a worthy successor (at least if he can keep this writing up…), who has written a most enjoyable fairy tale-based book, about a young boy who starts off as a rather unattractive baby. He has teeth, for a start, and he is not cute. Or easy to handle.

The world has gone crazy, with adults simply vanishing all over the place, and no one knows why. The secret lies with the boy, Max, who was found abandoned in a bookshop, and whom no one seems to want.

Malcolm McNeill, The Beginning Woods

Max dreams of finding his parents and will go to any lengths to be reunited with them. He learns to love reading, which is fine until books and reading are banned. There are a number of situations in this story that bear a remarkable resemblance to life as we now find it, regarding culture and insane leaders and suffering for the greater good; generally someone else’s good.

In his search Max meets some highly unusual people, he travels to strange places, and he falls in love with a dead girl. There are dragons to fight, and wicked witches, and any number of fairy tale creatures in a magical forest. He needs to learn who he really is and what his role is in the vanishings and everything else that happens.

I dont say this enough and that is because there are not enough books to cause me to say it, but this is what a children’s book should be like. While set mostly in London, and partly in France, it has a nicely continental feel to it. I’m not at all surprised it was first snapped up by a German publisher. Luckily for us, it is now available in its original language as well.

Here I Stand

Here is a book you should all read. Here I Stand is an anthology for Amnesty International, where a number of our greatest authors and poets and illustrators have come together and written short pieces about the injustices in life as they see them.

Here I Stand

John Boyne writes about child abuse and Liz Kessler deals with same sex love. Both stories are hard to read, but at the same time they are uplifting and they make you think.

And it is repeated in every single contribution to this volume, whether by Jackie Kay or Jack Gantos, Sarah Crossan or Frances Hardinge. Bali Rai, Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Laird are others who have important things to say about why life is far from right for many people in the world.

People who can be jailed or executed for the most normal behavior, or those who are simply too poor or too unfortunate in various ways. People for whom we need to continue fighting.

There is much in this book to think about. Please think about it.

Goodbye to ‘the village pond’

There is no pond, of course. But as a foreigner I have this mental image of what is at the heart of a British village, and this is pretty much it. Minus the water. And the ducks.

The Grandmother’s flat has been sold, so it’s goodbye to the view from her living room window, which was the reason she bought the flat in the first place. Before she did, I thought she was a little crazy, going from a nice house nearby to this newly built block of flats, ‘insensitively’ slapped down in the local park.

But you change over time, and I came to see exactly why she wanted to live there. From ‘my’ armchair on the right hand side of the window I could stare endlessly at the scene outside. Very green, with many mature trees, and children playing, and football matches being played, and people just generally hanging out in what is now a Green Flag park.

At first there was also a cricket pavilion right outside. A little decrepit perhaps, but adding to the village look charm (and I hasten to add we are in a town, here, and the village is imaginary). The pavilion had to give way to the school built opposite, but you grow used to new things eventually.

When we first arrived in Scotland, we had two glorious spring months being permanently glued to the view of the park outside. It was a time of witnessing how things never change, actually. As the weather got warmer, the people walking past wore spring style clothes, and then more summery ones. Children wore shorts or pretty dresses, and their bikes would accompany them, or balls and other vital outdoors equipment.

I got to recognise the dog walkers by their dogs. I know, I should have watched less and got out more… But somehow it transported me back both to my own childhood, and also to my early visions of this country.

And now we have admired the view of the park from up there for the last time. The turn has come for someone else to while away their time checking out passersby passing by twice, both times in the same direction…

The park

(This photo doesn’t do it justice. And I’m not so sure about the latest addition of those Romans you can see. But that’s life.)