Category Archives: Languages

The Thin Blue Line

Or Den tunna blå linjen, as it is in the original. This is Christoffer Carlsson’s fourth and final book featuring Leo Junker, and like many reviewers have pointed out, it has a rather good last line. But I’ll let you get to that on your own.

Christoffer Carlsson, Den tunna blå linjen

It worked quite well, reading this now, with me having skipped books two and three. I got to know Leo in the first book, and now I was able to catch up with where he’d got to, guessing a few things, about colleagues and lovers. There was enough to tell me what had happened to his school friend Grim, on the other side of the law.

Grim reminds Leo about the young Chilean girl they met years ago, and who was murdered five years before this story takes place, and asks, no, demands, that Leo looks into her unsolved death again. And this really opens a hornet’s nest.

This time Leo isn’t half drugged all the time, so he functions a little better. He’s also been reinstated as a policeman (although, for how long?) so can do what detectives need to do when they detect. Though at times it appears as if Swedish law makes it hard for the police but easy for the criminals. So it’s fair…

Stockholm is as unappealing as it was; the suburbs, but also the supposedly nicer places in the city centre. In the police you have crooked people and stupid people, as well as the hard-working middle ground people, trying to keep the place safe.

I couldn’t help but feel bad about the fate of the Chilean refugees/immigrants, who must have arrived with great hopes, only to end up dead, or very nearly.

Christoffer’s knowledge of criminology is what makes the plot so believable. It’s different to many other crime series where you suspect that the author just made stuff up. This really does feel like the inner workings of the police force, where the law in its eagerness to protect everyone, makes it impossible to corner criminals in a way that they can be tried in court and jailed.

There is also remarkably little violence. It’s the lack of hope that gets to you.

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Sven Wernström

Sven Wernström died last week, a few days before the Swedish elections, and on the day the Swedish Academy finally got together again to try and make things better.

I knew I’d blogged about Sven before, but had to do a search to see when and what about. On here I wrote about losing hope. That was a couple of days after the referendum which plunged us into more despair than I could imagine on that day. And we still had the US presidential election to come. Little did we know.

Checking Swedish Bookwitch I found more posts; interestingly both posted on the same date, a few years apart. One was an almost regular thing on some of Sven’s books. The other was about discovering his blog, where he sought solace after his wife of almost seventy years had died.

He lived another five years, making it to 93, which is good going. Checking his blog just now, I found Sven had not written for a while, and all his last posts were about death. So maybe he’d been diagnosed with something and had been ill since. Or he was ‘just’ feeling low.

Sven was a dedicated communist, and wrote books for children and teens in what can be said to be fairly red terms. That’s why the Retired Children’s Librarian didn’t care for most of his writing. When I read about his death, there were others who felt the same way, but also some who praised his books for what they’d meant to them. So, as with the elections last Sunday, we are all divided and all different. Which is how it should be.

I’m guessing that those of us who loved his books, might have done so because at a young age you are less into literary merit, or the lack of. I’m also going to assume that those who still dislike his books, are of a different political persuasion. As for me, I don’t reckon I will reread the books I still own. I’m not sure I would be able to see which of the opinions is more right than the other, and I don’t want to lose my memories of what once seemed great.

And perhaps by today it is good that Sven has been reunited with his Inga. I hope so.

Sven Wernström in screencap from Dagens Nyheter

(Dagens Nyheter articles are behind a paywall…)

More handsome sitting down

Those were Michael Morpurgo’s words, but we would have loved him whatever he did. He decided he was most comfortable sitting down. His [event]chair, Alex Nye, grew so comfortable that she re-titled Michael’s book which he’d come to talk about, making it In the Mouth of the Lion, until Michael mildly said ‘I thought it was the Wolf..?’

You don’t get much past Michael Morpurgo. He must be a dream to ‘chair’ because he knows quite well what he’s going to be doing and he will go ahead and do it, no matter what. Never mind that he ‘mocked’ his illustrator for his Frenchness; you could tell there was much respect between the two of them, and he told us we must buy Barroux’s In the Line of Fire.

Michael Morpurgo, Alex Nye and Barroux

He began by reading to us, sitting down and being handsome, the first two chapters from In the Mouth of the Wolf. ‘They’re quite short. Don’t worry, it won’t be too boring.’ It wasn’t. And even those early chapters were enough to make us want to cry.

While Michael read, Barroux illustrated, showing us the views from [Michael’s uncle] Francis’s bedroom windows, saying he’s not a good illustrator. He prefers a bad drawing with a lot of emotion in it. Barroux also showed us his three different cover ideas for the book, explaining that it’s the publisher’s choice; not his.

When it was time for questions, the first was about Kensuke’s Kingdom. Michael was a little startled by this, but gave a long, considered answer, and then asked for the remaining questions to be about his new book. Because what authors need is to sell books, so they can have new socks, and J K Rowling has many many cupboards full of socks.

Barroux ‘hates fairies and unicorns’ because he can’t draw them, and he’s only recently learned to do dolphins. As Michael answered a question on freedom for his characters – who, of course, are not characters, but were real people – Barroux stealthily began to draw a dolphin. When discovered in the act, he was told that the whole entente cordiale was just then in danger.

Michael pointed out to his audience that in WWII, and for centuries before that, Britain was never occupied, while Europe was. In fact, not since William the Conqueror a thousand years ago… And we know where he came from.

Barroux

Asked about his passion for books, Michael said he’s more passionate about the reading of books. You should catch fire when reading, to reach those who never read. Currently he is working on several things; translating Le Petit Prince, putting words to The Snowman, and writing a new version of Gulliver’s Travels with Michael Foreman illustrating. He’s portraying Gulliver as a recent refugee, washing up somewhere new.

By then we’d overrun by at least five minutes, but Michael said he was going to sing for Barroux. There is a film being made of Waiting for Anya, and in it there is a song Michael likes very much. He sings it in the bath.

And ignoring his suggestion that we think of him in the bath – or not – or that he pretended the theatre’s doors would have to be locked to prevent us escaping, Michael stood up, still handsome, and he sang to us, and to Barroux.

It was a beautiful ending to a beautiful event, and to our book festival.

The Moomins of Moominvalley

Philip Ardagh

As we entered the Corner theatre at Sunday lunchtime, there was a creature sitting quietly in the corner (where else?) of the room. It was Philip Ardagh, pretending he wasn’t already there. Quite eerie.

Once Jane Sandell had introduced ‘the best’ author, big in Germany (I’ll say!), Philip asked us a question. I’m afraid I have forgotten which one, but we all raised our hands, and he commented on our ‘fine variety of armpits.’

The World of Moominvalley

It seems there is more to Tove Jansson and the Moomins than the mugs.

The young Philip liked going to the library. He also liked book tokens. In the library he discovered his first Moomin book, which was Comet in Moominland. (Snap.) Before long his collection of Moomin books had grown, later supplemented with some ‘nice to have, stolen property’ in the shape of a few early hardbacks, so battered and unwanted the library didn’t want to keep them.

(We had better mention that Philip obviously didn’t mean any of these admissions to criminal behaviour.)

Getting on to business, he showed us his own new book about the Moomins – The World of Moominvalley – with pages and pages of facts about every last little creature in Moominland. He’s done a lot of research, although he did also have the help of an assistant. And he’s been hanging out with Sophia Jansson…

The World of Moominvalley

Philip is Sniff. (At least he didn’t say Little My!) There was some pondering on how – when you are not wearing clothes – you can have a pocket watch. Also, what’s the difference between a Snork and a Moomin? (Snorks can change colour.) The Moomins have a different kind of ancestor to you and me; as their ancestors are still alive, coming out to live in their house when the rest of them hibernate.

Frank Cottrell Boyce wrote a couple of chapters for this book, as he’s a Moomin fan, too. Apparently, he is also married to Little My. In Philip’s words, Frank ‘is an extraordinary man, and so is his wife…’

The audience was quite a knowledgeable one, meeting Philip’s standards regarding all things Moomin. There was one hairy moment discussing ‘girly pink’ but it was almost OK.

Another author in the yurt had informed Philip that ‘you’re exhausting.’ Something to do with his Sheldon-like fascination for certain things, maybe?

I hardly snoozed at all. At one point the Photographer prodded me to make sure I was awake. And I was. Really. (It was the early start. Nothing to do with the Moomins. Or Philip Ardagh.)

Philip Ardagh

‘I’ve been sensational,’ he told us, when it was time to go.

(Photos Helen Giles)

The Invisible Man From Salem

Except I read it in the original, so it’s really Den Osynlige Mannen Från Salem. But at least this way you know that you, too, can access Christoffer Carlsson’s award-winning first crime novel featuring Leo Junker. Because I think you might want to.

Admittedly, I hate the kind of society he’s writing about, but firmly believe that this is what people in other countries find so charming about Swedish noir. Life is dark and dismal, but because it’s not your dark and dismal, it’s all right.

This is an adult crime novel, but with enough flashbacks to Leo’s youth in a concrete-covered Stockholm suburb in the mid-1990s, that it can almost double as YA. Almost.

Christoffer Carlsson, Den Osynlige Mannen Från Salem

Leo has been relieved of his police badge after some dubious goings-on on Gotland. Not his fault, but a scapegoat was needed. And now a woman has been murdered in the flat below his, and he feels he could do with something to occupy himself with, in his half-drugged, sad state. And then it turns out it’s all much closer to home than he thought.

Maybe something to do with his friends from sixth form college? The police don’t like him much, nor do people from his past private life. It’s been tough, and the drugs are just about understandable.

There are no charming vicarages here. Very little that is nice at all, in fact. There is so little hope, even. I was glad I’d got out. Despite this being set 30 years after I was that age, it felt as if nothing had changed. I could have gone to that school. Those teenagers could have been my classmates.

It’s awful.

And it’s also very well written, and after a while I sort of liked Leo. A little. When I reached the end I did what any sane person would do and started on the attached sample chapter for the second book. Apart from having other books to read too, there is the slight conundrum of me only having the fourth, and last, book to hand. On Christoffer’s advice.

What to do?

(There are more than a few nods to Sjöwall & Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series.)

Freedom to Read, Freedom to Write

Some events simply want to go on for longer. Or, failing that, to come back and continue. The SCBWI discussion on freedom to read and to write, with Lari Don, Candy Gourlay and Elizabeth Wein, was one such event. There was so much to talk about, and with three women with lots to say, an hour was not enough.

But that’s my only complaint! Very ably chaired by Elizabeth Frattaroli and Justin Davies, we all enjoyed it from beginning to end.

Despite feeling I know these three authors well, I had not stopped to consider what very different reading backgrounds they have, growing up in three countries well apart from each other.

Candy Gourlay

Candy grew up in Manila where she did have access to a school library, but there were no public libraries at all in the Philippines. She began alphabetically, but got stuck on B for Blyton, fascinated by the different world discovered in those books. But she never found any brown children in them, and deduced that maybe Filipinos weren’t allowed in books. There was one, The Five Chinese Brothers, which as an adult she has discovered to be very racist.

Elizabeth Wein

American Elizabeth spent her childhood in Jamaica, and therefore did have access to books about children of all colours. Her father recommended what to read, and she felt she had a good selection of books. Her favourite is A Little Princess, and her dream was to live in a cold climate. (I would say that Scotland is a dream come true.)

Lari Don

Lari was ‘not exotic’ at all, she said, growing up in Dufftown. And while her family and relatives lived in houses full of books, there were no Scottish books. She read Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Narnia. Her favourite was Power of Three by Diana Wynne Jones. There weren’t YA books in those days, and most of the books Lari read were about boys. Not about girls, and not set in Scotland.

Candy described coming to Britain, with all its wonderful libraries. And now they are being closed!! There were no publishers in the Philippines back then, but today there is a vibrant publishing scene. And there are some libraries. Her own problem is with rights, as US publishing rights include the Philippines, which makes the books too expensive. She has to negotiate a deal to make her own books affordable in her own country.

Reading from her new book, Bone Talk, Candy did so on her mobile phone. (She apologised.) After listening to her read the wild boar incident, I want to listen to Candy reading the whole book. It became something completely different when she read it.

Lari likes mixing different cultural ideas in her writing, but she’s now wary of cultural appropriation, and no longer feels sure she’s allowed to write about culture belonging to others, and definitely feels you can’t touch Maori or Aboriginal stories. You have to be sensitive.

Elizabeth spoke about the freedom she felt writing for Barrington Stoke. It’s not harder. You just write short, like a novella, and then there is the editing, which helps make these dyslexia friendly books easy to read. So for instance, in Firebird, they chose another spelling of Tsar – Czar – because the first one is easily confused with star. And even if you’re not dyslexic, short is always good.

For freedom to read, Lari suggested letting children choose what to read, or even not to read. It’s interesting to see how all three authors had so many thoughts and ideas on all this that they – almost – fought to speak.

When it was Elizabeth’s turn to read she chose three, very short pieces. First there was freedom in Code Name Verity, then some lines from her favourite Ursula le Guin, and finally the freedom on what to do with your hair and make-up in Firebird.

As for their own freedom, now that they are successful authors, there is a lot less of it. Elizabeth believes in discipline, being interested in what you write and to start small. Candy uses a forest app on her phone, where during 20 minutes a tree grows, and she is unable to access the phone for anything else. So she writes. And she doesn’t do homework for fans who write to her.

Lari loses herself in her own world. She then read to us the first bit from her Spellcheckers series, where Molly becomes a rabbit. Lari feels the best thing about being an author is to meet her characters. Elizabeth enjoys meeting readers and other writers, while Candy finds no one has heard of her…

There was barely time for questions from the audience, but they were all able to ask lots of questions during the book signing afterwards. It took time, but everyone left satisfied, and before the next event was ready to move in.

The bookfest should ask these authors back to continue where they left off.

Elizabeth Wein, Candy Gourlay and Lari Don

(Photos Helen Giles)

Banished

Another holiday; another Selma Lagerlöf for the Resident IT Consultant to read. Though it has to be said that he had to take a break, because it wasn’t always all that pleasant. I know that sounds  unkind, but as you will see from his review below, Banished was a bit of a mouthful, and even Selma suffered.

“Banished is the latest product of Norvik Press’s initiative to publish new translations of the work of Selma Lagerlöf. Bannlyst (its Swedish title) was originally published in 1918 and first appeared in English translation (as The Outcast), in 1922.  This edition is translated by Linda Schenck, translator of  Lagerlöf’s Löwensköld Ring trilogy and five of Kerstin Ekman’s novels.

Lagerlöf, the first female winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1909, was a committed feminist and pacifist and was horrified by the violence of the First World War. After personally having seen the bodies of thousands of dead soldiers floating in the sea after the Battle of Jutland she was inspired to write a novel that explores the double standard that allows people to hold death sacrosanct and yet neglects the sanctity of life.

Banished tells the story of Sven Elversson, a member of a failed polar expedition on which the survivors are forced the eat the flesh of one of their comrades in order to avoid perishing. He is a brave and kind man but is rejected by those around him and banished from their company. Banished is a thought-provoking tale of love, death and survival that grapples with moral dilemmas as relevant today as they were a century ago.

By the end all those who have found Sven reprehensible realize that human life is worth far more than human death and that during the ongoing war the same people who vilified an explorer for doing what he had to do to survive were prepared to disregard daily mass murders and to glorify those who carry them out.”

Selma Lagerlöf, Banished

The Resident IT Consultant is now recuperating with something a wee bit lighter. But I’d say, keep them coming! He – sort of – enjoys them.