Category Archives: Philip Pullman

Full circle

I received a phone hug last night. This is a technically complicated feat, but it can be done. I sent Son to (a former) prison. Actually no, he went of his own accord. Långholmen is rather nice these days, when you’re not inside for all the wrong reasons. Daughter and I spent a few days there ten years ago, and now it was Son’s turn (I believe it was some kind of conference). And since he was going to be in the actual Stockholm at the actual same time as Meg Rosoff, I instructed him to go to her public event at Kulturhuset yesterday.

Meg Rosoff and Maria Lassén Seger

Son elbowed the competition out of the way and managed to get close enough to the ALMA winner to receive a hug, which was to be passed on to me. Which he did over the phone. I’ll accept that.

The programme for this year’s Gothenburg Book Fair arrived yesterday as well, and lo and behold, they have invited Meg to come. (I just hope she is still upright by the time September comes round.) I consider this all my doing. First I badgered anyone I could for years about how they must have her. And then, as I reported a couple of months ago, I gave up. Decided it would never happen, and it was better to face facts. This is always a good technique, I find. Makes things happen much faster. (Should have thought of it sooner.)

I think I may have to go. Even if Bookwitch Towers is being rebuilt, or something, I must be able to abandon ship for a long weekend. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with builders in the house?

Anyway, the circle. We went eleven years ago, Son and I, as complete rookies. That was when his favourite won. Now mine has won. It’s only fair. He can come, if he wants. And like eleven years ago, Jonathan Stroud will be there. Plus a selection of archbishops and other famous people, such as our favourite French phycisist, Christophe Galfard.

Yay!!!

Gym’ll fix this?

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what exactly a ‘healthy living centre’ might be. Turns out they meant a gym would replace the library at the  Carnegie Library in London. A gym, pardon, a healthy living centre, with a neighbourhood library service.

Sounds fishy to me. I mean, gyms are all well and good, except I ran kicking and screaming away from the one I had a little look at earlier this year. And contrary to what I’d have thought before, it wasn’t the exercise equipment as a possible instrument of torture that didn’t agree with me, but the sheer noise and crush of half-naked people.

I fail to see how you can combine this with a library, even if you abandon the old-fashioned idea of a silent temple for books and reading. I do get that the council needs to save money, and I have no easy solution to what we are facing as far as local services in general are concerned.

Maybe it’s the next thing after wine bars in former banks?

It’s very heartening to know that so many people were able and willing to step in and occupy the Carnegie Library for ten days. Occasionally I wonder if the spirit of 1968 is long gone and whether people would rather go to the gym than read, but clearly not.

Neighbourhood library service means the books stay for as long as they survive, I suppose, with some enthusiastic volunteers taking the place of trained staff, while trying to avoid the nearest cross trainer. And I don’t mean an angry exerciser.

I don’t know how this is going to end. I really don’t, and I don’t just mean the Carnegie, but all libraries. As a child I walked to the library and later I cycled in with my books. That way I had the exercise, and the library had the books, the way it was intended.

Thinking about what libraries can do, I was reminded of the inspiring one in Philip Pullman’s Shadow of the North, where working men could educate themselves.

I expect that’s what they are afraid of. Those politicians we’d be better off without. Wonder how many libraries we could have for the money ‘resting’ in Panamá? It’s not doing much anyway, is it?

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.

A children’s book for Costa

Time to rejoice! For only the second time ever, a children’s book has won an award in direct competition with so-called ‘real,’ adult books. I’m very pleased for Frances Hardinge who won the overall Costa award on Tuesday, for The Lie Tree.

Frances Hardinge

I have not read it, which primarily is because no one sent it to me. I have not read any of Frances’ books, but keep hearing so much good about them. I will try to get hold of a copy, and while I do, I wish Frances all the best, and much fun spending the £30,000. It’s what I call a pretty decent reward.

Statistically it must be wrong that children’s books don’t win more often. I had more or less given up hope that any other writer after Philip Pullman would ever win the ‘big’ Costa award. I rationalised it by thinking that Philip’s books appeal to adult readers as well (not saying other children’s books don’t or shouldn’t). I mean those who are not far-sighted enough to realise that children’s books are the best.

Judging by the delighted reactions online from her peers, they are happy for Frances and for children’s books as a whole. If it could happen twice, there is every reason it might happen again. And everyone who has read The Lie Tree (and they are many) say what a great book it is.

I believe them.

Don’t pay? Won’t come!

Whereas I quite like the idea of Philip Pullman perusing his daily Bookwitch and taking my New Year’s post to heart, if I’m to be realistic, he probably came up with his new stance without my help.

But I’m glad that someone like Philip has decided enough’s enough, and that he is speaking out against festivals who don’t pay. Then there was Amanda Craig’s letter in the Bookseller, which collected a good number of signatures. It’s not enough for someone in the kind of income bracket who really needs to be paid to say they’d like money instead of ‘exposure,’ as no one much listens to ‘unknowns’ with not a lot of money behind them.

It’s a shame that the Oxford Literary Festival and Philip are having to part ways over this, but it sounds as if he tried discussing it with them. And I do understand that money might be short. But if none of the other categories of people who work for the festival do so unpaid, the question is why authors should give their time for free. They wrote the books. Yes, they will – hopefully – sell a good number after their event, but what do they get? 50p per paperback sold?

There are reasons for appearing somewhere for free, but it should be by choice, and after some serious thinking about why. (I ought to declare myself here. I once bribed an author to come for train fare only, but the bribe I offered has yet to be taken. I suspect it won’t, but it was all I had. I have also asked two authors to come to my house for a private event. I offered to pay on both occasions. One, the author was happy to come for free, if the indie bookshop was allowed to sell books. The second didn’t happen as the author was unavailable.)

Some time in the past I suggested that authors need to belong to a union, but that it would most likely be a difficult and awkward thing to arrange. But perhaps the time has come. ‘Don’t just agree, organise!’ as Joe Hill never said.

Harry hole

I almost sat up in bed in the middle of the night. I’d remembered a few more book suggestions I could make.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am always on the lookout for more child readers. They grow up so fast, and I need more recipients to give books to. I found an eleven-year-old whose grandfather lives in the flat above the Grandmother’s, and have been lobbing bags of books in her direction for some time. She’s a keen reader, and I went so far as to ask for a list of what she normally reads, the better to choose books for her.

Then I thought to make a list of suggestions for her, for books I like so much I wouldn’t dream of parting with them. It was this list I suddenly thought of new additions to, mid-sleep. (Since you ask, Che Golden, Kate Thompson, among others.)

The list already has Philip Pullman and Derek Landy and Debi Gliori on it, along with several other great writers.

And then I had another thought. (Yes, I know. That’s awfully many thoughts for one night.) I take it as read (!) that everyone has read Harry Potter. You can’t not have heard of him. But is eleven too young? Was Harry not on the list because he’s obvious, or because this girl hasn’t actually read the books yet? Or tried them and gave up.

Are we now so far removed from Harry hysteria that not ‘every’ child will read about witches and wizards? Would I be an idiot if I suggested it? Or would I be more of an idiot if I don’t?

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.