Category Archives: Poetry

Zooming in on Linda Bondestam

This evening the Anglo-Swedish Society hosted Linda Bondestam on Zoom, all the way from Finland. Hers is the kind of name I know really well, except when I start thinking about it and I realise I know nothing.

Linda is a Swedish-speaking Finnish illustrator of, mostly, children’s books. She has more recently taken to writing a couple as well. When telling us about one of those books, which was about death, Linda described how she’d had to decide which character to kill, to bring the message home to the young reader, but deciding that killing the main character might be too harsh.

In the beginning there were political pushchairs. Or something like that. Ulf Stark, whom she admired greatly, asked her to illustrate a piece he’d written, and it seems to have taken off and started some trend to do with armed tank style pushchairs in Eastern Europe.

The Anglo-Swedish chair person suggested she could be the next Tove Jansson, and possibly also Maurice Sendak. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek Linda agreed.

There was a short clip of Ulf Stark reading his own words, and later on Linda read some of her words, translated into English.

Linda’s pictures are wonderfully quirky and colourful, and to prove that good art goes anywhere, she also puts it on fabric, showing us shirts and stuff made from her designs. (Contact Linda if you want anything like that. The website is not here yet.) I said to Daughter that maybe she could order a duvet cover, and no sooner had I mentioned it when someone on Zoom suggested sheets…

One very young viewer was so inspired that she/he produced some of their own art while watching, which we all got to admire. Such is the power of the internet.

And Linda keeps winning awards.

Crime at the Coo

‘One of those daft ideas that somehow works’, but which Craig Robertson still suggested might be better accompanied by a drink. I had a decaf latte which probably had little influence either way.

It wasn’t quite a ‘you needed to have been there’ event about an event, but it might have helped. The short summary is that Val McDermid sings a lot better than many of the others, so don’t give up the day job, Craig Robertson has a good relationship with his local pub landlady Mandy, who only offered to kill him if he ever wanted to change venue, and I really would find Crime at the Coo a sort of Hell on Earth event, and it’s just as well I never try to buy tickets in the first few seconds, because I’d never get in. Glastonbury would be easier. But I’m glad I’ve heard what it’s like.

By the way, the pub is open. Just not to Bloody Scotland. But if you’re ordinary you can drink at the Coo. My admiration for the audience member who was brave enough to ask what a coo is. I’d have suffered in silence.

Those songs… I’ve never properly heard Maxwell’s Silver Hammer before. Or did they change the lyrics?

I suspect that they showed us just about every crime writer getting up there, singing and playing away, and by ‘up there’ I seem to mean the bit of wall next to the toilets. We got none of the Slice Girls, however, despite them being Craig’s favourites.

Instead there was the hottest moment of all, the sexy sea shanty, sung a capella in German. I didn’t catch her name. Oh, I did. Just looked her up. Simone Buchholz.

I understand we were given the ‘cleaned up highlights’ with the possible exception of allowing Chris Brookmyre to reveal some of his sweariness. And speaking of him, he has quite a nice singing voice, as revealed when he did a number from home, with Christopher Brookmyre and one half of Ambrose Parry (I suspect the upper half, since you ask).

Doug Johnstone appeared several times, both as a blast from the past as well as from his home, where at least he will have been spared being heckled by Martina Cole. Covid has some uses.

I particularly enjoyed the three ladies singing a revolutionary song in Catalan; Johana Gustawsson, Jacky Collins and Teresa Solana. And ‘psycho killer’ Stuart Neville, with no fewer than ten guitars in his room. He’s reasonably good on mouth organ, too.

With one exception, the whole thing went downhill from there. We had Oscar and Herr Enger, more Brookmyre, Will Carver singing in French next to his pink boxes, Luca Veste singing Hit me baby one more time (this was worse than you’d think), and they also overran in time, but Craig said not to worry.

The exception, the one person who really stood out to me, was poet Judith Williams. Apparently Craig was too polite and too tipsy to say no when she first asked to perform at the Coo. Thank god he said yes! Here you see her looking a bit worse for lockdown, but what an enjoyable poem! (And you know me, I don’t go for poetry.) Craig allowed her one swearword, well used towards the end.

As they wound up Chris was naughty again, with beeps silencing his worst words, big boss Bob McDevitt taking to the stage at the Albert Halls, singing in the dark, until finally Val walked 500 miles. A worthy ending. And I definitely think the Coo landlady should invest in some merchandise, as suggested by someone in the audience. Coos are cute.

Sensory Stories and Crafts

I reckoned I was old enough to dispense with the dish cloth and lidded saucepan, as I settled down to listen to Ailie Finlay tell stories, and watch Kate Leiper illustrate them. This was a rather different event, with storytelling, rather than reading from a book. Ailie clearly has a lot of experience doing this, as I discovered by her lack of [picture] focus. She was so into her telling the story about the old woman who went berry picking, that she waved and blurred and smiled all over the place.

Kate, on the other hand, was calm itself with her red lentil path and ‘swishy’ grass as she showed the audience how they too could make a book to go with Ailie’s story. You can do a lot with lentils, and bark and kitchen foil, and if you have no large stapler you can stitch your pages together.

The next tale was about their recent trip to the beach, going barefoot, collecting shells and seagull feathers. And Ailie sent her fast runner, a teddy called Wilf, over to Kate’s house with some shells she’d forgotten to give her.

That teddy got a lot of exercise, because later on he had to take a pie up to Kate. Not only had they eaten ice cream, but they’d made pie with the old woman’s berries. Ailie eats hers with cream but Kate prefers custard.

And perhaps viewers could make a special memory book after seeing this inspiring event. Possibly making it a concertina book, where you can see everything at once, should you want to. Tactile books can be fun.

At least if not too many red lentils end up on the floor, crunching as you walk.

Shine On

Thursday’s event with Dean Atta and George Lester was the happiest and smiliest event I’ve ever attended. People have been happy in the past, but this was truly gay in every respect of the word, and their dentists will have been proud. What smiles! And along with moderator Erica Gillingham they all wore stripes.

I suppose sequins would have been too much? Even for the ‘sisterhood’?

This was about drag queens in verse, with all three of them sitting in front of bookshelves with books on them. Well, obviously. But they all displayed the two books for the event, Black Flamingo, and Boy Queen. Plus one rainbow and a Moomin.

Perhaps the most important fact to come out of this chat was how far LGBT fiction in YA has come in less than ten years. Where once you would have been lucky to have a queer best friend in a book, here you have not only the main character, but there are several, lots, of them! This is what readers, and not only gay ones, need in YA literature.

George and Dean fan-boyed each other, saying very similar things, to the extent that they could be hard to tell apart. The importance of mixed friend groups in the books, and good manners in having a ‘token straight boy’. George mentioned his mother and how he couldn’t avoid a Gilmore Girls moment…

‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?’ as Dean put it. George is ‘making up for lost time’, adding bigger hair and sparklier clothes. ‘Write what you need’ he says. And Dean wants ‘more trans stories.’ George mentioned discovering David Levithan, in a book which allowed the queer character to be happy, without any need to be dying, and how he sent David a long, embarrassing fan email afterwards.

The final question from listeners was their choice of alien drag queens [should the need arise], and that’s not one of your average event questions. Plus I have really been very innocent and unaware of Canada’s Drag Race…

The final final treat was Dean reading his poem from the end of Black Flamingo about being gay and how and when and why to come out, leaving no eyes dry.

Stay at Home!

It’s not only sourdough bread that has happened over the last three months. Many authors have come up with online material to offer readers. In fact, there’s been such a glut that I’ve not been able to keep up. I just know there is much to find.

Small Scottish publisher Cranachan Publishing has a free ebook offering a wide variety of things to read. Their ‘Stay at Home! Poems and Prose for Children in Lockdown is a a free, illustrated anthology of poems and stories for children aged 8-12, comprising specially written lockdown-themed contributions by 40 writers based in Scotland.’

Try it! There are household names, and there are names you might not have heard of. Yet. But this is a nice collection, and what’s almost nicer still, is how people have pulled together to make it happen.

Clap When You Land

Cheating fathers is not an uncommon occurrence, although discovering that your beloved dad had another family, and another daughter, the same age as you, can be tough. Especially if your dad has to die for this to become apparent. That way you have just about lost him twice.

Clap when you land is the book Elizabeth Acevedo talked about last year in Edinburgh. It’s another poetic novel, set in New York and the Dominican Republic. Yahaira and Camino are at the relay changeover for the summer; i.e. early June when their dad leaves New York after nine months and goes to DR for the three months of summer. Except this time he dies in a plane crash just outside New York.

The girls take turns describing the news and how they feel and what their families and friends do, and while they both sense there is something else not quite right, it takes time for the secret to get out there. And as with all secrets, the question is how many people know about this?

Yahaira is an ace at chess. The way you play chess matches the way her father went from one square to the next; where it’s impossible to be in two squares at the same time.

Camino helps her healer aunt in their poor neighbourhood in DR, and dreams of studying in the US and becoming a doctor.

Both girls have been, or are, victims of men much older than themselves. Both keep all the bad stuff in, not telling anyone.

But there is much to be said for women power, and when Camino’s aunt gets her machete out, well…

New York and the Dominican Republic have good sides and bad sides to them. It’s not only the gloss of the big city, but there is plenty that’s good in the simple life as well. It’s easy to see why Señor Rios wanted to have his cake and eat it. Until he couldn’t.

This is a powerful story, told in few words, and it just sweeps you up.

Whose Shakespeare?

We moved Shakespeare upstairs over the weekend. Mostly this was because the bookcase he was in ascended, and Shakespeare is rather large, so needed the big shelf. He’s now in Son’s room, should the boy ever be able to return to it.

Anyway he went, along with the three-volume poetry collection from Linlithgow.

There was a most beautiful piece in Thursday’s Guardian, written by Aditya Chakrabortty, about his mother who died recently. I’m sorry for Aditya’s loss, but infinitely grateful that he shared his lovely memories of his mother with the newspaper’s readers.

Mrs Chakrabortty was a teacher. As her name suggests, she was not born in the UK, but she definitely did more than her share for this country and the people already here as well as those who arrived after her.

According to Aditya his ‘mother’s love of Shakespeare and Hazlitt was not an attempt to fit in. She claimed them as she claimed all of world culture.’

This set me thinking of how some people view Shakespeare, believing he’s there exclusively for the English. We all know Shakespeare in some way or other. His plays have been translated into many languages, and Hamlet is everyone’s prince; not just that of ‘cultured English’ people. We all have the right to know and enjoy Shakespeare’s work.

I would like to think he’d see it as an honour to be the favourite of a woman such as Mrs Chakrabortty.

The Book of Hopes

It’s always like this. I get tired and want nothing more than to stay at home for ‘quite some time.’ After a while – it could even be after ‘quite some time’ – I have had enough and I begin to want to climb the walls. Or at least to get out and go to some event, somewhere.

Well, I am ready for an event. Now. Before agoraphobia takes over.

I’ll pretend. There’s a book you can read for free. Katherine Rundell has collected lots of writing from a lot of writers, and some illustratings from illustrators. You’ll find them in The Book of Hopes, which you can get here.

There were extracts in the Guardian Review at the weekend. I was particularly taken with Catherine Johnson’s Axolotl poem:

“Care of Exotic Pets: Number 1. The Axolotl at Bedtime.
Never give your axolotl chocolatl in a botl.
Serve it in a tiny eggcup, not too cold and not too hotl.
Make him sip it very slowly, not too much, never a lotl.
After all, he’s just a sleepy, snuggly, bedtime, axolotl.”

And so it goes. More verses online!

‘All’ the big names have contributed something. Whatever you like, it could well be in here somewhere. I’m thinking what a marvellous book launch this would make, if we could all get together. See you there?

Author, in a dress

What do people do? During these unusual times, I mean.

Supposedly authors, who ‘always’ work from home, tend to do so in their pyjamas. I believe that some have now started actually dressing [properly] for work, from home. Even heard of someone who ironed his clothes.

And they write. At least those who feel up to writing. It can be hard to get in the mood. Or getting out of that other mood.

Will anyone still be around to publish what they write, once they have typed ‘The End’? Will there be shops from which to buy those books?

I came across the link to a video clip, where Wendy Meddour reads her new picture book, Not in that Dress, Princess! It does have a publisher, but won’t be out for a few months yet.

It’s about what princesses can do while wearing dresses.

I like it. Do you?

Please get well, Michael Rosen

One or two of my author friends have caught the Corona virus, and we’ve had our fingers crossed as they have traversed the fever, the headaches, the breathing difficulties, and the long-lasting cough.

I’ve learned that Michael Rosen was in intensive care over the weekend. He has apparently been moved to a ward now, and I hope very much that he will have the strength to fight back.