I do strange things. Or perhaps they are perfectly normal. I do recall my surprise when Mother-of-Witch admitted to her fascination with patterns in floor boards, and the like.
So, I read through the lists of new members who have joined the Society of Authors every quarter. Just to see if there’s anyone I ‘know’. In my most recent copy of The Author. – Winter 2022 – there were 553 new members. I didn’t count them. I’m counting on the Society getting it right. But thereabouts.
This time there was a surprising number of ‘knowns’ plus a couple I feel entitled to call friends. I’m glad they joined. It’s always good to belong to a union. One or two names were pretty well known, and I was surprised they weren’t already members. But better late than never.
Then there’s the Community spotlight where they report on what goes on in various groups within the society. Who has left a committee, and who has joined. Within my own areas of expertise I nearly always know quite a few such names.
What surprised me the most, however, was finding eldest Offspring’s name among the ‘delighted to welcome’ category. I knew he’s joined the Translators Association, and its committee, but it still came as a surprise.
As it was to him when I mentioned it over the weekend. He’d passed on his copy without finding himself first.
So yeah, that’s slightly over 553 names. I hope it’s not too pathetic that I sit here and peer at the columns of names. After all, I used to practically read the telephone directory, back in the day. The Swedish one, which was a lot more readable than BT’s offerings.
‘I like his bookshelves’ said Daughter about Arne Dahl, as she saw him in his writing ‘cupboard’ online. ‘They are quite black’ she added. And I suppose that fits in with Nordic Noir. His books are better for being a bit black.
We watched Arne’s interview with Dr Noir, aka Jacky Collins, who fan-girled to a hitherto never seen extent. She almost bounced off the ceiling, were such a thing possible for someone seated on a chair in front of her computer. Never mind; I like an interviewer who really, really likes her ‘victim’.
So it was unfortunate that Barnet Libraries who hosted this Teams chat managed to silence Arne. Not forever, and not in that way, but we all agonised a bit while someone found his voice again.
It’s a rather Swedish voice. And he admitted to having had that typical Swedish childhood, with summers spent in the Stockholm archipelago, where I understand he’s not averse to killing people now. It is darker in winter.
We now also know where to hunt Arne down, as he was forced to tell us about his favourite café. It’s Vurma. Except, maybe he led us astray by making this up? There was also something important about Andalucía, but by that point I’d lost the plot.
Jacky very generously mentioned Arne’s [latest] translator, our in-house favourite, who was also listening in. Arne did a sort of ‘nice to see you, Ian’ wave. In as much as you can wave, or clap, on Teams.
There were questions from the worldwide audience, with a prize for the best one. They were all good. I was going to say except for the last one, because you can’t expect an author to know where one can find his books in the original, in another country. Arne assumed anywhere. Because you would, wouldn’t you? But thanks to Ian and Jacky it was made clear that due to Brexit you just can’t. And that is so wrong, and perhaps it was time to make that point publicly.
It was good to have ‘gone out’ for an evening, and I do like authorial cupboards.
And don’t you just love the ‘bullet’ holes in the wall?
Bookcases have been coming and going at Bookwitch Towers. This last week has seen several carryings in and out, both here and at Daughter’s new abode. (Well, one can’t always get the right configuration on a first try, can one?)
Until now I have stashed Son’s books – by which I mean those he has translated – on the low shelf behind my armchair. But the books have sort of outgrown that space. I don’t know how that happened. Maybe I washed the shelf and it shrunk?
So we were discussing what to do, and it seems that the Resident IT Consultant’s Scottish collection will be going upstairs, just like one of the new-to-us bookcases. And then we will display the Nordic Noirs in a more prime position than behind me.
That was when the postman called today. He huffed and puffed a bit, but not too much because he’s a very nice postman.
He was delivering two copies of a children’s Space encyclopaedia on which Daughter has been the specialist consultant. (See, we don’t have just the one consultant any longer!) And because there were two copies, it seems that us old people get to hold on to one. It needs a shelf to live on.
The book is Children’s First Space Encyclopedia by Claudia Martin. It’s the kind of book I’d have liked as a child, and which I might have got for Offspring at the right age too. It features the unnamed Goldilocks and dwarfs and giants, as well as a really large telescope. It is not the consultant’s first, nor her last, but at least she’s not going at the same speed as her brother.
I wonder how long there will be space – hah – for both space and murder on this new prime shelf? Not long I suspect.
They were tricked. Lured to the Project Room under false pretenses.
And everyone else knew. The emails had suggested the weather or football if you ran into them, and actually had to have a conversation. No slips of tongues permitted. I get very nervous when words like confidential and secret are used. I mean, it’s just asking for accidents to happen, isn’t it?
So, the Spice Boys. Arne and Bjarne. It’s like a double act. They were, ever since that day back in 1889 when they first met. (I always thought they looked old. But that’s the effect of teachers. They need to be.)
So, since 1989 (which seems like a much more realistic date) Norwegian Arne Kruse and Dane Bjarne Thomsen have prodded and polished countless students in the Scandinavian languages at the University of Edinburgh, including the current head of the Scandinavian department. And now they were retiring, and there was to be a celebratory gathering and a handing over of a festschrift put together by their old friends and colleagues.
They knew this. It’s just they thought it was for the other one. They’d contributed, and they had a speech. About the other one.
But they were so touched by the surprise that the speeches suffered a little.
I thought the gathering was surprisingly full of older people until it dawned on me that the ones needing to honour these two men would of necessity be a little older than the young people who had lied to Arne and Bjarne, and tried to keep this a secret for a couple of years. Then it dawned on me that I was also an old people, permitted to be present because the editor of Bjarne’s book actually invited their mother.
There was much chat and tea and coffee before. After there was much more chat and cake and something in fancy glasses.
The Spice Boys name is from the 1990s when Arne and Bjarne started their annual mulled wine. Glögg.
Well, me. And a few other people, at least one of whom I know.
Personally I like my ambassadors to be present when I visit, but then they probably quite like me to be there when invited too. In the end neither the ambassador nor I made it, so I suppose we’re even. (I had a cough.)
The event was to celebrate the 40th birthday of SELTA, which took place in the ambassador’s home. You want a bit of bling on occasion. The embassy’s Kulturråd hosted the party, and the chair of SELTA was there, saying a few things. I have every faith in them, and I’m sure a great time was had by all.
Not only was it a birthday, but ‘chair Ian Giles announced the news that SELTA has been awarded Svenska Akademiens pris för introduktion av svensk kultur utomlands (the Swedish Academy’s Prize for the Introduction of Swedish Culture Abroad). This is an annual prize, established in 1992, for efforts to disseminate and promote Swedish culture outside of Sweden). The prize is worth SEK 160,000 (£12,600).’
I spent quite a bit of my Bloody Scotland weekend trying to hunt Elly Griffiths down. This entailed looking into bars; a thing I don’t normally do. I wanted her to sign a book, but by the time I had the book, Elly was nowhere to be found.
She was one of the crime writers taking part in Vaseem and Abir’s Red Hot Night of a Million Games. It was a very silly night, but a lot of fun, and it cheered both Daughter and me up. We’ll go next year too if it’s on. Daughter’s favourite was Luca Veste singing Hit Me Baby One More Time. Again. We got to wave our lit-up mobiles in the air and everything. Elly did some good moves with her maracas. Helen Fitzgerald played a convincing corpse on the floor. There was much cheating.
And when all’s said and done, it has very little to do with crime fiction, except that these authors are fun to spend time with.
In Houses From Hell, all I wanted to do was move the furniture on the stage around. Lovely, tartan armchairs, but Helen Grant, Lesley Thomson and Stuart Neville didn’t get to interact enough, because they were not seated in a convenient semi-circle. (Please take note!) Besides that, between you and me, they are quite creepy people. No, that’s not right. They have creepy interests and they put all sorts into their books. Helen even managed to scare her own husband.
When the programme for Bloody Scotland came I wanted to go to so many events. But I know my [lack of] strength, so decided to pace myself, and opted for four, thinking I could add to them later. When the time came, however, four seemed like really quite enough.
After many years of not meeting Martin Edwards in person, there was no way I was going to miss his Cosy Makes a Comeback event. I think of him as a cosy writer. And then he started off by saying he prefers traditional; not cosy. Conveniently enough both the other participants, Jonathan Whitelaw and S J Bennett, as well as the audience, were quick to adapt and the word traditional got a lot of airing. Big audience, too, so I have to say that we are many who like cosy crime. Pardon, traditional.
Hadn’t been sure how the death of the Queen was going to influence the discussion, seeing as S J’s detective actually is the Queen. But she has many plans, and always lets fictional characters do the actual deeds, so this may well continue working. Martin’s excellence at editing [other people’s] vintage crime got a mention, with very many of us being big fans and wanting to know that there will be more from the British Library. He’d initially expected to edit two. There are now over a hundred, so that clearly exceeded expectations.
At the cosy event (sorry!) I said hello to Lizzy Siddal, who I now recognised, and was introduced to her companion Marina Sofia. This turned out to be serendipitous since Marina bore down on me outside the room for the evening event about Detective Duos. We exchanged cards, the way civilised people do, and talked. A lot. For obvious reasons we were able to talk about funny foreigners. Marina is a publisher of translated crime. When Son arrived, in his role as translator of David Lagercrantz’s book, I introduced them, and it turned out they knew about each other already, and a lot more conversation took place.
The Detective Duos event was interesting, and I was pleased to finally come across Ayo Onatade who chaired it. Must have been aware of her for ten years at least. And I had thought it was her I saw down at the Albert Halls the previous night. It obviously was.
One day I’ll have to explain to David Lagercrantz about spoilers. Like not mentioning them too much at events… I liked new-to-me author Ajay Chowdhury, who is a Bloody Scotland-made success, having won a competition to write new crime. Having decided against buying his book before the event on the grounds that it was a hardback, I hurried out afterwards to hand over my money, and still make it to be first in the signing queue.
Simon Mason talked about his two DI R Wilkinses, and if I’d not already read and loved his book, I’d have bought that too. At the end Ayo put them all on the spot, and David agonised at great length before giving up on answering. (In case you want to know what it was about, I’m afraid I can’t remember.) When asked about their personal favourite detective duos, I was very pleased that Ajay chose Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Haven’t heard those names mentioned in a long time.
I then proceeded to confuse everyone by chatting to Simon and David at more or less the same time at the signing table, about different things in two different languages. I think maybe I won’t do that again. But it was nice to reminisce a little with Simon, and good to introduce myself as the mother of you-know-who to David, who got quite carried away. And he finally got to meet his translator. So I suppose that was all good.
Afterwards Son and Dodo and the Resident IT Consultant went for a beer somewhere. Probably not where I was looking for Elly. Instead I hugged an author and talked about cows with another while I waited outside on the pavement for Daughter to pick me up. It’s quite nice this, finding yourself right next to some favourite writers on the pavement (where many of them go to smoke. But not these two!).
As you may have guessed the cow conversation was with James Oswald, which in turn started Vaseem Khan on the Scots use of the word coo. I worked out later that they might have been on their way to Crime at the Coo. Talked elephants with Vaseem. Obviously. And said what fun we’d had the previous night. Soon after the hug Daughter turned up and she tried to invite him round for chilli. Vaseem turned us down very nicely. But we can try again next year.
So, as I said, you find a lot of authors milling about both in and out of the Golden Lion. And when the ticket table remained unstaffed for rather longer than it should have, Gordon Brown came to the rescue.
I surprised myself by reading David Lagercrantz’s Dark Music. But what with David appearing at Bloody Scotland this Saturday, and the fact that a copy of his book ended up in my hands, I decided to see what he could do with two detectives from two completely different backgrounds.
In fact, seen from my exile point of view, I am wondering why Chileans seem to pop up so much. Are they – the second generation immigrants – seen as more attractive than some other nationalities? More attractive to me, having met some of the parent generation fleeing Chile back in the day. Anyway, here we have Micaela Vargas, who almost ruins her family’s reputation by joining the police. I’m curious to see if her delinquent brothers will be made more of in future books.
And on the opposite, but same, side we have the Holmesian Hans Rekke, a professor who sees too much and who is frequently high on drugs. He’s rich, too. Being clever can be a drawback, and it can be hard to stop thinking, and seeing.
Together these two start solving a murder that the police gave up on. It’s 2003/2004 and most of the signs point to Afghanistan. The crime as such is perhaps not so interesting, but the way the two detectives interact is. And then there’s the government and various foreign agents. What’s so special about a football referee from Kabul?
I quite liked the way David introduces the next book. At least, I hope it’s the next book. So I suppose that means I want to see more of Vargas and Rekke?
Sally Jones and The Chief travel to Glasgow! Here is Jakob Wegelius’s new story about our favourite ape and her beloved chief, and it’s a good one. Glasgow offers up all manner of horrendous characters, and one or two good ones. And, I hadn’t thought this through before, but for the purposes of the story Sally Jones needs to be left alone and like so many parent figures in fiction, The Chief has to be temporarily removed.
They are both honourable creatures and that’s why they travelled to Scotland. While renovating their old ship, the Hudson Queen, they came upon something valuable, which they are determined to return to its rightful owner. If only they could find her.
The low lifes of Glasgow quickly send The Chief off on bad business, holding our dear ape hostage. But Sally Jones is no ordinary victim, so she manages to move ahead, towards some sort of solution. Old Glasgow is an interesting place, and so are the crooks you find there (although their names could in some cases have been a little more Scottish).
I won’t tell you more though. You will want to read and discover for yourselves how some decent people are not decent at all, and how some bad ones are not all rotten. But which ones?
With migraines rampaging quietly around Bookwitch Towers on Saturday morning, I decided to risk it and still travel through to Edinburgh where Daniel Hahn ‘was waiting’. Drugged and with enough nice sandwiches to last the afternoon, but perhaps not enough water, I got to the Edinburgh College of Art, and found Albertina’s where I interrupted Daniel mid-chat with director Nick Barley himself. He handed over the ‘goods’ and I left again.
Well, I did cast a quick look at the Spectacular Translation Machine Daniel was running with Sarah Ardizzone, asking non-French speakers to translate a picture book from French into English. Because that is so easy. I’ve seen them trying to trick people like this before.
Clutching my chairperson’s ticket for the day’s event [with Michael Rosen], I went over to the signing tent where I hoped to find most of the relevant books I’d been after. With hindsight I might have bought too few, but three are better than two. Or one. Ran into blogger Lizzy Siddall, Daniel’s ‘other stalker’ and we chatted a bit, about chairs* – as you do – and how to get rid of books.
Clutching my new ones, I went and sat in the ‘car park’ again, having developed a fondness for somewhere to picnic that’s level. Should have refilled my water bottle too, seeing as I was sitting right next to the tap.
After my sandwiches, it was time for Michael Rosen and his chair, Daniel Hahn. More about that tomorrow…
He’d found a pair of jeans in time for his first event on Sunday. No more need for Daniel Hahn to shiver in the relative ‘chill’ Edinburgh offered him. He was here to talk about his book Catching Fire, about translating Diamela Eltit’s Never Did the Fire, because you can never have enough books about other books.
It was one of those events I like so much. The book is fabulous and Daniel is always so [seemingly] relaxed when chatting in public like this. He started off with the regular crossed legs, but towards the end I noticed he’d sort of crept up in his armchair the way you do when sitting reading in the comfort of your own home.
Chaired by his publisher Sam McDowell of Charco Press, the two of them chatted about the sorts of things the large audience liked. Daniel is the kind of person who thinks carefully about what word to use in a particular place, and also the kind of son to accept an OBE ‘because he’s got parents.’ It made them happy. He also felt that an OBE is good for the general business of translating, no matter which translator is honoured.
Xenophobia is growing, so we need those foreign books. Without foreign language skills, we need someone to translate those books for us.
Something I’d never thought of is that Daniel’s English is not the same as other people’s; it all depends on how and where and with whom you grow up. So any translation will rely on the language that particular translator has. It’s very interesting.
He read a few pages from his book, and as ever it was entertaining both for what it was and how Daniel reads. It just made me want to reread Catching Fire again.
After this event in the Northside Theatre, we all mostly trooped over to the signing tent where I was happy to note I wasn’t at the end of the queue. Having acquired a post-it with my name on so he’d know who I was 😊.
He put it to the side as he wrote a nice long message, after which I felt it prudent to retrieve my post-it before he signed all the books after me to Ann. Nice enough name, but it’d be confusing.