Category Archives: Travel

Murder on the Caledonian

I mean drinks. Of course I do. There was no murder.

After I arrived at King’s Cross, which was not Euston, I then had to travel home again. After I’d done what I came for. To confuse matters, I travelled home from Euston.

Rather than spend the night in a hotel (I find I’m going off hotels) I suggested to Son we should book ourselves on the Caledonian Sleeper, and travel in style. I’m keener now, since discovering the beds have new mattresses and pillows, as well as duvets and duvet covers. The beds are still narrow, but the rest is fine.

We had an interconnecting door between our ‘rooms.’ Son was awfully excited by this and had to take a photo. (I hasten to add that he is so young and I am so old, that both of us qualify for a third off the fare, which is how you make this affordable. Before you think I’m rich, or something.)

He then invited me for a bedtime drink in the Lounge. It was very civilised and straight out of Agatha Christie. (Until the Americans turned up.)

While Son had something I’m glad mother-of-witch couldn’t see, I had tea. Or it would have been tea had the lovely barman not forgotten the teabag. But that just added to the jollity, and with teabag, the tea tasted like nectar. (Well, it had been a long day.)

There were a few other passengers drinking, chatting politely to strangers across the aisle. Someone ‘old,’ who looked like they came straight from the opera, and a white-shirted beautiful young man who could have starred in any Poirot you care to mention.

So there we were, enjoying our Agatha-ness and the sophistication of sleeper travel. No one was being murdered or anything.

When in walked a party of Americans, maybe ten of them. I love Americans, but these were so very American, somehow. Loud, dissatisfied with what they found, ordering American whisky and not liking there was none. Suggesting there ought to have been soft music in the background. (Wouldn’t have been enough of a sound barrier.) Taking photos of each other and wanting to put them on Facebook, asking if there was wi-fi.

Thank goodness there was no wi-fi.

There could have been murder. (I’m hoping they went to Glasgow. I didn’t see them – or hear them – in the morning.)

Nine and three quarters

I passed through King’s Cross again last week. It doesn’t happen often, but I am slowly getting used to the place. I am especially getting used to it not being Euston. When I first began travelling south on the East Coast trains it was hard to unthink my mind from arriving off a West Coast train. I’d even planned my route to the nearest cash machine, when I realised I was in the ‘wrong’ station.

It’s quite nice there, though. Much fancier than it used to be in my InterRail days. Although, because of that, it feels less charmingly English. But that’s just me being difficult. And the IRA bomb dealt with the charm.

This time I even stopped for long enough to read the sign above the escalator near platform 9 3/4 to discover that it is actually the convenient way to the tube. Should you have arrived off the Hogwarts Express and wish to cross London in the conventional way.

Last week the queue for platform 9 3/4 was far longer than those for the more normal trains. It seems people will happily queue for this. Judging by the amount of Swedish flying all around me, it must have been half term in some part of Sweden.

I’ve not actually investigated what it is you do once you’re at the head of the queue. I think you merely borrow a scarf, which someone then holds on to for you, and someone else takes a photo as you attempt to ram the brick wall. And your parents or friends may also take a photo. I think. One which presumably is rather cheaper than the official one.

I’ve never seen the cost mentioned, but I’m sure there is a price to pay. There always is.

It could, of course, be worth it.

Likewise, I’ve not gone into the Harry Potter shop next to it. Strikes me like a very risky thing to do. (I well recall visiting the Harrods toy department just before Christmas 2001. We exited the proud owners of a lovely Hermione Granger, but she also came at a cost.)

Cornelia and her Mount Everest

Cornelia Funke Blog Tour

And, bringing up the rear, here is Bookwitch interviewing Cornelia Funke on the last day of the blog tour for Reckless, The Golden Yarn. Good things come to those who wait, and I knew – somehow – that talking to Cornelia would be good, even if I had to chase her to Newcastle’s Seven Stories to do it.

I was right. Cornelia is the kind of woman I’d happily chat to some more. And aren’t languages – foreign ones, even – the best? Where would we have been if we’d not both of us paid attention in school? I’d not have got far in German, and for all her early reading of Astrid Lindgren, I guess Cornelia’s Swedish isn’t very fluent. If at all.

Here she is, on standing up to publishers, editing, languages and the beauty of Los Angeles, coyotes and all. And, well, the naked man who traditionally plays the violin, standing in some river or other. She knows about him too.

What was I thinking???

Have you any idea how often I ask myself this? On Tuesday I asked the question so often and so loudly that you could be forgiven for thinking it had been a while, whereas the question had popped up only last Friday.

Do you remember SELTA? I blogged about them last year. They are the Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association, and they do things I’m sort of interested in. And on Tuesday it was time for their AGM in London, and they thought it’d be good to ask a few ‘translated literature’ bloggers over for some light entertainment at the end. I was one of them, and why anyone would think I can speak in the first place, and why I might measure up next to two people who read almost exclusively translated, and literary, books, is beyond me.

But there I was, pretending to speak about translation and other linguistic stuff. This is when I wasn’t feeling petrified at the mere idea. I garbled a few things at them, and I distinctly recall them laughing at one point, so I must have said something amusing. Shame I can’t remember what. I could use it again, if I did.

Wait a minute! No, that would suggest I’d ever do this again. No need to know what was funny.

They encouraged the asking of questions, so I asked whether they read the book before they translate it. Interesting reaction. Some do, some don’t. Those who do were shocked to find others don’t.

My co-speakers were Stu Allen of Winstonsdad’s Blog, and Ann Morgan from A Year of Reading the World. As you will find if you look them up, they read adult books in translation. Ann spent a year reading a book from every country in the world, a while back. And Stu reads books from all over the world, as long as they have been translated.

And then there was me. Let’s just say I wasn’t the most accomplished speaker in the room.

But it was fun. Afterwards, I mean. Never again, though. Most likely.

I threw them a challenge. I spoke to Fiona Graham who was the one who did the sample translation of My Mum’s a Gorilla – So What? that I so enjoyed last year. Dr Death was there. So was Deborah Bragan-Turner who did me the honour of interviewing me a year ago. She did it so well that when the Resident IT Consultant re-read the Swedish Book Review, he felt I’d get on well with ‘that person.’ Until he discovered that was me. Ruth Urbom, who was the one who invited me, and many others. They could all tell what was wrong with ‘sugar cake’ but hamburgerkött was less obvious. (Horse meat…)

Afterwards we went to the pub. And after that Son and I went to Diwana Bhel Poori, before we slept our way north (where I was – accidentally – greeted on the platform by Helen Grant). And that’s where I am now.

(Home, not on the platform. Obviously.)

The author crack’d

Well, what do you do? You have an event, some distance away from where you live. And you discover you are pretty ill on the day. You have that stomach bug your child got a day or two ago.

Authors are hardworking people for the most part. They don’t want to let people down, so obviously you work out how (if) you can somehow stagger to this – sold out – event tonight and deliver what you have agreed to do. (Even if it ‘kills’ you.)

The thing is, it’s the killing, or seriously affecting, other people you need to think about. Not whether you can stay upright for long enough to get through an event.

Someone on social media recently started a discussion on this very subject and after the first comments of encouragement, the sensible brigade stepped in and told the author on no account was he/she to travel. Reminders were posted on the effects their noble suffering could have on the audience, the organisers, people on the train there, and so on.

(This is the problem with a society that allows for no weakness. Far too many people believe that you should stretch yourself that little bit more; come into work with a sniffle or a temperature. But it’s not just the discomfort or danger for the patient to be considered. It’s everyone else. Is the office really benefitting from X passing on what they are suffering from to most of the others?)

And no amount of disappointment because you didn’t get to see your chosen author that evening can make up for hundreds more people falling ill, potentially seriously, if they are vulnerable.

It made me recall Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. It’s one thing to innocently go out before you know you’ve caught a virus. Quite another to go out when you know.

The author stayed at home. And the organisers found a – very attractive – replacement. So there was not even the need for them to turn away a venue full of literary fans. They got an event, and if they contracted any vomiting bugs, it wasn’t from our original author.

‘Fantasy readers are much better people’

I have to agree with Garth Nix there. Maybe. It’s not every day someone ushers a writer like Garth from the room, so I can have some peace and quiet, but this happened yesterday at Seven Stories in Newcastle. I was there to interview Cornelia Funke. Garth’s presence was an added bonus, and it was lovely to see him.

War Horse at Seven Stories

Newcastle wasn’t quite as complicated as it was when I was last there. The train was on time. The taxis behaved – sort of – normally. Seven Stories was just as nice, and they had several exhibitions on, including one about Michael Morpurgo, and as I waited for Cornelia, I visited all seven floors for a quick look. So did the woman with the pram, who was trying to locate her husband. I hope there was a happy ending for them.

Chris Riddell at Seven Stories

Cornelia arrived with her publicist Vicki, and along with Garth we were conveyed to a quiet room, with only one Tiger [who came to tea] in it. And then Garth was conveyed somewhere else. Cornelia and I had our chat, which I had ended up re-planning in the middle of the night when I came up with a more important question for her.

Cornelia Funke Blog Tour

Afterwards I climbed up to the seventh floor where I waited for Garth’s and Cornelia’s event to start, along with a few early fans, and I suffered only mild vertigo. In more than one direction, but I survived.

Cornelia Funke and Garth Nix at Seven Stories

I do love that room at the top, though! All those beams with fairy lights strung all over! And I reached the purple sofa first.

Garth talked about his premature idea of writing postapocalyptic dystopia, and he and Cornelia both agreed that writers write what they want to write. He works  towards the iceberg idea, where the story in the book is 10% with the other 90% existing in the writer’s mind. With fantasy you dig deeper, and it is more realistic than realism…

Cornelia Funke and Garth Nix at Seven Stories

A lot of fantasy is about boundaries; crossing them, or not crossing them. Cornelia who is now thinking six books for her Reckless series, is working on the fourth, which is exclusively Japanese fairy tales. Her plans for writing is to continue her three different series (which sounds like something her fans will approve of), taking them further.

There was some advice on what to do when meeting bears, but if it’s a grizzly I believe this will mostly mean the bears eating [you]. Garth grew up in Canberra where you are never far from the wilderness, and he had some tale about his father, who sounds as if he was the one who taught little Garth to lie so fluently.

Just as well, since he is monolingual, and quite jealous of Cornelia and her several languages. (She helpfully pointed out that speaking two languages protects you against Alzheimer’s.) In the US they believe Garth is English on account of how he speaks…

Cornelia Funke

After the Q&A session, Garth and Cornelia did a signing, and this was very much the kind of place where diehard fans had arrived carrying piles and piles of books, and much time was spent talking about whatever you talk about with your favourite author. Photos were taken, and even I had an offer of being photographed with Cornelia. But you know me; that’s not how I operate if I can help it.

Garth Nix

The first signing was followed by a second signing downstairs in the bookshop, where I carefully studied what they had for sale. A lot of good books.

Cornelia Funke

And then I went to check on my earlier booking for a taxi, joining other hopefuls on the pavement outside. Eventually I managed to persuade one driver that I probably was the Annie who had booked a taxi to the railway station.

(My apologies to any Annies left behind in Lime Street…)

Seven Stories

A view of the laureate

If I’d known he’d one day be the children’s laureate, I’d never have addressed Chris Riddell as deluded the first time I emailed him. But I didn’t know, and I did.

Although, he started it, by contacting me and wondering if he might be deluded. I suppose he didn’t have the slightest inkling about any laureateships either.

Now, however, I always feel I must be on my best behaviour around Chris, and that’s a thought I have until I see him, and realise – yet again – what a nice and normal person he is. Not deluded, and just the right amount of stately to carry off the fancy title.

Anyway, enough with the musings about whether one has to be extra polite or not. Here is the interview, and it only took me a month to get it ready. (Never travel or have the builders in when you have a laureate interview to transcribe.)

Chris Riddell with questions box