Category Archives: Travel

Socks and chocs

I know I’ve used this quote before, but the 2017 version runs ‘ if I build it, they will come.’ And how lucky that was, since it rained all day long. The day before was fine. I dare say today will also be fine.

But as I said, we had built the new room, so not only was it spider-free and dry (i.e. no rain indoors, not no wine), but it was big enough to house another load of starved (well, why else would they come?) children’s authors, distaff side, whom I had optimistically invited to lunch.

The Resident IT Consultant ran a [free] taxi service from and back to the station. I furnished him with descriptions of what people ought to look like. Which is a little hard when I hadn’t necessarily met them myself.

These kind people arrived bearing chocolates, bottles, home baking and flowers. They really didn’t have to. But it is much appreciated.

Whereas not only am I the kind of host who forgets to pour more tea or wine, but before most of the guests arrived I sat down and ate a pakora, or two, right in front of Helen Grant, who for technical reasons arrived early. I was hungry. And the Indian delivery service had sent more than I ordered.

We talked about a lot of things, like how we prefer to hang socks when washed. Paired, colour-coded, neatly, or any old way. You can make new friends when you discover you share views on how to deal with socks. I added my thoughts on how to load the dishwasher.

It seems there is something called Zombie running. And you might meet someone who wrote the books your children used to adore, causing a minor fan situation.

At times (nearly the whole time, in fact) the sound levels rose so high it was virtually impossible to hear about socks, let alone anything else. Everyone’s secrets are perfectly safe.

And they left, mentioning ‘next year.’

The second lunch

Barefoot among the prawns

Halmstad Library

Earlier this year I just missed the opening of the refurbished children’s department at Halmstad Library, and I promised myself I’d go along and have a look later. This I’ve now done. I wasn’t sure at first if it’d be a noticeable change, or just some new paint here and there.

Halmstad Library

It was much more than that, and really quite attractive. They have money to spend in Sweden, and children and books do well. There is a tiny carpeted bridge for small feet to run across. And back. And back again.

Halmstad Library

In fact there are several carpeted areas for small children to crawl on all fours in. And bigger children to just enjoy lazing around in. You have to take your shoes off, and there are signs that make this quite clear and there are pigeon holes to put the shoes in.

They have a small kitchen style room to the side, called a workshop, where parents and young children sit round a kitchen table, doing stuff. I wish I could have taken Offspring somewhere like that, back when.

Halmstad Library

There is an astronomy area, with space-y carpet. And there are tables at which you can play Ludo and similar. I was gratified to discover a prominently displayed copy of Kodnamn Verity, that well-known book by Elizabeth Wein, my second favourite, ever.

Halmstad Library

That was in translation, but should you need fiction in English, there are many shelf metres of the stuff. More than in some English language libraries.

Halmstad Library

Further along there are still the comfy lime-green armchairs for adults and plenty of desks for people to plonk their laptops down and work. That is if they are able to with such a good view of the river outside.

Halmstad Library

And when you’ve had enough carpet and wifi you can eat a fresh prawn sandwich in the adjacent café. By that I mean freshly shelled prawns, and even I was surprised to find this kind of quality in a library. Plentiful prawns too.

But if you’re tempted to think this is unadulterated paradise, it isn’t. I lost my balance a little, standing next to the carpeted moon surface and put one little shoe-clad foot over the edge of the carpet. Luckily for the safety of any child, the librarian wasn’t too busy to notice and she was able to come and tell me off straightaway.

On occasion I feel that Swedes need to consider public relations and kindness, and not merely the cleanliness of carpets or style to die for.

Bookwitch bites #143

‘If the bacon flashes…’ It was late. I was tired. And some sign appeared to mention flashing bacon at Edinburgh airport. The second time I looked it said beacon. Whatever. I need to give up careless reading.

Holiday postal yield

We arrived home in the middle of the night. Thank goodness for 24 hour M&S where you can get your milk and juice and bread. Not to mention blueberries. Possibly also bacon. The postman hadn’t been too busy carting vanfuls of books to Bookwitch Towers while we were gone. Almost half of what you can see here arrived five minutes before we left. We had a quick look, in case there was anything that warranted a change of holiday reading plans. Yeah, I know the armchair should be for sitting in, but the books had to go somewhere.

Our leftover holiday milk was left (obviously) for Son who took over after us. His route from Helsingborg on Friday had him meandering between visiting the New Librarian, picking up Dodo in Copenhagen and [finally!] meeting ‘his’ author Andreas Norman, a mere three years – or is it four? – after translating Into A Raging Blaze. Seems selfies are the way to go these days. (My arms are too short.)

Andreas Norman and Ian Giles

On the home front the Carnegie Medal was busy being given to Ruta Sepetys on Monday. I wish I had read her winning book, Salt to the Sea, but despite no one sending it my way, I am sure it was a worthy winner. I’ve loved Ruta’s other books, and the refugee topic is as important today as it was in 1945.

Ending on a sad note, Swedish author Ulf Stark died a week ago. Having spent most of my life fairly unaware of him, it’s been different since I met Ulf in Manchester five years ago. There is never a good age to die, but Ulf was definitely too young to go at 72. Goodbye, and thanks for the singing.

Ulf Stark

Phonetics

Almost the moment she joined us on holiday ten days ago, I hit Daughter with Daniel Jones. Well, no, first we went and had delicious Princess pastries in white. They are usually a lurid green, and somehow tasted better in white.

But after that she made the ‘mistake’ of asking about Phonetics. Seems her French teacher is really a lecturer, or maybe professor or something, of Phonetics. So he uses it to teach his astrophysicists French. I hesitate to say ‘pearls before swine’ as that is very unkind. What I mean is that these intelligent scientists are not necessarily the best customers to make good use of his expertise with the funny upside-down letters and all the rest.

I felt fairly sure that Mother-of-witch had a copy of Daniel Jones, so went in search of this to show Daughter. And there it was, right next to some other dictionaries. His English Pronouncing Dictionary; the bible which some of us relied on when the saying of words got too difficult. In fact, I ought to go back to using Mr Jones as there are often words I prefer not to say, in case I get them wrong.

And Daughter, to give her her due, was actually interested in what the old witch had to show her, and saved the information by taking photographs of the relevant pages with her mobile phone… She even showed some interest in my old favourite, the Vowel Diagram.

Because whatever you think of Phonetics, it makes sense. The back-to-front letter e sounds the same in French as it does in English. Try it and see. Hear.

Daniel Jones, English Pronouncing Dictionary

The cover of Mother-of-witch’s copy turned out to be pretty lurid as well, like the green cake we didn’t have. It’s all stripey in pinks and yellows. A very cheerful sight when you are struggling. My own copy is just red.

Winning SWEA over

‘Who’s giving Son this money then?’ the Retired Children’s Librarian asked. On being told it was SWEA she turned out to be better informed than I’d assumed (it’s a women’s organisation) and asked if they’d made a mistake. Haha. As if male candidates can’t receive a stipend from them. They can. And Son did.

Seeing as SWEA International were to hand over his prize at a ceremony in Helsingborg last night and we were actually not too far way, the Resident IT Consultant and I decided to invite ourselves to this mingling with the Mayor, followed by speeches and the handing over of flowers and pretend cheques.

Earlier in the day I’d walked past the Town Hall and noticed that the main entrance was closed, wondering if I’d not be able to make a grand entrance after all. But by the time the mingling commenced it was open and we all trotted up those imposing stairs.

The Mayor spoke about his town and then he took selfies with the assembled ladies (and three gentlemen). From there we moved into the room where the serious town hall stuff happens, and the four recipients of the prizes were introduced.

The dentist was out first; the beautiful Iranian Nikoo Bazsefidpay who has started up a Swedish Dentists sans frontieres, if you can imagine, which made her Swedish Woman of the Year (Årets Svenska Kvinna). Young children in Zimbabwe now go to school more happily in the mornings, because they get to brush their teeth there…

Next came Son for research into the Swedish language, literature and society, and even though I’d already read his speech, I found it interesting. But then I would. Son even included a photo of our bookshelves, from before he ‘borrowed’ our Martin Beck novels. We’ve not seen them since.

Third was Sami Elin Marakatt in full national dress, who taught us to say hello in North Sami (very different from South Sami, apparently). She will use her Intercultural Relations money to study cross border movements of reindeer in Tromsø. I find the way some people feel so definitely belonging in a certain geographical spot in this world so very reassuring, somehow.

Last but not least was 16-year-old ballet dancer Agnes Rosendahl, who dances all day long, and who will go to school in Copenhagen where she will dance even more. She showed us her toe-dancing shoes which, if I understood her correctly, have concrete in the tips.

IMG_0760

After much photographing, the SWEA ladies and their winning guests walked off to Dunkers Kulturhus for a well deserved dinner. The Resident IT Consultant and I wolfed down some sandwiches in the car before driving north with Son’s flowers.

Hopefully they will not be dead when he shows up next week. Although it won’t matter; he’ll be so sleep deprived by then that he won’t see them.

Meyer on Meyer

One of the loveliest things is when a superb publicist grabs hold of me and introduces me to an author I know nothing about at all, but someone I find I really do want to learn more about. I knew Deon Meyer is a big name in the world of crime, and I could sort of place him in South Africa. But I didn’t know that he writes in Afrikaans and not in English. He is visiting Europe right now, on what is mainly a Dutch book tour, with a couple of days in London, to publicise his brand new novel Fever (which between you and me looks like a fabulous read).

Deon and I were meant to email chat one evening this week, but holiday wifi being what it turned out to be, it was as well that we had a plan B. Nothing will stop me from asking famous authors silly questions, so here goes:

Deon Meyer, Fever

Tell me who Deon Meyer really is! How famous are you? Do people stop you in the street? Any relation to Stephenie Meyer? (I’m almost not serious about the last question.)

In South Africa people do – and I have been stopped in France too. In the UK I was stopped once, but that was by people who wanted directions. I also admit to being stopped for speeding.  And my wife’s beauty stops me in my tracks every time!

I was fascinated to learn that you write in Afrikaans; somehow one just expects people from ‘English speaking’ countries to turn to English for most things intended to travel. Did you ever consider not using Afrikaans, or is that as stupid a question as people asking me whether I really speak Swedish? (Which, of course, I don’t actually expect you to know the answer to.)

May I first say that South Africa is not an English speaking country … it is actually a Zulu speaking country. There are as many other languages spoken  there as there are English speakers. Then I would say that writing is tough anyway – and to do it in a second language, constantly searching for the correct word, would be tricky if not downright difficult. And thirdly, even though the Afrikaans book market is relatively small, it is immensely strong, and to lose out on that market would be financially imprudent of me ..!

Not sure whether I just imagined this, but do you translate your books yourself? If so, does that feel a bit weird?

No – I have a wonderful translator who does a terrific job of moving me from Afrikaans into English – for the English speaking market.  For most other languages I have to trust my foreign editors and believe them when they say the job has been done well. Of them all, I think Chinese is the biggest mystery.

I’m assuming the reason you have a Dutch book tour now, is that you are particularly popular in the Netherlands (and Belgium?)? Are the two languages close enough that there are no language barriers with your Dutch fans?

Actually, Afrikaans isn’t that similar to Dutch at all, so that is a good question, and there really is no simple answer. Slow, clear and unaccented speech makes it a bit easier – but that ‘ardly ever ‘appens. As they say …

And does the Afrikaans/Dutch aspect sort of make you a little bit Nordic? By which I mean half Anglo, but also half something completely different; something that means you stand out from the UK/US crowd [of crime writers]?

I don’t know the answer to this one!

If you weren’t Deon Meyer, who would you like to be?

If I wasn’t me … hmmm.  Let me think.  I’d say Ridley Scott because I love his visual storytelling, and it would be wonderful to have the opportunity to make a big budget, entertaining movie.

Do you happen to know what young South African readers like to read? (The one person I know, whom I asked, could only suggest Harry Potter…) I ask because children’s and YA books are closest to my heart.

The young in South Africa do read the same sort of books as British (and Swedish) children. Most of what is available here is available there – for young adults as well. They also love to read Facebook posts, of course.

What do you yourself read for pleasure?

I have been meaning for some time to read Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants… which I now am.  He is such a great storyteller, I don’t mind taking on a big book – and it is part of a trilogy, so I know there is lots to come.  I am an omnivorous reader – I even read the labels on the condiment bottles on tables … I find it fascinating how some makers can disguise what goes into their product. But crime and suspense fiction are still my favourites.

Finally – if you’ve survived my questions this far – please tell me you have a favourite Swede? (A simple ‘yes’ is not enough of an answer.)

My favourite Swede choice would be Svante Weyler – my Swedish publisher.  He is a great guy, a really smart bloke and a wonderful publisher – and if I can’t be Ridley Scott, I want to be Svante Weyler.

Deon Meyer © Guido Schwarz

I have met Svante, and I’m inclined to agree with Deon, with the exception of perhaps not wanting to turn into him. Admiration is enough. Now I want to meet Deon, either as himself, as Ridley Scott or as Svante Weyler. And how right this speedy and romantic man is regarding languages. Zulu… I should have known!

With many thanks to the ever efficient Kerry Hood for organising this opportunity to put Deon on the spot, and with rather less thanks to the local mobile network masts. But we beat you, so there!

And I’m off to read a nearby ketchup bottle.

Ready, steady, go

Really? Can they do this to me?

I had coldly calculated that I’d start my Edinburgh International Book Festival late this year. That way I can have a slightly longer/later August holiday and still be there to take in the generally excellent authors coming to do school events in the second week.

But the programme, which was made public yesterday, is busy scuppering those plans. I will have to talk to myself and see what I can do. My favourite author is appearing on one of the first days! But at least she [Meg Rosoff] is appearing.

And there are others. In fact, I think I can confidently state that there will be authors, good ones, almost every single day for the 17 (18 if you count the school finale) days the book festival is on. That’s without me even checking the details of adult authors who are going to be there. Authors for adults. Most of them are adults in themselves.

Then we have the news that the festival is spilling out of Charlotte Square and onto George Street this year. This is both exciting and slightly worrying, for those of us who like things to be exactly the same as it always was. How can I imagine an event in a venue I’ve never seen?

It will be fine. Well, it will be, setting aside the vaguely annoying fact that my Photographer has plans to, well, not to be there, this year. She claims to be as upset about it as I am. For the inconvenience, you understand.

Charlotte, and George, here I come!