The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star

I just love Ganesha, the baby elephant detective in Vaseem Khan’s Inspector Chopra novels! And I rather admire Poppy, aka Mrs Chopra. (I may have mentioned this before. Like every time I review Vaseem’s books.) I reckon Poppy is finding herself, going from loving wife of a police inspector to someone who… Well, maybe better not give it away, but there were one or two scenes in this, the third outing for Chopra and his elephant, that made me laugh out loud. Poppy knows her mind, but she still can’t prevent her personality from getting the better of her.

This crime adventure is set within the Bollywood business, but it is also pure Bollywood in itself. It is colourful and crazy, while also showing the reader the serious side to life in India; how some people have very few rights and lead dreadful lives.

Vaseem Khan, The Strange Didappearance of a Bollywood Star

Chopra’s sidekick Rangwalla has his own mystery to solve and he definitely discovers a few things about himself that he’s not proud over. But people can change.

So on the one side we have a kidnapped Bollywood hero and on the other we meet the Mumbai eunuchs. Chopra’s decent behaviour gets him into trouble, and were it not for those around him who love him; Ganesha, his adoptive boy Irfan, Poppy, his staff and his friends, things wouldn’t have ended so well.

Forgive me if I keep going on about how much I love these books. There is a charm and a decency, coupled with humour and a good crime plot and a fantastic setting. It leaves me wanting to learn more, but first I want some of chef Lucknowwallah’s food. And I’d like an elephant best friend.

Dads and Ducks

David Melling, Just Like My Daddy

I might be in love with David Melling.

Just in time for Father’s Day we have the re-issued Just Like My Daddy. We meet a young lion cub who rather admires his fierce and clever lion daddy. The adult reader can tell daddy is not perfect, and maybe the little lion can too. I don’t know.

But he definitely loves his dad. And so does all his friends.

This picture book shows you a new side to the powerful lion image. But a dad’s a dad, anyway.

David Melling, Colour with Splosh!

And if you want more, I give you ducks. They are also by David Melling, and Colour with Splosh! is a lovely and fun take on colours and rhymes, with the most adorable ducks.

And one rabbit.

There is just something about David’s style…

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.

Rook

In Rook we’re back with Nicky and Kenny from Anthony McGowan’s Brock and Pike, and it is as enjoyable and fun and excellent and heartrending as the first two books were.

Anthony McGowan, Rook

Both boys are growing and Nicky, who’s the younger of the two, is surprised to realise that Kenny is a person in his own right; and not just a special needs boy who must be helped at all times.

This time they find an injured rook and Kenny simply has to take it home to nurse it back to health. Nicky helps, but he’s finding life extra taxing because he’s being bullied at school. And he’s in love.

It’s hard, and it goes bad, but things can be sorted out eventually, except perhaps for the library closing hours, robbing Nicky of a safe place to escape to. These books are so inspiring and give the reader so much! And if your brother claims to be friends with Doctor Who, well, maybe he really is.

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!

Empathy

Today is Empathy Day.

Basically, it’s about how reading helps you become more empathic. It’s something I never stopped to consider, much. But it’s obvious, really.

Reading broadens the mind, in so many ways. If you don’t read much – or at all – it will be a lot harder to develop empathy with and for others.

Empathylab.uk has information you can use, and also this rather lovely illustration by Chris Riddell to inspire you.

Chris Riddell for empathy Lab

Read stories. Build empathy. Make a better world.