Tag Archives: ALMA

Bookwitch bites #59

Happy 95th Birthday to Mary Stewart! It’s so fantastic to know that someone I began admiring over forty years ago is still alive, although retired from writing those wonderful novels with the perfect heroines and their dashing love interests.

If I hadn’t been so forgetful earlier, I wouldn’t have needed to ask Shaun Tan about who handed over the Astrid Lindgren award earlier this year. I had carefully saved this photo of Shaun with Crown Princess Victoria. He looks fairly pleased, and she is wearing a nice blue dress.

Shaun Tan and Crown Princess Victoria

And while not exactly an award, who’d have thought that Severus Snape would turn out to be so popular? Snape won the Bloomsbury vote for favourite Harry Potter character, followed by Hermione and Sirius. I suppose it was all that moody and half romantic swoosh of the cape that did it.

I’m not in the slightest surprised that Michelle Magorian’s wonderful book Just Henry has been picked by ITV to be filmed. Actually, it has already been filmed, as far as I understand, and it will turn up on television this Christmas. That’s definitely something to look forward to.

A little sooner than that there is the Bath Kids LitFest later this month. Surprise, surprise, but I’m not going to be there. Again. I’m still recuperating from excessive LitFesting. One year I really will make it down to that very beautiful city. Decades after my first visit I still remember all the tearooms I found. Anyway, enough about food I’m not going to eat. They have a relay blog story thing going during the period leading up to the start of the festival and on until the ‘bitter end.’ Lots of big author names are taking part, and even the odd blogger.

Bath Big Story

Click here for the first instalment. Then you need to follow the trail for each chapter.

I’m now getting ready to dance on the table, so have no more time for this blogging business. See you tomorrow!

A masterclass with Shaun Tan

Those pillows were definitely not necessary. Or perhaps the couple in Shaun Tan’s audience last night had been shopping?

The word masterclass makes me suspect that whatever is coming will be boring. But I didn’t for a moment think Shaun would be, and he wasn’t. In fact, I almost wish more events were done in this way. It’s not for everyone, but for those who can.

Charlotte Square’s Corner Theatre was almost full to bursting. I was glad to see Mal Peet there, making up for missing the other Aussie earlier on. Nikki Gamble was there, but Andersen’s Clare was stuck on the train home and was devastated to miss Shaun.

I occasionally worry that I shouldn’t use words like weird in connection with this marvellous – but weird – artist and author, but he used it himself. So that’s all right, then. Shaun had a presentation on his Mac, which he described as ‘very weird stuff, somewhat autobiographical’. As Janet Smyth who introduced him said, it’s been a good year for Shaun. He won an Oscar for The Lost Thing, and then there was that pile of money from Sweden, which now that I think of it, isn’t nearly large enough for Shaun’s talents.

He usually imagines himself talking to his brother, who has a ‘radar for pretentiousness’, and this decides how Shaun describes things. His mother is responsible for the phrase ‘it’s a cultural thing’ which I have recently adopted, because it is so useful. And it’s his architect father who inspired his style of drawing.

Shaun often kicks off with Eric, the tale about the foreign exchange student. It seems they once had an ‘Eric’ themselves, and he was Finnish. That’s why he didn’t talk much. The emotion is under the surface, but it is there.

I was struck by the Tove Jansson quality of the picture that stayed as Shaun’s backdrop for most of the talk. More Finnish-ness. Shaun has travelled from dinosaurs at age three via sci-fi and Star Wars at school to books like The Arrival which took five years to make.

Let’s hope that the Astrid Lindgren award money doesn’t go towards a dishwasher. Shaun does his thinking over the washing up, and where would we be if that stopped? Also, he doesn’t like work, so tries to prune as much as he can off potential work before he even begins.

That’s my kind of person!

And so is his art. Except as he said, he leaves enough space in his work for the readers to put themselves there. So maybe it’s just that he has left what I need to make those beautiful books mine.

Tales From Outer Suburbia

It’s (slightly weird) art, with words added. And I don’t know how Shaun Tan does it. The inside of his mind must be a very ‘interesting’ place to be. He sees more than most of us, turning that seeing into marvellously odd pictures. And then Shaun adds the briefest of stories to go with those images.

Tales From Outer Suburbia is yet another wonderful (and I mean wonderful in the old way; full of wonders) book from Shaun. It’s a collection of short short stories. The story about Eric, the foreign student, is in here. Interesting seeing it differently laid out on the page. It almost changes the story.

Who would think of a wise old water buffalo for a story? Or poetry growing into a large paper ball? Just reading that turned the description of the ball into poetry for me. The weird ‘pre-wedding’ treasure hunt, featuring television sets with teeth, and presumably something Shaun thought of after seeing the traditional Just Married car with posterior dangly bits.

Shaun Tan, Tales From Outer Suburbia

The hidden gardens, or the stick figures (absolutely loved the pictures for that one!), reindeer, amnesia with ice cream. Or how about having your very own intercontinental ballistic missile? It makes so much sense. So does making your own pet from leftover bits. The dog wake. Falling off the edge of your map is more of a danger than I had imagined.

Even the end is something to read. It’s so simple, the way Shaun starts and ends a book, except if it’s that easy, then surely everyone would be doing it?

Shaun Tan, Tales From Outer Suburbia

My favourite story is Broken Toys. It’s enough to make you cry.

The foreign exchange student

Eric is the tale of a foreign exchange student, which covers the same ground as many of us have experienced, either as the student or as the host. It can be horrible, but it can also be quite wonderful. We are all so different, while still fundamentally similar. And it’s not always easy to work out how to behave.

Shaun Tan, Eric

This lovely little book by Shaun Tan proves what a worthy winner of the Astrid Lindgren award he is. It’s mainly pictures, with few words. That doesn’t make it a young children’s book, though. It’s a thought-provoking story that can help us see what is important in life.

Eric is a most unusual visitor, and his hosts are unsure whether he is happy or not. But they do try hard, and offer him many experiences.

Having a foreign visitor can also get you started on thinking about the whys and hows of your own life. It often comes down to being a ‘cultural thing.’

The Arrival

That could be me. Except I suppose maybe it couldn’t. The man in Shaun Tan’s The Arrival is fleeing something bad, and I didn’t. He has to leave his family and his country. I chose to.

But the feeling of being an outsider in a strange place is something we share, even though I didn’t end up in a place anywhere near as strange as where Shaun’s man goes. But to continue on the theme from Hidden, people really don’t choose to go somewhere else when it’s so difficult and so different.

Shaun has done something very clever by making the place his man ends up in unlike anything real. If it had been America, say – and it certainly looks a little like America – then many of us would fall into the trap that says the man is really lucky to end up somewhere like that. Now we can all look at the weird, and occasionally wonderful, world the man reaches at the end of his long and hard journey, and feel insecure along with him.

I suppose many of us have gone on holiday some place where we don’t speak (enough of) the language, and we haven’t the faintest idea of what to buy to eat. Or where, or how. We don’t know what that thing on the plate is. We don’t know how to get to where we are going. The signs are all in an unrecognisable language. Anything which you’d think would be ordinary and manageable isn’t.

Tan Shaun, The Arrival

The logical thing is to assume the man is leaving a European regime that is bad. And he ends up in America. Perhaps. He reminds me of someone. I can only think it’s someone in a film, because I feel I know more about him than you find out from the book. He is small and quiet and polite. He has few needs, other than somewhere to sleep, something to eat, and a means of making money to pay for those things. And to send money home, so that his wife and daughter can come after him to the new country.

By making his story so neutral, Shaun manages to cover the experiences of countless refugees as well as economical migrants.

The pictures are among the most wonderful, if scary, that I have seen. I believe that Shaun spent years on this book, which I can easily understand. Except perhaps how it’s possible to live and work so long with a vision like this. Everything about the book is beautiful. The cover. Inside the covers. The ribbon. Everything.

It’s one of the most touching books I’ve never read.

Shaun and ALMA

Mercifully Shaun Tan will have been in bed when he was announced as this year’s recipient of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Or he should have been. I mean, first he was interrupted in his washing-up chores and had to have a conversation, however brief, with Larry Lempert, who phoned to say he’d just been given five million kronor. Who wouldn’t need to be in bed by the time Bologna and the rest of the world hear your unrehearsed reaction to such happiness?

What is it with people in Melbourne? Does it say somewhere that they can hog awards in this manner?

Larry Lempert

Anyway, I sincerely hope Shaun didn’t witness the live broadcast last Tuesday. They had improved their technique from last year, but even so… Larry’s breathing needs to be silenced for next time. (No, not that way.) But the presentation of Shaun and his work was done very nicely, by Maria Lassèn-Seger in a Finnish-Swedish accent, and with loads of pictures to show us ignoramuses what Shaun’s work is like.

Shaun Tan book covers

Swedish juries have a tendency to pick unusual winners. But I dare say that’s the charm of it all. Loads of money to hand out. Very long ‘shortlist’ to choose from.

I’m not going to try to describe all that Shaun has done, but what I have seen so far is impressively good. I’m already the lucky recipient of, not five million, but two of his books.

One of which – The Lost Thing – I will tell you about here. Now.

Shaun Tan, The Lost Thing

A quick way of describing Shaun’s style is to say his art (because it is art, really, not books so much) is what Halmstadgruppen would have done had they been into picture books. Shaun apologises to Edward Hopper, so perhaps he feels he borrowed something from him. I don’t know.

I couldn’t say what age group The Lost Things is for. Old, but not necessarily adult. There are so many layers to it that I will have to go back and read/look some more.

It’s about a lost thing. The thing is rather large and odd looking (sorry, dear) and more like a creature than a thing. As the main character’s friend says, ‘some things are just plain lost’. But I believe there is a happy ending. Hard to be sure, but I think so. Very intelligently written, which I approve of.

The story as such is a good one, but it’s the art that makes the book. There are so many things I could mention or quote, but I’ll stick to just one; ‘sweepus underum carpetae’ which will be my new maxim from now on. And I do approve of a book that has the word anti-logarithm in it. I mean, who isn’t? Anti-logarithm. Very.

It’s really busy here…

The Book Sale

Well, that’s what she said, the bookshop assistant who answered the phone when we were ‘hanging’ nearby. Yes, she did have people who wanted to pay for stuff, but my idea of busy appears to have been warped by British shops. ‘It’s The Book Sale’ she told the caller, by way of explanation for the busyness.

It was the second day of The Sale, so I trust they had been more swamped the day before. I could move inside the shop. There was the odd inconsiderate person in my way, but it wasn’t too bad.

I was a little disappointed by the books, though. I wasn’t really thinking of buying, except I did get the idea from looking at someone’s blog last week that there was one book I might purchase. Couldn’t find it. Couldn’t find too much at all, to be honest.

Meg Cabot and Cathy Hopkins in The Sale

There was Sovay by Celia Rees, and a couple of Cathy Hopkins books. Big pile of Meg Cabot, and what looked like the collected works by Michelle Paver. All a little cheaper than before, but no giving-it-away prices. What I have still to find out is whether their appearance in The Sale of 2011 means you must give up all hope of buying them later.

I think it does. When I wanted to buy more copies of Adèle Geras’s Facing the Light some years ago I bought the last copy in the country and after that you just couldn’t find it. (I know that makes sense. Last copy should indicate ‘no more’.) When Philip Pullman was given the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2005 I believe they had to hurriedly reprint his books in order to have anything to sell. He may be good, but he had been Saled before the award.

On the other hand, selling out in The Sale is a nicer fate than becoming road fill. And if you’re really lucky there might be an award coming, if only because there are no more books.

(There could have been more pictures to accompany this post, had the picture-making facility not had a massive fail. There could even have been a second shop surveyed, had the witch’s legs not had a minor fail. Sorry for any convenience caused.)

Bridge to Terabithia

We took a shortcut to Katherine Paterson’s writing through watching the Bridge to Terabithia film. It was a bit of a surprise, and at the same time it was rather as I had expected. If that makes sense?

I didn’t understand any of the fantasy elements to the story. I mean, I knew they weren’t real, but initially I couldn’t work out if the children were simply playing and fantasising, or if magic occurred and moved them to somewhere else. I gather from reading up on it afterwards that it was the former.

Bridge to Terabithia

Have to admit to finding the real world happenings much more fascinating, and wish that the story had remained on that level, describing the lives of the two children and the bullying and the money problems. That part of the film was really very good, well written and well acted.

So now I don’t know if I want to read Katherine’s books or not. And I’ve had the slightly uncharitable thought that Bridge to Terabithia is exactly what the judges of the Astrid Lindgren award look for. A sort of mini-Nobel.

The Wikipedia entry for the film provides more information than most people will ever need, so at least it answered my question on whether the film is faithful to the book. It is. Very, apparently. The screenplay was written by Katherine’s son David, and I believe the book was based partly on experiences from his childhood.

The child actors were excellent, and I was especially pleased to see a very young Bailee Madison again. But both Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb who play Jesse and Leslie were also really good.

The first third of the film we treated it as any ordinary film, but by the second third we were lost in the fantasy world that Jesse and Leslie think up. Daughter kept saying ‘there must be a point to it soon’. There was, but perhaps not one we could have guessed at.


There is a death, and Daughter was in tears. It was rather sad and very touching, and I gather some people would have preferred the script to only hurt the child a little, followed by a light coma and then happiness ever after again. I’m glad they didn’t go that route. It’s sad, but it feels real. And perhaps that is why the fantasy jars too much for me.

Or I’m just too old.

Bookwitch bites #31

The biting isn’t going too well, but hopefully my dental ordeal will be forgotten soon, and I will bite just fine again.

For the eagle-eyed participant in the discussion about the nominees for the Astrid Lindgren Award a few weeks ago, I have unearthed some more information. Well, not me personally. I took the shortcut of emailing ALMA and asking, and someone has been slaving away trying to ascertain the reason for the Stock Exchange of Thailand to be on that list of book-worthies:

Personal finance for youth program: ”…educates students about personal financial management and economic life skills. The SET developed textbooks and instructional materials to promote understanding of basic financial ideas, enhance financial discipline and develop learning and reading skills.”

Reading club. ”Participating students are encouraged to read any kind of educational or entertaining books and report their reading record to their teachers and advisors.”

Business and Entrepreneurship program: “The program provides participating students with knowledge about entrepreneurial qualities and business operations. Through activity-based learning, students were encouraged to show their creativity and develop a positive attitude towards business and entrepreneurship.”

Book donation project.

Plearn Library: “Play” + “Learn” = “Plearn”, “provide children and their families in a nearby slum district with a learning center”.

I’m afraid the colours were my idea of fun. At least we now know why the Stock Exchange is involved, although I don’t feel it’d be right to hand over money to a foreign stock exchange, however much they encourage reading.

Involved is what you need to be to apply for the job just advertised with the Edinburgh International Book Festival. They are looking for a new Children & Education Programme Director. I think that’s the job Sara Grady has been doing, and I hope this doesn’t mean she is leaving. To me this is probably the most important job in the whole festival.

Michelle Lovric

Someone else who was at the festival is Michelle Lovric and she will be appearing at the Italian Cultural Institute in London for their ‘IN CONVERSAZIONE’, Talks with Anglophone authors who write about Italy and Italian Culture. Monday 6 December 2010 7pm: MICHELLE LOVRIC in conversazione with MAXIM JAKUBOWSKI. It’s free, but you need to book on rsvp.icilondon@esteri.it.

Bookwitch bites #27

I was about to say something hasty – and incorrect – like we seem to have left the shortlists behind and it’s time for award winners, but stopped myself in time. The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award ‘shortlist’ was made public this week. It’s a jolly long shortlist, but since it’s the last list, I suppose it has to count as the shortlist. It has the usual names on it, like Michael Rosen, Quentin Blake and David Almond, among the British. Also Mary Hoffman for – I think – the first time, which is nice. Lots of organisations, and I do feel that they are perhaps worthier recipients of so much money. But if Mary wins I hope she remembers me.

Thursday must have been a Swedish announcement sort of day, with this year’s Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa. The Resident IT Consultant inquired if I knew him. Not personally, obviously, but with Spanish literature deep in my past, I do ‘know’ him.

Another winner this week was Michelle Paver who was received the Guardian children’s fiction prize, also on Thursday. Busy day, clearly. As I mentioned earlier, I never got started on Michelle’s books, so have long felt the uphill effect of even trying to catch up. But if everyone will insist on saying quite how excellent the books are, I will have no option but to dive in. Wouldn’t have minded being there for the award, but couldn’t make it. Not that I was asked, but you know…

More failure to attend for me with Cheltenham having got under way this weekend. Wonderful programme as always, and lovely town. Must work on returning some time soon.

Doing quite well on the new book front, however. My recent visitors were taken aback when they realised the postman staggers up the drive and rings the doorbell (once only) on most days, delivering books and more books. Yesterday I received six, and the bad news for me was that I liked the look of all but one.

I know I mentioned Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen last week, but must return to it today. The hardback has arrived and it’s gorgeous. I found myself sitting there stroking it, and gazing at the names of the great and the good who sing its praises on the back.

Had an uncharacteristically successful reading day as well, finishing three books. I’m sure that means I won’t get anywhere near my reading chair for a while.

And Norm Geras loves his books so much he wouldn’t ever consider a Kindle.