Tag Archives: Bok & Bibliotek

What price books?

There is much one can say about big book fairs, and much of it is good. Every year I wonder whether I perhaps ought to attend the Gothenburg one again. After three consecutive years a long time ago, I only returned the year Meg Rosoff finally made it there. I have been overtaken by Son who accompanied me in the early years, and who now is allowed to go on his own.

These days it’s not so much the cost as the time of the year and the effort involved. I’m still surprised I’m not getting any younger.

Gothenburg Book Fair

But then I learned something new about the Book Fair, which is that the organisers are putting up the fees for those who exhibit. Understandable, and proper publishers and other large companies can presumably weather the cost. But there have always been many small exhibitors, like self-published authors. I’ve long thought it’s nice that anyone can aspire to rent a table there, and maybe sell their books or at least get better known by visitors.

Someone I wouldn’t have known about were it not for about three different coincidences, is Kim Kimselius who apparently has published 57 children’s books; mostly through self-publishing. She seems to do well and apart from having loads of new books out every year, she travels and runs writing weeks and does events.

But I just read that after 20 years of attending the Book Fair, she will stop. It is too expensive for her to attend, when everything is taken into account. I believe it cost her around £6000 for the long weekend, and that is by staying with friends.

I gather that with fewer exhibitors the fair organisers have extended the free space around the ‘exhibits’ as well as starting up more areas for eating and drinking. Space is nice. (You’d know that if you’d been.) So is somewhere to sit and eat. Kim was regretting the fact that she was losing her fair ‘neighbours’ with whom she’d chat and who made it fun.

This year she opened up her own home to fans, instead.

I’m not saying this is wrong. I mean the reasons behind her new venture, rather than the new event. But it feels slightly questionable that someone who writes and sells books, and quite successfully at that, should be priced out of the Book Fair.

As for me, when I first went, I paid for my weekend passes myself. It was – almost – affordable when you took into account the 50% discount for foreigners. Three years ago I carefully asked if this had now stopped, as I could find no sign of special treatment, and was told this was the case. Again, I suppose they need to make as much money as they can, and most visitors requiring a four-day pass to all events, will probably be reimbursed by their employer.

The price had gone up considerably, so – cap in hand – I asked for a free pass, which they generously supplied. Had they not done so, I don’t think I could have justified going.

I’m not quite sure what Son does, but he has so many meetings arranged, leaving no time or energy for actually going to events. And that does bring down the cost.

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Crimetimes

The Gothenburg book fair has joined forces with Crimetimes, which I believe used to be its own separate book festival. And here, well before the main book fair programme, is the programme for crime fans, for the Saturday and Sunday, 29th and 30th September.

They have both the full seminars, as well as the shorter 20-minute sessions, into which it is possible to pack a surprising amount of book stuff. I know, because the ones I’ve been to have used their time really well, and small is at least as good as big.

You can also buy a crime pass, which will work like the book fair pass, except covering only the crime, and being a little cheaper.

Most of the authors are Swedish, but since they are all the rage right now, that should make it all the more exciting. Except possibly for the fact that you will need a crash course in the language first. You have four months!

(For apostrophe purists, there is an event on “do’s and dont’s…” It’s so hard.)

Jessica Fellowes and Donna Leon are among the English language authors, and among the Swedes you get Håkan Nesser, Camilla Läckberg, Lars Kepler and many more. You also get some very capable chairs/moderators.

It’s never too early to plan ahead. Well, it could be, but now is not it. I hope you already have a hotel room booked, because if not…

Done and dusted

Just the other day I suddenly realised I no longer ask my interview victims their opinion of Philip Pullman. I wonder when this happened?

Another thing that just struck me was that Son must have been reading La Belle Sauvage pretty much where he sat 18 years ago with Northern Lights, starting a whole new direction of his life with one book. That time we took the book for all of us to read on holiday. This time Son just happened to have planned a writing retreat in the same house, leaving Britain on the Day of Dust. Luckily he was able to buy the trade paperback at Gatwick, which must have saved his sanity, if not his writing time… (OK, the armchair no longer is, nor that end of the room. Well, the room is, but it has a dining table in the Northern Lights spot. But still. Close enough.)

And actually, only three of us read the book that time. Daughter didn’t read much back then. But Christmas the same year we took the audiobook to listen to in the car when driving to Scotland. It was just the right length to last the way there, and home again, with a chapter left. Only as Daughter grabbed the cassette (yes, it was that long ago) and sat down to listen to the end, did I understand that she had also been enjoying Philip Pullman reading Northern Lights. I thought she’d be too young at seven.

Philip Pullman (and ice cream) signs

Six years later when Son and I interviewed Philip in Gothenburg, I got the impression he had started writing the Book of Dust. Two years after that, in Oxford, at an event with David Fickling, we were told it’d be ready in 2009, which was another two years later. Well, we know how that went.

Philip Pullman

But, anyway, that’s how the questions about Philip Pullman began. We walked round the Gothenburg book fair, all excited about him, and Son took to asking anyone we spoke to what they thought. And as I said ten years ago (see above), all but one were nice and friendly and had positive comments to make.

The only one who stood out was Lionel Shriver, who claimed to have no idea who we were talking about. I’d like to think she just didn’t want to share any limelight with other authors, rather than she was that ignorant. I wonder if she’d still say ‘Who??’ if asked.

When Son no longer came along to my interviews, I went round asking for him. Until the time clearly came when I gave up, or forgot.

And no, I still haven’t read La Belle Sauvage. In my own time. Soon. I just have one or two other books that have to be fitted in first. But I brought a copy of it when visiting Daughter in Switzerland last week. No longer seven, she wanted to read it.

Against

I knew there were going to be demonstrations. But I hadn’t quite realised the scale of things. Not until I saw a comment from a relative on Facebook that she wasn’t going into Gothenburg the following day (yesterday), because she didn’t fancy having paving stones thrown at her.

Gothenburg march

The Gothenburg book fair had already expressed unhappiness at the permitted route for a nazi march, which was going to be right next to the book fair. And then there were the counter-marches from anti-nazis, and more from organisations which I can’t understand why they would need to enter the fray.

Except it’s obviously ‘fun’ to make your feelings noticed. Apparently there were even foreign groups bussed in from elsewhere in the world.

Whether this can really be based on the few facts I have – which is that the book fair allowed a rightwing magazine to have a stand at the fair, which caused many authors to boycott – is something I don’t know. I don’t live in Sweden and I don’t have enough facts.

But as I said, people love to fight, and marches are one way to do so, especially if you stray from the permitted and approved route, which I gather is what happened. Police were called in from the whole country to deal with what was classed as a major disturbance.

Gothenburg march

The side effects appear to have been fewer visitors at the book fair, and a seriously depleted audience at a football match down the road, despite them waiving the cost of the ticket.

Would I have attended the book fair if I’d been in Gothenburg? I strongly suspect not. I’m with my relative; I wouldn’t have wanted to risk it.

(I don’t lay claim to knowing precisely what happened and why, and I hope no one minds the screencaps from two newspapers being used. http://www.gp.se/nyheter/göteborg/våldsamma-sammandrabbningar-i-samband-med-nmr-demonstration-1.4683005)

The 2017 Gothenburg Book Fair

Next week it’s time for this year’s book fair in Gothenburg. Maybe we should refer to it more as a Swedish book fair? Because it is the book fair, and it just happens to take place in Gothenburg. People travel there from Stockholm. In fact, perhaps they need an excuse to leave.

Before I out-festivalled myself this summer I was seriously tempted. It was as if the nine-year gap from 2007 to 2016 had not been. I was there last year and although I was exhausted from the word go, it still felt as if I should – would – be going. But we all get funny notions occasionally. I started with Philip Pullman, and ended with Meg Rosoff. Not sure what the fair would need to offer to rouse me this time.

The programme, which I perused carefully, has a lot going for it, and that was before I recollected that many authors are boycotting it this year, for permitting the far right to attend. And – this might gall them, if they actually read Bookwitch – I didn’t miss them in the programme. It looked interesting enough anyway.

My new ‘pal’ Christoffer Carlsson will be there on the Saturday. There are talks on subjects such as Arabic children’s literature today, and Are there too many children’s books being published? It bears thinking about. Black Lives Matter, on politics in teen books. Quality or Quantity? on children’s publishing. Read Yourself Well. Very important. Does the Swedish school system kill the creativity of its pupils? Chapter books vs YouTube.

Jenny Colgan will be there, talking among other things about living in a castle. I didn’t know she did. How to use children’s books to talk about current affairs. And it seems Norway has never been hotter [in children’s books].

Perhaps there are fewer ‘names.’ I’m not sure. But then, it’s not necessarily the ‘names’ that make for a good event. We flock to see and hear our literary stars, but occasionally they can be less good at performing than other literary professionals.

YA in Icelandic; how about that? Or there’s M G Leonard and Frances Hardinge. And does educated = well read? I suspect there won’t be any cake in the Afternoon Tea event with Jenny Colgan and Sophie Kinsella. Or even tea. An event on how reading trash could be the start of good reading sounds just like my kind of thing.

In fact, right now I am wondering why I’m still at home. (I know why, but temptation is back.) David Lagercrantz talks about his Lisbeth Salander, with Christopher MacLehose. FYI I’m still only on Saturday. One more day.

Astrid Lindgren and Jane Austen. Not together, and not in the flesh, for obvious reasons. More Val McDermid. Some [Swedish] superstars like Sven-Bertil Taube and Tomas Ledin. It gets lighter as the weekend progresses. It’s a way to tempt the masses to come on the Sunday, and it’s a way for the masses to rub shoulders with stars.

There’s Arundhati Roy. Ten years ago I grew – almost – blasé about seeing Orhan Pamuk all over the place. It’s what it’s like.

I might go next year. But I’ll – probably – never again have constant access to my favourite author as I prowl those corridors.

Meg Rosoff at Vi Läser in Gothenburg

‘Don’t show your ghosts too soon’

Jonathan Stroud had been in Gothenburg before. 11 years ago, he reckoned, which is true, as that’s when we met him the first time. Then he had his Bartimaeus trilogy to talk about, and now it’s Lockwood.

On Thursday morning Jonathan did a short event with his publisher, and he only had to warn her once that she must be careful with spoilers. I’m glad I was already past that bit, so it didn’t upset me. I’ve been reading the 4th Lockwood all week (and the reason I’m not done yet is not because I’m slow, but simply that there hasn’t been enough time in the week) and it has been just the right background for a bookish few days at the Gothenburg book fair.

Jonathan feels there’s a bit of Pippi Longstocking about Lockwood. And needless to say he wants to be him. (So it was interesting to hear him tell Lotta Olsson on Friday that when he tried to use Lockwood as narrator in book two, he gave up as he didn’t want Lockwood’s interior monologue.)

Everyone is impressed by his extensive research (this is fiction, folks!) into ghosts and the weapons he gives his characters in their fight against the ghosts. Poltergeists are – sort of – real, but most of the rest he obviously made up.

Mats Strandberg, Lotta Olsson and Jonathan Stroud

Lockwood began when Jonathan wrote a short introduction, featuring a boy and a girl outside a door, and he wanted to find out who they were and what they were about to do. Lockwood and Lucy and George emerged from that short opening. The reason he uses – an alternative – London as the setting for a fantasy is because it’s more realistic and exciting in a real place. He doesn’t know much, but builds things up slowly.

The agencies in the books are growing increasingly corrupt, so he made the ghost hunters young because they are more open than adults. Jonathan compared the work the young agents do on a nightly basis with our own everyday tasks that we just have to do, whether we want to or not. He feels that by implying things and being sparing with details, you have a more powerful story.

In his event with Lotta Olsson, he and scary author Mats Strandberg discussed the difference between horror and terror. It could be that horror is more for children, while terror works better for adults. Mats, who has been inspired by Harry Potter [the films…] described his new book as being a bit like The Walking Dead, set on the ferry to Finland. (Which sounds pretty terrifying, if you ask me.) And apparently in his next book Mats is even scaring himself.

Jonathan believes in suspense, which is why he doesn’t want to show his ghosts too soon. You will be more frightened by not knowing what’s coming. There’s the bump in the night, versus machine guns. Mats said that in terror it is generally the underdog who fares best. Asked by Lotta how the easy access to violent [real] videos for even quite small children will affect future writing, Mats hopes that empathy can save the world.

Freedom to Think is a campaign Jonathan is involved in, which wants to give our far too busy children some time to themselves, when they can simply sit and do nothing; dream up new ideas and maybe learn the skills to be an author or to do other creative things. Not to be ferried round by parents to ever more activities.

Lotta wondered if Lucy was meant to be the main character in Lockwood, and Jonathan felt that the fact she is flawed, brave, and has anxieties, makes her a useful and very suitable hero, and why he discovered that Lockwood was no good in that role. Finding your voice is the best thing.

Asked by someone in the audience for their favourite writers, Mats confessed to being a Stephen King fan, while Jonathan likes M R James and his ‘short and nasty’ stories.

Jonathan is currently writing the fifth and last Lockwood novel, which is nervous work. But he finds that the scary bits make the jokes better.

Fair Haughton

I’d forgotten how nicely Irish Chris Haughton sounds. I wasn’t surprised that this wonderful picture books author and illustrator had been invited to the Gothenburg book fair. Swedes love their picture books, after all.

But they’d added another aspect to Chris, by calling his event something like Fair Trade Picture Creator, and that is even more of a Swedish thing. So I don’t know if the ladies flocked to his event because they like sweet picture books, or they enjoy beautiful rugs, or they just like nice Irishmen.

Chris Haughton

That was the thing when I saw Chris in Edinburgh last year; I didn’t quite get the bit about making rugs. And appearing with Chris Riddell and Oliver Jeffers, maybe there wasn’t room for the rugs. But now I do, and I love them. They even had some at the fair to look at. (I had sort of imagined him at a loom, making rag rugs, when in actual fact Chris makes beautiful designs, which are then tied in the traditional way by professionals in India, and they look marvellous.)

Anyway, Chris started off his event talking about his picture books, with a slide show, and reading selected bits from a couple of books, showing us how he had developed his ideas. The young Chris had gone from being told he could work as a graphic designer, to enjoying making caricatures, and then discovering the use of computers at college.

The next stage was collaborating with The People Tree, designing various goods for them and being paid in t-shirts, which Chris liked. He travelled in India, and saw things he found interesting, and only got on to the rugs by accident when being shown yarn dyeing and felt he had to be polite about it. He quickly worked out where the rug makers were going wrong; making good quality rugs depicting the Manchester United logo. It was this that made him come up with attractive alternatives.

Chris’s next venture was making an app called Hat Monkey. This is for young children to do fun things, like dancing and singing. Great pictures as with all his stuff.

In Shh! We Have a Plan Chris solved his illustration problems by making it as a collage, and showed us a photo of him playing on his kitchen floor, putting the pieces together. He read us his new book Goodnight Everyone (featuring a beautiful sky at night) where basically everyone falls asleep. So many picture books are about falling asleep…

For school visits Chris has put together a shape kit, which allows young children to play with his characteristic shapes and colours, making new pictures every time.

Chris Haughton

As well as having a display of his rugs and some dolls down on the market stall level, there were books for signing outside. Amazingly all his picture books have been translated into Swedish, and the audience clustered around, eagerly awaiting a doodle or two in each book. I’d have liked to linger, but had another event to run to, so left Chris to ‘his’ ladies.