Tag Archives: Henning Mankell

Go home!

It seemed appropriate that Joe Dunthorne – an author I know nothing about, I’m afraid – should write in ‘Made in…’ for Saturday’s Guardian Review about setting books in Santiago de Compostela, Tokyo and Oaxaca, but that it wasn’t until he went home to Swansea that he was in the right place.

I once wrote one chapter of a novel set in Los Angeles. I was maybe thirteen. Still haven’t been to LA, but if I had, I don’t believe it would help. Not even if I could write fiction.

When Adrian McKinty returned to Carrickfergus and installed his detective Duffy in the house where he, Adrian, was born, his novels got even better. Nothing wrong with New York, or Colorado, or places you arrive in via a wormhole in space, but you can’t beat your home town.

This week I’ve been reading Christoffer Carlsson’s new crime novel. I won’t review Järtecken here yet, as it’s not out in English. But watch this space.

After four crime novels set in Stockholm, where he lives now, he’s gone home. Home to Halmstad and the woods just outside this town on the west coast of Sweden. And the difference is obvious.

St Nikolai, Halmstad

And, this has only just dawned on me, but I am home too. This is something that I’ve not been able to say about fiction in the past. I’ve never been this much home before. (There was a Henning Mankell where the detective lived near where I have also lived. That felt good. But the story was mostly set elsewhere.)

But now, I’m back in a place that I don’t share with very many friends. I think back to it, yes. Not so much reminiscing with anyone, though.

Sure, Christoffer is thirty years my junior, and he might very well have moved a bus route, lost a head prosecutor and perhaps uses slang that is too recent for the 1990s. But it’s still home.

Much as I dislike woods, I may have to traipse round to his and have a look around. And as one of the suspects says, it’s not very easy to say what you did on a specific date ten years earlier [except he can]. Christoffer has used a date for that conversation, where I can say exactly what I was doing. And so, I dare say, can most of the population of Sweden. That’s a clever way of doing things.

And it’s home. I hope there will be more.

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29 years on, nearly there

Saturday morning desk

Woke too early yesterday, but saw the light – literally – from the dining room, so breakfasted while watching Son writing his thesis. Not all of it, obviously, but some of the bit of it that hadn’t got written the day before. Deadline is looming.

Over my yoghurt I was asked what I did on 23rd April 2000. I couldn’t remember, but said I’d not been invited to Shakespeare’s party, and suggested I might have been looking forward to Harry Potter no. 4. You need perspective.

Was also asked if I had a copy of Barry Forshaw’s Nordic Noir, but as I was trying to work out where I had hidden it, Son realised he’d already borrowed it and had left it at the office, which was not at all useful…

We talked about Marcel Berlins, and his fondness for the Famous Five, and about someone else I’d not even heard of. I’m flexible that way; don’t need to know what I am talking about.

I could recall when I first heard of Henning Mankell, and Son knew when the first translation into English appeared (surprisingly recently). I also knew roughly how ancient Maj Sjöwall must be and that Per Wahlöö had been older.

At some point Son was showing off his chapter pages, and Daughter admired the look until she found out it was in Word. Seems scientists don’t believe in Word.

Despite not wanting to upset Son’s proofreader with this tardiness, we all eventually took to the very snowy roads and went for brunch. There are times when I feel studded tyres would be quite welcome. This was one such time.

And despite it being intended as a [rare] weekend off, there was more thesis-ing between brunch and birthday cake and a Burns supper. Laziness must skip a generation every now and then.

‘The lucrative children’s fiction market’

They usually start arriving early summer. And I usually have to leave the reading of most of them until much closer to the first Thursday in October, purely because I have too many books with earlier publication dates. Or I would throw myself at some of the tastiest October offerings. I’m only a witch.

They are the books destined to be released on Super Thursday, which is today. It’s almost ironic how in the week when I and many others are furious over the celebrity books issue, there are so many fantastic new books being published. Sally Gardner’s My Side of the Diamond which I reviewed yesterday is one such Super Thursday book. In Sally’s case I’m not in the slightest surprised she’s been chosen.

It’s like Christmas. Well, it is for Christmas, of course. And just as with Christmas when we tend to get too much of whatever it is we fancy, so do the offerings of great books in early October seem to me to be too much. I can’t appreciate them all, and I don’t even get to see every potential Bookwitch favourite published today.

The Scotsman had an article about this earlier in the week, and two things in particular struck me. One was the photo of books stacked in a bookshop, to illustrate Super Thursday. I can only assume it was sheer fluke which made it a table laden with children’s and YA books. But it pleased me to find myself face-to-face with books by Patrick Ness and Michael Grant, and others behind them.

The other was the quote above; ‘the lucrative children’s fiction market.’ I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s good to feel there is money in children’s books. And if there is, it’d be great if it could be more evenly distributed and not go to the celebrities. Because the quote was in the context of one of ‘our new children’s authors, Cara Delevingne.’ Maybe that’s what was meant by lucrative – it’s what it becomes when they get someone ‘properly famous’ in.

Because all the names mentioned in the article are well-known ones, or dead and well-known ones. Not the people I mainly read and like. Much as I loved and admired Terry Pratchett and Henning Mankell, if the only live authors listed are Cara, plus Miranda Hart and Tom Fletcher, this could, well, it could give people looking for ideas on what to buy for Christmas, the wrong ideas.

The only books by celebrities I might want to read are their biographies, but I gather they are out of fashion. I wish the celebrities were too.

You’d have thought publishers wouldn’t want to unleash all the new books at once. Surely many books will go unnoticed in this avalanche?

Yes, it seems some books are being kept back a couple of weeks, like Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust. Good for him.

And anyway, all that unpacking and displaying of so many new books all at once can’t be much fun for the bookshops.

Same goes for reviews. Even if I could read the Super Thursday titles well before October 5th, there is no way I could suddenly make all the reviews available in one fell swoop. They need to be eked out. As do the books. Too many marvellous books is like being given a whole chocolate cake. You need to be disciplined and tackle this loveliness in small portions.

A book is not only for Christmas. In fact, for me it’s the time of year I read the least.

Gorgeous Giles

Those are not my words, btw. I am quoting from a lady fan; someone I used to encounter a lot at book events near me, ‘many’ years ago. While I did find Giles Milton quite interesting to listen to, I had no real hankering to read his books, not even the fiendishly cleverly titled Paradise Lost. And I don’t fancy the man. Maybe she didn’t either, but she definitely saw a handsome man when she looked.

Giles Milton 2

I am merely using Giles to illustrate what I am writing about here, namely the familiarity with which I look upon photos in the press. The more I’ve seen or met an author, the more he or she feels like ‘mine’ when they pop up in a newspaper or magazine. Or for that matter, on television. Not that we have as many programmes featuring authors as we should have.

Just saying.

Like family, really. And it’s nice. It shortens the distance between me and them, when I feel I ‘know’ someone.

I feel especially proprietary if the photo in question is ‘ours.’ (As you can tell, I don’t mind claiming Daughter’s pictures as almost mine.) What I’m trying to say is that it’s akin to finding your mantelpiece photo in the press.

Francesca Simon

And the description Gorgeous Giles has a familiar ring to it, although I suspect it will never be used about me. I’m more the type to have my picture taken with ten glasses of wine next to me. Just in case. (Yes, I know that is another ancient photo. Less grey in it.)

Sara Paretsky, wine and the witch

The green backdrop is another familiar aspect, and I notice it all the time, even if I wasn’t there or I don’t know the author.

Henning Mankell

(All photos by various – and gorgeous – Gileses.)

Floods

The Retired Children’s Librarian phoned to ask if we had been flooded. She and her sister had discussed this after seeing the news. I said we were all right.

She asked after everyone in the family, finally checking if I was out meeting authors all the time. (As if.)

Then she said ‘You know the one who wrote Harry Potter [she hasn’t read the books], who has now written some other books? What do people think of them? Because I like them.’

I replied that people who feel they must dislike J K Rowling on principle won’t have much good to say about her Galbraith crime novels, but that those who are not thus afflicted tend to say they like the books. She was a bit surprised that there are people who can’t stand fame and riches in others. And I admitted to not knowing J K personally and that she’s definitely not one of the authors I might see, frequently or otherwise.

Her next question was whether the press here had reported on Henning Mankell’s death, and I said they had, as he’s quite big here. She was a bit surprised, especially when I went on to mention the number of people who try to, or want to, learn enough Swedish/Danish to watch crime on television without subtitles. (I didn’t mention that I think they are doomed.)

Knowing we are safe from the rivers, she hung up, because she needed to phone to order a bus timetable. The internet is so taken for granted in Sweden that they feel passengers can look up their next bus there. Or travel to Stockholm to pick one up. Which would be easy enough if it wasn’t 70 kilometres and almost an hour away by bus. And if you had a timetable.

Let them read crime novels instead.

A late Henning

Sometimes I wish I was more famous. Perhaps then I could ask to meet someone inaccessible.

Patti Smith is famous, although not someone I know enough about to admire. I am aware that lots of people my age are great fans, however. When she went to Sweden some years ago to receive a prize, she was asked if there was someone she’d like to meet.

There was. She wanted to meet Henning Mankell. And that seems to have been a good choice, as they apparently got on really well and became firm friends.

Patti was back in Sweden this summer, and even though he was ill, Henning made the effort of seeing her. And there was a photographer present, Casia Bromberg, who took this rather lovely photo of them.

Patti Smith and Henning Mankell, by Casia Bromberg

When Henning died, I came across a photo of him in my local paper, looking rather cancer-stricken, so I chose to use one of my old ones instead. But this one is so sweet, so comfortable, that I’d like to share (hoping Casia doesn’t object to a photo of a photo) it here.

Hej då, Henning

By now you probably all know that Henning Mankell died this morning. His death is in the news everywhere, which just goes to show how far crime will get you. Even when you’re a foreigner, as Henning undoubtedly was to most of you.

I never did get that interview, apart from my impromptu four-minute one in the children’s bookshop in Charlotte Square; the place where he wasn’t guarded at all, unlike for his adult events. But we did speak very briefly, several times, including that first meeting when Son startled him by wanting a book signed that Henning didn’t recognise as his. It was his, though, and after some discussion it got sorted out.

Even then, Henning was a grand person, while on Swedish soil; walking round with a bit of an entourage. But that’s how Swedes do their worshipping. His star status in the English speaking world came a little later.

I knew he was ill, and ever the pessimist I expected the worst. But as recently as last week I felt a moment of optimism. I have a Facebook friend, whom I barely know, despite having ‘known’ him for decades (he’s GP Cousin’s very good friend). He’s rich, and he’s a rather radical leftie, and he does unusual things with his time and money. His latest venture is some museum for another well known Swedish radical, which is opening next month. And the encouraging news was that Henning was to do the honours. So I thought, ‘Oh, he’s well enough to do that then?’

Today’s sad news took my radical millionnaire by surprise too, as he was due to have lunch with Henning a few hours ago. Which I suppose was a good sign in itself; that he’d felt able to make such plans.

As for me, I’m glad we met a few times, and I’m even glad I cried at his event in Gothenburg eight years ago. He was a good man who did lots of good to lots of people, and that’s not counting entertaining us with Wallander.

Henning Mankell(I prefer this photo from some years ago, to the one my local Swedish newspaper used, where you can clearly see how unwell he was.)

The Henning Mankell mini-interview