Tag Archives: Janne Teller

Past Calais

I think it was Danish author Janne Teller who said she’d written a short book featuring a nice Danish family who had to leave their country and find somewhere else that would take them. And a couple of years ago I read and reviewed After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross. It was a pretty scary read, seeing as it turns those ‘migrant’ stories on their head. It’s you heading into the unknown, where you are not welcome, and because you have to. Not because you’re greedy.

Re-reading my review made my heart palpitate, and it all looked so familiar. It’s what we see in the media nearly every day, except we are the the ones not too keen to let those others in.

As I say in that review, I’m one of those migrants. And remembering how the boy in Gillian’s book doesn’t speak French and how that causes problems, I am full circle, again. Because I have created a migrant in the next generation, too. One who doesn’t speak French, and thereby missed the expected knowledge in the supermarket regarding what you have to do if you are buying grapes. Not kiwis, just the grapes. I’ve married a foreigner, too. One who has been told off in another country’s supermarket for putting the food he’s buying the wrong way at the checkout. I remember a Swedish tourist many years ago, crying over the bananas in London’s Queensway, because she’d done what she was used to doing at home.

None of us fruit shoppers are persecuted at home. We just went on holiday or moved abroad for some perfectly normal reason. That can be hard enough. Add a little peril to life or starvation and then see how you manage.

Literature is full of people like us. A long time ago it would have been enough to leave your village and move into town. Or the further away countryside to the capital, or from the poorer end of the country to the richer end. And then the move from one poor country to another country, perceived to be better. It probably takes a generation or two before life becomes almost normal in the new place. That is unless you move somewhere else again, like where they sell grapes differently.

There are different class immigrants too. Despite her poor grasp of grape-buying, Daughter is a higher class foreigner than her similarly recently arrived supervisor. He outranks her in all academic aspects, but the receiving country rates him lower. (He’s Australian…)

And speaking of Australians. The Resident IT Consultant chatted to someone here, whose son moved to Australia. There he married an Australian. And now he can’t find work. And he can’t move back home if he wants to continue living with his wife and children.

Maybe if we could all go where we want to be, it would sort of even out? Natural selection and all that.

Translated

It should have been like Desert Island Discs, where you are encouraged to think beyond the world of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare. The authors should have been told that ‘no, you can’t have the Moomins; people always pick it. Think of another translated book!’ (Apologies to Gill Lewis who was allowed to choose the Authors’ Author.)

After all, the rest of the world must be able to offer one or two children’s books not originally published in English (which is a great language, but not the only one). There’s the Moomins. Still leaves at least one other book.

In The Guardian’s list of favourite – translated – children’s books nine authors have picked theirs. It’s everything from Tove Jansson and Astrid Lindgren to Janne Teller and Kim Fupz Aakeson and Niels Bo Bojesen. It is a varied list. But I suppose I’d hoped for something different. As I said, ban Astrid and Tove, and probably Erich Kästner, too, and what do you get?

The Resident IT Consultant muttered about classics, but it’s hard enough to get children to read English language classics. I’d like to see more recent fiction translated. You know, the kind of books German and Italian and Finnish children have enjoyed in the last five or ten years. (And I don’t mean Harry Potter!)

I don’t know what they are. That’s why I rely on publishers, whose job it is to bring out books. But I do know that the few modern French books I’ve read, have all been better than average. I’m suspecting there could be more where they came from.

Even setting aside very country specific fiction, there must be a few books that would appeal to British and American children? I’m not counting the Australians or readers in New Zealand, because those countries seem more open to books from ‘other’ places.

Mårten Sandén, whose book I reviewed on Monday, has written lots of books. He’s not the only Swede to have done so. Take a group of successful children’s writers from maybe ten countries, and you should have a lot of choice. Nordic crime is popular with older readers, so why not for children?

There are one or two ‘crime novels’ from my own childhood which still stand out in my memory. I have no idea how well they’d do today. It could be that the grass seemed greener then. In which case there must be some fresh grass to replace my hazy memories.

Gunnel Linde, Osynliga Klubben och Kungliga Spöket

And if you think children don’t want to read about strange children in strange places, there were millions of us who consumed Nesbit and Blyton despite their foreign-ness, and don’t even get me started on Harry Potter…

Bookwitch bites #72

Today will be mainly about what happens in toilets. And I’m relieved (no, not in that way!) that some of you love me a little. Thank you to all five who like me. I’m actually ecstatic to find I have more fans than Declan Burke on Crime Always Pays, who only has ‘three regular readers.’ Or so he claims. And I’m one of them. Not sure who the other two are.

My tale about the sweet singing in the Ladies at the Lowry caused the nice press person from the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick to send me a very kind email. This in turn made me aware of the theatre’s book festival, Words by the Water. I know, everywhere does them, but it feels rather special to have something bookish in that lovely theatre setting. I just wish I could go. It started yesterday, and whereas it mainly seems to be adult authors, I did notice Annabel Pitcher in the programme.

The next toilet ‘incident’ also involves a lovely email (perhaps I shouldn’t have asked for sympathy?), from a librarian I encountered in the toilet queue at the Philippines Embassy (as you do) at the launch of Candy Gourlay’s Tall Story a year and a half ago. Her school – where she does her librarian stuff – has a novel (to me) kind of book competition to encourage reading. And I’m proud that I inspired one of the books to be picked. (That would be the one I never finished reading.) I’d like to think I’m also partly to blame for the school’s newly started blog. I wish them the best of fun with their Battle of the Books.

I believe I will now move swiftly and virtually seamlessly from toilets to libraries. Blue Peter was broadcasting live from the John Rylands Library in Manchester on Thursday. (And I wasn’t there! Small sob.) Both their book awards had reached a conclusion, so Gareth P Jones was there as his werewolf mystery The Considine Curse was voted Blue Peter Book of the Year. He looked quite happy.

And the Best Children’s Book of the Last 10 Years was won by Jeff Kinney for his bestselling Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He looked quite happy too. And like me, he wasn’t actually there. He spoke to the assembled Blue Peter children in a recorded message.

Connie Fisher, Michael Xavier and Lucy van Gasse

I really need to remember that Blue Peter broadcast from Media City in Salford these days. And that is relatively close. Oddly enough, I had been to Manchester earlier on Thursday. And to end this post in a vaguely toilet related manner, I almost passed the John Rylands after stuffing envelopes for the Hallé, in the company of a volunteer from the Lowry who was enthusing about the Media City gardens, and the ‘celebrities’ one can see there. One of the stuffings was for Wonderful Town, the collaboration between the Royal Exchange Theatre, the Hallé and the Lowry. And it was the toilet from the launch which featured in my second paragraph above, and the volunteer also experienced a slight incident with the Bridgewater Hall’s facilities on Thursday. It was a mere misunderstanding, and she wasn’t in the dark for long.

I know. Things stopped making sense about 100 words ago. Sorry.

Janne Teller, controversial jet-setter, continued

So there I was, not quite on the floor. Which is good.

Janne was our third foreigner in around 24 hours, although with not a single interpreter in sight. Not necessary, as Janne divides her time between Denmark and New York, which as chair Gill Arbuthnott said is so glamourous. Janne looks glamourous, too, but actually seems nice despite this. And those boots…

We sat in the adult’s row at the back with Janne’s publisher Keith Charters and authors Gillian Philip and Linda Strachan, who are both quite good with knives and swords.

DSC_0445

But nothing beats the (mental) goriness of Janne’s Nothing. She suggests. I faint.

I blame it on the fact Janne has no children. I think you can be much scarier if you don’t have them, and as we had agreed while waiting outside, parenthood makes a wimp out of you. She had been asked to write a children’s book, and first she thought she couldn’t, until Pierre Anthon (the boy who sits in a plumtree) spoke in her ear.

Then her publisher said the book was too strange to publish, so there was a delay until a teenage publishing offspring had been found who liked Nothing. At first the book sold badly and then it was banned in several countries. After which things appear to have picked up somewhat.

Janne read to us from the beginning, introducing the ‘heap of meaning’. It’s a weird feeling when someone reads softly and beautifully from what feels like a quietly menacing story, and doing so on what is really a glorified roundabout, with the traffic roaring extra loudly for Janne.

The end of the book was so hard that Janne wrote several. She was surprised by the reactions to her book, as she was under the impression she had written a ‘nice book’. This ‘nice’ book has been dramatised and has even been done as a musical in Denmark.

Her favourite character is Pierre Anthon, and she doesn’t particularly like her narrator. The humour in the story is absolutely necessary, she feels, although she is amazed at all the surveys that portray Danes as the happiest people. They ‘never’ smile, and she believes they just tick the happy box because it’s what you do.

There will be more YA novels from Janne. She has a short book about refugees (inspired by the xenophobia in Denmark), which features a Danish family fleeing to Egypt. And in every translation she changes the refugee family to one from the country in which it is published.

That’s what we need more of; something to make us think.

Afterwards I told Janne where I had given up reading. She told me nothing bad happens after that. Am I expected to believe her?

Janne Teller

I contemplated sliding down on the floor – voluntarily, as it were – quite early during Janne Teller’s event on Monday afternoon. But when both Janne herself and Gill Arbuthnott who was talking to Janne about Nothing, sort of said that they wouldn’t give away too much and perhaps they had better stop short of certain aspects in Nothing, I deduced I might be safe. So, didn’t slide anywhere.

Janne Teller

And if you want to read more about the glamourous Dane, well, come back later. Probably much later.

Nothing

The snake on the cover of the proof should have been a hint. So should one or two other things on the same cover. Did I look properly? No. Felt uneasy about snakey, but that was after he’d turned up inside the cover as well. David Almond has come up with a cover blurb that goes like this; ‘bold, beautiful, terrifying’. And I thought I’d be safe after that!

Janne Teller, Nothing

This is going to be one of my most incomplete book reviews ever. I rarely write about books I’ve not finished. I rarely read books I have had bad feelings about well before the book even gets to me. As soon as I heard about Janne Teller’s novel Nothing I knew I didn’t want to read it. Didn’t help that everyone raved about it. I was not going to read it.

But, you know. Keith Charters at Strident Publishing raved about it. I warned him. Then it turned out Janne Teller isn’t a Norwegian man. She is a Danish woman. And she’s coming to the Edinburgh Book Festival. And I did need a Danish book for my foreign challenge. And Keith had reserved a rare (?) proof for me. With a snake on the cover.

Nothing is 206 pages, of which I read the first 128. Had this been thirty years ago I would have been on the floor by page 128. I’m much better now, so I simply went off to make dinner, thinking I might return. After dinner I knew I was never returning. Never. Moaned to the Resident IT Consultant, who offered to sacrifice himself, so took the book and read it in one sitting in the bath. (That’s one long bath, albeit a shortish book, which is easy and fast to read. As long as you don’t stop halfway, in which case it’s faster still.)

Fable, he says. Very good. Interesting. Allegory, says Keith. OK, even I could tell that a 14-year-old boy who sits in a plum tree for a few months is not part of a normal, straightforward sort of plot. But even so…

Pierre decides life is nothing, so goes to sit in this plum tree. How this will help, I don’t know. And not even his having a father who is a commune hippy explains this kind of behaviour.

But it’s Pierre’s classmates who really take the biscuit. In order to get him out of the tree, they each have to sacrifice something. Each thing worse than the previous one. (Consider my first paragraph.) It quickly escalates into bullying of the worst kind, which I found really bad even at the snake stage.

I don’t care how allegorical it is. It’s still horrible. I understand it has been banned. (In Norway?) It has also won awards. I can understand that, too. I can condone lots of violence in books, and bullying and what have you. This was something else.

(Lord of the Flies, she whispers.)

But I recognise that many of you will like this book. Love it, even. So if you are not the fainting type, do try it. As the Resident IT Consultant said, it should spark plenty of discussion in classrooms and elsewhere. As it did here.

I will do my very best to meet Janne Teller later this month. I have tickets for her event. That might turn out to be a lying-on-the-floor-from-the-start kind of event. With earplugs.

(At least Janne is Danish. And a lady. Unlike Jo Nesbø, who really is male and Norwegian. Also in Edinburgh.)

The translator is Martin Aitken, who has done a good job. Some surprising Americanisms, which personally I find makes the book feel less Danish. But it reads well, as people keep saying.

A few days after the interrupted read, the dinner and the long bath, I’m thinking maybe…

No.

Probably not.

Edinburgh 2011

It is pretty dreadful. But on the other hand it could have been a lot worse.

I’m talking about the freshly released programme for the Edinburgh International Book Festival. And before you jump to the erroneous conclusion that the programme is bad, I’m simply bemoaning the fact that I will miss ‘a few’ people by not getting there for the first week.

EIBF

No doubt it will come as a relief to Meg Rosoff and Tim Bowler and Cathy Cassidy that they will miss me too. Not to mention Julie Bertagna and Lucy Hawking. Derek Landy, arghh. Elen Caldecott. Lots of lovely people, who all write great books.

On the plus side, we have Nicola Morgan with Celia Rees, and there is always Patrick Ness and Darren Shan. Janne Teller and Fabio Geda from my foreign reading challenge, and also Mal Peet, Morris Gleitzman and Debi Gliori. And many more. So plenty of little rays of sunshine, in the shape of authors. We know more than well that last year’s lack of mud must be compensated for, so it will rain. Plenty.

Jacqueline Wilson and paparazzi

How will I find the strength to do all this? Last year – sunny weather notwithstanding – nearly finished me off. Would they frown very much if I were to erect a tent in Charlotte Square? Silly me, the place is full of tents. No need to bring my own. It would be convenient, if a little uncomfortable and against the rules. So I guess it will be the Stirling commute again. All that walking is good for me. (To and from the train. Not all the way.)

As for the programme, it looks very, very tempting. It was at this point last year that I threw caution to the wind and opted for the whole caboodle. I can’t this time, so I won’t. Which doesn’t mean the temptation isn’t there.