Tag Archives: Julia Marshall

The Stone Giant

Literature is full of clever little girls and stupid monsters. The Stone Giant by Anna Höglund, and translated by Julia Marshall, is one example.

There is a young girl, living on an isolated island with her brave father. One day he leaves her alone to go and sort out some calamity happening elsewhere, involving people being turned into stone. And of course he fails to return.

The girl – we don’t learn her name – goes off in search of her father, wearing a red dress reminiscent of another red-dressed heroine.

On the way, she meets a wise old woman, who gives her some advice on how to deal with the giant. So with the help of an umbrella and a mirror, the girl fools the dreaded giant and all the stony people become real people again.

Power to little girls!

All the Dear Little Animals

How could I not love Ulf Nilsson’s All the Dear Little Animals? To begin with, anything illustrated by Eva Eriksson is automatically extremely loveable. And the story of three children who hunt out dead animals so they can bury them is also rather sweet, don’t you think?

It starts with a bumblebee, which died of natural causes, and its death causes the poetic narrator and his friend Esther to arrange a funeral for it. Our narrator is good at coming up with poems for the ceremony.

And then Esther’s little brother Puttie discovers what they are up to, and he cries. He cries so well that he becomes their official crier. Puttie – unlike his older sister – finds death rather upsetting. He can see that when he dies, their parents will be very distraught.

Esther, on the other hand, avoids telling him that the most likely scenario might be the other way round. This, presumably, is for the adult who reads with their young child to decide to discuss. Mortality, and how it makes you feel.

Once they have hunted out a good many corpses, dug graves, read poems and cried, they are satisfied.

Tomorrow they will do something else.

(Translated by Julia Marshall, this is not a new book. Not even in translation. I would have liked the original title to be mentioned, so I didn’t have to Google it; Alla döda små djur.)

A Bookwitch interview

Only it’s the other way round. This time I have been interviewed, by the Swedish Book Review, in their autumn edition which is mainly about children’s and YA authors.

They have translated short pieces by several authors, and they have interviewed publisher and translator Julia Marshall. And me.

Swedish Book Review

The authors are Per Gustavsson, Annelis Johansson, Cilla Nauman, Frida Nilsson and Malte Persson. All good, honest Swedish names, and no, I don’t know much about these writers, either. But then they are not part of my area of expertise, and perhaps I don’t really belong in this illustrious company.

But there I am anyway.

It was fun to be included, although now I can see how hard it is to be on the other side, coming up with answers to what might not be the questions you’d imagined someone would ask.

Swedish Book Review

Swedish Book Review

And these days he reads to the dog

I was the only one to get the joke when Ulf Stark sang his version of the Lucia song. His translator, Julia Marshall, wisely steered clear of that minefield. But it was a fun version, and one I’d not come across before. Obviously they weren’t complete morons back in the dark ages before I was a child.

Royal Exchange Theatre

Ulf came to Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre on Tuesday morning, to talk to school children (and one elderly witch) as part of The Children’s Bookshow with Siân Williams. I’m uncertain whether the children had heard quite that much nonsense about farting from such an old adult ever before. They seemed delighted. In fact, were it not for his wild and white hair, I’d have said Ulf is about ten years of age.

Ulf Stark and Julia Marshall

Before the event I had wondered what language Ulf would be using, thinking it’s always hard to grab – and keep – the attention of children when you’re not a fluent English speaker. And that will be why they had imported the translator of his books all the way from New Zealand. Ulf would offer a short burst of incomprehensible Swedish (although he did say he hoped they would have learned by the end) which Julia transformed into something a bit more normal sounding. Apart from the singing. Or the whistling. She didn’t do those.

Ulf Stark

He’s blue and yellow. These days they are hopefully only the colours of the Swedish flag, but as a child he’d be patriotically coloured due to having an older brother, who did what older brothers often do. Come into your room and fart. Hit you and squeeze you until you’re flag-coloured.

Now that Ulf is older, he writes lots of books, one of which was handed over to baby Princess Estelle, Duchess of Östergötland (they learn to read very early over there). Ulf reckons his father would have been proud of him. He was so very lefthanded as a child that all his father could think he’d be fit for was as an excavator operator. He himself wanted to be a boxer.

Ulf talked about his writing, and warned people never to dedicate their books to girlfriends/boyfriends, because the time it takes to get a book into print means they will have ditched you long before, and that is so embarrassing. But it was ‘only’ a poetry collection, which he sincerely hopes none of us will ever read.

When Ulf found out about a writing award worth around £5000, he took six months off work to write a book to win the award. (And it seems he actually did, too.) After that, he didn’t need to go back to work. His first book was about a girl who is mistaken for a boy. Now he writes about things he knows, because he has never been a girl.

He told us about the background to another of his books, when his father invited a prince to dinner. His mother cleaned behind the radiators (that is where princes look) and hunted out a cookbook for princely food.

The background to Can you whistle, Johanna? was from when he took his small children to the north of Sweden for the snow, only to find there was none. So he showed them how to write a book instead, which the children tired of almost immediately. Ulf soldiered on, having dismissed his first idea of writing a rubbish book. And now it has become regular entertainment on television every Christmas Eve.

Julia and Ulf took turns to read from the book, and Ulf whistled the tune, so we’d know what the whole story was about.

There were plenty of questions afterwards, and we learned that thick books take longer to write, his illustrator (Anna Höglund) keeps having babies when he just wants her to draw pictures, and with his children grown up, Ulf has to resort to reading to the dog.

Ulf Stark

Long queues to buy Ulf’s books and to have them signed. I rarely see events book stalls selling out, but that seems to be what Waterstones did. Great that the children were interested. And great that they were taken to the Royal Exchange in the first place. I watched as some of the early groups arrived, and the way they looked and gasped at the theatre itself. Let’s hope they’ll be back for something else one day.

Siân Williams and MLF interviewer

While waiting to speak to Ulf I chatted to Siân about what she does, and we agreed that we need to see more foreign children’s books in Britain. Ulf did offer to send me the 400 or so he gets sent every year, but that’s not quite what we had in mind.

It was good to speak to Ulf, although I can’t remember what we talked about. The Gothenburg Book Fair, where he spoke at the weekend. Kulturrådet (Arts Council) where he gives away money after being sent 400 books to read. Touring all over the world. That sort of thing.

Ulf Stark

The people from the Manchester Literature Festival were there, and so was one of ‘my’ young men from Waterstones. It was a regular get-together, really. And Siân and I will have to change the world of books, somehow.