Tag Archives: Lee Child

Kepler, take 2

Translations can be tricky. I’m sure that in some cases it doesn’t matter what they are like. In the case of instructions for household appliances it does help if they don’t cause people to be injured, or worse. On the other hand, it has been claimed once or twice that a good translation of mediocre literature can win awards for authors, including the Nobel.

But does a bad translation prevent sales? After all, you tend to buy before you discover this, if you are able to tell. Sequels might suffer, though.

I read about the plans to reissue the crime novels by Lars Kepler, with new translations into English, and was reminded of a comment on here when I reviewed The Hypnotist, which was their first. Adèle Geras felt quite strongly that the translation was what put her off finishing the book. On the other hand, Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril (aka Lars Kepler) reckoned the translation was good. And I found no immediate fault with it, but could have been handicapped by having already read the book in Swedish. It was just not a favourite of mine.

Now, however, Niclas Salomonsson of the Salomonsson Agency believes he knows why the books haven’t done as well in the US as he feels they deserve. When he ‘discovered’ that the translations were bad, he first spent a lot of money on buying the agency which owned the rights and then he bought back the US rights and hired a new translator to retranslate the first three books (of six). And he has high hopes of success, second time around.

It will be interesting to see if he’s right.

Another ‘fascinating’ aspect is how this all goes down in the translating community. A job is a job, so I can understand if the new translator feels OK about this improvement task. But it must surely also feel a little icky, re-doing what your colleague seemingly has ‘failed’ at? And if you’re the ‘failure’? Except, according to my in-house translator, we don’t know who did the first translation, as it was a pseudonym, so I imagine no one will be publicly embarrassed.

In the end, I wonder if it will make a difference. I believe more in a good publicity effort, even if it is second time lucky. After all, we mostly don’t read crime novels and thrillers for any literary chills that might run down our spines. We want quick thrills.

But the blurb by Lee Child probably won’t hurt.

What (not) to buy in 2018?

It was the Resident IT Consultant who mentioned it first. He noted that that David Walliams seemed to be everywhere in the top 100 books sold in 2017. I wasn’t surprised, but wish I had been. I’ve not counted the DW books on the list. Daughter did, but reckoned I probably didn’t want to hear how many.

I am pleased that a children’s book came second on that list. (Also pleased that it was – considerably – outsold by Jamie Oliver.) But I really would have wanted it to be a different book. I know; it’s good that children read. Or at least that someone is buying the books, whether or not they get read.

If it was any other book, I’d also be happy for the author who was financially rewarded, along with his or her publisher.

To return to my previously mentioned lesson learned from Random House, we should be grateful these books make money, because they help publish other books that simply don’t sell in great numbers. Well, all I can say is that on the strength of the DW sales, HarperCollins should be able to support an awful lot of ‘smaller’ books. Children’s books at that.

I don’t know this, but how much of such revenue goes to happy shareholders? Instead of being re-invested in more book products. I’m aware that DW has a past of doing charitable things, even if that was a stunt requiring other people to cough up the cash. Does he support any worthy causes with the income from his books?

In the same Guardian there was an article about a businessman who has received rather a large bonus, an amount of money that it was suggested could do a lot of good if used to solve the sad state of the homeless. My guess is he won’t do this. (Although, think of how he’d be remembered for all time – in a positive way – if he did!)

So, DW and publisher: Is there any likelihood of you doing this kind of good deed? We only require so much money for our own needs.

But back to the list. I’ve not read much on it. This is usually the case, as most of the big sellers are generally adult novels I don’t have time for, or recipe books and biographies of or by people I’ve barely heard of.

This year Philip Pullman is in tenth place and I’ve read his book. Of older books there’s obviously Harry Potter, and I have at some point looked at a Where’s Wally and the Wimpy Kids books.

The usual suspects such as Lee Child, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham, Dan Brown, are there; but interspersed with countless DW titles. Jacqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson, often the biggest contributors to children’s books on the list of bestsellers, are at the bottom end. There is Wonder, which presumably has reappeared because of the recent film.

While horrified in general, I am hoping that this willingness to buy lots of children’s books will continue. And I’m hoping for more diverse purchases, which will be made possible only when publishers don’t only push celebrity titles. I’d like for there to be more excellent children’s titles, but the truth is that there are countless terrific books already in existence. They ‘merely’ need to be sold to the buyers of books. Use some of that money on telling the world about your other writers.

I’d like to mention a few recent HarperCollins books here as examples, but I’ve not been told about many. The new Oliver Jeffers book was ‘sold’ to me. I asked about the Skulduggery Pleasant book myself when I discovered its existence. I was offered an adult crime novel on the suggestion by the author. And someone emailed me to say she was leaving the company. This is not to say there weren’t heaps and heaps of great books. Just that there was no publicity coming my way, and possibly not going to others either.

Happy New Reading in 2018!!!

and more still

from 2005 in Gothenburg, while I’m carried away and all that. The amazing thing is how many books Son and I managed to fit in before we went, just so we could be up to scratch on all that was talked about. And how many of those he really liked.

Susanna Clarke

These days I have too much to read, and Son has too much of everything, but still – I believe – retains a fondness for Roddy Doyle and Susanna Clarke, whose name I always forget. But Son adored her Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and was so keen to hear her speak that we actually had to go and sit near the front (and you know I don’t do the front), so he could be close enough.

Roddy Doyle

We read The Commitments in preparation for Roddy Doyle even though he was there to talk about his newest book. I don’t think I realised quite what a literary giant he is in Ireland. Just because I’d barely heard of him at the time didn’t mean he wasn’t revered, or famous.

And it’s funny how things come back to you after all these years. I knew full well we’d seen Lee Child, and been thorougly underwhelmed (I know, everyone I admire seems to like him) by him. But that’s not what I meant. When seeing the photographs for the first time in ten years I realised I knew the man next to him, the one who was there to chat; John-Henri Holmberg. He has more recently been involved in all things Stieg Larsson, and only the other week the Resident IT Consultant came home from the library asking me if I had heard of this person who had translated the anthology he’d just borrowed. I had.

John-Henri Holmberg and Lee Child

Fairly certain we didn’t listen to Jeanette Winterson, but only saw her at the signing. Or maybe we did. See how much I ‘know’? It wasn’t the year that Jeanette complained about the dreary events rooms, anyway. That came later.

Jeanette Winterson

I’d not – still haven’t – read the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, but that didn’t stop us from going to hear him chat to Lotta Olsson; the woman who likes what I like, crime and children’s books, and does so for Dagens Nyheter. On departure I had discovered that I did have a Jonathan Stroud book in my possession, so brought Buried Fire along to be signed. I felt somewhat ashamed for popping up bearing an old book and such a decrepit looking one at that.

Jonathan Stroud and Lotta Olsson

But Jonathan was so pleased to see a well read copy of – I think – his first book, that I learned something new. Authors like seeing that people have read their books, and if it’s an older one, it shows you didn’t simply turn up because of an event for some other book, brandishing a pristine copy of it.

So whenever you see me with an old book, blame Jonathan!

Dare to be honest?

When asked for the best children’s books, do you a) list the ones you truly loved the best, or b) mention the ones you reckon are expected of you? The ‘proper’ books of childhood.

Last week I was impressed to find I wasn’t totally alone in thinking the new list of 11 best books for under tens, published by the BBC wasn’t one I agreed with. They asked critics, who are supposed know about this. All adults, I imagine.

Charlotte’s Web, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Where the Wild Things Are, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Little Women, The Little Prince, Winnie-the-Pooh, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Wizard of Earthsea, A Wrinkle in Time, Little House on the Prairie.

These are fine books. But how much were they even the favourites when these critics were under ten, and how likely is it that they will continue to please young readers of today? Under ten 25 or 50 years ago is not the same as now. Much as I loved Little Women, I’d give it to an older reader today.

I’m not too keen on Roald Dahl. Never read Narnia, but accept that many have and will continue to do so. I have a feeling I’ve not got round to Charlotte’s Web, either. It’s one of those books that are always mentioned, and so well known that it can be hard to keep track of whether or not you’ve actually read it.

Surely this is primarily a list of the books a group of adults believe they loved the best, or feel are the books they ought to admit to in public? Rather like the castaways on Desert Island Discs, who were always asking for the Bible and Shakespeare, and I suspect, not always because those are the very best books in the world. True, there is a lot to read in both, but the choice feels more to be about what you dare say in public. Brave is the person who’d admit to not being a reader, or one who’d prefer Enid Blyton or Lee Child, to pick a couple of very popular writers.

As a foreigner, I feel I’m allowed not to know all these books from childhood. But if I were to choose my favourites, I feel I would be expected to go for Astrid Lindgren, rather than some unknown or forgotten light fiction (by that I mean there were lots of books I loved to bits, but where I either didn’t note the author’s name, or can’t remember it now). Nothing wrong with Astrid, I hasten to add, but whereas I liked Pippi Longstocking back then, today I’d rather not suggest her, but go for one of the others.

And there is that difference between now and then. What I liked 50 years ago, and what I reckon a little Bookwitch today would enjoy. It’s not the same. These critics would also not all be the same age, so their choices show a top eleven from the mid-20th century onwards.

If Offspring were under ten today, there are about four books on the list I’d give them (wouldn’t prevent them from picking any of the books themselves, of course). If I ever end up with Grand-Offspring, I might offer two of these books, and after that I’d go for much more recent books. There are countless wonderful reads for under tens from the last 25 years.

Demon rules and the Glasgow underground

Did you know there are rules for summoning demons? And that crime writers all refer to the same rules?

I trust I didn’t imagine this. Michael J Malone chaired the Bloody Scotland Sunday afternoon supernatural event, talking to Alexandra Sokoloff, Gordon Brown (the other one) and James Oswald. Actually, I don’t suppose the event was supernatural. It was the topic. Although, Alexandra was described as the daughter of Mary Shelley, so I don’t know.

After a ‘warm bloody welcome’ Michael asked the three to blame someone or something for what they are doing. Gordon Brown didn’t know he wanted to write crime, but worked out that he could do a lot of horrible things to people if he did. He described a Glasgow pub fight he’d witnessed once, where one man was sitting reading a book, completely oblivious to the fighting going on around him.

Alexandra Sokoloff

Alexandra said that although she had a past working with juvenile crime in Los Angeles (where she’s from), it was the Scottish who led her to crime. Hearing Denise Mina and Val McDermid talk at BoucherCon one year, she realised that crime writing was the best way to address social issues, tired of the endless slaughter of women in books, and she wanted to turn that around, writing about a female Jack Reacher type.

James blames (hey, that rhymes…) Stuart MacBride. James was writing his epic fantasy series when Stuart told him to stop doing that. So James wrote a few short stories to see if he could write crime, but he hasn’t been able to totally shake off the fantastic element. Hence the demons.

James Oswald

Is evil a noun or an adjective? It can be both, but James uses it as an adjective. And he says that publishers want something different, as long as it’s the same as everything else. Gordon has a plan for putting two politicians into the same room, having the First Minister murder another Minister…

Sex? Well, Gordon doesn’t think he could write it very successfully. And can you let your mother read it? James doesn’t believe the reader should know about the detective’s sex life. They can have one, but you don’t need the details. Whereas Alexandra likes sex and so do her characters. She wants the stories to have erotic suspense, and besides, the books go on for too long for the characters not to have sex. But James said he feels the suspense can still be there with clothes on.

Have they met evil people? Gordon said you can’t possibly know. Alexandra thinks you can, and she has encountered many evil people in the past. James has led a sheltered life, but has come across evil intent, even if people are not evil.

Gordon Brown

Gordon said that if something feels gratuitous, then it probably is. It’s better to imply than to describe. It’s harder, but better, to get inside people’s heads. Alexandra gave up screenwriting because she didn’t like the ‘torture porn’ she was expected to write. She writes about violence, but doesn’t like to read about extreme violence. Humour, according to James, is true to life, so you need it in a book. If there is none, it makes the book hard to read.

Writing series – Alexandra has written two books, and is working on the third, but doesn’t know how long she would continue. Feedback from readers is a good thing. Gordon will write more if he likes the characters, but if he tires of them it’s hard to make it fresh. James doesn’t know. He’s got a contract for six McLean novels, and since his detective doesn’t die at the end of book six, there is scope for more. He gets to know him better with each book, so could go on forever.

Have they researched the supernatural? Well, there seems to be some ground rules about demons. Alexandra has read up on the rules. James relies on Buffy, and Gordon talked about getting the Glasgow underground wrong. The trains might go round and round, but you could still be on the wrong platform.

Bookwitch bites #117

Oh, what a long time since I have ‘bitten!’

It’s also rather a while since it was relevant to mention Christmas trees, but I was intrigued to read about Adrian McKinty stealing one. He knows it’s wrong, though. The interview by Declan Burke is very good. Almost as good as…

Adrian’s been busy. He and Stuart Neville have been working on Belfast Noir, which is another short story collection I am looking forward to. It’s obviously got a Northern Ireland angle, so I’m not sure how they will explain away Lee Child. But anyway.

While we’re over there, I might as well mention Colin Bateman’s plans to reissue Titanic 2020 with the assistance of one of those fundraising ventures. I hope to assist by finally reading it, having long suffered pangs of guilt for not getting to it last time round.

The Costa happened this week, and it seems we have to wait a bit longer for the next overall winner to be a children’s book. But it will happen.

There are more awards in the sea, however, and I’m pleased for Teri Terry who won the Falkirk RED award on Wednesday. If you ever see photos from that event, you’ll realise quite how red it all is.

Shortlists and longlists precede awards events and the Branford Boase longlist was very long. It was also embarrassingly short on books I’ve actually read. But the thing is that it can be harder to know you want to read a first novel, purely because you may not come across a new writer the way you do old-timers.

The Edgar lists have appeared, and while pretty American, it was good to see they appreciate Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood, as well as Caroline Lawrence’s Pinkerton and Far Far Away by Tom McNeal. (I know. Two of them are Americans.)

Finally, for the Oxford Literary Festival in March, one of the organisers has pointed out that they have a lot of fantastic panel events. They do. And that it might be easy to miss them, if you search for author name to find something you want to buy tickets for. So it might be wise to search even more carefully, and that way you’ll find all kinds of events you simply must go to.

One day I will learn not to read ‘chaired by’ as meaning that XX hits selected people with a chair. That it’s not a chair version of ‘floored by.’

OK, I’ll go and rest now. I’m not myself.

A Bloody Scotland Sunday

I was woken by a strange noise. Worked out it was probably caused by rain hammering on my window. I’m used to the Scottish sunshine which makes no sound at all.

My first Bloody Scotland event of the day was Masters of the Dark with Stuart Neville and Mark Billingham. I arrived far too early, so started by checking out an empty Waterstones, where they were tidying up the piles of books from yesterday.

Stuart Neville books

Stuart arrived, looking rather wet, but better a wet author than no author, I say. I was wondering who gets up on a rainy Sunday morning to go to a literary event, but quite a few did, among them Arne Dahl who perhaps came to check out the competition. Fantastic event (and more about it later, as you well know).

Bloody Scotland bookshop on a Sunday morning

Went back to the bookshop in the lift, and one of the other occupants wondered out loud if it was safe to get into lifts with a group of strangers, given what we’d been listening to. Happily we all survived to have our books signed.

Mark Billingham and Stuart Neville

The name Bookwitch rang a little bell for Stuart, who asked if I was the one with the blog. I was. He had dried out somewhat, and I think he might even have combed his hair, possibly with a view to being photographed.

Stuart Neville

When I discovered the rain had been replaced by blue sky, my sandwich and I went outside to sit on a bench, and soon the sandwich was no more. After some dithering I decided to walk up to the Stirling Highland Hotel, just to see if anything interesting was happening. The steep path looked even steeper from the bottom, so I chickened out and went up the less steep path. (In theory I suppose it’s exactly the same height, since you leave one place and end up in the other, and it’s the same for both options.)

After some aimless walking around the hotel, and coming to the conclusion that the bar looked deserted, I saw Stuart being driven away by car along with Arne Dahl, so that was a brief three-hour visit  for Stuart. Arne was on his way to Manchester. Bought some tea to go with my cake. Had left behind my slices of cake in the freezer at Bookwitch Towers, but the Grandmother got out the lemon cake Helen Grant didn’t eat when she visited. The icing is a bit cardboardy, actually, so that might have been for the best.

Nicola Upson, Martha Lea and Catriona McPherson

Went into the other Waterstones and snapped some author pics of Nicola Upson, Martha Lea and Catriona McPherson, along with Craig Robertson and Chris Carter, who complemented each other well in the hair department. History for the ladies and serial killers for the men.

Craig Robertson

Chris Carter

Decided to get the wee shuttle bus down the hill, and ended up on the long scenic route, when I was expecting merely the long but sensible route. Ballengeich Road was an interesting choice for a bus, even when wee.

There was still too much time left before my Lee Child event, and with very little prospect of staying awake, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that Lee would do perfectly fine without me, and walked ‘home’ instead. Clearly timed that wrong, because the rain only started when I was safely back.

Alex Gray, The Swedish Girl

Programmes, programmes everywhere

They just keep coming. I am almost beyond even a quick browse. But I will persevere and do my utmost.

First came the Gothenburg Book Fair programme. The full one, in Swedish, which was rather a treat after years of having to get by on the abridged English language programme.

And I find I have changed. I used to look only for English language events, and then preferably children’s authors. There’s been less of them in recent years, and I’ve had so many festivals closer to home, to feed my obsession.

This time I noticed lots of talks on other, related, things. Children’s reading, libraries, stuff in general. Maybe I’m growing up? Anyway, I could see myself going again this year. There is the small matter of cost, not to mention my stamina (hopefully not my lack thereof) and the annoying fact that you have to decide all this well in advance.

But a programme with an event like ‘Dewey – could libraries in 138 countries be wrong?’ It’s tempting, isn’t it? I suspect the answer is ‘yes,’ they can be wrong. After all, 9 million Swedes can’t possibly not be right.

The next programme to pop up was Bloody Scotland. And luckily for this exhausted reader, it’s a short one. I was about to say it’s because it’s only on for three days, but Gothenburg is only four. It’s because it’s a fledgling festival, and anyway, size doesn’t matter.

I found lots of good events in it, and the funny thing is that Daughter, who was most definitely not going to mess up her fresher’s week by attending this year, called to tell me about what she can’t possibly miss. So I might not be as lonely as I had been counting on.

Although,  you can’t go wrong with the lovely Eoin Colfer. (What is so Scottish about him??) Or the very Scottish and lovely Linda Strachan. And then we have all the Swedes and other murderous ‘Nords’ who are also not terribly Scottish. Bloody, though. Lee Child. I don’t know what he counts as, but the ladies will swoon.

My mouth is watering, and I will have to be strict with myself to make sure I don’t attempt too much, again. They’re only two weeks apart, and I can tell already I will be ‘less keen’ when the time comes.

Restraint, witch. Restraint!

The Books To Die For Tour

Waterstones Deansgate is a good place to go to if you want the attention of several young men at once. (Staff, I mean. And it helps if you’re difficult. Like me.)

John Connolly and Declan Burke

I was there to hear Declan Burke and John Connolly – and as it turned out, Barbara Nadel – talk about how they forced hundreds of authors to write essays on their favourite crime writers, and to do so by the deadline. (I have to get back to Waterstones here. Last year I was in that same room to hear John speak about one of his children’s books. It was the children’s department. Yesterday he was there as an adult writer, and it was an adult’s fiction department. Very obliging of them to keep switching.)

John Connolly and Declan Burke

Declan Burke and Barbara Nadel

Anyway, there we were, around fifty crime fans or so, to hear the gossip about the participating authors of Books To Die For. And how much work it had been putting this wonderful ‘reference’ volume, conceived in wine, together. I believe John said yes to Declan’s idea, while really meaning no. These things happen.

They insulted each other, which was only to be expected. John reminisced about young people, suddenly feeling old doing so. (Having stumbled across a photo of John last week, I can assure you he was himself very young once.)

Apart from age issues, we learned that John has a marvellous black book of contacts, and he really entered into ‘the spirit’ of this job. I’d say they both did.

According to Barbara the participating writers were given very little time to write their essays. A mere six months, which left the editors to hunt people down ‘like assassins’ (hope they really didn’t mean that) after the deadline, literally chasing people across continents.

They had to fact check everything from often inaccurate quotes to people who couldn’t remember their own date of birth or the titles of their books. (It’s always so hard, that.) Both John and Declan gave examples of authors they didn’t know, and also listed some of the more unusual writers that cropped up. (No, I’m not listing them here. Read the book!)

John Connolly

There was a worried moment when it looked like no one was going to pick Agatha Christie, which indicates that people didn’t necessarily go for the obvious names first. Some essays revealed a lot about those who’d written them, and whereas they tried to be really strict on word count (2000), some essays did end up twice as long.

Lee Child wrote the shortest one. Declan and John were amazed that he remembered the cover of ‘his’ book in such detail, and the price he paid, and not much else… Sara Paretsky’s contribution is ‘wonderful.’

Declan Burke

In the Q&A I finally had my explanation as to why crime writers are so nice. According to Ruth Dudley Edwards, murdering all day long makes you nice. Although as regards bad reviews, John prefers knockdown fights in the pub. More honest. (He doesn’t read reviews. Except he seemed to have read mine…) We are all so nice, because these days we want to be able to meet an author in the bar, and still be friends. So true. Sometimes.

Declan Burke, Barbara Nadel and John Connolly

There was a lovely long queue to have books signed, and I fought for my place last in line with another big fan. We both won. More or less. There were trading cards. With duplicates. We now have to meet up again and swap. And make friends. John also handed out postcards, which left Declan wishing he’d thought of that.

Afterwards I hobbled towards my train at such utter lack of speed that my lovely Irishmen returning to their hotel would surely have caught up with me, had I not been rescued by a tram.

Where are the wild dogs when you need them?

I don’t suppose Adèle Geras expected her email alert to have quite this effect on me. But that’s the blogging world for you. I was out all Sunday so did not, in fact, see the Observer article where Ed Docx – ‘literary author’ – tears Stieg Larsson and Dan Brown to pieces. And the crime fiction genre and genres in general. Thank god for real literature. What would we do without it?

Ed Docx 2

A brief meeting with the good Ed means I seem to know that he has a literature background, which will be why he knows so much. He lectures quite strongly, and wrongly, in this Observer piece. Just as he did at the bookshop event I went to, where he thought nothing of telling the assembled readers, most of whom were at least twice his age, how to read a book. He wasn’t trying to be funny, either.

On Normblog Mr Geras had this to say about the article. Such a relief to find some well put-together sentences such as ‘Oh dear, Yeats! If only he’d roamed free of those poetic forms’, even if Norm doesn’t share my fondness for crime.

Stieg Larsson would surely turn in his grave if he knew he was being bracketed with Mr Brown of Da Vinci fame. There is a lot of difference between the two, and I think Ed would have been better to concentrate on complaining about only one of them.

Over on Crime Always Pays there is also a debate going on, with John Connolly sticking up for Ed. Which I will forgive him for. This time. And I agree with the comment about Lee Child, but then I would.

I was going to find a way to link to what I wrote about Ed a couple of years ago, but technical difficulties are getting in my way. Besides, when there are quotes like this one from the Observer comments section to enjoy, who needs old witch material? ‘The important thing is that anyone who claims to be a writer and writes copy like Docx’s should have their bowels torn out by wild dogs.’

(And you can never have two many drinks. As long as they balance.)