Tag Archives: Mårten Sandén

The other prize

Confusingly, there are two Astrid Lindgren literary prizes. Actually, there could be more than that. I only happen to know of two. This is about the smaller, less famous, but older Astrid Lindgren prize.

Mårten Sandén, about whom I’ve written here a few times, has just been awarded this prize, which as he puts it, means he’s now in the company of the children’s authors who inspired him to read when he was a little boy. And I think that’s quite nice.

The prize is for 50,000 kronor, which is just under £5000, and thus rather less than the ALMA, which is five million kronor. That one is a life changing kind of award, or so I imagine, whereas what Mårten has been given is more of a pat on the head, saying ‘well done,’ while also letting the winner join a select group of writers.

I reviewed one of Mårten’s recent books a few weeks ago, despite the fact that it’s not been translated into English yet. I simply felt I had to mention it anyway. And for his nameday almost exactly two years ago, I published his profile on Bookwitch. Never let it be said I don’t appreciate the best.

It’s a Wonderful Book

Sju förtrollade kvällar is the title of Mårten Sandén’s new book. You might remember Mårten from an earlier book of his which was translated into English, published by Pushkin, or his profile on here a couple of years ago.

This one isn’t, but I have been somewhat bewitched by his Seven Bewitched Nights (dreadful translation, I know, but roughly right), and I can’t not mention it. It’s another of the far too rare perfect little children’s books you dream of. Short and relatively simple, it still catches the interest of an adult reader, and there will be things in the book that perhaps the child reader won’t see.

Mårten Sandén, Sju förtrollade kvällar

It felt surprisingly familiar in some way, and it took me a while to work out where I was (a romantic time travel film) in my mind. So, not terribly original; just very nicely executed.

The book is about 12-year-old Buster, who boxes and struggles with his homework. His dead, older brother Jack was his complete opposite. Buster suddenly gets talking to The-Girl-Who-Reads at school, and he also discovers what life is like for an older boy who is bullied, by one of Buster’s friends. And one evening Buster is given  seven old-style cinema tickets by an elderly man in town. From then on nothing is quite as it was.

I was transported right back to my childhood, in a charming way. Yes, OK, there were bad things. But this is nostalgia, as well as a story about how you live your life. And the cover is gorgeous.

(Life as an untranslated book isn’t easy. There are many good ones. But I hope this one can have a future in English too.)

The ferried witch

Friday was Furusund day. Well, Furusund morning, anyway. Furusund – which features in Evert Taube’s songs, as well as having been the holiday home of Astrid Lindgren – was smaller than expected. Nice, but there was no ‘downtown’ Furusund to speak of. You sit there looking at the sailboats, when along comes a monster boat.


And when we had looked our fill at Furusund, the Resident IT Consultant – with little consideration for lunch – drove us to Kapellskär, which is near-ish, and where the big monster boats to Finland and Åland depart from. There wasn’t much there either, if you overlook three monster terminals for very very big boats. (Son and Dodo and Dodo’s family passed through a few days earlier, as Son day-tripped his out-laws.)

Kapellskär; the way to Finland

There was a beach we tried to look at, and a campsite we didn’t. And there was a ‘Loppis’ – a local flea market – which sold tea and ice creams as well as other people’s cast-offs.

I really wanted a wall hung telephone table, but ended up with a table cloth instead. (Will fit the suitcase better.)

Secondhand books, Kapellskär

Beach at Kapellskär

The Resident IT Consultant asked to be allowed to look at the secondhand books after he’d drunk his coffee. So we both looked at books. In the children’s corner they had plenty of Mårten Sandén novels. I didn’t need any more books, however, and the one sporting an English title on the cover which the Resident IT Consultant found, turned out to be in German.

Secondhand books, Kapellskär

Gunnel Linde

One of the best authors from my childhood – Gunnel Linde – has died. I first got an inkling of this on Sunday morning when a facebook friend mentioned losing her ‘cucumber mum’ and realised something was up. Later the same day another facebook friend linked to Dagens Nyheter where I could read some more. But no matter how I googled, there was simply no more news.

In this day and age that seems strange. News comes to you immediately. And here I was struggling to confirm it or to find out more.

Another strange thing for me is that I knew so very little about her. Now I keep track of writers and know much about them, apart from their work. As a child I only knew what I needed, which was that I liked her books and to find one with Gunnel Linde’s namn on the cover was a recommendation.

That’s exactly how it should be.

No need to know what they look like or if they have a dog or where they get their inspiration. You just read the books, usually borrowed from a library.

Now, thanks to Maria Nikolajeva, I know a little more about this woman who was like a mother to her. It makes for very interesting reading, and what it also did for me was to want to know more about Maria (who is one of the few people whose name I have mentioned to the Retired Children’s Librarian and managed to impress her with). Perhaps I shall ask.

I first mentioned Gunnel Linde here last year, having been reminded of some of my childhood reading, and finding I shared my liking for her books with author Mårten Sandén.

Since I didn’t know all that much before, I’m glad I’ve found out a bit more.

Thank you for the books!

The #5 profile – Mårten Sandén

Today is Mårten’s day. Swedes (might) celebrate by eating goose. So I sort of felt that it’d be appropriate to ask the only Mårten I know to be my profile for the day. He is Mårten Sandén, and the first of his books to be translated into English was published in the summer, House Without Mirrors.

Mårten Sandén

A real Anglophile, Mårten has treated my silly profile questions like the pro he is, being the kind of author who translates his book into English himself, just so he has something that he can cart round to show possible foreign publishers. There could be more books one day…

Over to Mårten:

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Just one finished (but rather longish) novel, which was mysteriously turned down by every major publishing house (and quite a few minor ones) in Sweden. Something we should all be thankful for, I assure you.

Best place for inspiration?

Standing by the open window of a moving train has always seemed to work for me. Too bad so few train windows open at all these days.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I have considered it, but so far always decided against it. The main reason for using a pseudonym would probably be not to confuse readers, since I write for so many age groups, in so many genres. But so far everything has been published under my real name.

What would you never write about?

Bottomless, senseless despair, I think. No matter how dark the protagonist’s situation becomes, there must be hope, or at least a sense of meaning.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

Through my songwriting I had the pleasure of briefly meeting rockabilly legend Carl Perkins (Blue Suede Shoes) in Nashville, just months before he passed away. Visiting Swedish-speaking schools on remote islands in the archipelago of southern Finland, in winter, was very strange and wonderful.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

There are quite a few, but feisty heroine Jannike Faltin in an Urban Fantasy trilogy I wrote a few years back would be nice. Jannike is bright, has psychic powers, can travel through time and parallel realities, and is in excellent physical shape. The bad news is she’s a teenager, and I wouldn’t want to be that again.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

A good thing, certainly, if the script was good, the actors and director brilliant and the budget not too tight. I love movies and have learned a lot about writing novels from watching them and from reading books about screenwriting.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

Since I usually speak before middle-graders, most questions I’m asked tend to be slightly odd. “Why aren’t you taller?” is one I like to ponder.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

Um, I’m really good at untying knots … Does that count? I can also whip up a rather decent George Formby-style version of “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue” on the ukulele.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

As a boy I would have said both, but as a boring adult I probably prefer Narnia.

Who is your most favourite Stopfordian?

Fred Perry! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him play, even on TV, but I grew up in his tennis shirts and trainers. A Mod icon!

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I have Billys untold in our apartment, and a basement stash with almost as many. The ultimate goal is to have all the books sorted alphabetically and by subject (Fiction, History, Travel, etc.). I actually achieved this lofty ambition once, very briefly. But then we moved again …

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

That depends on the boy, but I would probably go for something classic and adventurous. Jules Verne, or Stevenson’s Treasure Island, in a young reader’s edition, perhaps.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

That’s one choice I hope I’m never forced to make … If I was, I would probably try to worm my way out of the situation by using some version of the old Woody Allen joke: “The money or your life!” “Well, you’d better take my life then, because I need the money.”

In the end it would be writing, because I can’t see myself spending my days without it, but I would certainly miss reading.

You can see how very dapper and ‘English gentleman’ Mårten is by his terribly elegant three piece suit. I bet this is a man who never writes in his pyjamas. Although, if forced to choose between not writing and doing it in PJs, I reckon I can guess what his decision would be.


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…

A House Without Mirrors

I needn’t have worried. Both the book and the translation were absolutely fine. More than fine.

I promised I’d let you know what I thought of Mårten Sandén’s book as soon as I received my copy, which in the end was the day after publication day in Britain. And I think you’ll enjoy reading A House Without Mirrors.

Mårten Sandén, A House Without Mirrors

I had worried about the translation, on the grounds that not all books travel well, but also because Karin Altenberg is Swedish, and has translated the ‘other’ way round. But it is all good.

Somewhat reminiscent of Tom’s Midnight Garden, this is a story about a family and an old house and its ancient owner Henrietta, who is dying. Told by Thomasine, her 11-year-old great-niece, we meet a dysfunctional group of relatives.

While Thomasine’s father Thomas seems to be merely grieving for Henrietta’s imminent death, his brother Daniel and his two children, and sister Kajsa and her daughter, are angry and argue all the time. They appear to be waiting to split the inheritance, the moment it becomes theirs. Thomasine’s cousins are all troubled in one way or another.

Henrietta has no mirrors in the house. Except, one night the children find a wardrobe full of them, and they discover that once you step out of the wardrobe again, there is another – mirror image – side to the old house. What’s more, you are not the same again.

This old-fashioned tale, illustrated rather nicely by Moa Schulman, could easily be mistaken for a much younger book (look out for the swearing, though!) than it really is. I find it refreshing that a story like this, about death and relationship issues, can be both sweet and loving, and above all, short.

Right from the beginning, it made me feel all calm and happy, and I can see it would work well to read to a younger child as well.

It’s part of a new list of translated children’s fiction by Pushkin Children’s Books, and I hope we will have more of this kind of thing. There is a whole other world out there, if only you look. Mårten Sandén is a popular and prolific children’s author in Sweden, well known for his twin detectives. (Nordic crime for a younger age group.) And he’s not alone.

It was in the post

There’s no escaping the jiffies. There was one waiting for me at this end, and doesn’t it look nice?

Mårten Sandén books in the post

I heard ages ago that Mårten Sandén’s book Ett hus utan speglar was going to be published in English this summer. I am hoping the translation is winging itself over here as I blog (because I was a little late in thinking about this). But so I could see what the original looks like, Mårten very kindly supplied me with a copy. Actually, it was his dad. He’s pretty good at sticking on stamps, wouldn’t you say?

There was also the bonus book Mitzi i mitten, which I read and reviewed here. (Much good it will do you. Or perhaps the translate thingy will do a better job than I tend to think of it doing.)

So, I am looking forward to seeing what Mårten’s A House Without Mirrors will be like when it has been exported. And I will let you know.

Age-appropriate advice

Would you suggest to a proficient 14-year-old reader that they read The Witches by Roald Dahl?

It’s not the first thing that would come to mind, is it? Especially if the advisor is someone in publishing, who knows about books for young readers. I’m reminded of my Swedish teacher when I was that age. She kept suggesting books that were far too young for me, even if I hadn’t been permanently glued to Alistair MacLean. In English.

The magazine ViLÄSER arranged a meeting between a children’s publisher and a 14-year-old for a discussion on books, and I was appalled to find the Dahl being her first idea when the girl said she likes exciting books.

Even the previously mentioned Petrini crime novels are a little young, although the girl had enjoyed them. I could barely keep up when the next suggestion was Aidan Chambers, which is a huge jump. The girl’s current favourite is The Hunger Games.

In the end they produced a fairly good list of books, including Ink Heart, His Dark Materials, The Princess Diaries, The Diary of a Wimp, and Before I Die.

But why should it be so hard to give advice?

I found an interesting thought in an interview with a children’s author called Åsa Lind. I have no idea of what her writing is like, but like this quote: ‘You don’t need to write for everyone. It doesn’t have to be easy to digest or easy to buy. Better chewy than soft. But still enjoyable, rather like Romanian poetry.’

Keeping them interested

‘Children aren’t polite, they won’t finish a book if they find it boring’. The man who says this is Mårten Sandén. He has just had his 11th novel about the Petrini twins child detectives published.

I have to agree with him. Daughter and I have read half of his first Petrini book. I had this bright idea when Daughter swapped French in Y8 for ‘Swedish with Mother’ for a year, that to read modern children’s fiction would be really helpful. You know, on the same basis that I enjoyed Blyton, and later learnt English courtesy of Agatha Christie.

After extensive research I found Mårten and his books. Children’s crime, set in Lund right now, with detectives of a similar age to Daughter. Simple enough to understand, but exciting enough to persevere with.

I thought.

She didn’t have to read the book on her own; I read it aloud, a chapter a week. But whereas she probably saw it as relaxing and time away from verbs and stuff, it failed to grab her. The reading tailed off, and by the end of the school year we were only halfway. And somehow, without her I never bothered to read to the end.

I’m not saying Mårten’s books are bad or boring, but they weren’t right for us. We fared a little better with translations of Jacqueline Wilson’s The Cat Mummy and Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging. I just had this purist idea that an original language book would be better than a translation. In this case it was clearly better with something familiar.

Maybe I’ll get back to the Petrini twins one day. To have eleven books in about as many years isn’t bad going. Swedes do like their own literature. And from what Mårten says, he will listen to criticism and change if his fans get bored.