Tag Archives: Wallander

Bookwitch bites #116

I am really grateful to the kind people of Wexford, Ireland, for arranging somewhere I could park my broom the other night. (Not that I have actually been to Wexford, but its proximity to Eoin Colfer makes it seem like a very nice place. That, and the broom parking.)

Broom parking

So, I’m resting a little. No flying while it’s windy. Besides, you can’t trust people not to be setting off fireworks at the moment. And that is very dangerous for witches on brooms. For others, too, but I am mostly looking after me.

We can’t all be like that lovely man, Terry Pratchett, who is a wee bit more modest than he needs to be.

Terry Pratchett

And so was the poor woman in Ystad who was locked into the library. 91-year-old Dagmar sat comfortably reading something, as you do, when it was time to close and staff claim to have ‘looked’ but seem to have missed Dagmar, so set the alarm, locked up and went home for the weekend. (It was Friday the 13th.) When eventually Dagmar moved, she set off the alarm, and someone came to find her, and even let her out. And being 91 and polite, she apologised for having caused trouble…

But you already knew that Ystad is a dangerous town. Just ask Wallander. Bet he’s never been locked in a library, though.

Locked in, is something we connect with Al Capone, among other things. Gennifer Choldenko’s third Alcatraz book Al Capone Does My Homework, is already out in the US, but the rest of us have to wait a while. Sob.

Gennifer Choldenko, Al Capone Does My Homework

And I can just sense that you like being told about books you can’t buy yet, so I’ll show you the cover of Ruth Eastham’s to-be-published third novel, Arrowhead. Like Al Capone, it will come. One day.

Ruth Eastham, Arrowhead

As I go to pick up my broom, I will leave you in the capable hands of Meg Rosoff. Although, considering what she can do to a piece of paper with a pair of scissors, I’m not so sure about those hands. If I think about it.


Leave my archipelagos alone!

In his review last week of Camilla Läckberg’s The Lost Boy, the Resident IT Consultant mentioned the standard clichés you tend to encounter in Nordic crime fiction. OK, neither abuse nor suicides are terribly enjoyable, albeit facts of life and probably quite appropriate in crime novels that tend to deal with death and violence.

But I claim the right to have my motorcycle gangs, and my archipelagos! They are a way of life. They are also common enough not to merit cliché-dom, simply because you expect them.


Motorcycle gangs are rarely young killers in real life, though. They are middleaged and orderly, living their dream. What’s not to like about wearing black leather and driving around the beautiful Nordic countryside? Stopping for coffee and waffles at some scenic outdoor café, and life is just perfect.

But the crime novelist might be better off not mentioning the waffles.

As for the archipelago; we ‘all’ have one. Strictly speaking, it needn’t be an archipelago. A beach will do. Somewhere by the sea. Or the side of a lake. If the water is missing, there will be forests. And in that forest or by that stretch of water – on or off an island – is a cottage.

Your cottage. You either own it or rent it or borrow it or simply visit someone else’s. Preferably with an invitation. Although the urban myth (?) depicts how you just decide to go visit the Nilssons for the day (or the weekend) because they own that nice cottage, and so by default will be desperate for your obnoxious company. You arrive armed with a packet of biscuits, ensuring they will be so dreadfully appreciative…

You don’t have to be rich. Not on the breadline either, obviously, but you can be – and most likely are – completely ordinary.


I have had an ‘archipelago’ all my life, in the shape of a beach on the Swedish coast. The landscape looks like Kenneth Branagh’s Ystad. My first trip I was one week old, and we spent the next eleven summers in the same cottage. It belonged to Favourite Aunt, and the cottage next to hers was Aunt Motta’s, and all the cousins crowded in and slept packed like sardines.

Beach and sardines. Privy. It couldn’t have been more wonderful if it tried.

And it goes without saying that had we been the murderous type, we’d have done the dirty deed in this idyllic and sunny setting. That’s why you set your crime novel in an archipelago. Not because everyone else does.

By my twelfth summer Mother-of-witch wanted her own cottage, so saved and scraped and bought one. (Come to think of it; that’s where the postman thought we’d done the Retired Children’s Librarian in.)

Crab fishing in Steninge

We still holiday there and whenever we go for waffles, the motorcycle gang is sure to follow.

A Bloody Brilliant Crime Weekend

Lin Anderson and Alex Gray are used to murdering people, and on Friday night they toasted their victims in prosecco (which was really water, or so they claimed) to mark the start of Bloody Scotland, their ‘baby’ in the ‘Harrogate of the North.’ (That’s Stirling for the uninitiated.)

Alex Gray and Lin Anderson and drinkers

They ran through all the reasons for a Scottish crimefest, and then called in Ian Rankin to consider the merits of them, and he seemed to think it was a sound idea. Hard to be sure, because he mumbled a bit from time to time.

But it is a good idea; this ‘weekend to die for.’ The Albert Halls were packed on Friday evening when Lin and Alex and Ian provided the arguments for yet another crime festival. Something for a country with fewer spinsters and tiny gentlemen, and ‘with a bit more gas’ to put it bluntly.

Scotland has plenty of places not yet used in fiction. Everywhere is fair game. And crime is not subsidised or sponsored, so it has to sell. It has to be good. Ian Rankin said he wanted to write what he thought his father might want to read. He himself grew up on Alistair MacLean (well, who didn’t?), but pointed out that all of his books were set outside Scotland.

When they opened the floor to questions the audience was unusually reticent until Barry Forshaw set the ball rolling by wondering if we – they – need to be worried about the Scandinavians.

Yes, they do need to be concerned about the Scandinavians. Especially beware the ones in Stirling this weekend.

Ian Rankin

Ian moaned about the difference in television hours between Rebus and the Killing, and made the obvious statement that Branagh is Branagh. As for himself he prefers the second Wallander, which is probably Krister Henriksson.

After discussing how it’s harder to murder people with obscure poisons these days, the audience got friskier, culminating in one writer advertising his own crime novels and asking Ian for advice on publishing and ‘how to become a little more rich.’

The move on to sockpuppets was probably unavoidable, although not everyone knew what they are. But as Ian said about himself and his Scottish crime writing peers, ‘we’re the gang.’

This gang drank – another – toast to Bloody Scotland, signed books in the BS bookshop, and then swanned off to a grand dinner at the Highland Hotel.

Midweek mörder – some light relief

All this blogging about murderous Vikings has got to me. I need to be frivolous, even if only for six minutes. And the tricky thing with basing a blog post on a video clip is what happens when it disappears. Not much. But hopefully it will not be until next week.

What is it with you English speakers and the murderous umlaut? There is such a thing as too many.

Besides, this video featuring Barnaby, Wallander, Sarah Lund and Lisbeth Salander should really have the Muppets’ Swedish chef in there as well. He’s the one who actually talks like that.

The rest of us are just very violent and efficient.

The prisoner and the biscuit factory

I’m straying further and further away from the straight and narrow. This was really meant to be a blog about books for young people, with the very occasional foray into the world of crime. I’m sorry. And the trades description people will probably not be of much help.

When we dined to the accompaniment of a Wallander the other week, Daughter was most impressed with their jail cell. In fact, she had to be persuaded it was a cell. Her automatic reaction was that it was like student accommodation. My retort was that it was much better than most halls of residence I’ve seen. And this in turn turned the conversation to Swedish jails in general. Not that I have much experience of them. I hope you believe me.

I told Daughter about the Englishman who ended up in a Swedish jail ten or twenty years ago. The newspapers here kept saying he should have the right to serve his sentence in a jail closer to home. It would be nicer for him, obviously. He never applied for a move, and I’m not surprised. (Not everything is better in Britain.)

And I went on to tell her of the school trip to the biscuit factory. Mother-of-witch taught business economics at 16+ level. Most years she arranged the end of the school year trip to Kexfabriken in Kungälv, because they offered a very nice tour of their offices, followed by a buy as much as you can carry from the factory shop.

I was at a loose end one year, and took her up on the offer of coming along, since I got a free ride to Gothenburg. I spent my day not buying biscuits. Forget what I did. Anyway, the point is the prisoner we brought with us on the trip.

Inmates can (could) study what they like, and when one of the prisoners wanted to do business economics they offered him day-release to attend school, as the prison teachers couldn’t offer the subject in-house. Mother-of-witch knew, but no one else in the class had any idea of his status.

And it would have been unfair to go on the school trip and not let him come. So he came. Bet the biscuit factory didn’t know. I believe the coach driver might have known, seeing as he was asked to ‘step on it’ to get back to the prison on time. One thing our prisoner did have was a timed  curfew.

Daughter assumed there would have had to be a guard with him. Hah. Guards are for wimps.

Anyway, for a country that offers weekend breaks even for high security type criminals, you really can’t keep them from going on school trips.

We never found out why he was inside. But it was a long sentence, and you don’t often get those.

Bookwitch bites #48

I so want to go to the Oxford Literary Festival. And that does sound pathetic. I know. I found this really good selection of events that would suit me perfectly, on Sunday 3rd April. And do you know, the trains aren’t running that morning. This is Britain, after all. Thwarted by a train! Or lack thereof. When I started looking, the fare was even quite reasonable. But you don’t buy a ticket in order not to get somewhere. Candy Gourlay, Michelle Magorian and Meg Rosoff… How can I not want to go? Christ Church College frowned on people sitting on their quad wall last year. I suppose that sneaking in the night before and sleeping on the very same wall wouldn’t go down any better.


Some people are off to Bologna next week. That’s another place I’ve not tried. Not sure it’s suitable for the likes of me, but whenever people say they are getting ready to go I feel a pang. It honestly doesn’t hurt much at all. I’d rather do Oxford.

Henning Mankell

Antibes now, that’s something else. I’m not sure that’s where my guest blogger Declan went to interview Henning Mankell. It’s probably just the Guardian who sent their interviewer there for their Mankell interview. The current glut of Mankell interviews suggests a new book. It’s the end for poor Wallander, in some way or other.

And please note that we have our own Mankell photo from the same session as the Guardian’s. I’ve learned to recognise that green backdrop now.

After this week’s travelling I have an excellent quote from Julie Bertagna. It really should go on the cover of my book, but I haven’t written one yet and it seems like a long wait expecting that to happen. Julie was reading Bookwitch, as any self-respecting author ought to, and found she couldn’t ‘get off the site’. She suspects an entrapment spell.

No comment.

Incentive to read

You might end up with square eyes from watching too much television, or whatever it was they tried to say to scare us off the box. Although in my distant – very distant –  childhood there was sufficiently little on television to make the eyes all that square, to be honest.

But I’ve only recently realised that there is one very strong incentive to learn to read in countries where English is not the main language, and which are small enough that hardly any dubbing of films or television takes place. And that is the dreaded box.

Not starting school until seven (six now) made for some uncomfortable years when there was far too much need for reading skills, but not having them. Just about the only things that do get dubbed are programmes and films for the very young, and presumably only because their audiences can’t read. Not because foreign languages are an abomination.

Hence Disney is dubbed and it took me years to accept the American voice of Baloo when I’d only ever heard Beppe Wolgers.

Unfortunately you can’t really force little British or American children to early reading in the same way, as most of their entertainment comes in English. But it’d be worth considering if there is anything at all which is so desirable and cool that children would strive to learn a new skill in order to consume more.

For speakers of small languages there is also the influence of music, and these days all of the internet. If you want to, you will work hard at overcoming problems with reading and with that foreign language, too.

It took me years as an immigrant to grasp that the natives didn’t like subtitles. To me they’d always been second nature. If needed, they were there.

Johanna Sällström and Krister Henriksson

So the new Nordic noir crime wave on television is proving useful for more than entertainment and making some people very rich. While watching the Swedish Wallander Daughter kept getting annoyed at herself for not being able to ignore the subtitles, and that’s always been the case. You see them and read despite not needing them. Although I have very nearly got to the stage where I can avoid the lower part of the screen.

Lisbeth Salander

With me being the impatient sort, we have the full set of Stieg Larsson DVDs, and having to switch on the hard-of-hearing Swedish subtitles for the Resident IT Consultant to aid him in this foreign jungle. (He does have an O-level in Swedish, but that doesn’t get you far.) That means the rest of us have more subtitles to try and ignore.

Casualties 1

I also happen to own a DVD, some peculiar Polish version of an (obscure-ish) American film, which comes with subtitles in four Nordic languages. And when I say that I mean that you can’t switch them off. You can choose which language you want to be annoyed by, but it has to be there. All I can say to the translator is that that was no vinegar the woman sprayed over the baddie’s face. We eat vinegar. This was far worse, considering what his face looked like afterwards.


Back to Daughter and her subtitles. They work for her, too, seeing as how she can only watch the Danish crime series Rejseholdet by reading the Swedish subtitles. How she does it I don’t know, but you wouldn’t watch over thirty episodes if you didn’t get (most of) it.

Sarah Lund's jumper - black

And now it’s the equally Danish Forbrydelsen which has the whole country, or so it seems, by the seat of their pants every Saturday. Soon people will watch foreign programmes without noticing they are doing it.

But at least we don’t have dubbing forced on us the way the Germans do. There is no way I’d watch NCIS with those silly dubbed voices. With regard to Baloo you know that Disney cared and made sure the voice chosen was a good one.

So it’s not just me then?

This can run and run. Barely a week after my moan about Mariella Frostrup’s mangling of Scandinavian names, I have already had at least two facebook discussions on related topics.

I have continued my attempts at phonetic writing, when I don’t know what the other party is capable of understanding. (Sorry. I don’t mean that you are idiots. Just that there is a need to adapt for those who are not language students.)

Aminatta Forna

Anyway, that’s not what I was going to blog about. I happened upon this piece by Aminatta Forna in the Guardian. I know exactly what she means, even if my name as many of you know is somewhat simpler (=common). I even know what Aminatta looks like. Not sure how to pronounce her name, but in my thoughts I go mostly Italian. Which is probably wrong.

Whenever I read anything American, be it fact or fiction, I’m always taken aback by the sheer number of ‘difficult’ names and have wondered how they cope. According to Aminatta they have a working system of asking people to spell their names out.

It’s an excellent solution, and necessary, but one I avoid as much as possible. Once someone gets started on a-m-i-n-a-t-t-a my mind goes blank, and I only catch half of it and not necessarily in the right order. I can spell things out to people, but have difficulty if on the receiving end. I don’t suppose I could ask you to spell using the Swedish alphabet?

Whatever. My surname causes panic in Sweden where people are quite capable of saying ‘miles’, but opt for something that would rhyme with ‘millis’ for my name. But that’s OK. They are foreign. So why can’t people in ‘British’ call centres get it right?

And Swedes know for a fact that Ian rhymes with Brian. It must. Just look at it!

Aminatta would like her New Year cards to bear her name, correctly spelled. We have just received yet another card to ‘Dave’. There is no such person here. Anyone less Dave-like than the Resident IT Consultant you’d have to search for millis for. Why assume that you can use pet names for people you don’t know well enough to know that it’s not what they are called?

I’m so fussy that I would struggle to call a man Dave unless that’s the first version I hear.

And I’m aware that my name sounds the same, whether or not you add an ‘e’ at the end. But in writing it doesn’t feel like me if the ‘e’ is present. People are always adding the unwanted ‘e’. My neighbour three doors down complains that people are always removing her ‘e’. Never happy, are we?

I’m always pleased when people remember. And I’m astounded when those I barely know (or who barely know me) actually do recall the with-or-without issue. Steve Cole is one such person. Many remember the issue, but not which way it goes.

If you meet someone, don’t you at least try and listen to see how they say their name? To the best of my knowledge it’s not Meg Rose-off. And Debi Gliori has a silent ‘g’. Before meeting Rick Riordan I went to his website. He has a place where you can hear him pronounce Riordan. It’s quite easy once you know it’s not said ‘the other way’.

I’d be grateful (yes, I would, actually) if people could write in and correct all my own mistakes. I’ll compile a list.