Ulf Stark, author of around 30 books for children and young adults, is in town for the New Zealand Festival’s Writers Week. This Swedish author has also written film, TV and theatre scripts and been nominated twice for the Hans Christian Andersen Award.
See Ulf live at the Hannah Playhouse (Downstage Theatre) on Sunday March 9th at 12:15pm
We have three of Ulf’s books, including a signed copy, to give away to one lucky individual thanks to Gecko Press. To win please tell us Ulf’s home country by email to email@example.com, Tweet @WCL_LIbrary or comment on the post on our Facebook page. (We will announce a winner on the morning of Thursday March 13th).
Justin from the library Online Services Team meet with Ulf on Saturday morning. Here is their Q & A:
(J) How did you get into making books?
(U)So, I was not very talented in anything. And actually I disliked writing when I was very young because I was left-handed and we were forced to do right-handed in school. So that was the worst thing to have to write things. Then during my teen ages a lot of things changed. When you are a teenager you are looking in the mirror and you don’t recognise your face, you don’t recognise your feelings either. And then I read a lot of books. Not the younger books I had read before, but the real books. I think there is something, when you are in your teenage years you don’t feel confident to talk to your parents, or you don’t want to talk to them about the subjects that are near you – not about sexuality, not about a lot of things. So I had those conversations with the books and that was fine I think. Then we got a teacher in school who I liked very much and she liked my writing as well. I don’t think that teachers are aware of the power they have. So I started writing and then I came in contact with young authors and I was beginning to write. I wrote my first book when I was 18. It was a collection of poems. It was not that good – it was awful I would say.
(J)Did it get published?
(U)Yes it was. I got 500 Swedish Crowns and then I wrote another collection of poems, a little bit better and then a novel for the adults. Then I was 25 and I understood that I hadn’t anything else to write about. So I worked a little bit, for ten years or something. Then I started writing again in 1984 I think with this one [Fruitloops & Dipsticks] and it was a little success in Sweden and the Nordic countries. Suddenly I got money for writing. I had been working in the bureaucracy beforehand for a lot of years, training in education so it was quite good.
(J)Do you think the break helped?
(U)I think what helped with the job was that I was teaching about the differences about the male and the female. I was very interested in this difference, what is it to be a man and what is it to be a female? Why are we so different? So this is [Fruitloops & Dipsticks] sort of an investigation of the differences. An investigation of me being a male writer taking place in a girl.
(J)That would have been quite difficult?
(U)Yeah. It was quite difficult so I decided to let her be a boy after a while. It was much easier that way. It was published in a lot of countries. It is still published in a lot of new countries – in Russia for example. And they do a new edition now because of [Vladimir] Putin’s laws.
(J)Has it been censored?
(U)You cannot write anything about sexuality for young people under 16 years.
(J)Is that frustrating for you, knowing that they’re censoring your work?
(U)A little bit frustrating but on the other hand this edition [uncensored Fruitloops & Dipsticks] still exists in Russia. So I think the interest for the first edition has increased because it is forbidden.
(J)I think that’s a good way to make people interested in something, isn’t it. Tell them they can’t have it.
(U)Yeah. What could there be in this book? I’m not so disturbed by it. I am disturbed by Putin.
(J)Your books are originally written in Swedish aren’t they? Do you feel like they lose something when translated? Is there is a stark difference in the mood or the feel?
(U)There could be. I don’t think it’s because of the translation, it’s more because of the cultural differences.
(J)Yeah, I know that in German for instance there are words for things that would take a sentence to say in English.
(U)Yes – different associations and all this. But when it’s translated into so many countries I think it’s more universal.
(J)Have you ever had any unexpected reactions to your work?
(U)Yeah. Perhaps, take this one for example [Fruitloops & Dipsticks]. I was in Belarus, which is almost a dictatorship.
(J)Ex-Soviet isn’t it?
(U)Yes. I wrote a book called The Dictator and I was there and we had readings. It was translated so a local was reading it. They had to read in Russian [Fruitloops & Dipsticks] and I was astonished by the interest in sexuality. I mean there is not much in that book, I just felt like a sexual therapist or something when I came there. In Sweden now I can be astonished because of how they react. In this one [Can You Whistle, Johanna?] there is a Grandfather smoking a cigar. It could be a problem and that was why it was very hard to get the book into the USA. Just because he was smoking. I told her [literary agent] that he was dyeing at the end.
(J)So there is a health message there?
(U)Yes. If you smoke a cigar you will die. So there are moralistic reactions to the books. Often it is the parents who complain about the books.
(J)What we can we expect to hear or learn in your Writers Week programme?
(U)I just don’t know because I don’t know the questions. Perhaps you could get a clue about Swedish books. I mean, I am not representative of all the authors in Sweden, but I think what is common for us is a view from the child’s perspective. To be loyal with the child’s side, not being a story teller from up high. I think that is important. Some of these books are biographical in some way. In this one [My Friend Percy’s Magical Gym Shoes] the character Ulf is almost burning up society because he wants his friend Percy to see the fireworks coming. Then he sprays water on the fire and I got applause for that. But they didn’t like that in Spain. They thought the parents would have hit him at least a little bit.
(J)At least you don’t have to live there!
(U)But I think it’s better to hear of us making a lot of crazy things. He has to think about himself, his feeling, and think it was wrong, “I did wrong.” It’s an inner process. He has to think, I have done something stupid and see the consequences already, not that the act itself is punishable.
(J)Do you feel like there is a big difference between Swedish writing when compared to English?
(U)Yes, I think I was in England and they have very few books for the smaller kids that have discussions on things like death. That was a taboo.
(J)Do you find they are for entertainment?
(U)We have a lot of animals dying in Swedish literature. Even here [Can You Whistle, Johanna?] the grandfather is dying at the end. Often when you are writing about death, even in Sweden I would say it is just the rituals that you are writing about. Whether it’s something like putting flowers on or saying something because you are afraid of the reaction of sadness. I think it’s good. I think children have to be confronted with real feelings, so they should be a little bit sorry. They are not dying and hopefully they have their parents to discuss things and say something to. I have no fear of writing about something.
(J)What would be your advice to a young author?
(U)Not taking any advice I think. You have to find your own way but I think reading is a very good way of learning how to write because you could say I don’t like that way of writing. You could find your own way by reading other books, not imitating them but see what you want to do and see how it is made in other books. Start with poems, I think that’s a good short way to see what happens. And then perhaps short stories, I think starting a big novel project when you are thirteen is not good.
(J)It’s one way to pop your self-esteem isn’t it? Do you have any personal author recommendations?
(U)I don’t know if we read the same books here in New Zealand and in Sweden. My mother used to read a lot of Astrid Lindgren and so did I. I think for my own kids I read a lot of Roald Dahl books to my son and more tragic stores for my daughter who just loved tragedy. You could also read a lot of the old books, not just the new ones. These days everything is so up-to-date I think it is good to have a historical perspective as a child. I am writing books now about the 60s and 50s, there are no mobile telephones in this and they don’t want to read it. But it’s just like you could read a book from Sweden, I think it is important to take part of and experience different cultures.
(J)Do you think kids have changed?
(U)Yeah. I think the technique is changing a lot in the daily life of children. When I was coming here on my flight for 40 hours I saw what people were doing. People choose a lot of films and the whole time they were looking at blue screens and they got a blue face. It was reflecting and I was doing the same. I had a lot of good books I thought I would read but it is an easy way just to put my finger on the screen. You have to have dull time I think. Dull time is where you awaken creativeness. I am trying to have a dull life.
(J)Do you have much of a relationship with the internet? Do you use social media or blogs?
(U)No very little actually. My wife does but I really think that I have a need for moral contemplation and not so much being on the net. Perhaps I prefer meeting personally, I’m a bit afraid of being addicted the screen.
(J)We’ve already kind of touched on it – what is your process of writing, how do you turn an idea into a book?
(U)I see it more like an organic process. I have a lot of writing friends who are doing very exact shadows of what they should do in each chapter and also the schools are teaching children how to write and the disposition is so mechanical. I’ve tried that model too. Now I just start a story and see what happens. The more interesting persons are more interesting than the story.
(J)So you focus on the character than the character?
(U)Yes, for instance there are lots of books for the very, very young people but then I was thinking that there are no books for the unborn. So I did a book about a boy having a chat with a mother’s stomach to the child inside giving answers to the child in there about what happens when you come out. That was the theme.
(J)That’s a strange sort of thing to think up, where did an idea like that come from?
(U)I think I saw a stomach somewhere and thought what would I teach a small child or say this the life coming to you.
(J)Do you think you’re quite a curious person by nature?
(U)Yeah. I think so. I’m curious about all the things that haven’t got answers. I think the daily life of children, coming to school and learning things, there are answers. Often education is built on a question and an answer and then they could have the idea that there are answers for everything. But for the very, most important things there are no answers. You have to make up the answers yourself. What is the meaning of life? Okay, this is the meaning of life. Okay there it was. Why are you falling in love with a person and not with another person? Why are we dying? What’s in the universe? There are a lot of things that children from the beginning are very interested in.
(J)But they stop asking?
(J)If you could have a coffee with any human being, either been or alive, who would it be and what would you ask them?
(U)Umm. I think it would be nice to meet god.
(U)Yeah. I have a lot of questions. I wrote a book about god, it was my last book. God created the earth but he was a little bit tired of inventing everything. So he first invented the Darwinist evolution theory so that he only had to do the small things like the fishes and now the creation could go on. But then when he woke up there are human beings, the animals – but he didn’t plan to make the shadows. They are dark so he decided to put them to the other side of earth, the side he couldn’t see. They call this the night. And what happens is you get a sort of Prozac world, no shadows, no darkness, no sadness.
(J)Fake smiles on everybody?
(U)Yes, everyone is going about smiling. So there are no stories, no fairytales, no dreams. It’s a drugged world. I find it quite funny to write about the fear of happiness and that you have a need for the shadows. Then there is a boy and a girl just going to find their shadows again and they found it the god is there to clean it up again. They say no, no don’t do that we need our shadows, even the sorrowness. God is thinking okay, okay you are write and he puts them back again. I think that applies to books also. You need to have the shadow sides and the night sides. I think we will have a lot to discuss over coffee.
Wellington City Libraries has many of Ulf’s books available for loan, check them out here.
If you’re a Jodi Picoult fan, and you’re interested in Between the Lines, the new novel she has written with her daughter Samantha Van Leer, then here’s a Radio New Zealand interview they did together today, talking about the inspiration for stories, who to cast in the movie, and other such writerly things.
Here’s a lovely salute to Margaret Mahy by American author Kristin Cashore, focussing on the many reasons why MM’s young adult writing is so wonderful, and so deservedly award-winning.
If you are interested in the Olympic Games and statistics, the New York Times has a map of medals won by country from 1896 to 2008. It is pretty cool (if you’re not into stats) and very interesting (if you are). In 1984 New Zealand won enough medals for “New Zealand” to appear on its circle.
NPR.com (National Public Radio, I believe) in the US is compiling a list of the best young adult novels ever. You can vote for your favourites (a bit of good taste from New Zealand won’t hurt).
Noted author, Tamsyn Murray, recently agreed to an exclusive interview with Teen Blog, which was nice. Born and raised in the UK, she’s got one YA book to her credit, My So-Called Afterlife (a colleague describes it as “gripping”, so it’s very good) with another on the way very soon. We asked her about writing, reading and cricket …
At what age did you begin writing? And when did you know it was something wanted to get paid for doing?
I’ve always loved writing stories and can remember dreaming up characters and scenarios from a young age. English was definitely my favourite subject at school but I didn’t start to wonder if I could write professionally until 2008, when I read a how-to-write book and everything fell into place. So I like to think I spent the first thirty-five years of my life learning how to write. Either that or I wasted them!
What other YA authors do you read and enjoy?
I’m an enormous fan of Neil Gaiman, who writes across a range of ages, and I loved The Graveyard Book. Other YA books I’ve read recently include The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Wasted by Nicola Morgan and Girl, Aloud by Emily Gale – three very different books but all outstanding.
Where did the idea for My So Called Afterlife come from? I assume the title is a nod to Clare Danes…
The idea for My So-Called Afterlife came when I was wondering what would happen if the building a ghost haunted got knocked down and something else got built on top – would the ghost haunt the new building? What if was something like a toilet? Then the character of Lucy appeared in my head, stamping her Ugg boots and demanding I tell her story. The title arrived after the book was finished and, yes, I was a fan of My So-Called Life.
A lot of the readers on this blog are aspiring writers, and judging by the short story competition entries we receive, they are also very talented, give them some tips on getting that first book published.
The best thing I ever did was find my literary agent. She made suggestions on where I could improve the book and knew which publishers to send it to once it was ready. It’s thanks to her that my novel found a home so I’d recommend aspiring writers try to find an agent on the same wavelength. They might take a percentage of your earnings but without mine, I’d be earning a lot less!
My So Called Haunting is due to be released soon, what can we expect from novel number two?
A different main character, for a start! My So-Called Haunting introduces Skye, a fourteen year old psychic who moves to London to stay with her aunt, Celestine. As Skye struggles to settle into her new life, she’s also developing a crush on the most unattainable boy in the school, Nico.
When her aunt asks for her help with a troubled teen ghost called Dontay, she’s glad of the distraction. But then Nico starts paying her attention, and she’s soon facing a battle to keep her love life and her psychic life separate.
As things get ever more complicated, it looks as though Dontay’s past might cost Skye her future.
We enjoy haiku and you enjoy cricket, write us a cricket themed haiku.
Erm, ok. This is my first ever haiku and I suspect it’s not very good! But here goes:
Bowler sights pale stumps
a crack of ball on willow
summer is a game
* * * * * *
My So-Called Afterlife is available for issue on our catalogue, click on the title to place a reserve. For more Tamsyn Murray news, go to her website where she has all the details of her work, along with a link to her frequently updated and very interesting blog.
So who buys the library books then? WCL has a team of eight people who are lucky enough to spend most of their time buying books, magazines, CDs and DVDs. This is a fairly ideal job if you really like spending money, and really like reading, listening to music and watching movies. Stephanie is one of the young adult selectors and we thought we’d ask her a few questions.
1) What’s the strangest book you’ve bought for the library and/or what’s the strangest suggestion to buy you’ve received from a customer?
Well, as well as books for children and teens I also buy zines for the Library. You know what they are right? For those that don’t basically they’re self published magazines and you can write them on just about any topic imaginable! So some of the strangest ones I’ve brought are: I was unaware they made black jeans that small; little dead riding hood; super pash action; why no one gets tight with the geek; I was a teenaged Mormon; I hate my mom’s cat and fish piss. Ok, so they ain’t that strange but they do have cool titles! They are also free to issue on the first floor of the Central Library. You should check them out sometime.
I can’t remember any really strange suggestion to buys, but Kathleen who works with me just showed me one for a book called “how to amputate a leg”, which is pretty weird.
2) When you were at school what did you want to be “when you grew up”?
I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was really young. I lived by the sea and my brother and I made friends with sea anemones. But really it wasn’t too serious. I just thought it sounded cool. I’m pretty happy doing what I do now though. Buying books is fun 🙂
3) What superpower would make your job easier?
Um, maybe the power to clone myself so one of me could sit outside and read in the sun and eat bread and cheese and the other could be inside doing work and getting paid!
4) What things did you read when you were at high school?
I feel really bad saying this but I didn’t read too much at high school, mostly just the prescribed texts. I was a big reader at primary and intermediate and then took a long break and only got back into reading for fun when I was at university.
5) What YA books have you read lately (that you’ve enjoyed)?
Right now I’m enjoying reading Catching Fire, which is the sequel to The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I also enjoyed the Twilight series (well mostly when it wasn’t making me cringe), How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The 10pm Question by Kate De Goldi and Violence 101 by my friend Dennis Wright. I plan to read heaps more too, ‘cos as I’m buying them for you guys I’m thinking “that looks awesome” and so I have to reserve it for myself.
6) If you were marooned on a desert island with three people (of your choice), three items of food and three books, who and what would you choose?
Ok so this is a hard one! I would choose Don from Madmen (‘cos he’s nice to look at), my friend Carmel (‘cos we have fun together) and Katniss from Catching Fire (‘cos she looks like she could handle just about anything!). For food I would have breads, cheeses and cakes! And books I couldn’t decide. Because I work in a library I never really read anything twice so perhaps something new? I’ve recently reserved Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (because Grimm said it’s like The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is one of my favourite books) and The Great Death by John Smelcer (it’s gotten good reviews) and The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson (recommended by my co-selector Tom).
YA Central is the name of Penguin publishing’s online content for teens and readers of YA fiction. They have interviews with authors (videos, no less) such as Laurie Halse Anderson (and here), John Green, and Lauren Myracle. Access to other author interview videos, book trailers and behind-the-scene footage is promised. It’s part of The Publisher’s Office, Penguin’s online periodical, which is full of all kinds of stuff – web 2.0 at its most literary.
Louise Rennison, author of the Georgia Nicholson books, was interviewed on Nat Radio’s Nine to Noon programme this morning. She’s a comedian as well as an author and is very entertaining to listen to. She discusses the recent film adaption of Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging (we have the DVD and all ten books in the series).
Markus Zusak, who wrote The Book Thief (one of our Most Wanted books for, like, ages), was recently at the Hay Festival in the United Kingdom (which seems to be a celebration of books and chairs, from what I can tell), where he was interviewed while relaxing in a comfortable-looking deck chair. He talks about how he works, what inspired him to write The Book Thief, what it means to have death as a narrator, and a few other bits and pieces. The interview is here (from the Guardian website).
Incidentally, if you’re interested in strange narrators and you liked How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff make sure you read Just In Case, which is narrated by fate – it would make a very interesting point of comparison.
Two mothers spend US$28,000 to get Twilight star Robert Pattinson to kiss their daughters. (You can also pay to be taken on a tour of the film set in Vancouver, Canada: “Twilight fans don’t have to schlep all the way out to New Zealand for their fan fix.” Hah.) There are some exclusive pictures from New Moon here.
Could a virtual racing champion be turned into a real-life racing champion? Well?
M. T. Anderson, author of the excellent and award-winning Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing books was interviewed by the excellent and award-winning Kim Hill on her excellent and award-winning Saturday morning show on National Radio. You can listed to the podcast here (.mp3 download).
Amanda Ashby is a New Zealand author whose books are published to critical praise in the U.S. Her newest book, Zombie Queen of Newbury High – about what happens when a teenage girl accidentally turns her entire senior year into zombies and has to try and find a cure before she ends up at the top of their menu – will be available from the library soon. We have scored an exclusive interview with Amanda!
I wish I could say that I wrote my first book when I was five, but the truth is that while I loved English and creative writing when I was at school it never occured to me that normal, regular people could be writers and so I contented myself with reading as many books as I could get my hands on. But sometime in my mid-twenties I had a terrible thought on how sad my life would’ve been if my favorite writers hadn’t taken the time to sit down and tell their stories.
This thought continued to stick with me until I finally decided that perhaps I should sit down and try telling a few stories myself. Unfortunately, as many writers know, writing stories and getting stories published are two different things and it wasn’t until I was 38 that I got to see my first book come out. Yay!
2. Do you write professionally, or do you need to work a regular day-job? And does it interfere with your writing?
I’m sort of a full-time writer and mother all rolled into one and I also have a part time job working at the Napier library (which I love because there is nothing a writer likes more than to talk books with people!!). Right now I feel quite lucky because I have a nice balance in my life and I hope it can continue!
3. Where do you get your ideas for writing from?
The idea for my first book, You Had Me At Halo, actually came from my father’s funeral (which as a rule isn’t the best time to be getting book ideas), somehow the idea of writing a book that was inspired my dad’s death certainly helped with the grieving process. The idea for my zombie book actually started out as a bit of a joke because whenever I was stuck for ideas I used to say to my friends that I could always write a book called ‘I was a zombie killer bride’. Unfortunately, you know what happens when you say things too many times…
4. Who are your favourite authors?
So, so, so many that I couldn’t possibly list them all so here is a selection: Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Raymond E Feist, PC Cast and Kristin Cast (if you haven’t read the House of Night books yet then you really must), Jill Mansell, Janet Evanovich, Eoin Colfer, Christopher Paolini, Jonathan Stroud.
5. We really like haiku – can you summarise Zombie Queen of Newbury High in haiku form?
Okay, so when I get arrested for crimes against haiku then I’m going to blame you entirely. Don’t think I won’t! Anyway, here is my butchered offering – no pun intended!
one simple mistake
entire school now living dead
feeding time is near