Saturday, 31 October 2009

Full cycle

So it's Halloween again. Or is it my daughter's birthday? When I went into labour twenty-seven years ago I didn't think about bringing a Halloween baby into this world. Firstly, I had other things to think about. But secondly, Halloween wasn't at all that big, not in Sweden anyway. We only really encountered it when we lived in California, but when we came back to Sweden it had become huge. Now Julia's birthday parties are inevitably Halloween parties.

Last year I had bad experience with Halloween. My proudly carved pumpkin was stolen, and no one came to trick or treat. Today I've carved the pumpkin and will place it by the gate, hoping that the long dark driveway will not scare away trick-or-treaters. Later tonight, we are going to a party. The invitation says: "Costumes not required". I am disappointed.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Page proofs of my life

I am reading page proofs. So what else is new?

I am reading page proofs of my memoirs. You would think that I knew my own text by heart, and I have already read the copy-edited version. But it is only when it comes to page proofs that a book becomes real. I am now releasing - have actually already released part of myself, for anyone to read about. It's not like publishing a scholarly book. It's not even like publishing a novel, which was very exciting in its own way. It is definitely not like publishing a cook book.

There are things in the memoirs that I have never told anyone before. There are parts that I have told many times to various audiences. There are parts that still hurt. There are parts that make me cry. Especially when reading page proofs. Because from now one, it is real.

Some previews have called the book an autobiography. It is not. It's memoirs. The difference is decisive.

Saturday, 10 October 2009


Now I am a proper Cantabrigian, a college Fellow. I have repeatedly tried to explain to outsiders why this is important, and failed. So just trust me. It is important, essential, fundamental, imperative. Yesterday, I was sworn in and officially accepted.

I haven't done anything similar since I joined the Soviet scouts ("pioneers"), which was mandatory and therefore nothing to contemplate. "I hereby promise..." I suppose all oaths have been copied from some early model.

There were five of us, we were asked to wear gowns, all other Fellows were encouraged to wear gowns, and most of them did. I had learned the oath by heart and practiced, which as it turned out wasn't necessary, since we were given a card to read from. When it said "YOUR NAME" you weren't supposed to read "YOUR NAME" but your name. Then the Principal shook your hand and welcomed you to the Fellowship. You had to write your name (not "YOUR NAME") in a book. Then the Principal said: "Back to business", but someone pointed out that there was champagne served to toast to the new Fellows.

The business was a half-awayday, which was called something else, to distinguish from the Faculty. With my double loyalties I must now be careful to keep to the right vocabulary. In fact, when I had a query at the Porter's Lodge the other day, they asked prompty: "Are you College or Faculty?" Now I am Faculty and College.

As a pure coincidence, later in the evening there was a matriculation dinner for new HD students. (No, not high density, but higher degrees). Matriculation means that they sign a pledge, with quite a long list of rules. They don't have to read from a card, it would take too long. And to say it in chorus, as we did in my scout past, would perhaps feel wrong. The teachers were invited as cheerleaders. As usual, there were first drinks at the Combination Room, but not sherry, just wine. (Sherry is a professorial drink, Staffan says). Very festive dinner at the Hall, finished by a ceremony I haven't yet experienced. Homerton College has a drinking horn, prettily set in silver. The ceremony is to hold the horn, bow to you nieghbour and say something in Anglo-Saxon. As opposed to Latin in other Colleges. The neighbour replies in the same, drinks from the horn and passes it on.

Unfortunately, the ceremony this year was purely virtual because of swine flu.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Tales, narratives, pictures

On my bookshelf of 25 indispensible sources on children's literature I have Narratives of Love and Loss by Margaret and Michael Rustin. It is an excellent example of what psychoanalytical approach to literature can do. I have this book on all my course lists, and I have also used it in my own work. So I was especially excited to meet the Rustins yesterday, at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. It is a great honour to be invited to speak in my favourite museum, and event was in conjunction with the exhibition Telling Tales. Anton saw the exhibition when he was in London and told me that I must absolutely see it. I told him I was going to give a lecture in connection. I think he was impressed.

I was a bit uneasy about my lecture precisely because the Rustins were there. I normally talk a lot about psychoanalytical approaches to fairy tales because I like to provoke, and people get so upset when they hear what fairy tales really are about. So I played down the psychoanalytical bit and focused on the anthropological, which can be quite shocking as well. Cannibalism and such things. It turned out our talks fit perfect together.

Yet another speaker was Catherine Hyde, the artist who has illustrated Carol Anne Duffy's fairy tale The Princess's Blankets and is working on The Firebird. Her favourite fairy tale is Baba Yaga. Somehow it all felt just right.