Cheltenham Literature Festival Events

One of the great things about moving back to the UK is being able to attend some of the wonderful book events that take place across the country. On Thursday I attended the Cheltenham Literature Festival, a ten day event that draws an eclectic list of writers, which this year included JK Rowling, Salman Rushdie and Pat Barker.

Limiting myself to an afternoon, I attended two interesting sessions in the picturesque Imperial Square venue where the rain hammered down on the roof of our tents. Both events (of course) had  a crime fiction element and gave some interesting insights into aspects of the genre. Here’s a brief summary of the two events.


Funerals and Mourning: Panel: Thomas Enger, Tim Lott, Kitty Aldridge and Catherine Arnold. Moderated by Nicolette Jones.

The panelists introduced works of literature that contained, in their opinion, moving and thought-provoking depictions of funerals. There were readings from Trollope, Roth and Updike and from Enger’s Burned.

In the ensuing discussion, Kitty Aldridge made an interesting observation that in literature, while death is expected to shock readers, funerals are often used for comical or ironic effect.

A question from the audience encouraged the panel to consider death in the context of the harm we inflict on each other. Tim Lott agreed that fiction can appeal to the sadistic nature in ourselves, although somewhat controversially suggested us crime readers had a deep-seated desire to commit a murder. I shall say no more….


Nordic Noir: Panel: Barry Forshaw, Don Bartlett, Thomas Enger, Gunnar Staalesen

For us fans of Scandinavian crime fiction, this panel was an interesting discussion on the popularity of Norwegian crime novels and the issues surrounding translated fiction. On the panel were two crime writers (GS and TE) whose works have been translated into a wide number of languages, one translator (Don Bartlett) best known for his translations of  Jo Nesbo’s books and Barry Forshaw who has written an excellent guide to Scandinavian crime fiction, Death in a Cold Climate.

The panel began by discussing how titles often change during translation. Jo Nesbo’s first Harry Hole book The Bat, which has just been published, was originally titled The Bat Man which was not felt appropriate for an English speaking audience (the second book will be called The Cockroach). The Norwegian title of Thomas Enger’s first book translated into Apparent Death which was changed by his publisher to Burned. He came up with the subsequent titles of Pierced (book 2) and Scarred (forthcoming book 3) himself.

In relation to the credit that translators get for their work, DB suggested that while it’s nice to be invisible, it can be galling when no mention is made of their contribution at all in reviews etc. TE likes it when his translators ask significant questions about the subtleties of his text and worries if they have translated without any contact with him whatsoever. GS can read some of the languages that his books are translated into but doesn’t check-up on the translations. Both GS and TE agreed that it was a significant moment when their works were translated into English, the language of many of the classic crime writers.

DB said he read other crime books and sometimes found interesting phrases which helped him with his own translations. Translations are made in collaboration with editors who usually have the final say over specific words although he does feel responsibility to reflect the language of the original. Expletives in his opinion were notoriously hard to translate as they often have different degrees of offensiveness in a language.

The popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction was attributed to the influence of Maj Sjöwall/Per Wahlöö, then Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo. Scandinavian countries have changed over this period  though and the panel agreed that the mass killings that took place in Breivik are likely to have an impact on crime fiction coming out of Norway.


An interesting two panels and as usual, having promised myself I wouldn’t buy any books to contribute to my TBR mountain, I came away with Catherine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead, and The Bat which I started on the train home. There were no books by Gunnar Staalesen available for purchase although I probably would have been stuck where to start. Any recommendations?

20 thoughts on “Cheltenham Literature Festival Events

  1. Glad to hear you enjoyed your time at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. I’m attending the Ian Rankin event this weekend but did see a similar Scandinavian panel event at CrimeFest in May. I’ve read 3 of Staalesen’s books- ‘The Writing On The Wall’, ‘Yours Until Death’ and ‘The Consorts of Death’ mainly acquired secondhand- excellent reads! He really needs to get a good publisher in the UK to make his books more available. Hope you’re enjoying ‘The Bat’!


  2. Nice write up, Sarah, thanks. I agree with Raven Reads that Gunnar S needs a decent UK publisher! I think Arcadia’s Euro Crime imprint must have gone bust as both GS’s latest to be translated and Petros Markaris’s latest (tbt) (Basic Shareholder) were delayed for about a year and never appeared. There are about 20 Varg Veum books in the series: two early ones were translated ages ago, I managed to find an out of print copy of one. Arcadia republished that one & the two Raven mentions. I suggest you could start with Consorts of Death as, although it is a later one in the series, it fills in some previously missing parts of Veum’s back story (before he became a PI he was a social worker). I have really enjoyed the three books of his I’ve managed to get hold of in translation, not least because of Don’s excellent work, and hope you do too. (I’ve reviewed Consorts of Death at Euro Crime). Let me know if you can’t get hold of it and if I still have my copy I’ll send it to you.


    1. Thanks Maxine. ‘Consorts of Death’ was mentioned in the talk. There was some obfuscation about the lack of this author’s books on sale at the event. I have my own reasons for wanting to see the latest Markaris books translated and I think it is a crying shame they’re not published now given that they are dealing with crimes around the economic crisis. I suspect I will end up reading whichever book I can find and thanks for the offer – I’ll be in touch if I’m struggling.


      1. Maxine

        Totally agree on Markaris – Basic Shareholder isn’t even one of his new trilogy (about the Greek economic crisis) – there was an article about it in The Times today. I would love to read those. Such a pity about the lack of English translations.


  3. Very interesting post. Of most interest to me was Nordic Noir, and I was glad to hear of Death in a Cold Climate. I love mystery reference books and that is a topic I don’t know much about.


  4. That sounds great Sarah. I love the idea of a discussion of funerals in books, what a great topic, I can think of quite a few good ones, though not particularly in crime fiction!


    1. Interestingly, Tim Lott chose 2 books that I have read recently, Updikes Rabit, Run and Roth’s Everyman, both of which have very moving funeral scenes. Interested to hear who you would have chosen. (Dickens would have been there for me I think).


  5. kathy d.

    I have not thought about funerals in crime fiction, but Guido Brunetti has some interesting thoughts in his latest investigation in Beastly Things. Haven’t read books by Staalesen, but my TBR pile and list is so daunting, I dare not add names right now. Just got Invisible Murder by Kaaberbol and Friis and that’s my treat of the moment, life’s tasks be darned.
    I’m surprised that at this point in time that no women were on the Nordic Noir panel; there are so many Scandinavian women writers today.


    1. Good point about women writers Kathy. Enger and Staalsenn were actually the writers in residence for the festival so I suspect the panel was assembled around them. You must let me know if you recommend ‘Invisible Murder’ although like you I have a massive TBR pile.


  6. Pingback: Review: Gunnar Staalesen – The Consorts of Death « crimepieces

Leave a Reply to kathy d. Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.