Friday, 27 May 2011

Close encounters with children's writers

For obvious reasons I have met quite a few children's writers. One day I may write a proper memoir, but I can start with some episodes of entertaining nature.

Some years ago the Swedish Institute for Cultural Exchange sent me to Moldova. Most people don't even know where Moldova is or that there is such a country, and quite correctly, it only became an independent country recently. The check-in attendant at Stockholm airport hadn't heard of such a country and refused to check me in.

I was going, together with a young employee from the Institute, to explore whether Moldova was of any interest at all for Swedish cultural engagement. Our liaison was a suspect NGO that was supposed to get us in touch with libraries, the writers' union, publishing houses and higher education institutions. In their emails, the NGO wondered whether we had any special wishes. I said I would like to meet Spiridon Vangeli.

Now, if you were a British NGO and there was a visitor coming from Sweden asking to meet Philip Pullman, you'd probably say to yourself: "Yes, and HRM as well" and forget all about it. This is what the Moldovian NGO did. However, when we were there and went through the very tight programme, I wondered whether they had contacted Vangeli, as I had requested. They looked uncomfortable, not knowing how to tell me that the famous author was probably busy, and who was I anyway. I insisted mildly, and the young lady made a call, during which her face expression was transformed from puzzlement to astonishment to full shock. She put down the receiver and said: "He is coming over this very minute, with his car and driver, and he will take you to meet his friends and have dinner..."

I had a wonderful time with Spiridon Vangeli, a marvelous children's writer whom I had met in Moscow and whose signed books I still cherish. The young lady from the NGO was very respectful toward me for the rest of my visit.

No comments: