Not just sweaters – “In from the Cold: Northern Noir” Europe House, London on Wednesday 18th October 2017 [full programme below]

Oslo NN photo

A symposium on Northern crime writing, crime fiction translation and criticism attempted to define this recent phenomenon. The packed day of events was curated by Dr Karen Seago, Prof Amanda Hopkinson and Dr Minna Vuohelainen of London’s City University with six prominent authors from Sweden, Norway, Estonia, Finland and the UK; translators Don Bartlett and Kari Dickson; Rosie Goldsmith of the European Literature Network; and also Dr Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, Senior Lecturer in Scandinavian Literature at University College London.

The term “Nordic Noir” was first coined in 2010. Whilst ‘noir’ has been appropriately applied to modern crime fiction given its dark, cold nature, the works vary widely, even geographically to include countries beyond the Nordic region. So, the term “Northern Noir” was adopted for this event, although the label for Northern European crime fiction was debated throughout the day.

Firstly, where do these stories take place?

With Estonia’s Indrek Hargla favouring medieval Tallinn and Norwegian authors Torkil Damhaug and Kjell Ola Dahl modern-day Oslo, settings may be different both in terms of location and time. Finnish author, editor and journalist Karo Hämäläinen offers global stories which even feature London’s The Shard.

Henry Sutton, Senior Lecturer in prose fiction at UEA, and founder and director of the crime writing festival Noirwich, has coined the term “North Sea Noir”, as he sets his novels in Norfolk. He contrasts his abstract locations with more realistic crimes. More specific places would make the ending seem cosier. Sweden’s Håkan Nesser has been writing for 30 years and does not feel part of a collective. His focus is on Northern Europe and he also uses North Sea locations such as Shetland and Orkney.

The fact that fewer Baltic than Nordic novels have been translated into English is also a factor as regards locations. Indrek’s novels are more often translated into French or Finnish than English.

Who is involved?

As a psychiatrist, Torkil’s work is character driven. Suspense and confusion are often added by simply naming characters as “the visitor”, “the woman” or “the nurse”. He subsequently adds the plot and structure “like carving a stone sculpture”. He is concerned with outsiders, politics, cultural influences and sub-cultures. Characters with a mental illness are common here – a good person with a flaw. Empathy can be the basis for evil, as concern for others may lead to unintended events.

Indrek’s criminals are not good characters with a flaw, but definitely evil. His main question is who not why. Nordic Noir or modern crime novels tend to concentrate on why. The criminal is a “victim of society”, but Indrek writes that the murderer is evil. He doesn’t feel pity for the murderer.

Female characters are important in this genre appearing as gangsters and detectives. Indrek writes about smart women. Håkan sometimes writes from a woman’s perspective. There are also several female Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Icelandic writers of this genre.

In Karo’s post-recession financial crime thrillers, bankers in a crisis are like wild animals, losing everything in which they have faith. His themes are global, as there are many international investment banks in Finland. There are always ethical questions in crime fiction. Unlikeable characters raise questions about entrepreneurs and risk takers. There can also be dark, absurd humour because it is comical when someone thinks they’re important.

Kjell’s Detective Frank Frølich, who is upbeat, and Chief Inspector Gunnarstranda, a sarcastic pessimist, investigate different types of crime in Oslo from drug politics to white-collar investment crime. He believes that the story will decide how it will end up. Characters can be their own worst enemies. In contrast, Håkan feels that the story should be the focus and not police officers. His well-known compatriot, Henning Mankell, was very political and left-wing, whereas Håkan did not intend to write about society. His latest novel to be published in English is a family drama and a slow burn. An inspector doesn’t appear until page 184. According to Håkan, if a good guy commits murder, it is more interesting than if a bad guy does.

What is the inspiration?

Indrek was inspired by Agatha Christie and explained that women have an important status in his novels, portrayed as being both literate and numerate. Karo also cites Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as inspirations. He doesn’t see a conflict between crime writing and high-brow literature. He regards crime fiction as a musical due to its popularity. Crime stories are now highly developed and very complex. Torkil believes that a good crime novel is a good novel. It draws interest from other authors. He prefers characters not just action.

Henry described literary noir as stories steeped in emotional and often literal darkness. Graham Greene’s “Brighton Rock” is a fine example of this grim, unflinching style. He claims “crime fiction is the novel of our times” with a form, shape and purpose. It is insightful, intelligent and entertaining. The literary novel is the “poetry of our day”. The crime novel has more influence than the literary novel. It is dramatic; things happen. You can’t say that of every novel.

Kjell’s biggest influence is Henrik Ibsen due to his introspection. Today is influenced by the past. Kjell has also written about true crime. He believes that Nordic Noir does not have one definition.


So, it seems that Northern Noir could take place in a central or remote location, be global or insular, modern or medieval with flawed or down-right evil characters, driven by the characters or the plot. Can this be a genre at all? Suspense and dark crimes are the common elements. According to Torkil, there are common Nordic experiences: the weather; sparsely inhabited landscapes; never-ending summer night; melancholy; things are stable at the surface, but “aren’t what they seem to be.” Karo thinks “Nordic Noir” is a marketing term, but the rainy weather and mood of the characters are similar. Authors write very differently from each other. Financial thrillers are different from family drama.

Dr Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen stated that Nordic crime novels enchant the most mundane social experiences, such as the family. Crime fiction is “a lightning rod for collecting social anxieties.” The borders between the detective and serial killer become blurred. He queried whether Danish dogma was the origin of Scandi/Nordic Noir with 1994’s TV series “The Kingdom”. Long before that, Victorian Gothic may have acted as an inspiration.

If Northern crime fiction could give way to another genre, what would it be? Cornish noir and fantasy noir already exist. Suggestions included Facebook noir, retro noir, classic noir and literary noir. Of course, without good translations, the English-speaking world’s access to and appreciation of modern Northern European crime fiction would be far more limited.

IMG_20171027_130334827 (2)

Would you like to study the world of emojis?

Collins English Dictionary defines an emoji as “a small image used in electronic mail and text messaging to express an idea, such as a smiling face to express happiness” (Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers). The word “emoji” originates from the Japanese “e” (picture) and “moji” (letter).


With the growing use of emojis, it might not be surprising to read about opportunities to study and understand them. So, here is my translation of an article which recently appeared on Der Postillon, a satirical German website.



Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Emojiology: First university offers degree course on interpreting emojis

Emoji lecture

Munich (dpo) – Emojis are playing an increasingly important role in our lives, but often when trying to interpret the ideograms correctly we feel like this: 😳. That’s why the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich has created Germany’s first Institute of Emojiology where you can study Emojiology at graduate, master’s, bachelor’s and PhD level from the forthcoming winter semester.

LMU managed to recruit the prominent Brazilian emojiologist Professor Adriano Madruga as its institute director; he is internationally renowned for his fundamental research in the field of comparative animal emojiology.

“The world of emojis is as fascinating as it is complex,” explains Madruga, who is affectionately named Prof. 😜 by his students. “Most emojis have different display variants as far as skin colour and gender are concerned. Together with regional indicators, there are roughly 97 billion different combinations and numerous new symbols are being added each year.”

The relevant seminar materials are sent to students via WhatsApp.


This is increasingly leading to misunderstandings in digital correspondence, he says. “Just take this emoji which shows its teeth: 😁,” Madruga says. “Some think it’s grinning; others reckon it’s baring its teeth angrily. Such a misunderstanding can destroy entire relationships.”

Emojiological research is therefore necessary, he says, in order to set academic standards and investigate the impacts of emojis on society. The Institute is soon to create professorships in Emoji Linguistics (abbreviation: 💬), Emoji History (🏰🎌), Comparative Emojiology (😘↔😚) and Business Emojiology (💰📈).

There are courses on offer for budding emojiologists as early as this winter semester with titles such as “Advanced seminar: Why is the police officer 👮 male? – Gender stereotyping in emojis”, “Tutorial: Emoji Android/Apple Translation Course”, “Introductory seminar: The three wise monkeys 🙈🙊🙉 – Emojis and Philosophy”, “The Hieroglyphs of the ancient Egyptians”, “Revision course: Rain, sweat, tears: 💦 and its potential applications” and “Lecture: Why the hell are there lots of emojis in the form of cats’ faces as well? 😺😹😽🙀 One approach”.

In just a few years’ time, the first graduate emojiologists, teachers (Emoji Studies and Sport) and Emoji therapists will then be launching their careers.

pfg, ssi, dan; Photos: Shutterstock; First published on: 5.7.16



The original article can be found here:

This story is completely false of course. I did think the study of emojis could form a module on a linguistics course rather than being an entire degree course or combined course. Mind you, some people do study languages (!)

Have a great summer! Sunshine


Beyond Words and Back Again at the ITI Conference: 18 – 20 May 2017

[Photo: Wales Millennium Centre]

This year’s ITI Conference, held every 2 years in the UK, took place in the Welsh capital of Cardiff with the title:

Working our core: for a strong(er) translation and interpreting profession

A wealth of presentations, TED-style talks and fringe events catering to the 340 translators and interpreters attending covered practical tips for our daily work as well as inspiration for developing our long-term goals. The full programme can be found here:

This article focuses on the fundamental tools of our trade: words.

Beyond words

Translators Alison Hughes and Adriana Tortoriello explained how to be creative with their presentation Above and beyond: the creative text. In advertising, subtitling and copywriting, there may be limits in terms of space and your text may need to be eye-catching.  You must escape the literal text in favour of something more visual and daring, for example ‘Bikes for the general public’ is better rendered as ‘Pedal-power to the people’.

Matisse said “Creativity takes courage”. To write creatively, you need to have the courage to convey the meaning of the text freely and discuss options with your clients to ensure you match their brief by going beyond the literal meaning. You need experience and subject knowledge, confidence and practice. You must read and engage with industry professionals, but above all convey the meaning of the message.

Back to words

Keynote speaker Susie Dent, well-known for her contributions on the popular UK TV quiz Countdown, is a lexicographer, writer and broadcaster. Her passion for words was inspired by her school dictionary, discovering that ‘silly’ used to mean ‘nice’, ‘goodbye’ means ‘God be with you’ and ‘focus’ came from the Latin for ‘fireplace’. She discussed malaphors (mashed-up metaphors) such as ‘He’s a minefield of information’ and ‘We’ll burn those bridges when we come to them’. She described the relationship between words which appear unrelated such as ‘atone’ and ‘onion’, the connection here being ‘one’. ‘Mortgage’ and ‘mortuary’ are linked, as a debt dies once paid. The word ‘true’, meaning actual, correct, upright and straight, has the same roots as ‘tree’.

Introducing the concept of ‘new words’, Susie stated that they face obstacles to succeed and only 1% are really new. They are often repackaged, resurrected or repurposed, for example ‘pro-caffeinating’: putting everything on hold until you’ve had enough caffeine. Eggcorns (from a mishearing of ‘acorn’) are misheard words or phrases: ‘like a bowl in a China shop’ (instead of ‘like a bull in a China shop’) and ‘lactoast-intolerant’ for ‘lactose-intolerant’. She highlighted texting, now a new creative language with texted poems even being exhibited at the British Library. Innovators such as Shakespeare and Keats were once criticized, but language is evolving all the time: ‘overmorrow’ (‘the day after tomorrow’, from the German ‘übermorgen’) and ‘smirkle’ (‘to smile with your eyes’). The word ‘thesaurus’ comes from the Latin for ‘treasure’ and so Susie encouraged us to learn one new word every day.

Beyond words again

Over 40 of us took part in the Singing Translators fringe event. Our rehearsals and performance were conducted by Neil Brinkworth and organized by translator Gillian Hargreaves. We sang a four-part version of “Memory” from the musical “Cats”, inspired by the industry terms ‘translation memory’ and ‘CAT tools’. Singing has many parallels with translation and interpreting, as it requires the need for accuracy, good phrasing, but also the right expressive mood and tone. With our performance being unaccompanied, we also had to listen to each other.

Those of us attending translator Helen Oclee-Brown’s Sticky wickets: the perils of translating sports metaphors discovered that sport is special because it embodies competition, team spirit, endeavour, fair play, the common touch and tactics. Helen provided English examples from politics and journalism before treating us to translated examples, e.g. from the French newspaper Le Monde ‘la balle est dans le camp de la Chine’ (‘the ball is in China’s court’ where the literal translation would have referred to a ‘field’ rather than a ‘court’). We were challenged to guess some French and Spanish translations. Audience discussion revealed that cricket metaphors stumped many non-native English speakers. Some metaphors work better than others depending on the context and readership. We must remember this and keep things fresh, but simple.

Of course, words are the tools of our trade and, as a translator, I enjoy learning new words and meanings as part of my work. With much information to absorb and great networking opportunities throughout this conference, my conclusion is that we also need to go beyond words and really communicate and collaborate both with our colleagues and clients.