The Blagger's Guide To: Tove Jansson

Dark twists, insanity, obsession ... and not a Moomin in sight
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The Independent Culture

The Blagger has just received an advance copy of Tove Jansson's Art in Nature, a collection of short stories that will be published on 6 July by Sort of Books (£7.99). We're told that "the eponymous story is a wonderful one about a caretaker looking after an open-air art exhibition and coming across a couple who have stowed away to camp illegally overnight and bicker about an art piece they've bought. Jansson finds a typically intelligent, wry response to their insecurities about Art. In this ... she'd have got on very well with Grayson Perry".

In other stories, a draughtsman's obsession with drawing locomotives provides a dark twist to a love story, and a cartoonist takes over the work of a colleague who has had a nervous breakdown only to discover his own sanity is in danger. We're told: "Obsession, ambition, and the discouragement of critics are all brought into focus in these wise and cautionary tales."

Jansson wrote five novels and seven collections of short stories for adults, including the semi-autobiographical Bildhuggarens dotter (Sculptor's Daughter). Her classic, bestselling The Summer Book was reissued in 2003 and sold more than 100,000 copies in the UK.

Jansson was born in 1914 in Helsinki, Finland. Her father was a sculptor, her mother a graphic designer. She studied art and design in Helsinki, Stockholm and Paris, and held her first solo exhibition in 1943, before writing the first Moomins book as an antidote to the misery of the Second World War. It was inspired by her uncle, who told the young Tove that a Moomintroll would creep up and breathe its icy breath on her neck if she was naughty. She lived with her partner, the graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä (who appears in the stories as the wise woman Too-Ticky), and continued painting and writing until she died in 2001.

Jansson's first Moomin book, published in 1945 by Schildts in Finland, was The Moomins and the Great Flood (Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen), in which readers were introduced to Moomintroll, Moominmamma, Moominpappa and Sniff. The Moomins and the Great Flood will be published for the first time in Britain this October, by Sort of Books. The first Moomin picture book, The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My (Hur gick det sen?), was published in 1952, and has just been released as an app, read by the actor Sam West, a lifelong Moomin fan. Sort of Books also publishes Who Will Comfort Toffle? and The Dangerous Journey, both with new verse translations by the poet Sophie Hannah. Jansson admitted that Moominmamma was based on her mother, and that there were aspects of herself in Moomintroll and Little My.

The Moomin books have remained in print ever since they were first published, and are available in 44 languages. They have been made into animated television series in many countries, and one feature-length film. The 1980s series on British TV used felt puppets, was narrated by the actor Richard Murdoch, and was made by Polish-Austrian animators. The Moomins comic strip appeared in English in the London Evening News from 1954 until 1975. From the late 1950s, they were drawn by Tove Jansson's younger brother Lars, so that she could concentrate on her painting.

Lars's daughter, Sophia, now looks after the Moomin estate, which includes a theme park and sells £370m of Moominmerchandise around the world each year.