Norwich and cross-cultural dialogue

Going

‘The role of the translator is crucial to foster cross-cultural dialogue’. So says Literature Wales, and it was in this spirit that I embarked for Norwich on National Express service 375. Seven hours later I’m taking a turn round the block during a break in Birmingham, and in a car park I come across this excellent mural of Black Sabbath, one of Brum’s finest.

Mural of Black Sabbath

Five hours after that, I arrive in Norwich for the first time in my life. It’s a long way from North Wales. I was making this epic journey (which probably took me as long as the delegate from South Korea) to attend an ‘industry weekend’ at the National Centre for Writing. The weekend is one specially tailored to the needs of emerging translators.  The other delegates, all of whom are being mentored through the English scheme, were already three months in and would have their mentors in attendance for the weekend too. Newbie Sue hasn’t got a mentor yet – talk about being dropped in at the deep end.

Friday

With the public announcement of the beneficiaries of the Welsh bursaries and menteeships being made mere hours before the weekend started, I found myself – at 4.30 on a Friday afternoon – standing in Norwich’s Apple Store, blagging the Wi-Fi. I was frantically emailing ‘my’ author, Sian, and her publisher to get the sales figures for Yn y Tŷ Hwn, prior to the big day on Saturday when we’d be meeting publishers’ representatives.

Thankfully, neither Sian nor the lady at Gwasg Gomer, her publisher, had knocked off early and I got the sales figures with which to impress. I quickly calculated that there has been one copy of Yn y Tŷ Hwn sold for every 480 Welsh speakers in Wales. With that impressive stat, I dashed to Dragon Hall, home of the National Centre for Writing, to meet the other delegates.

Dragon Hall

Dragon Hall – what can I say? It’s amazing. It’s close to the river Wensum and was built in 1427 by a wealthy merchant to display and store imported goods. There’s only one dragon left: a particularly curlicued one, crouching on a roof beam of the first-floor great hall. This magnificent room looks down into a courtyard. Here is a pan round the courtyard buildings. As you can see, the Hall’s conversion to modern use has been boldly but sensitively done.

 

 

Our first session was an icebreaker. All the delegates read extracts of work they’d translated, in both source and target languages. As well as a few paragraphs of Yn y Tŷ Hwn, I gave them Myrddin ap Dafydd’s ‘Lynx mewn sw’ ( ‘Lynx in a zoo’), which is here, and Gerallt Lloyd Owen’s ‘Cilmeri’. But I teased them – I’ve recently found another translation of ‘Cilmeri’: one by Greg Hill, a former editor of The Anglo–Welsh Review. I gave them both his and mine, and left them to guess which was which. More ice was then broken over a lovely communal meal at the Iron House restaurant.

Saturday

Not having a mentor meant I could skip the first session on Saturday: everyone else was having intense one-to-ones with theirs. The first session for me was a very useful walk-through of contracts by internationally renowned translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones. She’s an old hand who strongly advocated, as soon as we are eligible, membership of the Society of Authors and, within it, the Translators Association.

After coffee (and gorgeous cinnamon pastries) we were given a session about visual storytelling. One exercise involved working in small groups to draw a monster, and then naming its body parts in our native or non-English language(s). Tentacles proved a challenge: the Europeans and Americans didn’t know; for the Chinese and Korean delegates it’s the combination of the symbols for ‘touch’ and ‘foot’. Interesting stuff!

But enough of interesting distractions – the main event of the day was the panel of publishers and the ‘speed dating’ that followed. These one-to-ones were provided for us to practise pitching our work. It was invaluable. With ‘date’ #1, I managed to neglect to tell him that Yn y Tŷ Hwn means ‘in this house’. He kept a poker face, and I hastily rearranged my thoughts ready for #2 and #3.

Phew! With that over, I went out for a much-needed breath of fresh air. Walking around, it was evident that Norwich City FC had just won. The yellow-clad fans were buoyant; I was buoyant. The ordeal was over – time to relax and socialise and pretend to be lords and ladies in the great hall of Dragon Hall, where supper was to be served.

Dragon Hall supper table

Afterwards

As it turned out, I had no duties on Sunday because of not yet having a mentor, so I had what the Welsh call a ‘diwrnod i’r brenin’ – an easy day (literally, ‘a day for the king’). I wandered round the picturesque streets of Norwich. My sunny Sunday saunter brought me to Jarrold, a wonderful independent department store. From their lovely books department I could at last buy an Ordnance Survey map. Without a map, I’d been feeling slightly uneasy the whole time. Now – satisfaction. Off I went to Mousehold Heath, an ascent of all of 30 metres for a panoramic view of the whole of Norwich.

Then back by coach on the Monday, my culture having been well and truly crossed when you consider that +30 metres is nothing where I live: it’s my bike ride back from the shops.

Images and words ©Susan Walton 2019.

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At the start of 2020

I’m going to have an unusual and interesting year in 2020. I have been awarded a place on Literature Wales’ Mentoring Scheme as ‘an early career translator working on literary translation’.

In August 2019 a client’s timetable had slipped and I found I had a slack month. I used the bonus time to prepare a sample translation of Yn y Tŷ Hwn by Sian Northey and submit an application to the scheme. Then I forgot about it. When I got the call in November, my first reaction was disbelief: I genuinely thought it would go to some bright young thing with a Masters in translation studies or some such. But delight also – Yn y Tŷ Hwn is one of the best novels of the decade just gone. I want my longest-standing friend – who does not have much Welsh – to be able to enjoy it too.  It is she who will be in my mind as I translate the rest of the novel.

The book is fewer than 150 pages long, but decades of the main character’s past  are skilfully revealed through her recollection of telling incidents, and a few significant details. Older readers will recognise some of life’s patterns in the story; the younger reader may see how events and decisions in life can determine patterns for years to come. I hope I can do it justice; I hope I can produce a text as nuanced and subtle in English as the Welsh original; I hope Sian Northey will like it.

I’m the first mentoring recipient of a place reserved for a translator, and I might be the last, because the place specifically for a translator is being run as a pilot in Wales.

Photo by Thomas Owen on Unsplash; book cover courtesy of Gwasg Gomer. Words ©Susan Walton 2020.

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