Author: Susan Walton

What’s with the July blues?

July blues? July shouldn’t be the month for blues – that’s January, surely. But this last month has brought up sad thoughts and revealed sad news. Bear with me.

K

That man at the top of this post had his birthday in July. Every year until 2015, when he didn’t. He and I parted company ten years before 2015, but we remained friends until the end.

K was a visual artist, and I realise now that a great deal of what I understand about creativity I learned from him. He had creativity coming out of his ears and he was prolific. In the time we were together he spent months in California and in London, trying to get his artistic career off the ground. But – as with many artists – he wasn’t great at following through on promotion/marketing/being organised. His head was always fizzing too much with the next idea.

The Guardian

All through that time – and especially while he was away – I used to open the Guide and Review sections of The Guardian on a Saturday and wish there’d be an entry for one of his exhibitions. That he’d have a show worthy of inclusion. It never happened.

When I found out I’d been awarded a place on Literature Wales’ Mentoring Scheme, I started a new notebook – a project notebook, to keep notes about this project separate from my jottings about ongoing proofreading jobs and to-do lists. Within the first few pages of this notebook I’ve written:

I used to look and wish for a K review in the Guardian. Now I want a review in the Guardian.

So, privately, that’s what I’ve been working towards, the thing that would be  my indicator of having arrived as a literary translator: a review in The Guardian.

Then the news broke in July that The Guardian is going to shed 180 staff. The rumours on Twitter were that the outcome  would be no weekend supplements: no Guide, no Review, no Magazine. By the time I find a publisher for Yn y Tŷ Hwn, there may be no Review section in which it could be reviewed.

Hence the July blues.

Progress in the wake of the first meeting with my mentor

My first meeting with my mentor was at the end of June. Some of the ‘homework’ they suggested, I’ve been able to work on, and some I haven’t. I’ve worked my way through all the comments and suggested changes on the first third of the Word document. It’s quite a revelation being on the other end of such a process – and quite sobering. It’s like a hotel owner staying in their own establishment!

I’ve also given  attention to something that was new to me – that the language of the translation needs special treatment in the passages that convey the story’s themes. I found this difficult to think about at first; I thought all the text had to be brilliant. However, once I’d hit on the metaphor of arias for these particular passages, I got it. In an opera, it’s the arias that carry it, it’s the arias that make it memorable. So, I’ve extracted the ‘arias’ and will work on them as if they were poetry translations.

 

Project work vs. paid work

Just after the first meeting with my mentor, I secured a huge proofreading job for my Sue Proof business. It’s the revision of a 175K-word, non-fiction book with lots of facts and figures. I’ve also got two novels from two regular self-publishing clients lined up for proofreading in  August and early September. (I think everyone’s been busy over lockdown!)

Obviously, paid work has to come first, so the ‘homework’ task of reading all Sian Northey’s novels and short stories to imbibe their essence isn’t going to happen for a while. However, I have managed to read the Sahar Khalifeh’s novella Passage to the Plaza, translated from Arabic by Sawad Hussain. This was useful for thinking about how to treat cultural terms in the source language; in other words, how much to ‘domesticate’ and how much to ‘foreignise’ them in the target language.

Learning through the ears

When I’ve been proofreading for hours – especially facts and figures – I don’t much feel like reading more. Because of this, much of my learning in July has been via my ears rather than my eyes. This included listening to Sawad Hussain being interviewed about Passage to the Plaza, which helped me understand the novel better.

Other pearls of wisdom have come from The Verb’s interview with Salman Rushdie; a Free Thinking episode with Ian Rankin; and a comment by American artist Laurie Anderson during an edition of A Good Read. She observed that, although the book in question (Sleep no More by L. T. C. Rolt) was written in English, she’d had to imagine canal towpaths and tunnels because she’d never seen any. Penny … dropped: even when not in translation, not everything has to be explained to be enjoyed.

Energy and guts

To counterbalance the July blues, I’d like to end on a positive note. This is a picture of ‘my’ author, Sian Northey, signing some of her books outside our local independent bookshop, Browsers Bookshop.

Browsers is currently shut and isn’t going to reopen for a while yet. However, within a few weeks of lockdown starting, Browsers’ owner had a trading website up and running and started selling online. She also made up over a hundred book packs which were distributed through local food banks. In good weather, she has been leaving children’s books on the shop’s doorstep for passers-by to pick  up for free.

Then, in July, came this message on Facebook:

We are installing a reading room here at Browsers and a community space for workshops/readings/exhibitions etc upstairs. … having been forced to close, the opportunity to turn a dream into reality has presented itself. Timing is not good financially, as I’m sure you can imagine, but the opportunity to undertake work that we would have had to close to complete otherwise is an opportunity we have to take.

Browsers was formerly the Morris Chemist shop and, in gutting the shop, these business cards have been revealed. ‘Ilford’ is a brand of photographic film – pharmacies used to sell films – and ‘Cupal’ is a make of antacid tablet.

If you don’t have your own handy independent local bookshop, please consider buying from Browsers.

And now I have a new thing to aim for: a launch event in Browsers’ new community space. Maybe by next summer there’ll be no July blues.

 

Static images and words ©Susan Walton 2020, except for  the image of María Bayo by WikimediaImages from Pixabay, and the images of Sian Northey and the old business cards ©Browsers Bookshop 2020; video ©ArabLit Quarterly 2020.

 

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First meeting with my mentor

At last!

I have had my first ‘meeting’ with my mentor – by phone. Going on a 125-mile round trip in person is still a no-no under lockdown rules in Wales. We planned, and started, to meet via Zoom. But the connection decreed otherwise, so we went #oldskool.

I, for one, am quite keen on using the phone. If you spend much of your working life sitting down, looking at a screen, it makes a nice change to be able to walk about while talking. And it was the talking that was important.

What I hope to achieve from the three mentoring sessions between now and January is to:

  1. turn a good translation into excellent and subtle storytelling
  2. know how to prepare a pitch to potential publishers, and
  3. gather the intelligence to make a list of who to approach, and to approach them with (1) and (2).

Before my mentor and I spoke

A few days ahead of the first meeting, my mentor sent me back the Word document of my translation of Yn y Tŷ Hwn as it stood at the end of April. They had marked up the first third of the text with suggested alterations in Track Changes, and other observations and suggestions in Comments.

It was handy to be able to go through these ahead of the meeting. Most of the comments and suggested edits were self-evident, so we concentrated on stuff that hadn’t occurred to me before.

What we mostly talked about

The main thing the mentor highlighted – and which was new to me – was  that the language of the translation needs to be particularly carefully and finely rendered in the parts of the story that convey its themes, and for the images related to those themes. Themes they had flagged up in Yn y Tŷ Hwn include:

  • the distant influence of things, sometimes as yet unseen or unknown
  • the hidden parts of other people’s lives
  • time, idealisation and shifting perspectives
  • place or a person staying unmarked by time
  • transience and being trapped
  • age, family and repeated patterns.

And I thought it was about being in love with a house, and about profound and mental health-distorting grief!

Homework from my mentor

I now need to sit down and identify those places where the themes are on or near the surface, and polish those nuggets. The mentor also suggested that I read all of Sian’s novels and short story collections for adults. This is so I can imbibe their essence and see which themes recur throughout her work. That should keep me quiet for a while. (Note the bookmark propped up under the books in the photo: it was a freebie on joining the Society of Authors.)

Coincidentally, just after the email suggesting that I absorb The Collected Sian Northey, I saw on social media that Sian was at page proofing stage with her next short story collection, Cylchoedd. I asked to read this new work, with the offer of marking up the PDF proofs if I spotted anything (I am a professional proofreader, after all). She readily agreed, and I have. What serendipity!

What we talked a bit about

The mentor is very insistent that we concentrate on the quality of the translation, on the ‘literature’. In their view, everything else derives from that. Their priority is heavily weighted towards number 1 of my goals – of those labelled 1, 2 and 3, above. We did, however, squeeze in some discussion about potential publishers, and how to make a ‘pitch’.

As goals 2 and 3 are not being prioritised by my mentor, I shall continue my research into how to achieve them under my own steam. I’m under no illusions, though. It’s a tough world out there, and it’s going to be tougher still, post-covid. I read in Summer 2020’s edition of The Author that, ‘… more than half of independent publishers, according to a recent Bookseller survey, have warned they may not [still be in business post-covid]’.

Bonus support and an added possibility

The mentoring scheme from which I am benefitting is run by Literature Wales. There are two other partners involved, one of which is the Wales Literature Exchange. The Exchange is an agency facilitating the sale of translation rights, amongst other things. The officer from the Exchange has also read over my April version of Yn y Tŷ Hwn. They, too, commented on it and suggested tweaks to the text. Their note suggested that my translation as it stands would be good enough as a bridging translation. (A bridging translation is one done into a world language – such as English or French – and then used by other translators wishing to translate into a third language.)  I am chewing that one over. Watch this space …

 

Main photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash. Antique telephone photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash. Photo of puffins by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash. Rabbit with a cocked ear photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash. Other images and words ©Susan Walton 2020.

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Translation ‘fieldwork’

In my previous life as a geographer I had to do fieldwork of various sorts. Look at what was out there in the world – measure things, compare things, make notes, map things. That main picture is a light-hearted self-portrait, drawn when I was at college.

I finished the text of my translation of Yn y Tŷ Hwn to the best of my present ability in April, so I can’t progress with that until I start work with my mentor. She has been appointed. We have both signed a contract to work together but, because of her work commitments, she cannot start with me until June.

Still in lockdown

Here in Wales we’ve still been in a more restrictive lockdown during May than have some other parts of the UK. Some people have taken extreme measures to remind people of this disparity.

Nevertheless, tucked away in my house, away from covidiots, I’ve been free to conduct fieldwork in the landscape of literary translation. Comparing, noting, mapping. That’s what May’s mostly been about.

A Devil comes to Town

 Il diavolo nel cassetto, translated by Anne Milano Appel

In March’s post I talked about coming across this novella on a charity stand in Wilkinson’s. On reading it, I noticed some words and expressions that struck me as peculiar in the English. This month I had the time to go and check out the first few pages in Italian, using Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ function. Interesting.

For example:  ‘… since the publication of a fortuitous novel had afforded me a certain renown, I had become a pole of attraction for aspiring writers.’ Now I know this is quite formal language but nevertheless, to me, the natural way to express the end of this sentence would be: ‘ … I had become a magnet for aspiring writers.’ In the Italian original it is: ‘… da quando la pubblicazione di un fortunato romanzo mi aveva dato una certa notorietà, ero diventato il polo di attrazione per gli aspiranti scrittori.’ So it is, indeed, a ‘pole of attraction’. Noted.

The Jeweller

Y Gemydd, translated by Gwen Davies

Also bought in March, but I only got round to reading it in May. I primarily read it in English, but with the Welsh original to hand so I could flick backwards and forwards to compare the two. This was an object lesson in a creative or loose translation. A new sort of literary landscape in which to wander and record the lie of the land.

Woman at Sea

Le grand marin, translated by Adriana Hunter

I discovered this via the Society of Authors’ YouTube channel. I started watching this panel discussion with three translators whose books had been shortlisted for the 2019 Translation Prize. The person who subsequently won the Translators Association First Translation Prize was on the panel. This is why I started watching. However, I ended up being more interested in another of the translators, Adriana Hunter, and the book she’d translated, Le grand marin. The English version was duly ordered from Abe Books and I loved it.

It’s set onshore and offshore in the world of commercial fishing boats working out of Kodiak, Alaska. It’s very impressionistic, and in both subject and treatment it’s like the documentary film Leviathan (don’t click the video of the trailer if you’re squeamish).

The main character, Lili, reminds me of Richard Thompson’s song ‘Beeswing’:

Oh she was a rare thing, fine as a bee’s wing
So fine that I might crush her where she lay
She was a lost child, she was running wild
She said “As long as there’s no price on love, I’ll stay
And you wouldn’t want me any other way”.

Tenses, and spaces

Aside from loving the novel as a novel, I noticed that it shifts between passages in the present continuous tense and in the past tense. In true fieldwork style, I tried to work out why.

I mapped the changes. Most of the continuous present parts are when Lili is at sea and fishing (which makes sense) and most of the past tense parts are ‘dead time’ when she’s not at sea. However, it’s not consistently so. Back to Abe Books to get the book in its original language. I wanted to see whether these changes are in the original or whether they are a function of the translation. I can’t read French properly, but I can  work out enough to see if the tense changes happen in the places I’ve mapped in the English. They do. I’m still slightly puzzled. Perhaps this is where the ‘fieldwork’ ends and ‘desk research’ starts.

While checking through the French text like this, I also noticed that the sections aren’t all spaced the same way as the English. I saw that there has been some creative editorialising in the translation too, as with The Jeweller. Maybe it’s more common than I think. Maybe I should have been more creative in my treatment of Yn y Tŷ Hwn. Well, I guess I’ll find out next month …

 

Static images and words ©Susan Walton 2020.

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#StayAtHome and produce a finished translation

Translation finished . . . (well, as far as I can take it)

That has been the upside of staying at home in my case. Having made good progress with translating Yn y Tŷ Hwn during the course at Tŷ Newydd things ground to a halt because of . . . well, life. But then lockdown came. Although I still have my clients’ proofreading work arriving via email, lockdown meant there was also time to produce a finished translation (or as finished as I can make it at the moment).

My normal practice with translation is to go as far as I can myself and then have read-through sessions with my colleague Gwenlli, a.k.a. Amnis Translation, usually in her sunny kitchen. This time we did it on the phone – with me thankful that I have a headset. There’s nothing to beat reading your work aloud to a critical listener as caring and forensic as Gwenlli, with whom you can argue the toss about your turns of phrase.

So now the text is ready for my mentor – whoever he or she will be – to help me take to the next stage or the next level.

I’m not the only person who’s been creative during lockdown. The main image on this page is, at the moment, leaning against the sign for the next village. It’s been drawn by Barry Marples – talented chap, eh?

Remote learning

It’s not just children who’ve been having to do their learning remotely. In the spirit of this mentoring project, I’ve been working my way through the resources that were in the packs from the National Centre for Writing course. There are plenty of leads from them to follow up online. This research is expanding my knowledge about publishing, literary translation, and the literary scene.

Lockdown

I’ve been thankful for the sunshine for the state-sanctioned exercise sessions, mostly achieved by walking here.

 

I am very fortunate to live where I do. I know that. I’m fortunate in still having paid work, and knowing that my vulnerable relations and friends are being well catered for.

But in any event, things haven’t been as bad as I’ve been thinking they might be during a national disaster.  I’ve lived since I was ten years old within a few miles of nuclear power stations: close enough for anxiety about a Three Mile Island-type event. For much of my life I also lived through the latter part of the cold war, with the attendant threat of nuclear war. ‘Protect and Survive’ was the catchphrase.

I thought when a national disaster or crisis struck, I’d be sheltering in the ‘inner refuge’ of my ‘fallout room’ (watch the video if you don’t know what those terms mean) with no electricity, no water, and eating a meagre supply of stockpiled tinned food.

The corona virus situation is awful for many people, especially front line workers without proper supplies of protective equipment. However, for most of us, we have electricity; we have water; our rubbish is collected; there is fresh food in the shops or delivered to us; our post and daily newspapers arrive; we have endless broadcast entertainment and information; we have the internet and phones. We can go outside. Our government is not in a bunker. We are not in our ‘inner refuges’, supposing we could even make and provision them in time.

Comfort reading

Notwithstanding what I’ve just said, of course anxiety is taking its toll. I’m not alone, I know, in turning to comfort reading. In my case it’s Thomas Hardy. Melodramatic, I know; soapy, I know. But I love a Hardy novel. I picked The Return of the Native to sink into, partly because of the descriptions of the heath where it’s set. But I discovered I can’t even sink into comfort reading unhindered now. Starting to become a writer has made my brain work in different ways.

After reading the first few chapters one night by the fire, I woke up the next day reimagining Diggory Venn as a new age/convoy sound-system DJ, with the setting as a Battle of the Beanfield-era free festival. Instead of being set over a year and a day, I would set it over twelve  hours and a bit, at a Samhain party. That sort of event, especially at that season, can feel like a year. Venn’s father would have been a Forestry Commission worker, and Venn and Tamsin would end up opening a mountain biking course. Maybe I should give fan fiction a go?

Vehicles at Travellers’ School fundraising party, Clyro 1988

Artwork in main image ©Barry Marples 2020, used with permission;  beach video and words ©Susan Walton 2020; ‘Protect & Survive’ video copyright unknown; Clyro image ©Dave Fawcett of www.travellerhomes.co.uk – permission sought, but your website’s contact form doesn’t seem to work, Dave.

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What a difference a month makes

… to misquote Esther Phillips and Dinah Washington, amongst others. When I posted in February I was anticipating, with some trepidation, going to the London Book Fair. Now I’m anticipating going to Tesco with some trepidation.

But let us backtrack three weeks, to happier times.

Actually, let us backtrack four weeks first, because this video should have been in the February blog post. It’s Sian Northey and me talking about literary translation (thank you BROcast Ffestiniog).

Mentoring course, Tŷ Newydd

Now let us backtrack three weeks, to happier times. I spent almost a week in early March on a course for all of we Literature Wales Mentoring Scheme mentees. It was great meeting everyone else——  I was going to continue that sentence with ‘in the same boat’, but actually we’re not all in the same boat. The boats are very different: different projects, different stages. Even different media.

Wild daffodils, or Lent lilies, Tŷ Newydd

Kath Stansfield and Llwyd Owen were the course tutors. They gave workshops throughout the week on writing, but these were designed (mostly) to improve the skills of those writing fiction. The bodies supporting my menteeship see writing and translation as closely aligned. The idea is that working alongside writers is a useful way of channelling the creative aspects of what literary translators do: the creation of a new text from the original, as opposed to making a literal translation.

However, my view at the moment is that however un-literal a translation is, even translators cannot change how a character behaves, or tell the story from a different point of view. The author has already made those decisions. It would certainly be an interesting exercise to recast the narrative of Yn y Tŷ Hwn through Emyr’s eyes, rather than Anna’s, but that’s another story.

So, I decided to skip these workshop sessions and use the time to work – without distraction – on my translation of Yn y Tŷ Hwn. I say ‘without distraction’, but Tony’s cookies were quite distracting every time I went into his kitchen to make a paned. And Jess, Tony’s cat, was quite distracting too.

Jess, who hangs about in Tŷ Newydd’s garden

Despite distraction by cookies and cat, I almost finished the first rough draft of Yn y Tŷ Hwn (at this stage it still has all the highlighted, ‘not-sure-about-this-ask-someone-Welsh-first-language’ bits in it). However, I did take the opportunity to have one-to-ones with both tutors to discuss how to make a pitch to publishers. Of course, I also chatted to them and the other mentees over lunch. Lovely lunches – did I mention Tony?

The course was punctuated by the inclusion of a lot of interesting guest speakers, whose presentations took us from colonial India (Alys Conran reading from her latest novel,  Dignity) to hard-nosed stuff about career development and the work of the Welsh Books Council. Cartoonist Dan Berry gave a particularly interesting presentation about creating  comics and graphic novels, and set me off wondering if Yn y Tŷ Hwn could be rendered as a graphic novel. Hmm . . .  . . . ?

Trying to develop my career

While we were at Tŷ Newydd, news reached us that the London Book Fair had been cancelled because of the corona virus. Fortunately, the only money I’d spent upfront was for these t-shirts, publicising my new status as a literary translator as well as my Sue Proof business.

Front and back of t-shirts printed specially for the London Book Fair

Literature Wales had awarded some of us  ‘Go See’ travel and accommodation grants to attend the Fair. We were told to keep the money, and to use it on other continuing professional development within the next six months. OK, I thought, I’ll go to Hay Festival for the first time ever. I thought I’d cruise around the festival site and check things out before booking any events, so I booked camping only. Camping booked 12 March, Hay cancelled 19 March. I might get to go next year.

The devil (or a devil)

A Devil Comes to Town cover

You know those stands of donated books in supermarkets, being sold for charity? Well, I was in Wilkinson’s about ten days ago and I spotted a copy of A Devil Comes to Town by Paulo Maurensig for £1 on one such stand. It’s a novella translated from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel and I’m reading it at the moment. It’s sort of appropriate for the times and appropriate for a recipient of a menteeship for literary translation. Some things are just meant to be.

The story takes place in a village where everyone has a manuscript tucked away in a drawer. The community is torn apart by competitiveness when a mysterious publisher shows up and establishes a literary prize. As well as that, disease is prevalent in the surrounding woods, and foxes are bringing it closer and closer to the village.

How interesting to read a translated work where I can’t go back to the original language – I don’t read Italian – to see whether a peculiar or unusual word in the translation reflects a quirk in the source language. I am also intrigued as to why the English title is A Devil and the Italian is The Devil. It’s called Il diavolo nel cassetto in Italian, which means (according to Mr Bing) ‘The devil in the drawer’.

Corona virus and lockdown

Y Gemydd / The Jeweller covers

Health permitting, my plan is to keep learning about literary translation while in lockdown. I have a ‘to do’ list as long as a child’s arm. Amongst other things, I plan to read Caryl  Lewis’ Y Gemydd in parallel with its English translation by Gwen Davies. And I’m working my way through the copy of In Other Words, the journal of the Translators Association, which was in the pack given to me on the Norwich course.

Pretty soon I’m also hoping to finish my work on Yn y Tŷ Hwn to the standard I normally present to the publisher who’s been commissioning me to translate children’s novels over the last few years. I’d like it to be at that standard in time for my first meeting with my mentor, however that is to be conducted.

Static images and words ©Susan Walton 2020; video ©BROcast Ffestiniog 2020.

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A birthday, a BIG birthday

Birthdays

That’s me on my fifth birthday. Jelly and ice cream were probably on the menu, and I’m wearing an up-to-the-neck pinafore over my jumper because I’m a messy eater. I’m still a messy eater – some things never change. This month has seen me turn sixty. In terms of creativity this is, hopefully, a good thing. According to something I read recently (but of course now can’t find – hey, I’m over sixty), our brains are at their most creative when we’re children and when we’re over sixty. Of course we’re creative when we’re kids, but why once we’ve passed our sixtieth birthday? Well, our brains start ‘slackening’; our neural pathways are less fixed. So perhaps the brain of that woman with grey salon-cut hair will, in time, return to the creative ability of the little brain under that black hair with the wonky fringe.

Urgency

Being this old means I have a certain self-confidence in my abilities. As above, it may also mean I’m going to get increasingly more creative, but what I certainly don’t have is a long time. There is an urgency to this menteeship project; I don’t have a lifetime in which to build a career or to find stuff out. This urgency means the learning curve about what I need to do and with whom I need to connect to even start the prospect of getting a literary novella in translation into print is pretty steep. (But at least now –  being sixty and self-employed – I’m not losing time to period pains, hormonal migraines, menopausal crises in confidence, and office-incubated colds.)

Small networking, big storms

Having now joined the Society of Authors, I went on the bus (new bus pass – yay!) to my first SoA event in Aberystwyth, in the aftermath of Storm Ciara. Storm C had deposited a lot of the beach on the prom. Crunchy underfoot.

One take-away from this event was that maybe I should pitch Yn y Tŷ Hwn in terms of themes, rather than story, character, or quality of writing. The speaker, Philip Gwyn Jones of Scribe, said that novels are being pitched as if they were non-fiction these days.

Irish fish box on Aberystwyth beach

In the teeth of Storm Dennis off I went on the bus again to a one-day seminar at Bangor University, ‘Women in Publishing’, where Caroline Oakley of publishers Honno  gave a presentation about the advantages of being published by a small press. In essence, her message was that agents’ lists are ninety-nine per cent full and most publishing houses won’t look at you unless you’re represented by an agent. In contrast, small publishers will deal with the author directly and are more willing to take risks, she said. She added that these days they often network with the local bookshop community too.

Big networking coming up

Notwithstanding this ‘small is beautiful’ stuff, I’ve been advised to attend the big beast –  the London Book Fair – coming up in March. To this end, I applied to Literature Wales for a ‘Go See’ grant to cover the cost of attending. Having done this – and so in anticipation of possibly going – I’ve been working my way through the list of exhibitors on the LBF website and noting possible publishers and agents with whom I might begin a conversation. Now I’ve been awarded the grant, the prospect of actually going is scary but hopeful in equal measure. I’ll report how I get on in my March post. At least my new senior railcard will come into play as I commute  from where I’m going to be staying (thank you John and Jo!) into central London for the three-day jamboree.

Introductions

I reckon it’s time to introduce in a bit more detail the book I’m translating, Yn y Tŷ Hwn, if you haven’t read it, and its creator, Sian Northey, if you don’t know her. First, here’s Sian.

Sian, ‘my’ author – a lovely portrait by Dylan Williams

And here’s a paragraph from the book, the title of which translates as ‘In This House’. The context is that Anna, the main character, and Ioan have lost their only child as a three-year-old, twenty years ago. This paragraph has been arrived at by way of a two-and-a-half-page train of thought.

         Fe adawodd y dillad am y tro a’u clirio, fisoedd lawer yn ddiweddarach, pan nad oedd Ioan yno. Fe daflodd bob un dilledyn, heblaw un hosan fechan oedd wedi disgyn tu ôl i’r tanc yn y cwpwrdd crasu. Flynyddoedd yn ddiweddarach y cafodd hi hyd i honno a methu’n lân â’i thaflu. Gosododd hi yn ei drôr sana ei hun, a fanno oedd hi byth, yn fach a glas, a theigar dewr yn sgyrnygu arni. Neu’n gwenu arni efallai.

         His clothes were left for the time being and only cleared, months later, when Ioan wasn’t there. She threw out every item, except for one tiny sock that had fallen behind the tank in the airing cupboard. Years later she found it, and couldn’t bring herself to throw it away at any price. She placed it in her own sock drawer, and there it stayed, small and blue, with a brave tiger snarling at her. Or maybe smiling at her.

This is typical of the meditative nature and interiority of the book, and typical of Sian’s writing. I draw your attention to these four points:

  1. The language is straightforward. The Welsh is not ‘high’ or ‘literary’ or ‘posh’. I’ve had to look up a handful of words in the dictionary as I translate, but that is all.
  2. Sian is excellent at ‘show don’t tell’ and at conveying emotion. How people act in her stories often tells you more than what they say.
  3. Details are telling. For instance, that ‘small and blue’ – she puts it where it is, on its own, rather than saying ‘one tiny blue sock’. And the fact that ‘small and blue’ is contained its own clause underlines that it has been contained within a closed drawer for decades.
  4. A trademark Sian-ism is a statement that is immediately contradicted, or doubted, as with that ‘… snarling at her. Or maybe smiling at her.’ In this way she reminds us that things aren’t always as they appear; there’s always more than one way of looking at things, or interpreting them.

Oh, and …

… here comes a shameless plug for the two commissioned translations I’ve been doing over the last few months. Both were published in February. The Crown in the Quarry is an adventure story for older children, using as a backdrop the fact that national treasures and works of art were hidden in the slate mines of Blaenau Ffestiniog during the Second World War. The Red Dragon of the Welsh is a look at the history and culture of Wales’ national flag.

My latest commissioned translations

 

Images and words ©Susan Walton 2020, except the portrait of Sian by Dylan Williams, and the Welsh text from Yn y Tŷ Hwn ©Sian Northey 2011, reproduced with the permission of Gwasg Gomer.

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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 2020.

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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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