Author: Susan Walton (Page 1 of 3)

To publication and beyond …

3TimesRebel Press published my translation into English of the Welsh novel Yn y Tŷ Hwn by Sian Northey as This House on 21 March 2024. A few days later the ebook version appeared for sale online.

This blog post is about what happened in the run-up to publication and beyond. So, in no particular order, here’s what’s been done, is being done, and will be done to publicise This House.

Social media

Social media, particularly Twitter and Instagram, are key to 3TimesRebel Press’ publicity for all its books. I wrote about the  ‘cover reveal’ for This House the in my January 2024 post.

Social media has underpinned all other publicity activity around This House. I’m not going to list everything, but take it as read that every step of what’s detailed below has been capitalised upon/maximised/publicised using social media.

Launches

Local launches

It seemed a no-brainer to have a local launch for This House. Our two nearest bookshops – Siop Llyfrau’r Hen Bost in Blaenau Ffestiniog (handily, owned by Sian’s sister) and Browsers in Porthmadog – were the obvious venues. Both are great in different ways, and both are, of course, independent.

We agreed with the shop owners to hold two different sorts of launch events on the same day. In Browsers we’d have a meet-and-greet, chatting and signing session during the afternoon. Then, on the same evening, a being-interviewed-with-light-refreshments session in Blaenau. The novelist Seran Dolma, whose debut novel, Y Nendyrau, is on this year’s Wales Book of the Year shortlist, agreed to interview us.

In my July 2020 blog post  I wrote:

And now I have a new thing to aim for: a launch event in Browsers’ new community space.

Almost four years later, this is what we walked into at Browsers (and how cool that they got flowers to match the cover design of This House!):

A room with pictures on the wall, and a vase of flowers in the foreground.

And this is the audience’s view of us in Blaenau, with Seran on the left:

People sitting with a window behind, looking out onto the street.

London launch

Sian and I agreed that we’d try for a launch in London. The London Welsh Centre seemed to us to be the obvious location. It’s central, and Sian sometimes teaches Welsh day-courses there.

Sian emailed and they agreed – and for free! We can have the bar space on a Tuesday evening, so that’s what we’re doing: 7pm on Tuesday 25 June (bar opens at 6pm). It’s free to attend – more details and how to book here. You’ll see if you click on the link that we’re to be interviewed by a former national poet of Wales: Ifor ap Glyn. I bumped into Ifor at a literary ‘do’ in Caernarfon and asked him if he’d take part. He agreed on the spot –  thank you, Ifor!

We’re so excited about this, and so looking forward to it. The event will be in English and is free to attend, but we’d like you to book so that we and the Centre know how many to expect.

PR/contact list

Sian and I revamped the PR/contacts list and a press release we’d prepared with the publisher in summer 2023 (when we thought publication was going to be in autumn 2023 – if you want to know why it didn’t happen then, go to January 2024’s post). Sian translated the press release into Welsh, so we have the choice of sending either or both languages, depending on who’s being written to.

As with social media use, this list and the press release have been central to our publicity efforts.

Outcomes from these contacts have been:

  • Sue answering a Q and A for the Americymru website
  • Sue and Sian writing an article for the Nation Cymru website
  • two features on the website of the Welsh-language magazine Golwg –  this one and Sue answering questions for the ‘Y Llyfrau yn fy mywyd’ (the books in my life) feature, which was also in the print version of the magazine.

Page of a magazine.

London Book Fair and Assembly of Literary Translators

London Book Fair was the week before our publication date, so I decided to go, armed with some advance complimentary copies of This House, which fortunately arrived in time. The day the parcel of books arrived from 3TimesRebel Press, Sian and I went to the pub to celebrate. Sian took this photo to record the momentous occasion; I am looking very unmomentous, I’m afraid.

Woman sitting eating crisps at a table in a pub.

Because so many literary translators are in London for the Book Fair, Ian Giles had kindly organised the Assembly of Literary Translators in south London for the day before the Fair. It was billed as a literary translators’ gathering for panels and conversation. I signed up for it, even though this meant paying for an extra night’s accommodation and subsistence. It was too good a professional development and networking opportunity to pass up.

(I’m going to talk about money later, but even with keeping costs to a minimum, this combined Book Fair and Assembly 5-day London trip cost just under £800.)

Online videos

The publisher asked us to film ourselves talking about This House and about the translation process. In the same session I was also to be videoed reading an extract from the book. Not being confident with filming ourselves, we asked our friend Llinos Griffin to film us.

No part of the conversation has appeared yet, but the publisher intends to use snippets from it on social media in the future, possibly during August for Women in Translation Month.

Translators Aloud

Post-publication, in April, the  publisher posted the recording of me reading an extract on the Translators Aloud YouTube channel. (You can hear Llinos near the beginning telling me in Welsh to speak up.)

Writing Wales

Writing Wales is a documentary series produced by Taz Rahman for the Just Another Poet YouTube channel. This work has financial support from the Books Council for Wales. Despite its description, the channel now presents videos of other writers, not just poets.

Another emerging Welsh to English literary translator, Emyr Humphreys, and I were asked to be subjects for the Writing Wales thread of the Just Another Poet channel. Our paths into  translating are very different, but we have both been mentored within formal programmes. We also both had books out in the first half of 2024. The Last Day, Emyr’s translation into English of Owain Owain’s Y Dydd Olaf, was published on 6 June. I wrote about his project in my January 2023 post.

Taz Rahman brought us together to be filmed in Aberystwyth in May, but the video has yet to be posted on YouTube.

Traditional broadcast media

Because Sian is a well-known figure in the Welsh-language literary life of Wales, Welsh-language radio and television needed no persuading to feature items about This House.

On the Sunday before publication, Sian and I recorded an in-depth interview with Ffion Dafis, who hosts BBC Radio Cymru’s arts programme. The interview was broadcast the same day.

Two days ahead of the publication date, Sian travelled to Llanelli to be interviewed on the Clwb Llyfrau (book club) feature on S4C’s afternoon magazine programme, Prynhawn Da. A piece I’d recorded at the television company’s northern outpost the day before was played out to set the scene for Sian’s live interview.

We have had no interest from the English-language broadcast media in Wales. With BBC radio, this may be a reflection of the regular airtime on BBC Radio Wales which is given over to an arts programme (half an hour a week) compared to that on BBC Radio Cymru (two hours a week).

A blog post for book clubs/reading groups

I think that This House would make a great book club/reading group choice. For a start it’s compact (always a plus!). It has suitable discussion points, including a life-changing event, moral ambiguity and a good twist. And it has an ending open to interpretation. There is also plenty to chew over because it is a translation.

I posted this post of extra resources for readers in early April, soon after publication. I thought it would be helpful to write an extra blog post for folks who want to get under the bonnet of This House.

A man looking under the bonnet of a large vehicle.

I’ve printed out the web address of this extra blog post on strips of paper, in readiness for our London launch. This launch will be the first event where we will be selling This House and Yn y Tŷ Hwn directly to attendees, so I will slip one of these strips into each book (and give them to anyone else who wants them) at that event. Hopefully, it will increase their reading enjoyment.

Literary festivals

On our PR to-do list are literary festivals. I have no personal contacts in this field, so Sian led the way in contacting the ones where she’d previously appeared. As a result of this, my first appearance not-as-a-punter was at Gŵyl Llên Llandeilo Lit Fest on 28 April. As we were mooching around the festival reception area, we spotted This House and Yn y Tŷ Hwn in the festival bookshop, keeping good company.

Books stacked up.

And what a lovely little festival Llandeilo was! We were well looked after, had our expenses paid, and enjoyed the whole experience. Bethan Mair was a kind and perceptive interviewer and, for an event conducted in Welsh with simultaneous translation, there was more of an audience than we’d expected.

However, as you can see from the photo below, one lesson we learned was that if there’s a screen offered, have something to fill it!

Two women either side of a table with a large blank screen behind them.

The next Sian’n’Sue festival appearance will be at the Gŵyl Arall festival in Caernarfon. The festival runs 4–7 July, and we’ll be in the garden of the Palas Print bookshop at midday on the Saturday. We’ll again be in conversation with Ifor ap Glyn, but this time in Welsh with simultaneous translation.

Reception

Personal comments to Sian and me have all been complimentary. (You’re not going to say to our faces that you didn’t like the book, are you?) Some have been extremely complimentary, accompanied by, ‘I’m not just saying this because I know you – I really, really liked it.’ Or, ‘It was very moving.’ Or, ‘It made me cry.’

Reviews from book bloggers and vloggers are starting to appear. Here are the ones we have picked up so far. Bob the Bookerer discusses This House on YouTube. He starts his review at 3:57. He describes Sian’s writing as:

… spare and quiet … she leaves a breath between moments … haunting …

There are also a couple of written reviews on Instagram. Good Book Club says:

Northey’s writing is beautifully precise … there’s a warmth that runs through the story, along with a hint of mystery that’s too tantalising to ignore.

… Perfect for fans of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, The Wall, and Lori & Joe.

Rachel says:

I liked how slow this book was and how a big focus of it was on memory.

We’ve also had a nice review on Good Reads, with a three-star rating.

Time and money

As readers of this blog know, I’m keeping a note of time and money in relation to this whole emerging literary translator endeavour.

Time

These are the mean number of hours per week logged on my worktime record as being spent on the project ‘adult literary translation’ since the start:

  • 2020 – 2.8 hours per week
  • 2021 – 1.5
  • 2022 – 2.4
  • 2023 – 2.5
  • 2024, so far – 8.6.

Over eight and a half hours a week is a lot of time. However, I know that unless something dramatic happens (Richard and Judy Book Club? Radio adaptation? Film rights?) this will reduce.

Financing events and actions around publication

For the events and actions to promote This House, this is the financial or in-kind income received to date, or that is promised:

  • Blaenau and London launches – the publisher will be contributing financially to the launch events; there is no room hire fee at the locations
  • London Book Fair – I was awarded a free entry ticket through my membership of the Society of Authors; in 2020 I had been awarded a ‘Go See’ grant by Literature Wales to go to the London Book Fair in that year, but of course that year’s Fair never happened so I still had it to spend
  • Assembly of Literary Translators – I paid the entrance fee; my travel costs had already been accounted for by travelling to London for the Book Fair
  • Writing Wales video – a small Literature Without Frontiers payment for participation in a filmed conversation about translation; my train fare to Aberystwyth was also reimbursed
  • Prynhawn Da on S4C– a small payment for participation; the cost of travel to the recording location was free because I used my bus pass
  • Gŵyl Llên Llandeilo Lit Fest – payment by the festival to cover expenses; accommodation provided for free; a small payment from Literature Across Frontiers for participating.
Income

To date, the total income received and promised from all sources into this project divided by the total hours expended on all aspects of it gives a rate of £8.98/hour, gross. When expenses ascribed to the project are taken into account, that’s currently £7.77/hour net. Obviously expenses are accounted for in my business tax declarations, but stuff still has to be paid for upfront.

My contract with 3TimesRebel Press specifies that royalties due on This House will be calculated to 30 April each year. For 2024, of course, 30 April falls far too soon after publication so I will have to wait until this time in 2025 to see what that income will be. It’s the same with ALCS and PLR payments: these sums arrive with a big time delay.

Words, and photos of community space at Browsers Bookshop, page of Golwg and books at Llandeilo, ©Susan Walton 2024. Photo of cartoon rocket by Andy Hermawan on Unsplash. Photo of Blaenau launch ©Siop Llyfrau'r Hen Bost 2024. Photo of Sue in the Brondanw Arms ©Sian Northey 2024. Photo of under the bonnet by cottonbro on Pexels. Photo of Sian and Sue at Llandeilo ©Siôn Aled Owen 2024. Video ©3TimesRebel Press 2024, and with thanks to Llinos Griffin and the Brondanw Arms.

 

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Extras

This is a special blog post written particularly  for reading groups or book groups or book clubs – call them what you will. It’s for any bunch of people that read the same book and then come together to discuss it.

According to The Guardian, there’s a boom in such groups, especially among younger people.

If you want to get more out of your group/club’s reading experience, read on for some extras – from thought-provoking discussion points to music, poetry, recipes and even immersing yourself in the landscape of This House!

These resources are also for any reader who wants to know more – and there’s always more to know for the curious mind ….

Why is This House a suitable reading group pick?

Book front cover that includes a pen-and-ink drawing of the upper body of a woman holding a balloon.

This House contains no fantasy, other than – of course – being a work of fiction. It is rooted in real life. It is written in finely honed but straightforward language.

At the core of the story are life events which many people experience. There is also one that only a few experience, and yet more people than you might think have experienced it. However, that particular event may be triggering for some readers. To avoid a spoiler, here’s a  downloadable PDF saying what the experience is: this-house-reading-group-trigger-warning.

The story also has an excellent twist. It doesn’t read like a mystery to begin with, but as you get deeper in, you start wondering more.

There’s burgeoning interest in translated fiction, and This House is my translation of Yn y Tŷ Hwn, originally written in Welsh. This House is available to buy from bookshops and direct from our publisher here, or elsewhere online. You can also get it as an ebook.

I’m in – what are the extras?

Author and translator availability

Both the author, Sian Northey, and I would be happy to speak to reading groups in either Welsh or English about This House. Please contact us via an email to sw@sueproof.wales.

Woman wearing glasses    White woman.

 Discussion points

With the help of author Kathy Hopewell, I’ve come up with some questions to get your group discussion started. Some novels come with such discussion points as part of the publication. I didn’t want to do that because it could reveal spoilers.

The discussion points are here, as a downloadable PDF: this-house-reading-group-discussion-topics.

Woman wearing glasses looking puzzled.
Music

The songs mentioned or quoted from in the story aren’t random. The allusions and associations they engender contribute to the overall storytelling. As a translator, I had to decide what to do with the three pieces of music in the original Welsh novel, Yn y Tŷ Hwn.

The decision was whether to leave the song in the original language, translate it, replace it with something that does the same job, or – a last resort – leave it out. Fortunately, I didn’t need to leave any of them out.

The songs in Yn y Tŷ Hwn and This House are:

Page 46: ‘Blaenau Ffestiniog’ – Tebot Piws in Yn y Tŷ Hwn

replaced with ‘Tap Turns on the Water’ – CCS in This House

Page 85: ‘Ceidwad y Goleudy’ – Mynediad am Ddim

replaced with ‘Rescue Me’ – Fontella Bass.

Pages 62–63: ‘Hiraeth am Feirion’ – Siân James, retained as in the original.

In the long footnote* at the end of this post I discuss these decisions in more detail. For each one, I show how the song is positioned in the original, give a translation of that excerpt from the original text, and then explain how I came to the solution I picked.

Poem on page 23

As with the music, the poem included in Yn y Tŷ Hwn also serves an important purpose in the storytelling. It is ‘Y Blotyn Du’ by Hedd Wyn. Here it is in context in the Welsh original:

Ymbalfalodd ei hymennydd am ryw linell ‘…hawl ar ddim, dim ond … yng nghanol rwbath neu’i gilydd Duw …’

‘Nid oes gennym hawl ar y sêr,
Na’r lleuad hiraethus chwaith,
Na’r cwmwl o aur a ymylch
Yng nghanol y glesni maith.

Nid oes gennym hawl ar ddim byd
Ond yr hen ddaear wyw:
A honno sy’n anhrefn i gyd
Yng nghanol gogoniant Duw.’

‘…Lle dysgist ti honna ar dy go fel’na?’
‘Yn ’rysgol. …’

‘Ei theitl hi ydi’r peth gora,’ medda fo. ‘Y Blotyn Du – damwain, llanast.’

Her brain struggled to recall a line ‘… no claim to anything… Set among God’s something worth’.

‘We have no claim on the stars,
Nor on the mournful moon,
Nor yet the gold-fringed cloud
Set among the endless blue.

We have no claim to anything
Except the weary old earth:
And that is a chaotic thing
Set among God’s glorious worth.’

‘ …Where did you learn it off by heart like that?’
‘In school. …’

‘The title’s the best thing,’ he said. ‘The Black Blot – an accident, a mess.’

(For a better translation of ‘Y Blotyn Du’ than mine, see former National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke’s version in the Bloodaxe Book of Modern Welsh Poetry: 20th-century Welsh-language poetry in translation.)

As with the music, I had to make a decision between leaving it in the original language, translating it, replacing it or cutting it. To cut it would have been to lose an important node of the story. Leaving it or translating it would have removed the significance for anyone not familiar with the poem. So, what to replace it with?

The replacement had to be something that links to stars, has a sense of fate and prefigures a calamity. And it had to be well known enough to have been learned off by heart at school, and out of copyright.

I ended up with six or seven contenders, but an excerpt from ‘The Stolen Child’ by W. B. Yeats won out. It wasn’t just a case of cut’n’paste, though. I had to re-write the text that leads into the poem, and the bit that follows it.

You may be familiar with ‘The Stolen Child’ from its use on this track on the Waterboys’ album Fishermen’s Blues.

Food

There are two particular dishes that are significant in This House. One is beans cooked with cumin, and the other is Tante Adèle’s Pudding. For a reading group that includes food at its gatherings, these would make wonderful extras when discussing This House!

The bean dish is Lebanese, and could be served with meatballs, pita bread, hummus and plain yogurt. On page 65, Anna, the main character, serves it with chicken and roast potatoes. (I like it with pickled herrings, myself.)

For 6:

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed or cut finely
  • 1 lb (500g) topped and tailed green beans – fresh or frozen
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 14 oz (400g) tin diced tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Heat olive oil in a large pan over a medium high heat.
  • Add the onion and sauté for 3–4 minutes.
  • Add garlic and continue to sauté for 2 minutes.
  • Add the green beans, cumin and diced tomatoes and mix together.
  • Bring to a boil, then cover and turn the heat to low.
  • Simmer for 40–45 minutes, or until green beans are tender, stirring occasionally.
  • Adjust seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve warm over rice or quinoa.

And here is Tante Adèle’s treasured recipe for her ‘amazing pudding’ (page 67). See how treasured this recipe has been!

Typed recipe,

It’s served with cream the first time Ioan makes it for Anna (page 60).

Place

This House is not set in a particular place, but is inspired by two houses within the area of Ardudwy – the sweep of Welsh coast and mountain between Harlech and Barmouth.

One of these houses is Gelli Bant in Cwm Nantcol, Eryri (Snowdonia). It is now a holiday cottage, ideally placed for a walk up onto the sheep walk – the ffridd – as Anna does in Chapter 27. The pub where Siôn takes Anna to eat when she has no kitchen (Chapter 30) could be one of several in the area.

Excerpt of Ordnance Survey map.

The whole package

For a totally immersive reading group meeting with extras, go for a walk in the hills of Ardudwy, discussing the discussion points as you go. Or dissect the discussion points over a gin and tonic (with lime, of course) or tea (there is a lot of tea in This House) by the fire when you get back.

Follow this with an hour’s listening party comprising all the music referenced while you eat your beans and Tante Adèle pudding (with cream –  you deserve it after that walk). Here’s another sung version of ‘The Stolen Child’ to add to your playlist. It’s performed a cappella by White Raven.

——————————————————

*LONG FOOTNOTE

1. ‘Blaenau Ffestiniog’ – Tebot Piws

Allai hi byth wneud hyn heb glywed llais Dewi Pws yn ei phen, yn canu ‘rhoi d?r uwchben y llestri’ cyn ‘mynd ’nôl i Flaenau Ffestiniog . . . dala’r trên cyntaf mas o’r dre . . .’

She could never do this [put dishes to soak] without hearing the voice of Dewi Pws [Tebot Piws’ singer] in her head, singing ‘put water over the crockery’ before ‘going back to Blaenau Ffestiniog …catching the first train out of town …’

This song dates from 1970, so – apart from any meaning in the lyric – it underlines Anna’s age. However, the lyric is also crucial because it pops up in her head when she’s running water onto dirty dishes, and it contains the idea of running away.

The significance of the lyric would have been lost if I’d left it in Welsh. The resonance of the era – the subconscious associations of being young in the early ’70s – would have been lost if I’d translated the lyric snippets into English.

Because I’m of the same vintage as Anna (and Sian Northey, the author) a solution presented itself easily: ‘Tap Turns on the Water’ by CCS – taps, water, and an allusion to escaping to somewhere else. And it was a hit in 1971.

I wasn’t going to put a potential publisher in the position of having to pay for the right to reproduce song lyrics (for more on this topic see this post on the BookBaby blog) . Fortunately, the lead singer of CCS has a very distinctive, gravelly voice and an unusual name, so I was able to avoid the question of a direct quotation thus:

She could never do this without hearing Alexis Korner’s growl in her head, singing about turning on the tap to start the water’s flow, and then finding the sun.

2. ‘Ceidwad y Goleudy’ – Mynediad am Ddim

…na allai glywed geiriau ‘Ceidwad y Goleudy’, dim ond rhyw deimlo trwy gerrig y t? …. Tybed a oedd Mynediad am Ddim yn dal i fodoli? Doedd ganddi ddim syniad. Un arall o’r pethau nad oedd hi’n eu gwybod.

…she couldn’t hear the words of ‘Ceidwad y Goleudy’, just some feeling through the stones of the house … Were Mynediad am Ddim still going? She had no idea. One more thing she didn’t know.

The original was released in 1976, so again this underlines Anna’s age. As with the first song, I decided to replace the reference to this one with reference to another (oldish) one that would do the same job.

The title translates as ‘the lighthouse keeper’ and the song would be well-known to readers who are familiar with Welsh-language popular culture. The lyrics are an extended metaphor and include the line ‘A wnei di f’achub i?’ (‘And will you rescue me?), so the obvious replacement was ‘Rescue Me’, sung by Fontella Bass.

In the UK Fontella Bass was essentially a one-hit wonder, so this also helped with transposing Anna’s sense of the past slipping about when she wonders whether Mynediad am Ddim are still going. ‘Still going’ was switched to ‘still alive’:

… she could no longer hear the lyrics of ‘Rescue Me’, only some shiver through the stones of the house …. Was Fontella Bass still alive? She had no idea. One more thing she didn’t know.

3. ‘Hiraeth am Feirion’ – Siân James

Ac roedd y cyfarwyddiadau llwyfan yn nodi ‘cerddoriaeth, ddim rhy uchel, gwerin neu opera’. … y ddau’n sipian eu diodydd a llais Siân James yn dod o rywle, yn hiraethu am Feirionnydd.

And the stage directions noted ‘music, not too loud, folk or opera’. …they both sipped their drinks and the voice of Siân James came from somewhere, hiraeth-ing about Meirionnydd.

This is a traditional song sung simply and unadorned and, as with ‘Ceidwad y Goleudy’, there are no quoted lyrics. In this case the detail of the lyric is not especially important. As well as setting the mood for the first meal Anna is about to share with Siôn, the purpose of the song is to lead into Anna having a long chain of memories about hiraeth:

Anna had never got on with the word ‘hiraeth’ and all the romantic nonsense attached to it. It was as if the word had taken on a special meaning to Welsh people, but only because it was untranslatable into English. She remembered her pleasure on learning that there was a Portuguese word, saudade, with a very similar meaning. The feeling of hiraeth was not unique to Welsh and Welsh people; it was English people and their language that were odd, deficient.

Thinking that a potential publisher might want to transpose This House into a geographically non-Welsh context, at one stage during the translation I prepared a list of suggested alternatives to things that I might have to change. These included place and personal names, Welsh landscape terms, and Siân James hiraeth-ing about Meirionnydd.

Because of the mention of saudade, I thought my best bet for a Siân James replacement would be Mariza, who is a fado singer. Fado and saudade are intertwined in Portuguese culture, so that draft read:

And the stage directions noted: ‘music, not too loud, fado or opera’. … as they both sipped their drinks and the voice of Mariza came from somewhere, full of saudade.

If I’d needed to make this change, I was going to rewrite the next paragraph to read:

Much as Anna loved Mariza’s beautifully evocative singing, she’d never got on with the concept of saudade and all the romantic nonsense attached to it. She knew there was a similar Welsh word – hiraeth – equally fetishised for its untranslatability into English.

However, this version does not appear in the book because the publisher was happy to keep in a flavour of Wales and this reference to its culture.

Words ©Susan Walton 2024. Cover of This House ©3TimesRebel Press 2024. Photo of illuminated sign by Miguel Gascoj and photo of pondering woman by No Revisions, both on Unsplash. Photo of Sian Northey by Sian herself, photo of Susan Walton by Gwen Cooper. Thanks to Sian for the recipes and to Kathy Hopewell for help with the discussion points.

 

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Yes!

Yes, the last week of May was momentous!

I signed a contract for my translation to be published! And two days later Bangor 1876 FC won a nail-biting play-off that sees them promoted!

My translation is of Sian Northey’s novella Yn y Tŷ Hwn, which is called This House in English. They have had a parallel journey in some respects, Bangor 1876 and This House.  The seeds of both projects were planted in 2019.

In 2019, I learned I was to receive mentoring as an emerging literary translator. A new venture, although I already had experience as a translator.

Also in 2019 the supporters trust that brought Bangor 1876 into life was formed. It was new venture in football for the city, although Bangor already has a proud footballing history.

Diligence and perseverance over the last three years have paid off, for both.

Which publisher?

In January, when I last posted on this blog, I was waiting for a decision from Publisher N, who were considering my (*counts on fingers*) fourteenth submission of This House.

Then, in February, Publisher N said it wanted to publish – Yes! I guess that’s what scoring a goal must feel like. Now that contracts have been signed, I can reveal that the publisher will be 3TimesRebel Press. It is a new, small, independent publisher, based in Scotland. It is very niche. As its website says:

Only women. Only minority languages. This is our choice.

It has already published in English two novels from Catalan, and one each from Basque and Galician. This House will be its first title originally in Welsh.

Making the submission to 3TimesRebel Press

Back in July 2020, my mentor told me that I needed to identify other works of art (especially other novels) that Yn y Tŷ Hwn is like. The mentor said this is what is expected when pitching to publishers or agents. I also read the same instruction time and again during my self-directed online research about how to make pitches and submissions.

The jargon for these ‘it’s like’ works is ‘comps’, as in ‘comparable to’. The closest I got for overall tone was James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. 

As I wrote in my January 2021 post, it’s the ‘vibe’ of works referred to as comps that’s important rather than the subject matter. I reckon that if you were to swap the alcohol in Giovanni’s Room for the tea in This House, they’d be similar enough.

As it turned out, I didn’t need a ‘comp’ to snag 3TimesRebel Press. The closest I got in my initial email was to say:

The story is an examination of roads not taken and shifting self-perception, expressed in concise and unfussy language which is reminiscent of the work of Anne Enright.

I then listed the  Sian Northey‘s publications, and my published translations, and stated the sales figure for Yn y Tŷ Hwn. The director of 3TimesRebel Press replied promptly and enthusiastically, requesting an excerpt.

Two days after that, I was emailed to say that she was ‘completely hooked’ and wanted to read the rest of the story. One Zoom meeting with Sian and me later, and we were on the road to publication.

Finalising the contract

My contract with 3TimesRebel Press is called a ‘Memorandum of Agreement’ (I don’t know why, but that’s what was offered).  A couple of things helped me feel comfortable and confident about finalising and signing.

Harmonising with the terms of the copyright holder’s contract

The copyright holder of the original text of Yn y Tŷ Hwn is the publishing house Y Lolfa. Its agreement with 3TimesRebel Press is called a ‘Publication Agreement’ and this was agreed and signed ahead of the Memorandum of Agreement between me and 3TimesRebel Press.

Y Lolfa’s managing director kindly let me see its agreement with 3TimesRebel Press, which meant I could harmonise the two contracts’ terms where their provisions overlap. For example:

  • changing the proposed publication area from ‘throughout the World’ to ‘in the UK and the Republic of Ireland’
  • making the annual date on which the publisher will reports sales and the term in which to pay any amounts due the same as they are in the contract with Y Lolfa.

Hopefully this will make all our lives simpler!

Society of Authors contract vetting service

As a member of the Society of Authors I was able to make use of its contract vetting service. I received thorough and prompt comments, both on the initial draft contract and the finalised version.

The SoA suggested an interesting additional clause:  its new standard wording for prohibiting the publisher from using the work for training artificial intelligence technologies to generate text.

I’m not sure how this would be policed, but even including the clause might give a publisher pause.

What next for this blog?

I started this blog to chronicle my progress of being mentored as an early career literary translator, and then record my attempts at finding a publisher. So now we have a fairy-tale journey’s end, in a way. I used an unopened bottle of champagne to illustrate my first post; I now think we may safely uncork it.

I’m going to continue to post on this blog as we move through the stages of producing, marketing and selling This House.  For me, this is yet again new territory so I have lots to learn. I hope that my experiences will give food for thought to other newbie literary translators.

What next for Bangor 1876?

Oh, and what next for Bangor 1876? I hear you say. Well, they’ve been confirmed to play in the second tier of the Welsh football league system next season and have negotiated their way to being able to play at their new level at Nantporth, the old ground of the defunct Bangor City FC.

 

Words and image of book cover ©Susan Walton 2023. Image of Yes ©estate of K. Nathan, reproduced with the permission of A. Nathan and I. Nathan. Photo of sprouting seeds by Jen Theodore; mechanised brain by Possessed Photography; and champagne by Shayna Douglas, all on Unsplash. Photo of handshake by Fauxels on Pexels.

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Exposure!

I have had my first public exposure for a piece of literary translation done off my own bat – and on the website of a prestigious literary journal at that!

Publication on the Asymptote website

Back in my January 2022 post I said I was going to submit my translation into English of a short story called ‘Eurgylch a meicroffon’ to literary magazines. It is from Cylchoedd, the latest  collection by Sian Northey. I called the story ‘Halo and Mic’ in English. I had in my sights two literary magazines: Trafika Europe and Asymptote.

Book cover of 'Cylchoedd' by Sian Northey.

Sian Northey is also the author of the novel I translated during my period of being mentored as an emerging literary translator, Yn y Tŷ Hwn. It is the book for which I’m currently seeking a publisher; its English title is This House. Publication of one of her short stories would bring us both some exposure.

I heard nothing for two months after submitting to Trafika Europe. I then submitted the story to Asymptote – ‘the premier site for world literature in translation’, according to its own website. In June I was told it had been accepted for publication in the autumn.

More submissions of This House to publishers

Pitches for This House made earlier in 2022 to publishers H, I, J and K had already been politely rejected by two of them and  ghosted by the other two. Publisher F, to whom I’d submitted in 2021, eventually decided in June that they didn’t want to publish This House.

Because the publication of ‘Halo and Mic’ was going to be a useful enhancement when submitting This House to publishers, I decided to stop making any new submissions until I could point (virtually) to it, and go ‘Look! Look!’

Other attempts at exposure

I also tried another couple of tactics in 2022 to gain exposure. I entered the John Dryden Translation Competition. I didn’t even make the longlist.

However, I did make the longlist of publisher Louise Walters Books’ brilliantly conceived Page 100 Competition. The concept is simple: you send in page 100 of your unpublished manuscript. Page 100 of This House made the longlist, and you can read the winning and shortlisted entries here, along with Louise Walters’ commentaries on them. Louise is even going to email brief feedback on each of the long- and shortlisted entries – what a star!

Emyr Humphreys

In October I was contacted by Emyr Humphreys. He is being mentored to translate from Welsh to English as part of this year’s National Centre for Writing’s Emerging Translator Mentorships programme. Emyr is part this year’s equivalent of the group I joined for an industry weekend in January 2020. He’s trying to make links between Welsh-to-English literary translators.

The project for his menteeship is to translate the novel Y Dydd Olaf (‘the last day’) by Owain Owain (1929–93). This novel is considered something of a cult classic and, until recently, was out of print. It was republished in 2021 by Gwasg y Bwthyn.

Cover of the book 'Y Dydd Olaf' showing a stylised eye.

Co-incidentally, I had been reading Owain Owain’s short story collection Y Peiriant Pigmi (‘the pygmy machine’), looking for a Welsh short story to translate which didn’t reference Wales’ history, mythology or the rural landscape and way of life. In other words, rather like ‘Halo and Mic’, something out of time and place, something dependent wholly on imagination.

I hadn’t started on anything, but Emyr’s project prompted me to do so. Who knows – the reissue of Y Dydd Olaf, and Emyr’s translation, when published, might be the beginnings of an Owain Owain revival!

‘Gwyddau Gwylltion’ / ‘Wild Geese’

In Y Peiriant Pigmi I’d been taken with an extremely short story called ‘Gwyddau Gwylltion’, which means ‘wild geese’. It is so untethered from time and place that what’s going on is open to interpretation. However, the reader’s mental construction might be as (un)steady as what’s going on in the mind of the storyteller. It’s an intriguing story.

In contrast to the opacity of what’s happening in the story, the writing style is very carefully structured and very stylised and mannered. It could be regarded as a thousand-word prose poem.

Wild geese flying.

I’ve mostly translated living authors that I know, and it was odd not to have someone to say ‘What d’you think?’ ‘Are you happy with this?’ to. For this reason, I asked fellow translator Tim Gutteridge if he’d read over it, which he kindly did. His suggestions helped me revisit a few points, then it was ready to go.

I wanted Owain Owain’s estate to be aware of what I was planning, and to be happy with the translation. One of his children has a fairly public profile in Wales, so I contacted him and he acted as a bridge to the rest of the family.

They were all happy with the translation, and I received a lovely message from one member of the family saying that reading my translation had motivated them to re-read the original. Even if my translation of ‘Gwyddau Gwylltion’ never gets published, this message was personally so gratifying.

I submitted ‘Wild Geese’ to a literary magazine that places special emphasis on showcasing work by new or early-career writers. As yet, I have had no word about whether it’s going to be published or not.

Picking up on making submissions of This House, but this time with a published short story to point at

In the midst of being busy with ‘Wild Geese’, the ‘Halo and Mic’ short story appeared on the Asymptote blog’s Translation Tuesday thread.

A stone angel and text.

The story’s introduction includes the opinion that it is:

a cracking piece of Welsh fiction … In Susan Walton’s translation, nuances in speech and register are captured to delightful effect …

Bingo!

Even if pitched-to publishers only glance at the intro, the endorsement is there. Time to get busy …

I had seven publishers to approach. Publisher M, which I’d been tipped to try during my visit to Hay Festival, politely but swiftly rejected This House.

However, the next one on the list – publisher N – is considering us. At the time of writing, I’m holding off making further pitches until publisher N comes to a decision.

Fleeing the Fascists

While all this was going on, my latest commissioned translation of a children’s/young adults’ novel came out: Fleeing the Fascists. It’s set in Wales and Germany before, during, and in the aftermath of, the Second World War. In researching the book, the author had made links with a journalist in Germany. He works for a daily paper in Bielefeld, the city where parts of the story are set.

When the English version came out, Markus Poch, the journalist, contacted Elke Klos, head of English at the Brackweder Gymnasium school in the city, and told her about the book. According to this article, Elke intends to read excerpts of Fleeing the Fascists with her English learners. More exposure, but in an unexpected arena – and what an honour to have one’s translation used to teach English!

A middle-aged woman holding up a book.

Elke Klos holding up Fleeing the Fascists.

Another reason to be cheerful …

A recent Irish Times article had the headline:

Gains in translation for fiction readers and publishers

The article is by Fiona O’Connor of the University of Westminster, London and in it she says:

translation has become a disruptive innovation in what has been termed a monoglot and insular world – that of British publishing. … Shattering the 3 per cent translations rule holding sway for decades, UK and Irish sales of translated fiction grew to 5.63 per cent.

Hurrah for the disruptors!

Words ©Susan Walton 2023. Photos of man in a stream by Marvin Meyer, and wild geese by Manfred Antranias Zimmer are on Unsplash. Photo of the cover  of Cylchoedd is ©Gwasg y Bwthyn 2020 and of Y Dydd Olaf is ©Gwasg y Bwthyn 2021. The photo in the screenshot of the Asymptote blog appears to be by Pexels on Pixabay. The photo of Elke Klos is ©Markus Poch/Wesfalen-Blatt 2022.

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Climate change …

… but not the global emergency sort

The cultural climate in relation to Wales and the Welsh language also seems to be warming, if this newspaper headline is anything to go by.

I’ve been aware of an increasing media focus* on Wales and Welsh in the last few months. Even before Wales qualified for the football World Cup.

This recent Radio 4 programme in the series One to One is only the latest. It explores what it means to be a Welsh person in England (Emma Garland), and English in Wales (Mike Parker).

A cynical person might think

that this sudden interest in Wales is a move to set against the growing interest in independence for Wales.

t shirt slogan reading Can't wait to be independent so we don't have to deal with this crap anymore

Quote from Adam Price, leader of Plaid Cymru

Is it a deliberate policy of trying to neutralise the feeling of being ignored/abandoned by Westminster?

An uncynical person

might interpret it as a realisation: ‘Wow, it’s 2022 and now we’re more attuned to diverse voices and cultures within the UK, we can see that we’ve got this whole home-grown one right in our midst.’ Or – depending on your degree of Unionism – ‘We’ve got this whole home-grown one right next door to us’.

Whatever the reason

my fervent hope is that BBC-listening, heavyweight-newspaper-reading and politics-following publishers will clock all this and think: ‘Yes, we think novel-reading people are ready for a gem of a story translated from Welsh. It’s not an oddity, it’s interesting. Let’s take a look at this Susan Walton and her translation of Yn y Tŷ Hwn from the Welsh.’

 

Climate change (the emergency sort)

A little aside: if you are interested in the accelerating change in the earth’s climate (and who isn’t?) you might like to take a look at my other blog, where I post my original writing: ’Sgwennu Sue.

I’ve been writing the words: ‘Pan fydd yr holl iâ’n toddi, bydd y môr yn cyrraedd fan hyn and ‘When all the ice melts, the sea will be up to hereover and over and over on Post-it notes.

Post-it note stuck onto a fence post with a hedge and field behind

One of the Post-it notes

Starting to open up …

It’s now eighteen months since I finished my period of being mentored and when I finished the final version of This House, a translation into English of Yn y Tŷ Hwn by Sian Northey. Now, as covid repercussions diminish, some publishers are starting to open submission windows, and in-person cultural events are happening.

Submissions, submissions

In early January, when I last posted on this blog, This House had already been rejected by publishers A–E, and was awaiting an outcome from publishers F and G. It was swiftly rejected by G, and the outcome from F is still unknown after six months, so I’m presuming it’s not wanted.

Multiple submissions

Over the next few months, I’m not going to wait for the outcome of one submission or query before making the next. This means multiple submissions and queryings – but my spreadsheet is my friend. Bids H, I and J have already been sent.

Meanwhile, on the border …

Hay Festival

I had rolled over a booking for two nights’ camping at Hay Festival since 2020, the year of being mentored. I decided to take the plunge this year, albeit without plunging into the enclosed performance spaces: I’m still being very cautious where I take my nose and windpipe.

sunshade and garden with a coffee shack behind

Garden at The Bean Box, Hay on Wye

Still, my main reason for going was to cruise and chat, and this I did – round the town and round the festival. And very interesting and enjoyable it was, especially watching an episode of Radio 3’s The Verb being recorded. Daniel Morden’s opening a – re-telling of the legendary origins of the bard Taliesin – was magnificent.

Whilst flâneuring about, I had the pleasure of running into one of my Sue Proof anchor clients. It was lovely to see her in person and have a chat over lunch.

The dark underbelly

bundles of waste paper with a yard and industrial building behind

Dead books in Hay on Wye

The photo is of a commercial unit just next to the campsite I stayed on. It shows the other side of Hay. The campsite supervisor told me that these are dead books. This is the dark underbelly of ‘the town of books’: when Amazon divests itself of stock, it sells them to the warehouse chap. When he doesn’t sell them in Hay, this is how they end up.

In other news

My latest commissioned translation for the publishing house Gwasg Carreg Gwalch came out in the spring. It was chosen by the Books Council of Wales as one of its books of the month for May. That’s it in the front: Faster Than the Swords.

advert for Llyfr y Mis Book of the Month showing four book covers

My next commissioned translation, Fleeing the Fascists, is almost done and will be coming out in September. This is the cover of the Welsh original, but the English will likely have the same design.

cover of the book Ffoi Rhag y Ffasgwyr

Ffoi Rhag y Ffasgwyr (English title Fleeing the Fascists)

 *Long footnote

As well as the ‘One to One’ programme mentioned above, between February and June 2022 on BBC Radios 3, 4 and 6Music, I noticed:
—  Welsh comedian and national treasure Tudur Owen had a two-part dramatised story on Radio 4, and was a guest on both Start the Week and The News Quiz
—  a couple of months later, there was an entire Start the Week programme on the theme of Welsh identities
—  mention of St Dwynwen’s Day (the Welsh lovers’ day) was shoe-horned into a question in Counterpoint where Bryn Terfel happened to be singing the music in the question (but not in Welsh, nor was it Welsh music)
—  Katherine Stansfield’s poem ‘Beware Welsh Learners’ was on Poetry Please; it finishes with a line in Welsh: ‘Bore da, bore da.’ (Kath was, co-incidentally, one of the tutors on the course I attended at Tŷ Newydd)
—  there was a three-part series on Radio 4 from Jeremy Bowen called This Union: Being Welsh
—  Free Thinking on Radio 3 had an entire programme called ‘Speaking Welsh’
—  the 6Music Festival came from Cardiff this year, with Welsh being used as an equal language to English in the trailers for the event
—  Cerys Matthews presented a programme on Radio 4 called ‘Youth Unites’, celebrating the centenary of the Peace and Goodwill messages sent by the youth of Wales to the youth of the world by the Urdd Gobaith Cymru (oh, and guess what the topic is for 2022? –  the climate emergency)

On top of the i newspaper trumpeting Wales’ soccer achievements with its headline in Welsh, there have been these newspapery events:
—  The Sunday Times changed its style guide for naming our highest mountain – it’s now Welsh language first for Yr Wyddfa
—  to the bafflement of most of the UK press, Guto Harri, newly appointed Director of Communications for Boris Johnson, gave his first press interview to Golwg 360, which is a Welsh-language news website
—  the English translation of Manon Steffan Ros’ Welsh bestseller The Blue Book of Nebo was selected for inclusion in a list of children’s and YA books in The Guardian
—  The Bookseller recently devoted multiple spreads to the literary scene in Wales.

 

Words ©Susan Walton 2022. Photo of i newspaper ©Non Tudur, 2022. Photos of ‘can’t wait to be independent so we don’t have to deal with this crap anymore’ t-shirt, ‘when all the ice melts’ PostIt note, The Bean Box cafe in Hay on Wye, and dead books in Hay on Wye ©Susan Walton 2022. Photos of letter ‘H’ by Nikhil Mitra, letter ‘I’ by Michael Dziedzic, and letter ‘J’ by Zyanya BMO, all on Unsplash. Photo of Books Council of Wales books of the month from that organisation’s social media accounts. Video of the Urdd Gobaith Cymru’s Peace and Goodwill message from that organisation’s YouTube channel. Cover of Ffoi Rhag y Ffasgwyr ©Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2022.

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One year on

The year 2021 slips away; 2022 starts to gather pace.

We are now one year on from when I finished my period of being mentored, and finished the final version of This House.

This House is a translation into English of Sian Northey’s first novel, Yn y Tŷ Hwn, which I worked on throughout 2020. I was posting monthly on this blog during 2020, but decided to post just six-monthly updates from then on, to document my search for a publisher.

You can read my experiences with Publishers A, B, and C in my mid-2021 post, here. When I left off, I was about to pitch to Publisher D.  Unlike with Publishers A and B, I did not get a polite letter of rejection. I got …

… nothing. One presumes one is rejected after a certain time has elapsed since the pitch.

The search comes closer to home

Publisher E

I decided to take a different approach. With Sian Northey’s help, we approached a publisher based in Wales. As Sian is a well-known figure on the literary scene in Wales, there was no need to persuade this publisher that Yn y Tŷ Hwn was ‘like’ anything. It would be aware of Sian’s work and likely readership. I was aware of the quality of its products.

Nevertheless (can you tell what’s coming?), we got a very polite and  super-supportive email … of rejection.

Publisher F

Although Publisher F’s website says it does not intend to publish novellas (This House is novella length), I’d met a representative of this publisher at a seminar, pre-Covid-19. I wrote to this editor. They said Publisher F would be happy to consider This House. Progress!

Again, because they were already aware of Sian as an author, there was no need to sell This House as being ‘like’ anything this publisher already produces.

Publisher F told me in December 2021 that This House had cleared the first hurdle. It is now being considered by the entire editorial panel. We wait.

The joker in the pack – Publisher G

Per the well-known law of sod, while This House was being considered by Publisher F, Publisher G – a UK-wide publisher – tweeted in late November that it was opening a submission window during December. The call for submissions included literary novels and novellas.

I let both Publisher G and Publisher F know of my situation, and both said they would allow simultaneous submissions on this occasion, so I submitted to Publisher G at the end of December.

There was no time to investigate this publisher’s products ‘in the flesh’, and in any case it would seem that it is just now expanding into literary fiction – there don’t seem to be any literary fiction novels or novellas available on its website.

Once more, we wait.

The champagne is still on ice

In my last monthly post of 2020, as my year of being mentored drew to a close, I wrote:

So maybe now, at the end of 2020, I can put the bubbly on ice, but not pour it for a while yet.

Well, at the end of 2021 the bubbly remains on ice, one year on from that. Will Publisher F make me an offer? Will Publisher G?

What next?

I have a few things in progress on the literary translation front. I’ve entered the John Dryden Translation Competition with an excerpt from This House. A win in this competition would raise my profile with those publishers I approach in the future. However, I won’t know whether I’ve been successful until much later in the year.

cover of the book Cylchoedd

Cylchoedd by Sian Northey

Again, to raise both my profile and Sian’s, I shall shortly be submitting my translation of a short story from Sian’s latest collection, Cylchoedd, to the Asymptote and Trafika Europe journals/websites for literary translations. If it is accepted by either or both, this will be a small lever in furthering my search for a publisher for This House.

Whatever else happens (or doesn’t) …

… I have a successful proofreading and copy-editing business. I also regularly translate children’s novels and other books, for money. I’ve recently finished the English version of Rhedeg yn Gynt na’r Cleddyfau, an adventure story set at the time of the Rebecca Riots in Wales. It’ll be out in 2022.

cover of the book Rhedeg yn Gynt na'r Cleddyfau

Rhedeg yn Gynt na’r Cleddyfau (English title Faster than the Swords)

I’ve just started the translation of another children’s novel which will also come out in 2022, to coincide with the centenary of the Urdd Gobaith Cymru. It’s set during the Second World War, and starts with children of ‘undesirables’ being sent out of Germany on one of the last Kindertransports before war is declared. They end up with their exiled father in Aberystwyth, in Wales, but I can’t say more than that or I’d spoil the story.

My creativity comes out in other ways too. During the autumn of 2021, I’ve been doing part of an environmental art project. I shall restart this soon, when the weather improves.

 

Words ©Susan Walton 2022. Photo of hourglass by Paula Guerreiro; photo of letter ‘E’ by  Girl with red hat; photo of letter ‘F’ by Hello I’m Nik; photo of letter ‘G’ by Scott Evans; photo of champagne by Thomas Owen – all on Unsplash. Photo of Cylchoedd cover ©Gwasg y Bwthyn 2020; photo of  Rhedeg yn Gynt na’r Cleddyfau cover ©Gwasg Garreg Gwalch 2021.

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Six months have slipped by

Well, here we are: just over six months since the end of my amazing year of being mentored.  And almost two years since I made that fateful, original application to Literature Wales to be mentored as an early career literary translator.

Wales Book of the Year

Earlier this month, the shortlists for the Wales Book of the Year award were announced. They gave me pause for thought and were, in part, what engendered this post. One of the authors shortlisted for best Welsh-language novel is Megan Angharad Hunter. Like me, she was a delegate at the mentoring workshop held at Tŷ Newydd in March 2020.

cover of the book Tu Ôl i'r Awyr

At the end of 2020, I said I’d only post again on this blog when there were developments with This House (which is my title for my translation of Yn y Tŷ Hwn). However, Megan’s appearance on a Book of the Year shortlist prompted me to write a round-up of this year so far.

In search of a publisher – Publisher A

My year of being mentored kicked off with an industry weekend at the National Centre for Writing in Norwich in January 2020. There, one thing we did was practise making a pitch to three real-life independent publishers.

A few weeks later one of the three publishers emailed me to ask for a sample of This House and reviews and background material about the author, Sian Northey. Sian and I scrabbled about for anything in English about her work and I duly sent this off with the sample.

Then Covid-19 hit and this publisher wrote to say his outside reader was sick and that we might have quite a wait …

In November 2020, I contacted Publisher A to see what was happening. He said he’d chase it up.

In January 2021 he said he’d chase it up again.

In February he wrote a very polite and supportive email … of rejection.

Yn y Tŷ Hwn rights change hands

In 2019, Gwasg Gomer, the original publisher of Yn y Tŷ Hwn, announced it was to wind down its publishing side and concentrate on printing only. All three of Sian’s novels were published by Gomer, so we knew a change was coming.

gable end paintings on the building housing the publisher Y Lolfa

Y Lolfa in Tal-y-bont

Sian told me early in 2021 that Gomer was selling these titles to Y Lolfa. I contacted Lolfa’s managing director to introduce myself and my project, and also to find out when the rights would be legally transferred. The first of April, I was told – so I decided to wait until April before contacting any more publishers.

A changed submissions landscape, post-2020

By the beginning of 2021, I had already compiled a list of publishers to whom I wished to pitch This House. Of necessity, they are all publishers that will accept unagented submissions. I’d done much of my original research in the run-up to the subsequently cancelled 2020 London Book Fair. I’d noted which publishers would only accept submissions during certain ‘windows’.

When I updated my list in early 2021, I found that many of the ‘window’ periods publicised in 2020 had been withdrawn. Often these companies had put a note on their website saying they were swamped because of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Several I’d had my sights on are now inaccessible to me.

More detailed research into publishers I wish to target

In compiling my original list of publishers I was to target, I’d obviously already looked at their websites to make sure they had an interest in publishing novels and novellas, and a back catalogue that included translations into English.

To research the ones that were still accepting unagented submissions, I decided to buy two paperbacks from each. This was so I could see and feel their product for myself, both to judge the quality and (hopefully) to have something relevant to say about one of their books when the time came to pitch to each publisher. Using a combination of Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ function and reviews on the Good Reads website, I hoped my selection of these pairs would result in novels I would also enjoy reading.

So far I have made three rounds of purchases this way. I’ve found quite a variety in the size and choice of typeface; cover design; paper quality; and thoroughness of proofreading.

In search of a publisher – Publisher B

Preparing to pitch to Publisher B, my purchases from them were a novel written in English and a novella translated from Dutch. I loved the novel and, although it wasn’t a translation, its setting was a Celtic country with enough dialect words in the dialogue to require a glossary. The novella had an interesting premise but it felt like an intellectual exercise stemming from that premise. Both books were nicely produced: good covers and reasonable typefaces and paper.

I pitched to Publisher B in April, once the rights for Yn y Tŷ Hwn had been safely transferred to their new owner. Straight after pitching, I received a polite email confirming receipt, which is always good.

In early June I asked if they were still considering it, and they still were.

As I was writing this blog post, I received a very polite and supportive email … of rejection.

In search of a publisher – Publishers C and D

While waiting for Publisher B to come to a decision, I pushed ahead and bought pairs of paperbacks from the next two publishers on my target list – in the hope that they don’t put the ‘closed’ sign on their websites anytime soon!

Publisher C

Publisher C’s books were a novel translated from French (but set in England) and one in Italian (but set in Finland). I was not impressed with the French one. It looked as if it had been self-published: the cover design had been thrown together, the paper was coarse and it was set in an unimaginative typeface. I found the story quite turgid and so didn’t finish it.

The Italian one – although weird – was a good read. It had also been produced with higher production values than the French one. However, the cover image was very unexciting. As I was reading it, I realised that not one of the Finnish words that should have had accents had any. None. Epic proofreading fail!

Publisher C has now been crossed off my list.

Publisher D

Publisher D’s books were translations from German and Arabic. When they arrived, they looked as if they’d come from different publishing houses. The German one had a cover as boring as publisher C’s Italian one.  (I’m starting to wonder if this is a thing: does a boring, monochrome cover signal to the discerning reader that there’s a complex European novel in translation within?) The Arabic translation’s cover, however, was really eye-catching and well-designed. The paper was different too: much better quality, and the page layout was nicer.

I’ve read the German story, which was slight but insistent, but I had trouble with a graphic description of cruelty to an animal in the Arabic one. I haven’t yet picked it up since.

Publisher D will definitely be pitched to.

Other translators’ blogs

Over the last few months, I’ve been reading the blogs of two other translators, both of which I learned about through the Translators Association.

Daniel Hahn’s Translation Diary gives a blow-by-blow account of his work on  Jamás el fuego nunca, a novel by the Chilean writer Diamela Eltit, for Charco Press.

Co-incidentally, Tim Gutteridge also translates from Spanish. His blog is an entertaining and educational read too.

A nugget

Now and again since the end of 2020 I’ve looked at seminars and presentations online about writing and translation. Not as many as I did in 2020, but then I’m not in full mentee-mode any more and I have my proofreading clients’ wants to attend to. Through Sam Jordison (of the independent publisher Galley Beggar Press), who gave one of  the  Warwick Thursdays talks, I learned this amazing sales statistic: the average number of copies of sold for a literary fiction title in English is around

Two hundred and sixty. 260! That puts the sales of Yn y Tŷ Hwn – over four times that for a novella in a minority language – in an interesting light.

 

Words ©Susan Walton 2021. Photo of phone calendar by Behnam Norouzi; photo of letter ‘A’ by Tanzim Akash; photo of letter ‘B’ by Dan Gold; photo of letter ‘C’ by Nikhil Mitra; photo of ‘D’ shape by Catcap; photo of figure ‘2’ by Possessed Photography; photo of figure ‘6’ by Clem Onojeghuo; photo of figure ‘0’ by Bernard Hermant – all on Unsplash. Photo of Y Lolfa in Tal-y-bont by ‘Ddraig Ddu’ from www.waymarking.com.

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This House

December was a very productive month for my project of producing a literary translation into English of the Welsh novella Yn y Tŷ Hwn. For a start, it’s now got an English name: This House. It’s official – the author, Sian Northey, has approved the title change. That is the title I shall pitch to a potential publisher.

Last month also saw the final ‘meeting’ with my mentor.  After the meeting, I spent the last few days before Christmas doing a whole-text re-edit. I also tied down the last few loose ends with Sian (thanks, Sian!).

On Christmas Day, when lockdown travel rules in Wales were relaxed for one day, I filmed this little video on my phone of the sort of landscape in which This House is set. Excuse the sniffles on the sound – there was a pretty cold wind and my nose was running!

 

At the start of 2020

It’s just over a year since I found out that I’d been awarded a year’s menteeship as an early career literary translator. Almost a year has passed since I posted my first, introductory post on this blog, in January 2020.

I used a photo of an unopened bottle of champagne as the featured image in that first post.  I privately thought that I would have done well if I could illustrate a post at the end of the year with a bottle opened in virtual celebration. It’s not quite time to do that.

Back in January I aimed to produce a text as nuanced and subtle in English as the Welsh original. I think I have. I also hoped Sian Northey would like it. On Christmas Eve, I gave Sian the English text to read over when she gets time. (She’s probably been a bit busy since then.)

So maybe now, at the end of 2020, I can put the bubbly on ice, but not pour it for a while yet.

Spin-off benefits of the project

Just being part of something different for a year has brought many benefits.

Marketing

I’m a professional proofreader and copy-editor, trading as Sue Proof. The project has been an entrée into a new bunch of people who might want to use my services.

I’d been considering joining the Translators Association (and, yes, they do spell it without the possessive apostrophe) for a while. It’s part of the Society of Authors (SoA), and once I’d joined the SoA I was sent the Society’s magazine. A real-world, paper magazine, with small ads and everything.

So, for £34.80 I placed an advert for Sue Proof.

Result: proofreading work in 2020 worth about £3.4K, with follow-up jobs already in the diary for 2021 from two of those new clients.

Networking

Of course, at the beginning of the year I thought that I’d be networking physically – not least at the London Book Fair and Hay Festival – but it was not to be.

However, the online networking I’m part of has been invaluable. I’ve joined two online forums for translators: the Translators Association Members’ group on Groups.io, and the Emerging Translators’ Group, which is a Google group. Both are a fantastic resource, with a very friendly ‘no question is too stupid’ attitude.

As a user of Facebook, I’ve joined The Cwtch – the SoA Wales Discussion Group. I’ve also ‘attended’ the first meeting of a nascent network for translators of less-translated languages, of which Welsh is one.

Not to be forgotten are the residential courses at the National Centre for Writing in Norwich and Tŷ Newydd, the National Writing Centre of Wales that I went on earlier in my menteeship year. These introduced me to more new bunches of literary people.

part of a half-timbered building with a glassed-in ground level walkway

Dragon Hall, the National Centre for Writing in Norwich

Increased and varied reading

In a normal year I read about a book a month, and I usually read a lot of non-fiction. In 2020 year I read over twice that number of books, and it wasn’t all due to lockdown. The increase was partly the result of reading many more novels. A fair few of those were novels in translation, for purposes of professional development. I’ve discussed some of them  in past posts.

The pursuit of novels that This House is ‘like’, for when I pitch to publishers, accounts for many of the other additional books I read last year. This need to cite similar works to the one you’re pitching (called ‘comps’ in the jargon) was one of the project’s revelations.

cover of the book Giovanni's Room

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Despite being very different in subject and setting, my best fit so far is Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. This is because of its small cast of characters, the limited and limiting physical setting, the interiority of the main character, and its theme of reflection on past events that might, or could, have turned out differently.  I’ve been told that it’s the ‘vibe’ of works referred to as comps that’s important, rather than the subject matter. However, if you replace the copious alcohol drinking in Giovanni’s Room with the copious tea drinking  in This House, maybe they’re not that dissimilar …

The drawback

When I signed up to be mentored and to produce This House from Yn y Tŷ Hwn, I didn’t know how much time it would swallow. I worried about this a lot at the beginning, especially as the menteeship meant signing up for two residential courses which took chunks of time out of one quarter of my Sue Proof 2020 business year.

As things have panned out, the project accounted for about +25% on the hours I worked in 2020, compared to the mean number of hours worked in the three years 2017–19. I made the choice on occasion to turn down paid work so I could accommodate the project without having to work too many weekends.

. . . or maybe not such a drawback?

However, when Sue Proof’s business income for 2020 is compared to its mean business income for the three years 2017–19, it’s at +20%. (And that’s not including the Chancellor’s coronavirus grant.) So the extra exposure and extra marketing the project afforded Sue Proof has, roughly, paid for the extra time devoted to it. That feels good, before I even start pitching to publishers to try and sell This House.

Looking ahead to the rest of 2021

I have been cast onto the rough sea of publishing to pitch my book. I need a publisher; unlike an author, I’m not in a position to self-publish. But I am prepared: I have been compiling a list of likely potential publishers since March 2020, when I thought I’d be going to the London Book Fair.

So I’ll paddle my little raft onwards, with no mentor support, into the waves of 2021. I will only be posting on this blog if anything important happens from now on, rather than monthly. At the moment, the project feels like this:

a sliver of moon peeping over a hill

I hope, before too long, it’ll feel like this:

a full moon illuminating a snowy mountain

Words and images ©Susan Walton 2020 except for the champagne photo by Thomas Owen on Unsplash; the ice bucket photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash; the pound coin photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash; the photo of a winter full moon (a ‘wolf moon’) rising over Moelwyn Bach by Llinos Griffin of Gwefus, used with permission.

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Time, tenses, and blurb-bingo

One year ago . . .

On 27 November 2019, I received a phone call from Literature Wales telling me of my success in being awarded this:

New opportunity for 2020. One place on the Mentoring Scheme will be ring-fenced for an early career translator/writer, working on literary translation from Welsh to English OR English to Welsh.

I was so discombobulated I had to take the rest of the afternoon off work. I started a new notebook straight away. The first page reads:

New project – new notebook. Got to get stuff out of my head so I can carry on with my paid work. Disbelief – I genuinely thought it would go to a bright young thing. When can I tell Sian?

The question about when could I tell Sian Northey, ‘my’ author, turned into ‘when can I tell anyone at all?’ My award was supposed to be a secret until mid-January 2020. That was when Literature Wales was going to announce the beneficiaries of bursaries and menteeships, all together.

I can now fully sympathise with anyone who’s been told they’re going to get an honour or an award, but can’t spill the beans. Christmas get-togethers (remember them?) last year were spent replying, ‘Oh, you know, the usual’ to enquiries about how my work was going.

What really I wanted to say –  or scream, possibly – was,  ‘Fantastically well! I’ve been recognised as an emerging literary translator, and I’m going to be mentored throughout 2020!’ Then everyone would have congratulated me and, with any luck, bought me a drink.

Time and tenses

I knew a year ago that one of the things I have trouble with in my translations is tense. Now obviously I know the difference between a straightforward past tense and present tense. I just demonstrated it right there with ‘I knew a year ago’ and ‘I know the difference’.

My problem comes in two parts. The first is that – in common with many languages – tenses in Welsh (my source language) don’t necessarily map tidily onto tenses in my target language, English. The second problem is that I’ve never been taught English grammar properly. I’m like a musician who plays by ear.

My mentor has suggested many tense changes to my translation of Yn y Tŷ Hwn. This is an example from the opening chapter; verbs are in bold.

In my first draft, I’d translated this passage:

Dynas gin oedd hi wedi bod erioed. Ond rhyw chydig fisoedd yn ôl, yng nghanol ei hantur fisol i’r archfarchnad cafodd ei denu – heb unrhyw reswm, bron – gan botel o single malt drud. Cyfiawnhaodd y penderfyniad trwy resymu y byddai‘n debygol o yfed llai o ddiod nad oedd yn arbennig o hoff ohono.

              Ond yn fuan roedd hi wedi ymserchu yn yr hylif euraidd.

as:

She’d always been a gin woman. But a few months back, in the middle of her monthly shopping expedition to the supermarket, she was drawn to – for almost no reason – a bottle of expensive single malt. She justified the decision by reasoning that she’d probably drink less of something she didn’t especially like.

              But before long she’d taken a liking to the golden liquid.

My mentor suggested this:

She’d always been a gin woman. But a few months back, in the middle of her monthly shopping expedition to the supermarket, she’d found herself – inexplicably – being drawn to a bottle of expensive single malt. She’d justified the decision by reasoning that she’d probably drink less of something she didn’t especially like.

              But before long she was growing fond of the golden liquid.

And at present it reads:

She’d always been a gin woman. But a few months back, in the middle of her monthly shopping expedition to the supermarket, she’d found herself drawn – almost inexplicably – to a bottle of expensive single malt. She’d justified the decision by reasoning that she’d probably drink less of something she didn’t particularly like.

              But before long she’d developed a taste for this golden liquid.

Is there a hack?

Well, perhaps not a hack, but at least some illumination. I turned to Editing Fiction at Sentence Level by Louise Harnby, a fellow member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP).

cover of the book Editing Fiction at Sentence Level

Louise is excellent on which past tenses are needed in fiction. Here’s an excerpt from her book:

When past tense flops – understanding past perfect

Less experienced writers can end up in a pickle when referencing
events that happened earlier than their novel’s now. The crucial
thing to remember is that when we set a novel in the past tense,
anything that happens in the story’s past will likely need the past
perfect, at least when the action is introduced.

• What you want the reader to experience: Now – the present
of your novel
• What tense you should write in: Simple past or past
progressive (she stood; she was standing)
• What you want the reader to experience: Something that
happened before (i.e. in the novel’s past)
• What tense you should write in: Past perfect or past perfect
progressive (she had stood; she had been standing)

So all I need to do is go through 100+ pages of my Word version of Yn y Tŷ Hwn and check whether the tense of every verb matches its time …

Maybe that is what’ll be filling the Christmas get-together voids this year.

Blurb bingo

In readiness for our December meeting, my mentor has set me the task of writing a blurb for Yn y Tŷ Hwn that isn’t just a translation of the Welsh one, and that includes a quote relevant to one of the novel’s themes. I’ve never taken much notice of blurbs, so more discovery for me here. More literary fieldwork, so to speak.

Did you notice those novels in the main picture at the top of this post? I read all their blurbs. This is what my highly unrepresentative sample revealed about them:

  • blurb length varied from 70 to 170 words, excluding any quotes from the text itself or author biographical details
  • blurbs are nearly always in the present tense, regardless of whether the novel is mainly written in the past tense or the present continuous
  • some blurbs have a sort of headline sentence: a micro-blurb in a nutshell so you don’t even need to read the blurb
  • many blurbs incorporate quotes from the text
  • most blurbs give a geographical location, many give a time location –  sometimes indirectly –  and often they give the story set-up.

Then I played blurb-bingo with words that cropped up repeatedly. The winning words were powerful, moving, scintillating, literary and love.

My blurb for Yn y Tŷ Hwn

Here’s a sneak peek at my homework, before my mentor gets to see it; maybe it’s too long for a blurb at 140 words plus a quote. I quite like the micro-blurb bit (in bold), but I’m not convinced about the text quote. We’ll see what the mentor makes of it in December.

A  delicate but powerful novel about how decisions taken almost by chance have unforeseen consequences

Anna has lived alone for decades. She is marooned in, and cocooned by, an isolated house called Nant yr Aur in the Welsh mountains. Her only constant friends are farmer Emyr and his wife, Dora.

The arrival of Siôn, a young man who seems strangely at home in Nant yr Aur, leads to an unpicking of Anna’s past.

               She started to write a letter in her head to Siôn.

              ‘Dear Siôn,

              I had been expecting to see you before you left the other morning. I hope you will return to Nant yr Aur, because …’

She started to chew the end of the imaginary biro before resuming in her head.

‘… because your presence in Nant yr Aur felt right.’

As Anna’s relationship with Siôn develops, her perspective on the solidity of her past shifts. Uncertainty, distortion, illusion and subtle betrayal are gradually exposed. Ultimately, a quietly devastating revelation changes the lives of both of Siôn and Anna.

Sian Northey writes with economy and precision, setting out what the life of a middle-aged woman with an emotionally complicated past feels like from the inside.

Fantasy cover design

cover of the book Yn y Tŷ Hwn

Actual cover of Yn y Tŷ Hwn

artwork showing a red cottage in a mountain landscape

Fantasy cover for my translation: ‘Cwm Dyli cottage’ by Rob Piercy

Oh, and while we’re on fantasy cover content, the watercolour of the red cottage is my choice of a front cover picture. It’s by fabulously talented landscape painter Rob Piercy.

Imagine the quote-strapline at the top – ‘By now there were new stars in existence, and their light had yet to reach Nant yr Aur’ – then, in big letters, the title ‘This House’. At the bottom, it should say ‘Sian Northey’ (of course), followed by ‘Translated by Susan Walton’.

I live in hope.

 

Words and images ©Susan Walton 2020 except for clock photo by Fredrik Öhlander on Unsplash; Glenmorangie photo by Anubhav Arora on Unsplash; bingo photo by Tomppa Koponen from Pixabay; cover of Yn y Tŷ Hwn ©Gwasg Gomer, used with permission; Cwm Dyli Cottage ©Rob Piercy, used with permission.

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