Author: Susan Walton (Page 1 of 2)

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.

 

Raising awareness of the Books Council of Wales

The other new tactic is to make submissees aware of possible Books Council grants that are available to publishers.

It’s only recently dawned on me how ignorant publishers outside Wales are about these. Because many source countries whose literature is translated into English help with this process financially, I’d presumed that publishers would automatically assume the same thing would be true of Wales – not so, it seems.

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 under the Literature Wales scheme 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 its 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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There’s a deadline looming

That face is just about how I feel at this stage in my year of being mentored.

I had my second meeting with my mentor at the end of September, but because I haven’t had the concentration ability or the brain space since then I haven’t gone through their comments and suggestions. I have a deadline looming – my next commissioned translation – and that’s what’s taking centre stage at the moment.

Drws Du yn Nhonypandy

cover of the book Drws Du yn Nhonypandy

Drws Du yn Nhonypandy (English title The Black Pit of Tonypandy)

The backdrop of the story is the South Wales miners’ fight for a living wage in 1910, and their lockout and strike. The then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, sent in the Metropolitan Police to quash the miners and riots ensued. Troops were then added to the mix to reinforce the police presence. Because of this, Churchill’s name is still derided in many quarters in Wales.

police line and a crowd during the Tonypandy Riots

During the Tonypandy Riots

South Wales Welsh and South Wales English

One of the challenges of translating Drws Du yn Nhonypandy has been the South Wales Welsh speech of all the characters. Myrddin ap Dafydd, the author and commissioner of all my published translations to date, always wants to retain some Welsh words in the dialogue, but I wasn’t sure how much additional ‘flavour’ to transfer from one language to the other.

The sorts of words Myrddin wants me to retain are the equivalent of ‘lad’, ‘dear’, ‘mate’ etc. These words are tags in the dialogue. They remind readers that the characters would really be speaking Welsh. They don’t hinder the action or understanding, but they give the reader a gentle nudge.

The original Welsh dialogue in Drws Du yn Nhonypandy is rendered on the page how people from the Rhondda speak. Here is an example:

“O’s rhaid iti ga’l cymaint o ddŵr ar y llawr, grwt?”

In standard English, that would be:

“Do you have to get so much water on the floor, lad?”

How much dialect and accent is too much?

Before I started editing the first draft, I asked Myrddin how far he wanted me to go in conveying the way people in the Valleys speak English. I suggested three levels.

One

The first level was to take our usual approach. That means that, in this book, I would include a sprinkling of Welsh words, including ‘crwt’. The word means ‘lad’ or ‘boy’ in South Wales Welsh (‘grwt’ is the mutated form of the root word ‘crwt’). This level looks like this:

“Do you have to get so much water on the floor, crwt?”

Two

A second, deeper level would be for me to reproduce the English accent of the Valleys. I suggested limiting this way of speaking to one or two peripheral characters. An example of such a character is Tal, a grizzled miner who is also a promoter and trainer of bare knuckle boxers. Here he is, in conversation with Moc.

“Elli drefnu gornest i Wil ’ma?”

“Dim problem, Moc. Ma fe’n fachan teidi gyda’i ddyrne. Gawn ni gwpwl o rowndie yma rhyw noson wythnos nesa, ife?”

“Na, un fowr y tro hyn, Tal. Lan ar y mynydd. Yn erbyn un o fois Gilfach-goch. Beth am bnawn Sadwrn?”

In the Welsh, both Moc and Tal speak in the same way. A standard translation would be:

“Can you arrange a bout for Wil here?”

“No problem, Moc. He’s a tidy with his fists, that boy. We’ll have a couple of rounds here one night next week, is it?”

“No, a big one this time, Tal. Up on the mountain. Against one of the Gilfach-goch lads. What about Saturday afternoon?”

Here it is again, but in this version I’ve rendered Tal’s speech only into a form of English with similar contractions and accent as in the original Welsh text:

“Can you arrange a bout for Wil here?”

“No problem, Moc. ’Ee’s tidy with ’is fists, your lad. We’ll ’ave a couple o’ roun’s ’ere one night next week, is it?”

“No, a big one this time, Tal. Up on the mountain. Against one of the Gilfach-goch lads. What about Saturday afternoon?”

Three

Myrddin and I agreed that the third level – to turn all the dialogue into South Wales-accented English – would be too much. There would be a danger of it becoming a caricature of the ‘look you, boyo’ variety. It would be difficult to read and a distraction from the story.

Whereas the readership of the story in Welsh will at least have heard the South Wales variety of Welsh, those reading the English could be from anywhere  in the world. English might not even be their native language.

Back to Yn y Tŷ Hwn –  I feel the influence of being mentored

As I progressed with the first draft of Drws Du yn Nhonypandy, I noticed that some of the lessons from the first meeting with my mentor on Yn y Tŷ Hwn are already spilling over into my paid work.

The mentor pointed out that, so long as an idea in the same part of the text, it doesn’t necessarily have to be placed in exactly the same order as in the original language. An example of this in Yn y Tŷ Hwn is:

Roedd ‘hel pricia’ yn hen, hen jôc rhwng y ddau. Rhy hen a rhy gymhleth i’w hesbonio i neb, bron iawn nad oedd hi ei hun, erbyn hyn, yn sicr o’i tharddiad. Ond pobl gwneud dryga oedd pobl hel pricia, a phobl ddiflas oedd pobl firelighters. A rŵan dyma’r ddau ohonyn nhw’n bobl firelighters.

This would translate straightforwardly as:

‘Collecting kindling’ was an old, old joke between them. Too old and too involved to explain and, by now, she wasn’t even sure herself of its origins. ‘Kindling people’ were full of mischief; ‘firelighters people’ were boring. And now here they both were: firelighters people.

but which my mentor suggests could be rendered as:

Long, long ago, this in-joke had grown between them (how it had started was lost to time). It was a way of reducing everybody to two sorts, the ‘kindling people’ (full of mischief) and the ‘firelighter types’ (boring). And now here they both were: firelighter types.

Just for the record, I have this passage rendered like this at the moment, but it may yet change:

The difference between ‘users of firelighters’ and ‘collectors of kindling’ was an old, old in-joke between them. Its origins were lost in the mists of time, but the gist of the joke was that ‘kindling people’ are full of mischief and ‘firelighter types’ are boring. And now here they both were: firelighter types.

November

I really do hope I can do some proper homework on my being-mentored project in November . . .

the blog's author sitting at a computer

(The picture is for illustrative purposes only. It’s not even my office.)

 

Words ©Susan Walton 2020; Cheeky Tongue photo ©Ruth Elkin on FreeImages; cover of Drws Du yn Nhonypandy ©Gwasg Carreg Gwalch 2020; the photo of the police lined up across the street in Tonypandy is in the public domain; photo of the toddler is by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash; the photo of boxer Amby McGarry is by Newmans of New York and was printed in the supplement to the National Police Gazette, #1565, Saturday, August 10, 1907; photo of kindling is by Alison Dueck on Unsplash; photo of me ©Chris Jones, 2012.

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Time to take a break

This post is a bit different from the others. By mid-September it was time to take a break. A couple of weeks of settled weather were forecast, and the reproduction rate (the R) for coronavirus was once again on the rise. My part of the world may be in lockdown again within weeks.

So, half of this post is about my progress as a mentored emerging literary translator, and half is about taking a break from this work and from my paid work.

September is #WorldKidLitMonth

The World Kid Lit initiative was launched in 2016 as a way of highlighting diverse, global and translated children’s books. They say:

We would like to see more diversity in English-language publishing to give a richer and more realistic representation of the multicultural and multilingual world we live in. We aim to make it easier for readers to find international books, whether in translation from other languages or originally published in English elsewhere.

This post appeared on the World Kid Lit blog while I was having time off. It features The Moon is Red, one of the books for older children I’ve translated for the Gwasg Carreg Gwalch publishing house.

cover of the book The Moon is Red

The Moon is Red, my translation of Mae’r Lleuad yn Goch

How nice to have my efforts with the trilingual dialogue described thus:

… flavours of both Welsh and Basque are kept, particularly in the terms of affection … I also really enjoyed Susan Walton’s portrayal of the dialogue, really bringing the North Walian accent alive.

The original Welsh – Mae’r Lleuad yn Goch – won a Tir na n-Og award in 2018. Hmm … now if only there were awards for translated children’s books …

 

Second meeting with my mentor

Until about four days before this was due to happen, our second meeting was going to be in person. However, with Wales’ First Minister urging people not to make unnecessary journeys because of the rising coronavirus R,  we decided once again to meet virtually.

As ‘homework’ for the session, I’d drafted a ‘pitch’ letter for my mentor to advise on. This led on to a discussion about the themes of the book. The mentor said that I need to choose three or four out of maybe a possible dozen or so themes I could draw out of the text. But the mentor also emphasised that I need to be able to talk and write in depth about all the themes, not just those selected for the pitch.

The other topic that we discussed at length is the ongoing task of identifying other works of art (especially other novels) that Yn y Tŷ Hwn is like. This is what is expected when pitching to publishers or agents. Researching this – more or less since the start of the project – has been quite time-consuming and I haven’t really come up with anything better as a description than ‘A modern-day Brief Encounter’.

I was encouraged by the mentor telling me that some of the books I’d been considering for the ‘it’s like’ role but had discounted, might, in fact, work. These include A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray and The Winterlings by Cristina Sánchez-Andrade, translated by Samuel Rutter. The tutor is going to put on their thinking cap to try to identify closer matches, and I am going to continue researching.

covers of the book The Winterlings and the book A Song for Issy Bradley

The Winterlings by Cristina Sánchez-Andrade and A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

Anglesey Coastal Path

My long, long-time friend celebrated a big birthday by walking the entire Anglesey Coastal Path. All 130 miles of it.  While I was having time off. So the natural thing to do was to join her for a couple of days. And for another couple of days I did other stretches of the path. I camped on Anglesey – or Ynys Môn, as I think of it.

We both saw what I think was probably the same pod of Risso’s dolphins off Trwyn Eilian, but on different days. Fortuitously, a chap with a long lens was taking photos of them when she saw them. He has kindly allowed both of us to use his photos in our blogs. Her blog is here. (This friend is also the friend I imagine as the ideal reader of a translated Yn y Tŷ Hwn, so reference to her in this post is not entirely irrelevant.)

Risso's dolphin head and fin sticking out of the sea

Risso’s dolphins

Risso's dolphins' fins sticking out of the sea

Risso’s dolphins

A new tent, sad clothes, and secret necklaces

One outcome of camping on Anglesey was discovering that the tent I’d bought to go to Glastonbury in 1981 was no longer waterproof. In any case, my travelling companion and I are getting a bit old and stiff to be crawling in and out of a small, Toblerone-shaped tent after a day’s hiking. So I bought a bigger, modern tent from eBay, to see us out.

What I didn’t foresee was that the new tent wouldn’t fit through the trapdoor to the attic. I had to find another home for it in my very small house. One of the built-in bedroom cupboards seemed the best option.

I shuffled clothes about and made space. But while I was moving some of my lovely clothes, I began to wonder if I’d ever get to wear them again. Will life ever be the same again, and even if it is, will I be too old and fed-up by then to want to get dressed up?

I’ve got lovely jewellery too. The opportunities for wearing jewellery have disappeared. But I’ve decided, regardless of the level of casualness/antiquity the top-half clothes I’m wearing, that I’m going to wear a different necklace every day, underneath, secretly. One of these.

many necklaces against a knitted background

 

Images and words ©Susan Walton 2020, except for the photos of Risso’s dolphins ©George Boyer 2020, reproduced with permission; the image of a thinking woman by Tachina Lee on Unsplash; and the photo of coloured strands by Anand Thakur on Unsplash.

 

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Holding a thought through a deluge of work

The illustration at the top of this post is part of a painting called Holding a Thought. It was painted by K. I remember him doing it, and the state of mind he was in when he did it. I’ve been in a similar state of mind for much of August 2020.

As I said in the last post, K had ideas coming out of his ears, but for a while there was so much going on in his earning-a-living life (and he had the pressure of being self-employed) that months were going by when there was no space or time to realise a big project he had in his head.

He painted Holding a Thought to express how this felt – he was holding this precious thing that might easily get engulfed by shades of quotidian life.

It’s been a year …

My diary for 28 August 2019 reads:

I was awake and couldn’t go back to sleep. Got up and started my application to be mentored into translating adult literary fiction. Back to bed about 7 and woke up at 10. In the meantime the fucker announces he’s going to ask the queen to prorogue parliament – timing and duration to get a no-deal Brexit through.

Both of those events seem a long time ago now. A very long time ago.

Holding a thought

I learned of my application’s success in late 2019, and in January 2020 I went off to the Norwich industry weekend. Tŷ Newydd gave me the space to more or less finish my first draft, and lockdown meant I could polish it.

I had my first ‘meeting’  with my mentor at the end of June and made good progress on further finessing the text in July.

But my a golden thought about my translation project has been almost swamped during August. K’s painting came into my head – it illustrates the feeling exactly.

Proofreading

The reason the golden thought has been so flattened is proofreading. I’m not complaining at all about having had a bonanza month. It is, after all, my living; I am self-employed too.

During August I have proofread just shy of 195,000 words in five separate jobs for four clients. Two of the clients were new, which always means more auxiliary work around the job. I think that’s the most proofreading I’ve done in one month since I started my business in 2008.

So – as I say – not complaining at all. Meanwhile, the Yn y Tŷ Hwn project box has hardly been opened. But I’m holding that thought.

The ‘arias’ – a step by step example

In July’s post, I mentioned my metaphor of ‘arias’ for the parts of the text that ‘carry’ the rest. I have done some work on those in August, so I thought I’d illustrate the various iterations that one of them has gone through. It’s in the first chapter.

Here’s the Welsh original:

Duw a ŵyr yn union pam y cychwynnodd hi yno’r diwrnod hwnnw. Roedd ei chyfarfod wedi’i ohirio, roedd ganddi bnawn rhydd o’i gwaith, roedd hi’n braf, roedd wedi clywed cân o’i phlentyndod ar y radio, a honno wedi mynnu aros yn ei phen trwy’r bore. Efallai mai dyna pam. Hoffai feddwl mai ffawd oedd o i gyd, cyd-ddigwyddiad wedi’i gynllunio gan rywun, gan rywbeth.

Starting points

My first attempt, done in 2012, well before I was awarded the menteeship, ran:

God knows why, exactly, she headed there on that day. Her meeting had been postponed, she had a work-free afternoon, it was a beautiful day, she’d heard a song from her childhood on the radio, which had stuck in her head all morning. So maybe that was why. She liked to think all this was fate: co-incidences arranged by someone, something.

The first draft for the present project reads:

Goodness knows exactly why she headed there on that day. Her meeting had been postponed, she had a free afternoon, the weather was fine, she’d heard a song from her childhood on the radio which had been stuck in her head all morning. Maybe that was why. She liked to think it was all fate, a coincidence engineered by someone, by something.

Following an edit on paper, I didn’t change this passage. I had marked up on paper a change from ‘the weather was fine’ to ‘the weather was gorgeous’, but had then ‘stetted’ it (the ‘stet’ mark means ‘leave unchanged’).

It still remained unchanged when I read that version of the text aloud to my critical translator friend, Gwenlli. It does the job. It’s a good, accurate translation.

Mentor input

Then I received input from both my mentor and from the officer from the Wales Literature Exchange, a partner organisation in the mentoring project. The Exchange officer first: they suggested replacing ‘engineered’ with ‘orchestrated’, which I rejected.

I rejected it because ‘engineered by someone, by something’ brings to my mind William Blake’s painting The Ancient of Days.

In my head, if you’re going to have a higher intelligence, it would have dividers, not a baton.

The only change my mentor suggested was to delete the ‘on’, to give ‘headed there that day’ rather than ‘headed there on that day.’ This I accepted.

The mentor had also attached a long comment about the importance of this passage in terms of underlining the theme of chance/accident in the novel, especially as it occurs in the first chapter. They also advised me, generally, to pour my expressive energy into tightening up the wording where the themes are uppermost in the text (which is how I developed the metaphor of ‘arias’).

Further prose tightening

Following the mentor’s advice, I had another go and came up with:

Goodness knows exactly why she headed there that day. A postponed meeting had freed her for the whole afternoon, the weather was gorgeous, a song from her childhood had been on repeat in her head all morning. Maybe that was why. She liked to think it was fate, a coincidence engineered by someone or by something.

I then decided to treat the passage like a poem. I printed this wording out on a slip of paper and carried it about in my handbag, sneaking a look at it now and again to see if I could catch it off guard. I’ve found this process to be helpful when translating poetry; it seems to work like jump leads to connect the subconscious brain to the thinking brain.

The result was one change: ‘circling’ – ‘a song from her childhood had been circling in her head.’

I think I’ve clinched it.

‘Circling’ links her interior with the exterior – she’s sitting with a  nostalgic song going round in her head, in a place where she might, by chance, see a buzzard circling on a thermal.

handwritten amendment to part of the text of the translation of Yn y Tŷ Hwn, changing the words on repeat to the word circling

Images and words ©Susan Walton 2020, except for the image of Holding a Thought ©estate of K. Nathan, reproduced with the permission of A. Nathan and I. Nathan;  the Welsh text from Yn y Tŷ Hwn ©Sian Northey 2011, reproduced with the permission of Gwasg Gomer; and the image of a pound coin by Brett Jordan on unsplash.com. The image of The Ancient of Days is in the public domain.

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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!)

cover of the book Passage to the Plaza

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.

the author Sian Northey wearing a mask and holding a copy of  the book Yn y Tŷ Hwn

Sian Northey outside Browsers Bookshop in Porthmadog

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.

old business cards stuck to a wooden wall

Old business cards uncovered during building work at Browsers Bookshop

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.

a stack of book spines all by Sian Northey and a book mark reading I'm an author, so technically this is work.

Sian Northey’s books for adults, to date

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.)

a stack of book spines all by Sian Northey and a book mark reading I'm an author, so technically this is work.

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; antique telephone photo by Boston Public Library; photo of puffins by Wynand van Poortvliet; rabbit with a cocked ear photo by Sandy Millar, all on Unsplash. Other images and words ©Susan Walton 2020.

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