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.

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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1 Comment

  1. Susan Walton

    This conversation ensued on Facebook, after I’d posted August’s blog post. Pam has given her permission for it to be reproduced here.

    Pam: really interesting. Why did you drop the radio reference? As someone who uses words far more haphazardly than I should, i’m fascinated by this fine tuning of phrase.

    Sue: Thank you for your interest. I was trying to make it as succinct as possible, while focussing on the theme of chance/accident. I thought the important elements were ‘childhood’ and ‘going round in her head’, not necessarily where the song had come from, nor that it had been in her head during the morning. Maybe I should re-introduce the radio part, because hearing something on the radio does enhance the chance element. What’s below is me thinking aloud on this. It’s not an expert/definitive answer.

    So maybe this?

    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 she’d heard on the radio had been circling 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 don’t think that works as well as poetry, though. Sounds a bit lumpy in the middle. So perhaps then split the second sentence, but it needs an ‘and’ and that makes it sound pedestrian, I think:

    A postponed meeting had freed her for the whole afternoon and the weather was gorgeous. A song from her childhood she’d heard on the radio had been circling in her head all morning.

    Thanks for making me think again, Pam!

    Pam: it’s fascinating! I think the mystery of this stuff is why I’m drawn to poetry so much these days.

    Sue: When I get more time, I’m going to continue with this [The Poem, by Don Paterson], which I started last winter. It’s brilliantly written, precise and totally expert, but, boy, is the language tough! You might be able to read it more easily than me because you’re used to reading scientific papers.

    Pam: that looks really interesting. I think as a scientist I’m often quite clumsy in the words that I use – precise for the technical stuff, but I think i could make better use of phrasing and word choice to communicate ideas, to make scientific writing sing, and in turn to make those ideas stick better in people’s heads. I have been really struck by Robert Macfarlane’s writing in Underland, which combines science, myth, travelog – but with some of the most well composed prose I have come across.

    Sue: Yes, I heard this on Book of the Week on Radio 4 a few months back. Have you been listening to this week’s? Helen Macdonald – excellent. Also try Kathleen Jamie for similar. There’s an explosion in this sort of writing at the moment. Sian Northey, ‘my’ author (I hope she doesn’t mind that I keep referring to her as such) has a current commission from a Welsh language publisher to write a volume of literary essays with a scientific background. Her first degree is in zoology.

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