Tag: Literature Wales

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).

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

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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What a difference a month makes

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

But let us backtrack three weeks, to happier times.

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

Mentoring course, Tŷ Newydd

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

Wild daffodils, or Lent lilies, Tŷ Newydd

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

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

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

Jess, who hangs about in Tŷ Newydd’s garden

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

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

Trying to develop my career

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

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

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

The devil (or a devil)

A Devil Comes to Town cover

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

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

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

Corona virus and lockdown

Y Gemydd / The Jeweller covers

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

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

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

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At the start of 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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