Tag: National Centre for Writing

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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

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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#StayAtHome and produce a finished translation

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

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

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

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

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

Remote learning

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

Lockdown

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

 

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

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

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

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

Comfort reading

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

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

Vehicles at Travellers’ School fundraising party, Clyro 1988

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

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Norwich and cross-cultural dialogue

Going

‘The role of the translator is crucial to foster cross-cultural dialogue’. So says Literature Wales, and it was in this spirit that I embarked for Norwich on National Express service 375. Seven hours later I’m taking a turn round the block during a break in Birmingham, and in a car park I come across this excellent mural of Black Sabbath, one of Brum’s finest.

Mural of Black Sabbath

Five hours after that, I arrive in Norwich for the first time in my life. It’s a long way from North Wales. I was making this epic journey (which probably took me as long as the delegate from South Korea) to attend an ‘industry weekend’ at the National Centre for Writing. The weekend is one specially tailored to the needs of emerging translators.  The other delegates, all of whom are being mentored through the English scheme, were already three months in and would have their mentors in attendance for the weekend too. Newbie Sue hasn’t got a mentor yet – talk about being dropped in at the deep end.

Friday

With the public announcement of the beneficiaries of the Welsh bursaries and menteeships being made mere hours before the weekend started, I found myself – at 4.30 on a Friday afternoon – standing in Norwich’s Apple Store, blagging the Wi-Fi. I was frantically emailing ‘my’ author, Sian, and her publisher to get the sales figures for Yn y Tŷ Hwn, prior to the big day on Saturday when we’d be meeting publishers’ representatives.

Thankfully, neither Sian nor the lady at Gwasg Gomer, her publisher, had knocked off early and I got the sales figures with which to impress. I quickly calculated that there has been one copy of Yn y Tŷ Hwn sold for every 480 Welsh speakers in Wales. With that impressive stat, I dashed to Dragon Hall, home of the National Centre for Writing, to meet the other delegates.

Dragon Hall

Dragon Hall – what can I say? It’s amazing. It’s close to the river Wensum and was built in 1427 by a wealthy merchant to display and store imported goods. There’s only one dragon left: a particularly curlicued one, crouching on a roof beam of the first-floor great hall. This magnificent room looks down into a courtyard. Here is a pan round the courtyard buildings. As you can see, the Hall’s conversion to modern use has been boldly but sensitively done.

 

 

Our first session was an icebreaker. All the delegates read extracts of work they’d translated, in both source and target languages. As well as a few paragraphs of Yn y Tŷ Hwn, I gave them Myrddin ap Dafydd’s ‘Lynx mewn sw’ ( ‘Lynx in a zoo’), which is here, and Gerallt Lloyd Owen’s ‘Cilmeri’. But I teased them – I’ve recently found another translation of ‘Cilmeri’: one by Greg Hill, a former editor of The Anglo–Welsh Review. I gave them both his and mine, and left them to guess which was which. More ice was then broken over a lovely communal meal at the Iron House restaurant.

Saturday

Not having a mentor meant I could skip the first session on Saturday: everyone else was having intense one-to-ones with theirs. The first session for me was a very useful walk-through of contracts by internationally renowned translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones. She’s an old hand who strongly advocated, as soon as we are eligible, membership of the Society of Authors and, within it, the Translators Association.

After coffee (and gorgeous cinnamon pastries) we were given a session about visual storytelling. One exercise involved working in small groups to draw a monster, and then naming its body parts in our native or non-English language(s). Tentacles proved a challenge: the Europeans and Americans didn’t know; for the Chinese and Korean delegates it’s the combination of the symbols for ‘touch’ and ‘foot’. Interesting stuff!

But enough of interesting distractions – the main event of the day was the panel of publishers and the ‘speed dating’ that followed. These one-to-ones were provided for us to practise pitching our work. It was invaluable. With ‘date’ #1, I managed to neglect to tell him that Yn y Tŷ Hwn means ‘in this house’. He kept a poker face, and I hastily rearranged my thoughts ready for #2 and #3.

Phew! With that over, I went out for a much-needed breath of fresh air. Walking around, it was evident that Norwich City FC had just won. The yellow-clad fans were buoyant; I was buoyant. The ordeal was over – time to relax and socialise and pretend to be lords and ladies in the great hall of Dragon Hall, where supper was to be served.

Dragon Hall supper table

Afterwards

As it turned out, I had no duties on Sunday because of not yet having a mentor, so I had what the Welsh call a ‘diwrnod i’r brenin’ – an easy day (literally, ‘a day for the king’). I wandered round the picturesque streets of Norwich. My sunny Sunday saunter brought me to Jarrold, a wonderful independent department store. From their lovely books department I could at last buy an Ordnance Survey map. Without a map, I’d been feeling slightly uneasy the whole time. Now – satisfaction. Off I went to Mousehold Heath, an ascent of all of 30 metres for a panoramic view of the whole of Norwich.

Then back by coach on the Monday, my culture having been well and truly crossed when you consider that +30 metres is nothing where I live: it’s my bike ride back from the shops.

Images and words ©Susan Walton 2020.

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