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.
What I hope to achieve from the three mentoring sessions between now and January is to:
- turn a good translation into excellent and subtle storytelling
- know how to prepare a pitch to potential publishers, and
- 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.)
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.