Tag: Sian Northey

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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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’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!)

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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 on Unsplash. Antique telephone photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash. Photo of puffins by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash. Rabbit with a cocked ear photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash. Other images and words ©Susan Walton 2020.

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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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A birthday, a BIG birthday

Birthdays

That’s me on my fifth birthday. Jelly and ice cream were probably on the menu, and I’m wearing an up-to-the-neck pinafore over my jumper because I’m a messy eater. I’m still a messy eater – some things never change. This month has seen me turn sixty. In terms of creativity this is, hopefully, a good thing. According to something I read recently (but of course now can’t find – hey, I’m over sixty), our brains are at their most creative when we’re children and when we’re over sixty. Of course we’re creative when we’re kids, but why once we’ve passed our sixtieth birthday? Well, our brains start ‘slackening’; our neural pathways are less fixed. So perhaps the brain of that woman with grey salon-cut hair will, in time, return to the creative ability of the little brain under that black hair with the wonky fringe.

Urgency

Being this old means I have a certain self-confidence in my abilities. As above, it may also mean I’m going to get increasingly more creative, but what I certainly don’t have is a long time. There is an urgency to this menteeship project; I don’t have a lifetime in which to build a career or to find stuff out. This urgency means the learning curve about what I need to do and with whom I need to connect to even start the prospect of getting a literary novella in translation into print is pretty steep. (But at least now –  being sixty and self-employed – I’m not losing time to period pains, hormonal migraines, menopausal crises in confidence, and office-incubated colds.)

Small networking, big storms

Having now joined the Society of Authors, I went on the bus (new bus pass – yay!) to my first SoA event in Aberystwyth, in the aftermath of Storm Ciara. Storm C had deposited a lot of the beach on the prom. Crunchy underfoot.

One take-away from this event was that maybe I should pitch Yn y Tŷ Hwn in terms of themes, rather than story, character, or quality of writing. The speaker, Philip Gwyn Jones of Scribe, said that novels are being pitched as if they were non-fiction these days.

Irish fish box on Aberystwyth beach

In the teeth of Storm Dennis off I went on the bus again to a one-day seminar at Bangor University, ‘Women in Publishing’, where Caroline Oakley of publishers Honno  gave a presentation about the advantages of being published by a small press. In essence, her message was that agents’ lists are ninety-nine per cent full and most publishing houses won’t look at you unless you’re represented by an agent. In contrast, small publishers will deal with the author directly and are more willing to take risks, she said. She added that these days they often network with the local bookshop community too.

Big networking coming up

Notwithstanding this ‘small is beautiful’ stuff, I’ve been advised to attend the big beast –  the London Book Fair – coming up in March. To this end, I applied to Literature Wales for a ‘Go See’ grant to cover the cost of attending. Having done this – and so in anticipation of possibly going – I’ve been working my way through the list of exhibitors on the LBF website and noting possible publishers and agents with whom I might begin a conversation. Now I’ve been awarded the grant, the prospect of actually going is scary but hopeful in equal measure. I’ll report how I get on in my March post. At least my new senior railcard will come into play as I commute  from where I’m going to be staying (thank you John and Jo!) into central London for the three-day jamboree.

Introductions

I reckon it’s time to introduce in a bit more detail the book I’m translating, Yn y Tŷ Hwn, if you haven’t read it, and its creator, Sian Northey, if you don’t know her. First, here’s Sian.

Sian, ‘my’ author – a lovely portrait by Dylan Williams

And here’s a paragraph from the book, the title of which translates as ‘In This House’. The context is that Anna, the main character, and Ioan have lost their only child as a three-year-old, twenty years ago. This paragraph has been arrived at by way of a two-and-a-half-page train of thought.

         Fe adawodd y dillad am y tro a’u clirio, fisoedd lawer yn ddiweddarach, pan nad oedd Ioan yno. Fe daflodd bob un dilledyn, heblaw un hosan fechan oedd wedi disgyn tu ôl i’r tanc yn y cwpwrdd crasu. Flynyddoedd yn ddiweddarach y cafodd hi hyd i honno a methu’n lân â’i thaflu. Gosododd hi yn ei drôr sana ei hun, a fanno oedd hi byth, yn fach a glas, a theigar dewr yn sgyrnygu arni. Neu’n gwenu arni efallai.

         His clothes were left for the time being and only cleared, months later, when Ioan wasn’t there. She threw out every item, except for one tiny sock that had fallen behind the tank in the airing cupboard. Years later she found it, and couldn’t bring herself to throw it away at any price. She placed it in her own sock drawer, and there it stayed, small and blue, with a brave tiger snarling at her. Or maybe smiling at her.

This is typical of the meditative nature and interiority of the book, and typical of Sian’s writing. I draw your attention to these four points:

  1. The language is straightforward. The Welsh is not ‘high’ or ‘literary’ or ‘posh’. I’ve had to look up a handful of words in the dictionary as I translate, but that is all.
  2. Sian is excellent at ‘show don’t tell’ and at conveying emotion. How people act in her stories often tells you more than what they say.
  3. Details are telling. For instance, that ‘small and blue’ – she puts it where it is, on its own, rather than saying ‘one tiny blue sock’. And the fact that ‘small and blue’ is contained its own clause underlines that it has been contained within a closed drawer for decades.
  4. A trademark Sian-ism is a statement that is immediately contradicted, or doubted, as with that ‘… snarling at her. Or maybe smiling at her.’ In this way she reminds us that things aren’t always as they appear; there’s always more than one way of looking at things, or interpreting them.

Oh, and …

… here comes a shameless plug for the two commissioned translations I’ve been doing over the last few months. Both were published in February. The Crown in the Quarry is an adventure story for older children, using as a backdrop the fact that national treasures and works of art were hidden in the slate mines of Blaenau Ffestiniog during the Second World War. The Red Dragon of the Welsh is a look at the history and culture of Wales’ national flag.

My latest commissioned translations

 

Images and words ©Susan Walton 2020, except the portrait of Sian by Dylan Williams, and the Welsh text from Yn y Tŷ Hwn ©Sian Northey 2011, reproduced with the permission of Gwasg Gomer.

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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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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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