Tag: Society of Authors

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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Translation ‘fieldwork’

In my previous life as a geographer I had to do fieldwork of various sorts. Look at what was out there in the world – measure things, compare things, make notes, map things. That main picture is a light-hearted self-portrait, drawn when I was at college.

I finished the text of my translation of Yn y Tŷ Hwn to the best of my present ability in April, so I can’t progress with that until I start work with my mentor. They have been appointed. We have both signed a contract to work together but, because of their work commitments, they cannot start with me until June.

Still in lockdown

Here in Wales we’ve still been in a more restrictive lockdown during May than have some other parts of the UK. Some people have taken extreme measures to remind people of this disparity.

Nevertheless, tucked away in my house, away from covidiots, I’ve been free to conduct fieldwork in the landscape of literary translation. Comparing, noting, mapping. That’s what May’s mostly been about.

A Devil comes to Town

 Il diavolo nel cassetto, translated by Anne Milano Appel

In March’s post I talked about coming across this novella on a charity stand in Wilkinson’s. On reading it, I noticed some words and expressions that struck me as peculiar in the English. This month I had the time to go and check out the first few pages in Italian, using Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ function. Interesting.

For example:  ‘… since the publication of a fortuitous novel had afforded me a certain renown, I had become a pole of attraction for aspiring writers.’ Now I know this is quite formal language but nevertheless, to me, the natural way to express the end of this sentence would be: ‘ … I had become a magnet for aspiring writers.’ In the Italian original it is: ‘… da quando la pubblicazione di un fortunato romanzo mi aveva dato una certa notorietà, ero diventato il polo di attrazione per gli aspiranti scrittori.’ So it is, indeed, a ‘pole of attraction’. Noted.

The Jeweller

Y Gemydd, translated by Gwen Davies

Also bought in March, but I only got round to reading it in May. I primarily read it in English, but with the Welsh original to hand so I could flick backwards and forwards to compare the two. This was an object lesson in a creative or loose translation. A new sort of literary landscape in which to wander and record the lie of the land.

Woman at Sea

Le grand marin, translated by Adriana Hunter

I discovered this via the Society of Authors’ YouTube channel. I started watching this panel discussion with three translators whose books had been shortlisted for the 2019 Translation Prize. The person who subsequently won the Translators Association First Translation Prize was on the panel. This is why I started watching. However, I ended up being more interested in another of the translators, Adriana Hunter, and the book she’d translated, Le grand marin. The English version was duly ordered from Abe Books and I loved it.

It’s set onshore and offshore in the world of commercial fishing boats working out of Kodiak, Alaska. It’s very impressionistic, and in both subject and treatment it’s like the documentary film Leviathan (don’t click the video of the trailer if you’re squeamish).

The main character, Lili, reminds me of Richard Thompson’s song ‘Beeswing’:

Oh she was a rare thing, fine as a bee’s wing
So fine that I might crush her where she lay
She was a lost child, she was running wild
She said “As long as there’s no price on love, I’ll stay
And you wouldn’t want me any other way”.

Tenses, and spaces

Aside from loving the novel as a novel, I noticed that it shifts between passages in the present continuous tense and in the past tense. In true fieldwork style, I tried to work out why.

I mapped the changes. Most of the continuous present parts are when Lili is at sea and fishing (which makes sense) and most of the past tense parts are ‘dead time’ when she’s not at sea. However, it’s not consistently so. Back to Abe Books to get the book in its original language. I wanted to see whether these changes are in the original or whether they are a function of the translation. I can’t read French properly, but I can  work out enough to see if the tense changes happen in the places I’ve mapped in the English. They do. I’m still slightly puzzled. Perhaps this is where the ‘fieldwork’ ends and ‘desk research’ starts.

While checking through the French text like this, I also noticed that the sections aren’t all spaced the same way as the English. I saw that there has been some creative editorialising in the translation too, as with The Jeweller. Maybe it’s more common than I think. Maybe I should have been more creative in my treatment of Yn y Tŷ Hwn. Well, I guess I’ll find out next month …

 

Static images and words ©Susan Walton 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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