Tag: Society of Authors

Yes!

Yes, the last week of May was momentous!

I signed a contract for my translation to be published! And two days later Bangor 1876 FC won a nail-biting play-off that sees them promoted!

My translation is of Sian Northey’s novella Yn y Tŷ Hwn, which is called This House in English. They have had a parallel journey in some respects, Bangor 1876 and This House.  The seeds of both projects were planted in 2019.

In 2019, I learned I was to receive mentoring as an emerging literary translator. A new venture, although I already had experience as a translator.

Also in 2019 the supporters trust that brought Bangor 1876 into life was formed. It was new venture in football for the city, although Bangor already has a proud footballing history.

Diligence and perseverance over the last three years have paid off, for both.

Which publisher?

In January, when I last posted on this blog, I was waiting for a decision from Publisher N, who were considering my (*counts on fingers*) fourteenth submission of This House.

Then, in February, Publisher N said it wanted to publish – Yes! I guess that’s what scoring a goal must feel like. Now that contracts have been signed, I can reveal that the publisher will be 3TimesRebel Press. It is a new, small, independent publisher, based in Scotland. It is very niche. As its website says:

Only women. Only minority languages. This is our choice.

It has already published in English two novels from Catalan, and one each from Basque and Galician. This House will be its first title originally in Welsh.

Making the submission to 3TimesRebel Press

Back in July 2020, my mentor told me that I needed to identify other works of art (especially other novels) that Yn y Tŷ Hwn is like. The mentor said this is what is expected when pitching to publishers or agents. I also read the same instruction time and again during my self-directed online research about how to make pitches and submissions.

The jargon for these ‘it’s like’ works is ‘comps’, as in ‘comparable to’. The closest I got for overall tone was James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. 

As I wrote in my January 2021 post, it’s the ‘vibe’ of works referred to as comps that’s important rather than the subject matter. I reckon that if you were to swap the alcohol in Giovanni’s Room for the tea in This House, they’d be similar enough.

As it turned out, I didn’t need a ‘comp’ to snag 3TimesRebel Press. The closest I got in my initial email was to say:

The story is an examination of roads not taken and shifting self-perception, expressed in concise and unfussy language which is reminiscent of the work of Anne Enright.

I then listed the  Sian Northey‘s publications, and my published translations, and stated the sales figure for Yn y Tŷ Hwn. The director of 3TimesRebel Press replied promptly and enthusiastically, requesting an excerpt.

Two days after that, I was emailed to say that she was ‘completely hooked’ and wanted to read the rest of the story. One Zoom meeting with Sian and me later, and we were on the road to publication.

Finalising the contract

My contract with 3TimesRebel Press is called a ‘Memorandum of Agreement’ (I don’t know why, but that’s what was offered).  A couple of things helped me feel comfortable and confident about finalising and signing.

Harmonising with the terms of the copyright holder’s contract

The copyright holder of the original text of Yn y Tŷ Hwn is the publishing house Y Lolfa. Its agreement with 3TimesRebel Press is called a ‘Publication Agreement’ and this was agreed and signed ahead of the Memorandum of Agreement between me and 3TimesRebel Press.

Y Lolfa’s managing director kindly let me see its agreement with 3TimesRebel Press, which meant I could harmonise the two contracts’ terms where their provisions overlap. For example:

  • changing the proposed publication area from ‘throughout the World’ to ‘in the UK and the Republic of Ireland’
  • making the annual date on which the publisher will reports sales and the term in which to pay any amounts due the same as they are in the contract with Y Lolfa.

Hopefully this will make all our lives simpler!

Society of Authors contract vetting service

As a member of the Society of Authors I was able to make use of its contract vetting service. I received thorough and prompt comments, both on the initial draft contract and the finalised version.

The SoA suggested an interesting additional clause:  its new standard wording for prohibiting the publisher from using the work for training artificial intelligence technologies to generate text.

I’m not sure how this would be policed, but even including the clause might give a publisher pause.

What next for this blog?

I started this blog to chronicle my progress of being mentored as an early career literary translator, and then record my attempts at finding a publisher. So now we have a fairy-tale journey’s end, in a way. I used an unopened bottle of champagne to illustrate my first post; I now think we may safely uncork it.

I’m going to continue to post on this blog as we move through the stages of producing, marketing and selling This House.  For me, this is yet again new territory so I have lots to learn. I hope that my experiences will give food for thought to other newbie literary translators.

What next for Bangor 1876?

Oh, and what next for Bangor 1876? I hear you say. Well, they’ve been confirmed to play in the second tier of the Welsh football league system next season and have negotiated their way to being able to play at their new level at Nantporth, the old ground of the defunct Bangor City FC.

 

Words and image of book cover ©Susan Walton 2023. Image of Yes ©estate of K. Nathan, reproduced with the permission of A. Nathan and I. Nathan. Photo of sprouting seeds by Jen Theodore; mechanised brain by Possessed Photography; and champagne by Shayna Douglas, all on Unsplash. Photo of handshake by Fauxels on Pexels.

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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.

a stack of book spines all by Sian Northey and a book mark reading I'm an author, so technically this is work.

Sian Northey’s books for adults, to date

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.)

a stack of book spines all by Sian Northey and a book mark reading I'm an author, so technically this is work.

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 being administered by Literature Wales. There are two other partners involved, one of which is  Wales Literature Exchange. The WLE is an agency facilitating the sale of translation rights, amongst other things. The officer from the WLE 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.

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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.

van bonnet painted with the words Covid-19 Stay Away Idiots

Van parked on a main road facing traffic heading towards the Llŷn peninsula

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

cover of the book 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.

plastic fish box on a pebbly beach

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.

the author Sian Northey

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.

covers of the books The Crown in the Quarry and The Red Dragon of the Welsh

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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