Tag: Tim Gutteridge

Exposure!

I have had my first public exposure for a piece of literary translation done off my own bat – and on the website of a prestigious literary journal at that!

Publication on the Asymptote website

Back in my January 2022 post I said I was going to submit my translation into English of a short story called ‘Eurgylch a meicroffon’ to literary magazines. It is from Cylchoedd, the latest  collection by Sian Northey. I called the story ‘Halo and Mic’ in English. I had in my sights two literary magazines: Trafika Europe and Asymptote.

Book cover of 'Cylchoedd' by Sian Northey.

Sian Northey is also the author of the novel I translated during my period of being mentored as an emerging literary translator, Yn y Tŷ Hwn. It is the book for which I’m currently seeking a publisher; its English title is This House. Publication of one of her short stories would bring us both some exposure.

I heard nothing for two months after submitting to Trafika Europe. I then submitted the story to Asymptote – ‘the premier site for world literature in translation’, according to its own website. In June I was told it had been accepted for publication in the autumn.

More submissions of This House to publishers

Pitches for This House made earlier in 2022 to publishers H, I, J and K had already been politely rejected by two of them and  ghosted by the other two. Publisher F, to whom I’d submitted in 2021, eventually decided in June that they didn’t want to publish This House.

Because the publication of ‘Halo and Mic’ was going to be a useful enhancement when submitting This House to publishers, I decided to stop making any new submissions until I could point (virtually) to it, and go ‘Look! Look!’

Other attempts at exposure

I also tried another couple of tactics in 2022 to gain exposure. I entered the John Dryden Translation Competition. I didn’t even make the longlist.

However, I did make the longlist of publisher Louise Walters Books’ brilliantly conceived Page 100 Competition. The concept is simple: you send in page 100 of your unpublished manuscript. Page 100 of This House made the longlist, and you can read the winning and shortlisted entries here, along with Louise Walters’ commentaries on them. Louise is even going to email brief feedback on each of the long- and shortlisted entries – what a star!

Emyr Humphreys

In October I was contacted by Emyr Humphreys. He is being mentored to translate from Welsh to English as part of this year’s National Centre for Writing’s Emerging Translator Mentorships programme. Emyr is part this year’s equivalent of the group I joined for an industry weekend in January 2020. He’s trying to make links between Welsh-to-English literary translators.

The project for his menteeship is to translate the novel Y Dydd Olaf (‘the last day’) by Owain Owain (1929–93). This novel is considered something of a cult classic and, until recently, was out of print. It was republished in 2021 by Gwasg y Bwthyn.

Cover of the book 'Y Dydd Olaf' showing a stylised eye.

Co-incidentally, I had been reading Owain Owain’s short story collection Y Peiriant Pigmi (‘the pygmy machine’), looking for a Welsh short story to translate which didn’t reference Wales’ history, mythology or the rural landscape and way of life. In other words, rather like ‘Halo and Mic’, something out of time and place, something dependent wholly on imagination.

I hadn’t started on anything, but Emyr’s project prompted me to do so. Who knows – the reissue of Y Dydd Olaf, and Emyr’s translation, when published, might be the beginnings of an Owain Owain revival!

‘Gwyddau Gwylltion’ / ‘Wild Geese’

In Y Peiriant Pigmi I’d been taken with an extremely short story called ‘Gwyddau Gwylltion’, which means ‘wild geese’. It is so untethered from time and place that what’s going on is open to interpretation. However, the reader’s mental construction might be as (un)steady as what’s going on in the mind of the storyteller. It’s an intriguing story.

In contrast to the opacity of what’s happening in the story, the writing style is very carefully structured and very stylised and mannered. It could be regarded as a thousand-word prose poem.

Wild geese flying.

I’ve mostly translated living authors that I know, and it was odd not to have someone to say ‘What d’you think?’ ‘Are you happy with this?’ to. For this reason, I asked fellow translator Tim Gutteridge if he’d read over it, which he kindly did. His suggestions helped me revisit a few points, then it was ready to go.

I wanted Owain Owain’s estate to be aware of what I was planning, and to be happy with the translation. One of his children has a fairly public profile in Wales, so I contacted him and he acted as a bridge to the rest of the family.

They were all happy with the translation, and I received a lovely message from one member of the family saying that reading my translation had motivated them to re-read the original. Even if my translation of ‘Gwyddau Gwylltion’ never gets published, this message was personally so gratifying.

I submitted ‘Wild Geese’ to a literary magazine that places special emphasis on showcasing work by new or early-career writers. As yet, I have had no word about whether it’s going to be published or not.

Picking up on making submissions of This House, but this time with a published short story to point at

In the midst of being busy with ‘Wild Geese’, the ‘Halo and Mic’ short story appeared on the Asymptote blog’s Translation Tuesday thread.

A stone angel and text.

The story’s introduction includes the opinion that it is:

a cracking piece of Welsh fiction … In Susan Walton’s translation, nuances in speech and register are captured to delightful effect …

Bingo!

Even if pitched-to publishers only glance at the intro, the endorsement is there. Time to get busy …

I had seven publishers to approach. Publisher M, which I’d been tipped to try during my visit to Hay Festival, politely but swiftly rejected This House.

However, the next one on the list – publisher N – is considering us. At the time of writing, I’m holding off making further pitches until publisher N comes to a decision.

Fleeing the Fascists

While all this was going on, my latest commissioned translation of a children’s/young adults’ novel came out: Fleeing the Fascists. It’s set in Wales and Germany before, during, and in the aftermath of, the Second World War. In researching the book, the author had made links with a journalist in Germany. He works for a daily paper in Bielefeld, the city where parts of the story are set.

When the English version came out, Markus Poch, the journalist, contacted Elke Klos, head of English at the Brackweder Gymnasium school in the city, and told her about the book. According to this article, Elke intends to read excerpts of Fleeing the Fascists with her English learners. More exposure, but in an unexpected arena – and what an honour to have one’s translation used to teach English!

A middle-aged woman holding up a book.

Elke Klos holding up Fleeing the Fascists.

Another reason to be cheerful …

A recent Irish Times article had the headline:

Gains in translation for fiction readers and publishers

The article is by Fiona O’Connor of the University of Westminster, London and in it she says:

translation has become a disruptive innovation in what has been termed a monoglot and insular world – that of British publishing. … Shattering the 3 per cent translations rule holding sway for decades, UK and Irish sales of translated fiction grew to 5.63 per cent.

Hurrah for the disruptors!

Words ©Susan Walton 2023. Photos of man in a stream by Marvin Meyer, and wild geese by Manfred Antranias Zimmer are on Unsplash. Photo of the cover  of Cylchoedd is ©Gwasg y Bwthyn 2020 and of Y Dydd Olaf is ©Gwasg y Bwthyn 2021. The photo in the screenshot of the Asymptote blog appears to be by Pexels on Pixabay. The photo of Elke Klos is ©Markus Poch/Wesfalen-Blatt 2022.

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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.

cover of the book Tu Ôl i'r Awyr

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.

gable end paintings on the building housing the publisher Y Lolfa

Y Lolfa in Tal-y-bont

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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