Tag: translation

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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There’s a deadline looming

That face is just about how I feel at this stage in my year of being mentored.

I had my second meeting with my mentor at the end of September, but because I haven’t had the concentration ability or the brain space since then I haven’t gone through their comments and suggestions. I have a deadline looming – my next commissioned translation – and that’s what’s taking centre stage at the moment.

Drws Du yn Nhonypandy

The backdrop of the story is the South Wales miners’ fight for a living wage in 1910, and their lockout and strike. The then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, sent in the Metropolitan Police to quash the miners and riots ensued. Troops were then added to the mix to reinforce the police presence. Because of this, Churchill’s name is still derided in many quarters in Wales.

South Wales Welsh and South Wales English

One of the challenges of translating Drws Du yn Nhonypandy has been the South Wales Welsh speech of all the characters. Myrddin ap Dafydd, the author and commissioner of all my published translations to date, always wants to retain some Welsh words in the dialogue, but I wasn’t sure how much additional ‘flavour’ to transfer from one language to the other.

The sorts of words Myrddin wants me to retain are the equivalent of ‘lad’, ‘dear’, ‘mate’ etc. These words are tags in the dialogue. They remind readers that the characters would really be speaking Welsh. They don’t hinder the action or understanding, but they give the reader a gentle nudge.

The original Welsh dialogue in Drws Du yn Nhonypandy is rendered on the page how people from the Rhondda speak. Here is an example:

“O’s rhaid iti ga’l cymaint o ddŵr ar y llawr, grwt?”

In standard English, that would be:

“Do you have to get so much water on the floor, lad?”

How much dialect and accent is too much?

Before I started editing the first draft, I asked Myrddin how far he wanted me to go in conveying the way people in the Valleys speak English. I suggested three levels.

One

The first level was to take our usual approach. That means that, in this book, I would include a sprinkling of Welsh words, including ‘crwt’. The word means ‘lad’ or ‘boy’ in South Wales Welsh (‘grwt’ is the mutated form of the root word ‘crwt’). This level looks like this:

“Do you have to get so much water on the floor, crwt?”

Two

A second, deeper level would be for me to reproduce the English accent of the Valleys. I suggested limiting this way of speaking to one or two peripheral characters. An example of such a character is Tal, a grizzled miner who is also a promoter and trainer of bare knuckle boxers. Here he is, in conversation with Moc.

“Elli drefnu gornest i Wil ’ma?”

“Dim problem, Moc. Ma fe’n fachan teidi gyda’i ddyrne. Gawn ni gwpwl o rowndie yma rhyw noson wythnos nesa, ife?”

“Na, un fowr y tro hyn, Tal. Lan ar y mynydd. Yn erbyn un o fois Gilfach-goch. Beth am bnawn Sadwrn?”

In the Welsh, both Moc and Tal speak in the same way. A standard translation would be:

“Can you arrange a bout for Wil here?”

“No problem, Moc. He’s a tidy with his fists, that boy. We’ll have a couple of rounds here one night next week, is it?”

“No, a big one this time, Tal. Up on the mountain. Against one of the Gilfach-goch lads. What about Saturday afternoon?”

Here it is again, but in this version I’ve rendered Tal’s speech only into a form of English with similar contractions and accent as in the original Welsh text:

“Can you arrange a bout for Wil here?”

“No problem, Moc. ’Ee’s tidy with ’is fists, your lad. We’ll ’ave a couple o’ roun’s ’ere one night next week, is it?”

“No, a big one this time, Tal. Up on the mountain. Against one of the Gilfach-goch lads. What about Saturday afternoon?”

Three

Myrddin and I agreed that the third level – to turn all the dialogue into South Wales-accented English – would be too much. There would be a danger of it becoming a caricature of the ‘look you, boyo’ variety. It would be difficult to read and a distraction from the story.

Whereas the readership of the story in Welsh will at least have heard the South Wales variety of Welsh, those reading the English could be from anywhere  in the world. English might not even be their native language.

Back to Yn y Tŷ Hwn –  I feel the influence of being mentored

As I progressed with the first draft of Drws Du yn Nhonypandy, I noticed that some of the lessons from the first meeting with my mentor on Yn y Tŷ Hwn are already spilling over into my paid work.

The mentor pointed out that, so long as an idea in the same part of the text, it doesn’t necessarily have to be placed in exactly the same order as in the original language. An example of this in Yn y Tŷ Hwn is:

Roedd ‘hel pricia’ yn hen, hen jôc rhwng y ddau. Rhy hen a rhy gymhleth i’w hesbonio i neb, bron iawn nad oedd hi ei hun, erbyn hyn, yn sicr o’i tharddiad. Ond pobl gwneud dryga oedd pobl hel pricia, a phobl ddiflas oedd pobl firelighters. A rŵan dyma’r ddau ohonyn nhw’n bobl firelighters.

This would translate straightforwardly as:

‘Collecting kindling’ was an old, old joke between them. Too old and too involved to explain and, by now, she wasn’t even sure herself of its origins. ‘Kindling people’ were full of mischief; ‘firelighters people’ were boring. And now here they both were: firelighters people.

but which my mentor suggests could be rendered as:

Long, long ago, this in-joke had grown between them (how it had started was lost to time). It was a way of reducing everybody to two sorts, the ‘kindling people’ (full of mischief) and the ‘firelighter types’ (boring). And now here they both were: firelighter types.

Just for the record, I have this passage rendered like this at the moment, but it may yet change:

The difference between ‘users of firelighters’ and ‘collectors of kindling’ was an old, old in-joke between them. Its origins were lost in the mists of time, but the gist of the joke was that ‘kindling people’ are full of mischief and ‘firelighter types’ are boring. And now here they both were: firelighter types.

November

I really do hope I can do some proper homework on my being-mentored project in November . . .

(The picture is for illustrative purposes only. It’s not even my office.)

 

Words ©Susan Walton 2020; Cheeky Tongue photo ©Ruth Elkin on FreeImages; cover of Drws Du yn Nhonypandy ©Gwasg Carreg Gwalch 2020; the photo of the police lined up across the street in Tonypandy is in the public domain; photo of the toddler is by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash; the photo of boxer Amby McGarry is by Newmans of New York and was printed in the supplement to the National Police Gazette, #1565, Saturday, August 10, 1907; photo of kindling is by Alison Dueck on Unsplash; photo of me ©Chris Jones, 2012.

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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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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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