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.
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.
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.