Category Archives: Languages

4 to 5 translations to pay the mortgage

I was ready to throw something at the screen. But as it was the television screen I had to restrain myself. Although, I don’t suppose the computer screen would have been a cheaper option.

I was enjoying Singing for Your Supper: How to Make it as a Translator, on Zoom last night. It was organised by DELT, which is to Denmark what SELTA is to Sweden. Literary translators. OK, so it was supposed to be literary. But to me that is as opposed to business press releases, mining reports or death certificates. Fiction.

But when Kyle Semmel, the chair of this event with Daniel Hahn and Misha Hoekstra, said as advice to new translators that there was no immediate shame to translating genre (he’d done it himself to begin with), well, I was reaching for something to throw. Because clearly you must be literary. Misha Hoekstra nodded in agreement, whereas Daniel had stressed that mortgages have to be paid and he likes to eat, too.

He wasn’t the only one to pipe up about how being paid is important. He translates four or five books a year just to make sure he has somewhere to live. Kyle translates when he feels like it, and Misha has the safety net that is a Nordic country with financial support for literature. Very different lives. I couldn’t help but feel that many of the translators or hopefuls who listened in were also in need of daily food and a roof over their heads.

Misha’s advice was probably sound for someone living and working in Denmark, and I suppose many of these translators were working from Danish, if not actually in Denmark. I know that some authors do well enough to be able to pay for someone to translate their books [without there being a buyer for it abroad], but not everyone is that lucky. The idea that a budding translator should approach some of the authors I know here in the UK, wanting money for a sample translation is, well, not terribly realistic.

If you want to know how a translator like Daniel works, I will suggest, again, his diary from earlier this year, on how he translated one particular Chilean novel. Aside from being an interesting window into how one person works, it’s a funny, well-written diary.

And no, you don’t have to love what you translate. As Daniel pointed out, there are more hopeful translators than there are books publishers want translated. And there is that mortgage that wants paying.

Genre, that is also literature. It can be crime. Or children’s. It’s not something to be looked down on. Especially not if you work with books, words and language.

Do you think it’s funny to be here?

Crawled out of bed early to attend a Norwegian frokostseminar, which translated means something like an online talk at breakfast time, and being hosted in Norway meant an earlier crawling at this end.

I only do this sort of thing for special people – in this case Son – who was giving a talk, ‘Britain: so close, it’s practically Scandinavian?’ It works both ways; Scandinavians believe they are really good at English, and the British know all about hygge these days.

Hah. I was served a shit sandwich. (Language, boy!) It’s not something I usually consider, but yes, the British tend to hide a bad message with kind words, whereas the pragmatic Scandinavians just get to the point. And being Scandinavian, their sandwiches are open affairs, so you can’t really hide the shit all that effectively.

I was gratified to see that our chance encounter with some lovely people about twenty years ago, was still good for a translation talk. We had just arrived in Sweden for our holiday. We went for a walk and met a dear neighbour with her son and daughter-in-law, and the latter enquired whether we’d had a bath yet. We had not. We had not gone for a swim yet, either.

For the Q&A afterwards, someone wanted to understand the difference between fun and funny. The Resident IT Consultant and I laughed [off microphone]. But it set me thinking. At the tender age of 13 I must already have known the difference. My English pen friend visited me in Sweden. We met up with a couple of my friends one day, and the chatty one asked the pen friend if it ‘was funny to be here’ and the pen friend looked really confused. Especially as she probably thought it was rather funny to be there. But I knew where the chatty one had gone wrong and what she should have said instead, so managed to clear it up.

But yes – or should that be no? – neither side of the North Sea can pretend to be the other. Hygge is impossible to grasp (by reading books, anyway), and no matter how good your English is, people can tell you are not.

Plus I’m seriously considering crawling back into bed.

Isn’t there anything else you can say?

In place of OMG, that is?

We’ve been watching too much of a certain type of television. The Dog House was lovely, and I can quite see why people felt the need to say those three words when coming face to face with cute puppy or needy older dog.

And we’ve returned to the company of Kirstie and Phil, and I’m surprised how much I like them. Actually. Their charges, not so much. Some like the houses offered while others are wanting more and better and cheaper. It’s probably mostly the former category who say those words when seeing a new potential home.

This harks back to the older programmes, where people volunteered to have their gardens or homes redone, and then having to say something when faced with the consequences. I mean, the results.

I’ve been trying to think what other words would convey a similar meaning; anything from ‘that’s just awful and I’m going to cry’, to ‘I love it’. I’m not coming up with much. Someone suggested crikey, but I’m not a crikey kind of witch. Nor golly, or gosh.

It’s not so much religious qualms as simply growing tired of the same verbal reaction to every single thing. I can even lipread those words if I’ve silenced the television.

I sense we are in for more of these words tonight, from Rotterdam. And I’m still puzzled by how this music competition became simply Eurovision. That surely is the whole television organisation within Europe (plus Australia, obviously…)? Not just one programme. One which I will have to not watch, but primarily listen to, because it’s turned into a contest to see who can have the most strobe lighting.

Eurovision strobe contest.

Kissing frogs

When we were in the front garden a while back, with the Resident IT Consultant doing the gardening and me sitting comfortably, issuing instructions, the neighbour next door gave us two frogs. I suspect they were ours originally, and we do have a tiny pond they can live near.

Those are not the frogs I am kissing. Wouldn’t dream of it. But it struck me, not long ago, as I was contemplating what to read and why, that it’s a bit like kissing frogs, to see if they will turn into princes. Sometimes you have to kiss quite a few frogs, to find a book worth spending your time on. (This might be a mixed metaphor. I am hazy about those, but I suspect frogs and books are not interchangeable.)

So, I kiss fewer frogs these days, and am not able to bother with quite a few of them, even if they really are princes, deep down. And far too many have no blue blood in them at all.

Not sure how our frogs are doing, as I’m rarely out there searching for them. At the time we had a lot of frog spawn, however. Whether they will grow up into handsome princes, I have no idea.

Once a week Daughter has online tea with some friends/colleagues. On some occasion the chat turned to books (one can never be certain those academic types actually read…) and one of them mentioned she’d loved a Swedish thriller recently. Some more digging revealed a title and the mention of two authors, which in turn made me sort of, nearly, remember something. She had read it in Dutch, as the English version isn’t out yet. It will be, though, seeing as my inkling confirmed that it’s one of Son’s translations.

This week he received his copies of another Swedish crime novel – Gustaf Skördeman’s Geiger – which is out sooner. Both of these books have been much talked about, enough so even I could hear it and be a little aware of things.

And both Daughter and Son have recently sent off copies of their theses to GP Cousin, who was foolish enough to ask to read them. Those books are definitely not frogs. At all. I know, because I have read them. One a bit more closely than the other, but I pride myself on believing that I understood more than GP will. (Which is unkind, because he is a boy and he is four years older than I am, so…)

Some books actually are about frogs. They can be quite good too.

The decency boundary

I suppose we all know that the stories coming from the Brothers Grimm were really pretty grim on occasion. But after reading them as children, we can agree that they are not truly children’s stories, but more for adults. And that excuses the content.

I suppose.

I believe that Swedish children, today and back in my time, are exposed to more questionable literary content when they read. There is more gate-keeping in Britain.

I don’t really know what’s OK. I seem to be more delicate now than I ever was before.

Anyway, a few evenings ago Daughter read me another Swedish story. It was probably about the last eligible book we had, and to be honest, I had already sort of decided against it, on account of it being boring.

I misremembered. And Daughter is aghast. When she realised where Kattresan by Ivar Arosenius was heading, she couldn’t quite believe her eyes. And I suppose I didn’t help by pointing out that Arosenius wrote and illustrated the book for his own little girl, many years ago. 1909 seems to have been the date.

They were made of stronger stuff in those days.

In case it works as a spoiler, or you really are so tender-hearted that you don’t want to see what she saw, I will just leave the link – to Swedish Bookwitch – here. Then you can click on it and feast your eyes on what happened to the cat.

In fairness, the very young Bookwitch used to be somewhat disgusted/puzzled/disturbed as well.

🙂

Longlisted International Booker book

We did as we were told. Or rather, we didn’t. Our SELTA host Ian Giles suggested we could ‘get a cup of tea, sit back and relax’ as we listened to – and watched – the Zoom webinar late afternoon today, with Nichola Smalley and ‘her’ Swedish author Andrzej Tichý, talking about his novel Wretchedness. (What we did was continue with our work, but accompanied by an interesting, literary conversation.)

They have talked about this before, and I have written about it here. But it was worth returning to it again, because the book has been longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2021. This doesn’t happen to lots of Swedish novels. In fact, I believe it might be a first.

I have to admit to not knowing very much about the International Booker Prize. I looked it up, and discovered it’s worth £50000 to the winning pair, i.e. half to the author and half to the translator. That’s very good, especially for the often overlooked translator.

The event was organised by SELTA and supported by the Swedish Embassy’s cultural department, which shows that they take this kind of thing seriously.

I’m a little bit biased, but I have crossed my fingers for a successful Wretchedness.

A little night reading

For some reason Daughter felt she wanted to start reading aloud in Swedish. It’s generally helpful to start light, so not the Bible, or The Times. I gave her my childhood Elsa Beskow, but that really was quite short.

After two of Barbro Lindgren’s and Eva Eriksson’s Vilda Bebin books, which were confusing because they are ‘poetry’ she moved on to Pettson and Findus by Sven Nordqvist. She has now read me all the ones we have in the original language.

That is just as well. I have enjoyed the reading, or maybe I mean the listening. But, it sends me to sleep. I know, I know. Bedtime stories are supposed to do just that, but I am old and had not intended to go to bed so soon.

Members of the Resident IT Consultant’s family are well known, or should I say notorious, for always falling asleep. You sit there being all sociable, and sooner or later one of them nods off.

That’s what I did.

I came to, and became aware that Daughter was looking at me in a horrified sort of way. Apparently I had done that nodding off, right there in my armchair.

I’m not quite ready for the reading to take place with me in bed, but I suppose it will have to come to that.

(Findus is an annoying little cat. But quite kind, not to mention intelligent, all the same.)

¡Never the Fire Ever!

I don’t have anything better to do. Because this is actually quite interesting. I mean, very interesting indeed. And a bit charming.

Daniel Hahn, my second favourite translator, is making more work for himself, by not only translating another book – Diamela Eltit’s Jamás el fuego nunca –   but writing a public diary about the process. As he says, ‘But why a diary?

(Apart from a natural translator’s desire to make things more difficult for himself – and, you know, ego?)’

To entertain us, which is a worthy aim. To make us more knowledgeable regarding what goes on in the heads of translators as they read and change every word some author has laboured long and hard over.

To make me, personally, realise I’ve mislaid my upside down exclamation mark, which is almost as bad as when I had to ask a stranger for a grave accent.

I think some of you will enjoy reading this. Even setting aside the educational aspect, it’s fun. Daniel has a nice style. Which, of course, he can’t always insert into his work, having to mostly follow what that other author wrote in the first place.

‘We begin, then, with my title. In English, the book will be called Never the Fire Ever.

At least, I think so. But – hmm – I might yet change my mind.

OK, I’ll come back to that.’

Who’s cooking?

Having cause to study Astrid Lindgren’s Vi på Saltkråkan again, Son watched a few episodes with Dodo. I have to assume it was Dodo’s first time.

Which is why her comments are of interest. Me being of the same age as Saltkråkan, and having Son and Daughter growing up with the television series, they will be seeing it much more the way I did.

With immediate access to Daughter, I asked her thoughts on Malin, the 19-year-old [eldest] daughter in the Melkersson family. And that was a surprise. She felt Malin had no real purpose.

Whereas the seven-year-old witchlet needed her screen peers to have a mother figure. Hence Malin acting as mother to her much younger siblings, and making sure their crazy, widowed father doesn’t cause too much havoc. She cleans, and peels potatoes, but also has fun and meets several hopeless, I mean promising, young men.

I was already reading the Famous Five books and I – I am sorry about this – thought it was fine for Anne to look after the domestic aspects of the mysteries, while the other three behaved like boys.

And Dodo. Well, she obviously remarked on the fact that Malin did all the work. She’s a female of the 21st century. I should be too. But when it comes to Saltkråkan I am seven again, and I need for Pelle to have a mother figure. I ‘am’ Tjorven, and I quite need a kind, caring adult female to chat to.

The four older siblings in both families, who must be around twelve, are purely there for adventures. Not peeling potatoes. In fact, I believe I’ve heard that they were meant to be the focus of the series, but no one reckoned on Tjorven. She and her dog took over, and along with them we have the other two younger children, Pelle and Stina.

I believe we also need Mr Melkersson to be single. Not for romantic reasons; simply to be alone and a bit useless. That’s why we also require Malin to bridge the gap. And to peel the potatoes.

In 1963 when this was filmed, I suspect none of us were all that aware. We were sold the set-up and we were satisfied. Since I have remained seven years old all this time, I am still satisfied.

The Morning Gift

I 95% adored this adult novel by Eva Ibbotson. It came highly recommended by several people whose taste I respect, and my knowledge of Eva Ibbotson’s children’s books backed this up.

To begin with I sat back and basked in the way Eva put her words together, how she described the background to what happens in The Morning Gift. The plot is good and the characters loveable and interesting and the setting in prewar Austria/Vienna was enough to make me want to go back there.

We meet the family of the heroine, Ruth, who is 20 when the real action begins in 1938. Prior to that we’ve learned how her parents met and how the well off Viennese intelligentsia lived. We also meet the British hero, Quin, who is everything you want from the romantic, but also kind, intelligent, rich man in your life.

When the Germans take over in Austria, the family flees to England, but due to a technical mishap Ruth does not manage to leave. Enter Quin, who obviously wants to help, and in the end this help has to take the form of a marriage of convenience.

If you’ve read romantic fiction before, you will know what to expect, except here you can expect it in a wittier and more intelligent shape than average. This is Eva Ibbotson we’re talking about.

You know it will end well, even though we are just coming up to the beginning of the war. You know that London in 1938/39 will lead to six years of a very bad time, and these are Jewish refugees we’re talking about. Added to which is the lack of acceptance by white English people who are not too keen on foreigners.

So the war is perhaps 2% of my ‘negative rating.’ The other few percent, well, this is set – fairly realistically, I would say – in the 1930s, and the book was published in 1993, written by someone who had experience of prewar London. Had I read it back then, I’d not have seen much of a problem when Ruth and Quin finally ‘get together’ properly. But now, in 2021, this is #metoo territory. And, well, I felt uncomfortable.

It quickly returns to most of its charm again, and all is well. Only, the degree Ruth worked so hard to get, is no longer needed once there is a happy ending. Not even in this modern version of a time when that would have been the norm (or so I imagine).

On the other hand, how can you not love a heroine who knows herself; ‘Would you like me to stop talking? Because I can. I have to concentrate, but it’s possible.’ So is reciting poetry – in German – to a sheep.