Tag Archives: Daniel Hahn

Catching Fire: A Translation Diary

This is the most wonderful book! And it’s not even fiction. At least, I don’t believe it is. Daniel Hahn’s online diary on his work translating Diamela Eltit’s Never Did the Fire – as it became – from [the] Spanish into English (I’ll go without the ‘the’ there.)

You will remember – yes, you will – that I wrote about the diary last year as it was actually happening.

So, why would I read the same thing all over again, in book form? Well, because another translator I happen to know sent it to me. And it was pure luck I hadn’t already bought it myself. Because I wanted to read it again. Not so much as the companion piece to Never Did the Fire, but because this is like sitting down with a dear friend; someone who is funny and intelligent and you just want to spend more time with them and you want to be entertained by their thoughts, and they have a fun and different way with language.

Daniel is modest about his abilities. (Maybe.) He doesn’t mind mentioning all that he doesn’t know [yet], or musing on how he might solve another stumbling stone he’s stumbled across. I think I hadn’t quite understood that a professional translator might read a book they are about to work on, knowing only half the words or not understanding what the author meant, like the 13-year-old witch read Agatha Christie in English. You are propelled forward by a wish to get somewhere, and you learn as you go. Though I have to say that Daniel being equipped with a Chilean stepfather is a very handy thing. Under the circumstances.

I was also amused to learn Daniel has lots of incomprehensible gaps in his manuscript, once he’s ‘written’ the first translation. It’s what I have when transcribing an interview, having no idea what my victim just said there. But my advantage is that I can cut out the worst. I imagine Daniel needed to keep what was in Diamela’s book; ‘Plugging the gaps makes what looked like sheer linguistic carnage begin to resemble a piece of continuous text’.

So, this is my random meander through a really fun diary.* And I’d say that unlike with some books, this one got even funner** on a second reading. Daniel talks directly to the reader. He also chats to himself.

I could read it again, again.

I have to say: read this book! Even if your friends aren’t in it, or if you know nothing about languages. It’s like having the loveliest of friends pop in for a visit.

*He doesn’t really favour footnotes. But they are amusing. He also very kindly put me in one. Or did he? No, he didn’t. But still. It’s one of my favouritest footnote tales. And he mentions people I know.

**Channelling Daniel’s style of making words up.

Tea with Danny, OBE

OK, so the Society of Authors’ afternoon tea with Daniel Hahn might have been more like him wielding a mug – though not a Moomin one – of coffee. But it was nice anyway. He might be busy, but it never shows. Danny always seems very cool and calm, and that rubs off on the rest of us. It was good to have an event ‘to go to’ even if it was no further than our own screens and our own mugs of tea/coffee/wine. And this was last week, so I offer my apologies for the late report. Stuff happens.

There he was, and there we were, and there was Antonia Lloyd-Jones, his translator colleague. (I have it on good authority that she is nice.) They discussed translating, as you do. And no, Daniel does not have a chimpanzee in the basement. He does all the work himself.

We discovered to our great delight that he has a ladder – for his library – when he walked us from one room to another, in order to find the thing he’s working on now, so he could read to us. It had been printed out and he read it with red pen in hand for any necessary corrections that might make themselves known to him. And he did, indeed, note down something that was wrong, meaning we were sort of useful.

The reason Danny doesn’t read the books before he translates, is that he hates first drafts and the payoff is the discovery of reading something for the first time. ‘There is nothing like it.’

And the reason he translates what he does, is that you can only choose the opportunities that exist. And there is the mortgage that wants paying. To help with that are the several translations at different stages, because he needs to work on different things; not just the first draft. He works fast, which is his good fortune, and he’s good at multitasking. Moving between translations is energising.

Danny enjoyed cooperating with a recent author, being able to ask her questions. His current author is long dead, which is not terribly practical. And he’d have liked hanging out with this man who died 114 years ago.

Co-translating is great, and tends to make for a better book, because two people have looked at everything, and thought about it, and discovered the mistakes. He’s doing something with palindromes and anagrams, which seems not to be as hard as his audience felt it must be.

For pleasure Daniel reads mostly the same as when he works, but he also reads a lot of children’s books. He tries to engineer things so that he can do some interviews or festival work, chatting to authors, and being allowed to ‘deduct it off his taxes.’

To assist with his tax paying, you could always look into his new book about translating, Catching Fire: a Translation Diary. It’s both fun and interesting. As was this event. We want more, please.

A translation?

You need to say that title line out loud, and try to channel your inner Lady Bracknell as you do.

I was sent some information about a new book from Finland, Me and the Robbersons, by Siri Kolu, translated by Ruth Urbom. It was partly about the translation process, which was what I expected.

Only partly, because I had not realised that [English language] publishers need their hands held quite a bit before tackling a book in another language. This one happened because Daniel Hahn accompanied a group of UK publishers to Bologna and introduced them to people and to the general idea of translated books [for children].

It costs more to publish a translation. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it makes sense. Maybe. The translator obviously needs paying, as does the original author. When dealing with smaller languages from countries keen to spread its literature around, there is often financial help, as there was in this case.

So that’s the production side of the foreign book dealt with. Have the idea, find the right book, get it translated and out there.

I’m so naïve that I imagined that might be it. The book goes to shops and libraries and all the rest, and is read like any other book. No. My source also mentioned a review by a child on a kid’s review site. The child mostly liked the book. But so much seems to have been made of the fact that it was a translated book, that the child focused on this. ‘The fact it had been written in a different language initially made me feel uncertain but excited because I had not read a translated book before.’

That would be because no one had thought to mention that some of the standard childhood classics which many children have read, are translations.

I’m wondering if adults ought to see if they can refrain from pointing out the different aspects of whatever they are offering, be it organic, home made, contains garlic, or has been translated.

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.

A piccalilli pair of days

Sometimes I just need to go back in time.

My 2015 piccalilli trip to London, as I think of it, was full of serendipities. It began when Liz Kessler wrote to ask if I could make it to her London book launch. And I felt I could; having determined that something special was all I required to invest in train tickets. I’d obviously need to stay two nights, before and after, to make sure I was there for the main event.

And then I started looking to see what else might be on.

The Society of Authors had an event on the evening I arrived in London. It was ‘only’ Philip Pullman and Penelope Lively chatting to Daniel Hahn at Waterstones Piccadilly, but I was happy enough with that. 😉

Son bought me a ticket for the event, which I wasn’t supposed to use. So I bought another. When Anne Rooney realised she wanted to go but was too late to buy a ticket, wasn’t it handy that I just happened to have a Society of Authors member ticket? Yes it was. And her predictive texting gave me the piccalilli.

It was Celia Rees who had told me about the event, so she was around too. And then there was the sighting of Judith Kerr one row in front of mine. That wasn’t a half bad evening.

For the next morning I’d agreed to have coffee with Marnie Riches, who just happened to be in town, before leaving again. From there I almost had to run to get to my next meeting, having booked an interview with Anthony McGowan, seeing as I had so much time on my hands! Somewhere there must have been a brief opportunity to eat my lunch sandwich. I’ve forgotten. Although I can tell you that the Hampstead pub we met in could use a longer setting for the light in the Ladies. Good thing I have arms to wave.

Tony was also going to Liz’s launch, which is where we went next. And basically everyone was at the launch.

For my second morning I had arranged to do brunch with Candy Gourlay before hopping on a northbound train.

It’s amazing how many authors can be fitted into slightly less than 48 hours. I keep living in hope, but there has yet to be a repeat of this.

What’s missing?

I have been dreaming events. Book events. Real ones. Except if they are dreams they are not quite as real as I’d like them to be.

Yes, I know I ‘attended’ an event just two days ago, but Kazuo Ishiguro was online. It is nice, and I obviously don’t have to sit too close to anyone else and all that. No trains to catch after, and I can eat my dinner should I feel like it.

But even an unsociable witch is beginning to feel there are some things she just misses. Events. The people and the books in them. Exotic venues. The fact that someone always says something really funny or does something really crazy, and then I can write about that.

They seem so real, too. Daniel Hahn’s been, and Moira Mcpartlin was involved in one. The biggest and best was when ‘the David Fickling team’ arrived halfway through and pushed their way in, the way the really important people do in films.

Anyway, you can see how my mind works.

(In one of our private pub quizzes at Bookwitch Towers the name of David Jason came up. Daughter asked ‘who is he?’ All I could say was ‘actor, and we were at the same party once’.)

But I’ve not been dreaming celebrities; just the nice, normal people I miss. And Kirkland Ciccone.

¡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.’

[T]OBE or not [T]OBE

Sorry about that. I was trying to think of some sort of heading, but as you can see, I failed.

Translator, and general facilitator of all things literary, Daniel Hahn has been awarded an OBE in the [rather late] Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Many of us are very happy about this, and we’re hoping Danny is too, and that he didn’t accept his OBE just to please the rest of us. Although that would be a perfectly good reason, too.

Children’s laureate Cressida Cowell is another new OBE.

It’s rather lovely to be a little bit involved in a trade like children’s books, where some participants go on to be recognised in this way. Last year it was Theresa Breslin, and I’m very proud of her efforts too, especially considering how purply she dressed.

To return to this year, I’m also happy for the new Dame Mary Berry. I’m not into baking in any great way, but she has a nice crinkly smile.

When it’s good

This will sound silly, but I’m currently reading a book that is so good that I don’t have to worry. It struck me as I was reading past my bedtime, that I had no idea where the plot would take me. But I knew I felt quite safe and I had no concerns, because wherever it went and whatever happened, it’d be fine. Not necessarily a happy ever after ending; but a more than competently put together story. Good content, using good language.

I don’t know Words Without Borders as an online magazine. Understandable perhaps, as I gather they hardly ever cover children’s literature. In the April issue they did, and Daniel Hahn was there to tell us about it. He, very sensibly, felt it wasn’t for him to select authors to showcase, as he doesn’t read every language in the world. (He almost does, I’d say.) He asked some translators for advice.

One of the authors chosen was Maria Parr, about whom Daniel had this to say: ‘If we didn’t have Guy Puzey to do the hard work for us, I would willingly learn Norwegian to be able to keep reading Maria Parr.’

So, it’s not just me. Except I don’t need Guy. At least, I hope I don’t, but even so his translation work is more than welcome.

And in the same issue of Words Without Borders there is a short piece by Maria, translated by Guy, about explaining Corona virus to your stupid younger brother:

“Corona is a ball with spikes,” said Oskar.

He was in the lower bunk, jabbering away as usual.

“Corona is a virus,” I said.

“It looks like a ball with spikes on,” said Oskar.

“Yes, but it’s a virus,” I said, feeling annoyed. I wondered if all seven-year-olds are that stupid, or if it’s just my little brother who’s particularly dense.

Oskar went quiet for just long enough that I thought he’d gone to sleep.

“It looks like a ball with spikes no matter what you say,” he said…

and if you want more, you click here.

If you want more still, just read a lot of children’s books, especially good ones like Maria’s and others. Like the one I’m reading now.

(I might tell you more about that later.)

Bookwitch bites #146

Bookwitch hasn’t ‘bitten’ for a long time. But better late than never.

Danny Weston has a new book out, which he launched in Edinburgh on Friday. He had to do it without me, but I gather it went well enough despite this. It’s called Inchtinn, Island of Shadows. Danny had even baked Inchtinn cakes. I bet he ate most of them himself, or possibly his friend Philip Caveney helped with the eating. (I won’t post that picture here. It is too dreadful.)

Danny Weston, Inchtinn

If it’s dreadful you’re after, you only need to look at this photo from when the witch met Vaseem Khan at Bloody Scotland last month. Vaseem looks just fine, but, well, that creature on the left… Sorry.

Vaseem Khan Twitter

That was the event when we discussed humour and how important it is, while not being taken seriously (!) by enough publishers. This is what Sarah Govett has found as well. After her dystopian trilogy a few years ago, she has tackled teen humour, much in the vein of Louise Rennison. If she’s to be believed – and I see no reason why not – teens are crying out for more funny books. India Smythe Stands Up is the book for you, fresh from Sarah’s keyboard.

Sarah Govett, India Smythe Stands Up

It’s important to keep track of children’s books. Even the Resident IT Consultant seems to feel this. I was a little surprised to find his companion in the holiday reading sofa, but who am I to say anything?

Daniel Hahn, Children's Literature

And, I knew this news was coming, but it’s still good to have it confirmed. There is another book from Meg Rosoff. It’s old YA, or some such thing. And not very long, apparently. We will have to wait until next summer, but the witch who waits for something good… (The Great Godden, since you ask.)

Meg Rosoff book news