I’ve always taken a pretty hands-off attitude to translation and translation rights. That’s probably partly because I’m so embarrassingly monolingual, but it’s also about an awareness that you have so little control over the process that it’s better not to let yourself worry too much about it.
That’s not to say I don’t know any of my translators. I’ve recently been in correspondence with the Brazilian translator of The Resurrectionist and I had quite a bit to do with the German translator of my first two novels. In both cases the things they needed clarifying were small, culturally-specific details (most recently about the bonding of convicts in early New South Wales) or points of fact they were unsure about (or I’d not been as clear about as I might have been).
But the one foreign publisher I do have a relationship with is Payot & Rivages, who have just published The Resurrectionist in France.
It’s a relationship that came about largely by chance. Despite my execrable French, I was fortunate enough to spend the second half of 2007 at the Australia Council’s Keesing Studio in Paris, and since I’d sold the French rights shortly before I arrived I thought it couldn’t hurt to give my publishers a call.
Being as exquisitely courteous as most French people, they not only arranged to meet me, but made a great fuss of me, taking me to lunch and inviting me to their home for dinner.
That in itself was a wonderful gesture, and one made the more special by the somewhat hilarious moment when my translators (unusually they’re brothers who work together) asked me what music I listened to while I was writing the book. It seemed a bit of an odd question, but as I’ve mentioned before that I listened to a lot of Philip Glass while I was writing the book, partly because I found its almost hypnotic qualities helped me get into the right headspace, partly because there was something in the structure and texture of the music I wanted to emulate in the way the book’s parts moved against each other, and so I told them that, at which they laughed in triumph, and said ‘We knew it! We’ve been doing the translation listening to Philip Glass and we knew you’d been doing the same’.
Anyway – the other outtake from the night’s festivities came just before I ate, when I was spirited away to a back room and interviewed on camera. They didn’t tell me I was doing the interview until I’d drunk several glasses of wine, which may or may not be apparent in the excerpts that are now available on their website, but what is apparent is how much more clever and concise I am once somebody has translated me into French. Who knew my rambling, half-drunken words could be turned into such chiselled French prose? Or that I could be so suavely epigrammatic? I suppose the lesson is that I should speak in subtitles more often . . .
If I knew a nice colloquial expression for ‘spooky’ I’d use it here. Great story! but I’d better read it in English first.
(I have read Wrack though, and enjoyed it.)
When you talked about the brothers, I thought Oh, the twenty-first century version of the Goncourts – those brothers worked together and the rest is history, in terms of literary prizes.
If it is indeed true that music influences writing (‘if music be the food of love’) and if its influences extend and apply to the translation, then I imagine Resurrectioniste to be very sinewy and atonal.
Just watch out for the line between ‘courteous’ and ‘arrogant’ sometimes.