Across the Pond: Translating English into, well, English.
One of my first jobs of 2021 was a little different to my normal fare but one that also got me thinking. Not only because it was a speculative novel that transported the to the not-so-distant future and questioned the role of AI and also what it means to be human, but also because I was tasked with translating the novel from English, into… English!
Now you may well be scratching your head, but to clarify, I was translating the text from American English to British English. Why do that, you ask? They’re the same language, right? Well, yes, but also no. And depending on your aims when you’re publishing your manuscript, which you choose could be very important.
Yesterday, I read a fascinating article by American novelist Ben Winters. I had the pleasure of working with Winters briefly whilst I was at Penguin Random House and found his unique predicament intriguing.
The article, published on Slate.com, is discussing how the global pandemic of coronavirus and COVID-19 has basically screwed the plot of his new book, The Quiet Boy. It begins in January 2020 and hurtles towards a finale in July 2020 – in a music festival. Well, that’s not happening any more . . .
So it got me wondering how writers and namely the plots of fiction novels have been affected by the pandemic. It must be soul-destroying to have worked so hard, giving up months if not years of your life to curate the perfect plot line, create the characters that you need and finesse the timeline just so until you have a novel that you’re truly happy with . . . for a global pandemic to make it no longer relevant.
But my question is, does it matter? The role of fiction isn’t about facts. As the dictionary defines it, fiction is ‘the type of book or story that is written about imaginary characters and events and not based on real people and facts’. Of course, the best inspiration comes from the world around us – and no doubt the market will be flooded with coronavirus diaries, novels, etc. (Although I question whether there will be a market for them after we emerge blinking in the sunlight post-lockdown – we don’t want to go through that again *shudders*.) But, what better excuse than the world going a bit bananas around us to make use of this fantastic tool that we have hidden deep in our brains: the imagination. There is no better time to let our minds wonder and think of what-if and how-about.
Winters has a point when he says that ‘Right now, we are in the middle of total and utter upheaval. What reader will accept that my characters blithely go about their business in Los Angeles in the spring and summer of this year we’re in?’ Perhaps we should have more faith in our readers. Every day, fiction asks us to suspend our disbelief and fall headlong into a world that isn’t real, not based on fact, the product of the workings of someone’s mind. Yes, it looks a little like the world we live in, but the fiction form is prism not a mirror, twisting the light of the real world into a kaleidoscope of colour – otherwise the sci-fi and fantasy genres would already be in deep water!
With this in mind, over the weekend, I had the delightful experience of kicking my heels up and devouring Rebecca Serle’s smash-hit novel In Five Years. The whole concept of the novel taking a classic interview question – ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ – and twisting it on its head. The novel is all about how no matter how much we try to plan our ideal lives and how we see ourselves in five, ten, even twenty years time, life has a funny habit of getting in the way. Serle’s characters begin in 2020 and happily work, live, love their way through to 2025 (when it starts getting a little pear-shaped), no mention of pandemic in sight. Of course, when Serle wrote her manuscript, COVID-19 hadn’t reared its ugly head, but the novel is no worse off for it. In fact, it might even be an added strength as it reminds us that although the world looks less than peachy at the moment, we’ll get through it, whatever happens.
Admittedly, there might be a new couple of new courses on the syllabus for future literature students – Pre, Post and COVID Literature – but I’m excited to see what new writing this situation brings us, and whether authors choose to engage or not – some already having voiced their claims of not touching the topic with a barge pole, Anne Tyler and Harlan Coben being among their number. I feel for Winters, who has decided to push the events of his novel back to 2019, but whether you choose to set your next writing project in a world affected by COVID or not, I think the readers are willing to welcome you with open arms. To be honest, we’re just thankful for something to read!
We’re in the middle of some turbulent times. There is lots of uncertainty and anxiety around, and we’re having to adapt our daily lives. Many more of us are being asked to stay at home, practise social distancing and or being quarantined for fourteen days. In a world where most of us are on our feet go-go-go all the time, being cooped up at home is a pill proving hard to swallow.
However, amongst all this mayhem, there could be a silver lining. As we are encouraged to stay at home where we can to help protect not just ourselves but others we have a little more time on our hands. Not only that but feeling stuck in one place can lead to feelings of being both physically and psychologically. So rather than getting ourselves down, we should embrace this extra time for ourselves. It’s the perfect time to indulge in some self-care, dust off that yoga mat or pick up new hobbies or old!
Wow, it’s been a whirlwind month. So much for taking a rest, eh? I’ve had the past month or so off travelling with my partner in a green-and-purple camper van around the south island of New Zealand. What an experience!? I’ve learnt so much, read a few books and experienced some amazing things.
However, all good things must come to an end and so our Antipodean travels must draw to a close. After a year in Australia and then a month in New Zealand, we’re now back on British soil. We had the most wonderful time, went on so many adventures and met some lovely people but I must admit I am glad to be home. There really is no place like home, is there?
It is terrifying really how quickly time passes, isn’t it? This time last year I’d just arrived in Australia and now our Ozzie adventure is over and I’m already partway through the next chapter: New Zealand.
I arrived in Auckland a couple of days ago now and, although it’s only been a couple of days, I have fallen a little bit in love with this city. I have loved exploring and finding all the cool indie shops, trying all the food and investigating the green spaces. And there is still so much more to see!
I can’t wait to make the most of these weeks and catch up on some me-time – which means lots of reading! The place I’m staying in has the biggest windows so I’m revelling in all the natural light and curling up with a good book!
I am officially out of the office but I will continue to answer emails for the next week or so before we head to the South Island. If you have a question, need some advice or want a quotation for an editorial service, don’t hesitate to get in touch via the contact page or the quotation request form. I can’t wait to hear from you!
The most rewarding aspect of my job as an editor is getting to work with talented writers to make their manuscripts the best they can be. This year I wanted to shout about some of the fabulous authors I’ve had the pleasure of working with, so I’ve invited them into sit down and chat about their work, what it’s like being a writer and their tips for those who also want to pick up the pen.
First to grace my metaphorical chair is Simon McCleave, the debut author of THE SNOWDONIA KILLINGS – out today. It’s a tense and action-packed crime novel set in the beating heart of Snowdonia. DI Ruth Hunter is an experienced but tired London copper, ready to embrace a more relaxed life in the country, but when she is faced with a gruesome, unexplained murder within hours of arriving on her new beat, she realises that this wasn’t the peaceful step back she bargained for.
Read an extract after the interview with the author.
One of the most effective ways of improving your skills as a writer is to research. And what does research involve? Reading! And lots of it. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to read around your genre, whether it’s police procedural or epic romance. Knowing your market not only helps improve your craft but also shows publisher and agents that you know what you’re talking about. You know the market you’re writing in to – it’s not a romantic image, but it’s the truth.
So, I was tagged in a challenge the other day on Instagram (if you’re not following me, go check out my page for exclusive content including reviews, behinds the scenes sneak-peeks and tips.) As an editor, I do even more reading for both the manuscripts I’m working on but also in my own time. So check it out…