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.
One of the best parts of working in book publishing is that some of the most gifted, talented, fun and just generally great people form the majority of the workforce. We are all united by the love of the written word, but each person has such a wide variety of skills and knowledge that even if you’ve worked with someone for years, they’ll still surprise you with a little nugget of wisdom when you least expect it.
However, now that I’m freelance, my nearest physical college is Sammy the Editorial Assistant cat (who is currently snoring away by my desk). And now that the whole word has effectively moved to working from home – look at you all, jumping on the bandwagon! – I thought it would be lovely to reach out to the publishing community and get to know some of my colleagues in the industry a little more – albeit over a Zoom chat, rather than the lunches and coffees that publishing professionals are known for.
Interview with Isobelle Lans from Inspired Lines Editing
Isobelle Lans is a UK-based author and freelance fiction editor at Inspired Lines Editing. In 2019, she left her in-house editing job to start her freelance business, and since then has been helping fiction writers to refine their manuscripts and hone their writing skills. Isobelle works on a range of fiction, including fantasy, crime, romance, and historical fiction. If you’ve got a manuscript or story idea you think would benefit from a professional eye, get in touch to ask her how she can help you or what advice she can offer! You can connect with her on Instagram, where she shares insights, tips and encouragement for other writers.
Hi, Isobelle. So tell me a little about yourself and your journey to becoming a book editor?
Hi! Thanks so much for having me on your blog! I’m Isobelle Lans, a fiction editor from Australia who now lives in England. My favourite genres to edit are fantasy, romance, crime, and historical fiction.
I suppose like many editors, my assent into going freelance was quite slow. Editing was a skill I realised I had (and something I realised I enjoyed doing), so I decided to look into it as a career. I did an online training course in Australia and, from there, reached out to a few freelance editors to see if they had any mentorship programmes available. I got lucky and worked on a few projects under the guidance of an experienced fiction editor. That really sold it to me. I knew this was what I wanted to do. I then managed to get a few more freelance projects by simply cold calling other editors, or small businesses that I thought would benefit from a proofread.
After I moved to England I completed training with the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and became a member. I got a few freelance jobs through them in the beginning. I then also took a course on developmental editing and the skills required for this in-depth edit. That was an amazing course, and I fell in love with developmental editing. During all my training I kept working on freelance projects. I then got a job at an indie publisher in London. My boss there was so incredibly knowledgeable and working alongside her definitely taught me a lot about what it takes to work with writers. I originally planned to stay working in-house in London, but I realised it just wasn’t for me. I went to interview at one of the big publishing houses down there and thought ‘I don’t actually want to work a 9-5 job and commute in London!’ So, I decided to go freelance instead, and Inspired Lines Editing was born!
On the numerous writing and editing Facebook groups and forums that I’m part of, there have been a large number of enquiries from writers just starting out, or should that be writers who just haven’t started.
They are all excited and dedicated aspiring authors and yet, they’ve hit a wall. ‘Where do I begin?’ There are so many tips and tricks to help you when you’re just getting to grips with writing, but the most important and by far the simplest is to simply write. Begin. Make a mark on the paper, type that word on the keyboard.
And yet that is one of the hardest hurdles of all.
Writing crime and thriller fiction is not an easy game; you always have to be aware of strategically building the tension and sense of the threats as your plot progresses, navigating the peaks and troughs of anticipation as your reader moves towards the final climax that has your readers on the edge of their seats.
But if that wasn’t hard enough, if your setting is based in eras past, you’ve got a whole host of elements to balance too. No fancy computer searches to aid the police, no high-speed getaway car and a whole lot more horse poo.
Therefore who better to talk about the sub-genre than my second author of Crime and Thriller Month: historical thriller pro Chris Nickson is in the chair!
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!
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.