Frank Wynne talks to winstonsdad

Frank Wynne is one best translators about. An Independant foreign fiction prize winner in 2005 with his translation of frederic Beigbeder’s windows on the world and longlist this year for Kamachatka .you may like to look at franks site
• Can you introduce yourself and how you got into translation ?
Frank Wynne, born in Sligo, Ireland and variously miseducated, I grew up with a passion for books and became a translator by misadventure – having  no clear idea of what I wanted to do. I have variously worked as a radio journalist,  a bookseller, an editor, a comics publisher and with AOL at the inception of the internet, where I finally became editorial director). Books were the one constant in my life and the three years I spent living in Paris in the 1980s 1984 left me with a fascination for  language –  not the lexical differences, but by the way in which language shapes thought and imagination. My first translation (done purely for myself and to give friends a chance to read a book I loved) was of Romain Gary’s La Vie devant soi.
So I took to translating furtively, by night, never expecting anything to come of it. My first published translation Somewhere in a desert (L’Hypothese du désert) was well received and a couple of years later, when Atomised (Les Particules élémentaires) won the IMPAC, I decided I could throw in the day job and make a living translating full time. That proved foolishly optimistic, but has allowed me to spend the past decade travelling, living in central and South America and anywhere else I could afford to.
• how long does the average book take to translate and what is the process of translation ?
There is no average book, and the time required to translate books (for me at least) varies widely. It’s sometimes assumed that books with a sustained, poetic register are most difficult to translate but I have often found that these are precisely the books where finding the voice is easiest – and once I have found a voice, that informs many of the decisions I will need to make when translating. The corollary is that sometimes books in simple colloquial language prove hardest to carry across – I don’t want a gritty book set in Zavaleta (a poor suburb of Buenos Aires) to sound as though it’s set in Brixton, or give a bordelais farmer a west-country accent, but I have to find some way to convey accent, class, slang  and, most importantly, the music of spoken language in such books.
The process of translation can vary to. I generally read a book several times before beginning, make a first draft with copious footnotes to myself on phrases, words or images I feel will need work. I usually do a significant amount of research (I don’t know how I translated before the internet and online libraries existed); sometimes the research is necessary because the novel has a historic backdrop or setting, sometimes it’s necessary for me to feel I have a sense of place. When translating Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is not Obliged (Allah n’est pas obligé),   narrated by a child soldier from Côte d’Ivoire, I had Human Rights Watch send me tapes of interviews with child soldiers in French but also in English (from Liberia) to have a sense of what voice to give the narrator (Freudian slip, I nearly typed my narrator).  Once I have a clean second draft of the translation, I will generally approach the author with any questions I have, and submit this draft to my editor for comments. Based on these twin responses I will come up with a final manuscript.
• how close do you work with the orginal writers ?
Writers vary enormously in the extent to which they wish to be involved in the process. When I first started out, editors did not usually put me in touch with writers and I felt too shy and too self-conscious to ask for contact details.  It was a neophyte’s  mistake and one I quickly overcame. many  authors have been generous and unstinting in their help in resolving translation issues (beyond the purview of Anglo-Saxon literature, I have worked with many  authors who are also translators too, and enjoy this collaboration). Equally, I have worked with authors who had little interest in or understanding of the translation process. The easiest writers to work with are those who understand that any translation is a version of their work, that no translation can be definitive.
• what book of yours are you most proud of and why ?
I nurture of my translations – they’re a little like children – when they go out into the world I worry about them, watch them stumble or succeed and  try hard not to have favourites, but those I am most proud to have translated are probably Ahmadou Kourouma’s bitter, blistering, hilarious and  poignant account of post colonial Africa “Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote” (En Attandant le vote des bêtes sauvages) and Houellebecq’s  Atomised (Les Particules élémentaires). The voices and the worldviews of the two books could not be more different, but each in its way takes a cold hard look into the heart of man and finds it  wanting. Kourouma’s language was exultant and attempting to convey it was difficult and rewarding, Houellebecq at times almost made me wet myself  laughing, and I tried hard to make English language readers lose bladder control.
• Is there a book you wish you could translate ?
There are many… but two immediately spring to mind: Céline’s Journey to the End of Night (Voyage au bout de la nuit) to my mind one of the major novels of the 20th century (and a book without which the writings of  Henry Miller,  Jack Kerouac,  Joseph Heller and Will Self  would have been very different ). There are two extant translations ( John H. P. Marks (1934) and  Ralph Manheim (1983)); I don’t know Mark’s translation but Manheim seem to me to miss the vituperative  immediacy of the invective, the vernacular… In part, this is because English  has changed enormously over the course of the 20th century, while the French slang of 1932 still has the ability to shock the modern ear. The second, which I’ve already mentioned,  is La Vie devant soi by Émile Ajar –   (also translated by Manheim as The Life Before Us, also published as Madame Rosa) which I have loved since I first read it. Romain Gary’s late, pseudonymous career as Émile Ajar is  is linguistically playful and immensely moving – both in this novel and in the untranslated Gros-Calin. His books are peopled by curious people who narrate in a fractured French that manages to be quirky and funny,  while being profoundly moving.  To my ear, Manheim misses some of the playful, chaotic language of the original. But as I’ve said, a translation is only ever a version of the original – to quote Peter Fawcett  ” Translation quality assessment proceeds according to the lordly, completely unexplained, whimsy of “It doesn’t sound right” –  so what I’m really saying is “I wouldn’t have done it that way”
• how important are awards like the IFFP to translated fiction ?
Translation has historically been an ‘invisible’ profession (no one talks about reading Constance Garnett or Louise and Aylmer Maude or Anthony Briggs, instead we say we’ve “read Tolstoy”);  what the IFFP and other awards have done is focus not simply on works in translation, but on translation itself in a way that celebrates the craft but also provokes discussion about language, ideas and stories. Without such prizes it would vbe even more difficult for the tiny percentage of books translated into English to find an audience
• what would you say to readers that are maybe nervous about works in translation ?
Get over it! You’ve been reading and have been familiar  with works in translation all your life (Greek and Norse myths, fairy tales (Grimm Brothers via Perrault) and quintessentially ‘English’ stories like the Legend of King Arthur, the list is endless). Like the Anglo-Saxon fear that subtitled films must be  Art (capital A) rather than entertainment, there is an assumption that books in translation must be Difficult. In fact they can be as funny, moving,  irreverent as anything written in English (nor should translated works be accorded some special respect –  writers in any language are equally capable of  being  dull, unreadable or meretricious); read and make up your own mind. Kafkaesque
• what are you curently working on ?
I’m just finishing a translation of The Blue Hour, a wonderful Peruvian novel by Alonso Cueto that deals with grief and guilt, family and reputation, set against   the vicious war waged against Shining Path
• what is your favourtite translation by another translator ?
I’ll pick two:  Barbara Bray’s magisterial translation of Michel Tournier Le Roi des Aulnes (published both as The Erl-King and as The Ogre) and – though I have many reservations about some volumes of the new Penguin translation of Proust’s  “In Search of Lost Time” –  Lydia Davis’ The Way by Swann’s (Du côté de chez Swann) is an object lesson in literary translation, which  Wittgenstein called ‘an exact art’.
(I don’t feel it appropriate to select translations where I don’t know the original – if I did, then I would certainly include William Weaver’s translator of Calvino’s “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller”)


Come dine with writers

I love to watch the show come dine with me ,shown here in the uk it involves four or five in old episodes people going a three course meal and then mark each other ,part the entertainment is the food and the other part is the chat ,well I thought what would be the best writers to do this with ?so I came up with three .

HARUKI MURAKAMI –sure later this year well all be Murakamied out with the challenge running but sure he would be a fascinating dinner guest how his mind work and maybe the chance of Japanese food would be great mix .also his taste in music isn’t half bad as well .

JAMES JOYCE – Joyce like Murarkami is a deep thinker and a complex guy with a wonderful way with words ,but I feel there would be loads of drink on his night as well the black stuff would flow and people relax and maybe eat some of the traditional Irish dishes I grew up eating when on holidays at my grans when young ,like soda bread mmm


winner 2010 sofi oksanen



SOFI OSKANNEN – She looks pretty and I ve never tasted Baltic cooking be interest what she’d make also ,sure she is also a passionate person to chat with that is one of the main things I got from Purge is her passion for the people she wrote about .


what give a book the X FACTOR !

Well call me shallow I ve used the fact it is the X FACTOR final tonight to do a book related post I hate the show it is a meaningless money-making venture for mr Cowell and doesn’t high light real talent which would be writing the songs they sing as a lover of sing /songwriters  a show that focused on that talent and help people establish a realistic career rather than a Warhol  15 mins of fame !

Well to the point what makes the X factor of A book I ve Pick 8 from the last year that on cover and style would make me buy them above others on the shelves .


The books are from top left clockwise –

The Whitsun wedding by Philip Larkin ,I love Larkin this is from Faber’s Poetry first collection the book reminds me a little of a ladybird books from my youth if a little large and with lovely end papers inside .

The last brother by Nathacha Appanah ,Now I think Maclehose always do wonderful covers this cover sums up this book tropical but sorrowful and would always catch my eye on the shelf .

Senselessness by H C Moya ,this is a wonderfully produced book from New directions ,and like last brother catches the spirit of this book a blood soaked report being read during the book .

The thousand autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell ,this is a tactile book ,but evokes its setting Japan also love the fact it goes all round the book so both front and back cover are beautiful wonderful foil detail make it glisten in the light .

Beside the sea by Veonique Olmi ,what more can I say I m a huge fan of all thing Peirene the cover ,font and flaps all perfect make reading these little gems a pleasure .

A year in the woods by Colin Elford ,the simple drawing throughout this book and eye pleasing font size made it a lovely book to read and own .But most of all a gift from my lovely wife made it special to me .

Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher ,I ve yet to get to this but read few Arabic books in summer so will get to this early next year I love the raised effect on this cover making it very tactile in your hand ,this was the arabic booker winner .



Intimate stranger by Breyten Breytenbach ,this is one of the lovely books published by non-profit publisher Archipelago books in the us I ve three from them and will get more next year there books are truly wonderful and quirky square print on heavy paper with unusual cover art .




my bug bear !!!!!

What is one of your literary pet peeves?  Is there something that writers do that really sets your teeth on edge?  Be specific, and give examples if you can.?

WELL that is this weeks Literary Blog Hop question as hosted by the girls at the blue bookcase .

This is my bug bear it is the high-minded attitude of certain People ,Publishers and bloggers to the world of translation ,The people I talking about are what I call the its mine not yours brigade ,the ones that moan at the three percent translated in english from other Languages ,In other global markets the translation of english books account for 50% of the market , in Serbia it is as high as 70% .We should hold our collected heads in shame books in translation aren’t some gold level of book they are just the same as every other book but just from another place ,we need to start think reading a book from here there and everywhere is normal not some form of high thinking !! .It ain’t I m just a normal guy with a basic education ,but a passion for reading ideal target market for publishers really ,only difference is my father is a bookworm and my gran taught english and ran a school ,so I ve had that as my background but hated school when young .anyway drifted of topic when in a recent twitter chat told by a publicist at a large publishers they don’t really bother with translation probably due to the stick it on a pedestal brigade .MY reviews are simple personnel and hopefully make people want to try a work in translation as there not like other that can make it seem like a task to read them ! sorry to go on it really makes my blood boil .and was my main reason to start #translationthurs on twitter to get people talking simply about book in translation lifting the veil and getting people interest for the books not the prestige of reading them .

novella reading weekend

simon over at stuck in books is planning to read novellas over the weekend of 4 and 5th of december .Well I ve decide to join in I ve a number of novellas waiting to be read .

here are some –

Well thats them from top left –

The lover by Margurite Duras ,she was part of the noveau roman movement considered a french classic and was made into a film .

Incidents at the shrine by Ben Okri ,not strictly a novella a coillection of stories but love Okri !

A funny dirty little war by Osvaldo Soriano ,Argentina book set during the Peron era a violent book with a dark humour it says .

Danglin Man by Saul Bellow ,a reread need to put some Bellow on the blog and his debut be a great place to start .

The doctors dilema by George Bernard Shaw a story /play bit lkike bellow need to get Shaw on the blog he is such a important writer and one I think is dwindling in power at moment .

Glory Vladimir Nabokov ,a early book by Nabokov he wrote in Russian originally set just after the Russian revolution ,set in england .

Abba Abba by Anthony Burgess ,a reread belli and Keats meet in rome Burgess imagines the influence Belli may have had if the two meet also includes some of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli poems translated by Burgess .

Summer book ny Tove Jansson ,I read the winter book this summer so the summert book in winter seems a great idea ,loved the winter book and have simon of inside books to thank as we swapped our seasons .

The Pearl by John Steinbeck a fishermans tale about a man that finds a great pearl but it ends in sorrow .

Words by John Paul Sartre ,set in provincial france Sartre reflects on his childhood .and his fathers death .

Good morning ,midnight by Jean Rhys ,set in the 30’s in Paris ,follows a young women as she seeks independence .

The blind owl by Sadeq Hedayat ,Iranian classic full of symbolism and dreams and a little disjointed .

The Ninth wave by Russell Celyn Jones ,this may be left not sure it is the second part of the Mabinogion series modern retelling of the welsh myth this may be left as want use either this or the new books 3 and 4 for the reading the myth challenge .

Notes from the underground by Fydor Dostoyevesky ,russian classic a book about descending into madness .

Hotel du lac by Antia Brookner ,picked this up on a whim it seemed a unlikely booker winner set in a hotel follows a writer visit to hotel near lake Geneva .

Prater Violet by Christopher Isherwood ,a present from Simon at inside books I love isherwood this follows a man working on a film .

thats it I will hope to read atleast four other the weekend .Any one else joining in ?

do you have a favourite novella ?




Literary blog hop -is there such a thing as literary non fiction ?

Well what a great question and here at winstonsdad the answers is of course yes ,how do you define literary non  fiction now that is a little harder I would think because it can really be books from  any form of non fiction .The best i feel range from the english travelogues of Patrick leigh fermor ,Eric Newby and Bruce Chatein ,through to theprose style pieces of Slavenka Drakulic and Andrzej stasiuk with there writings on eatern europe .

But to sum up in one book the best it would have to be Joseph Mitchells up in the old hotel ,which I have rob of robaroundbooks to thank for .Mitchell was a wtiter for the new yorker who wrote wonderful prose on the underbelly of america from the thirties to the early nineties his portrayal of the characters and events he cane across in the less well known parts of new York and America are a fitting testament to his talent to draw the reader in .

Is there ageism in literature ?

Over weekend reading the various reviews of Gunter Grass new novel/autobiography .I was struck by how often Grass age was mentioned and the fact the work was weak due to age ,over the years I ve seen this time and time again ,Jackie at farm lane books did a post about relating to writers age earlier this year .Know on whole I don’t look at  writers age ,although have notice some books by younger writers appeal to me less than they would have done ten years ago .so if your a writer in your 80’s does it mean your book is not going to be good as the book you wrote in your forties ? If you believe the reviewers then it is not going to be ,last year I read a great debut by the writer of Mr Magoo ,his debut novel Bowl of cherries by Millard Kaufman when he was 86 a wonderfully wacky and funny novel .so does age matter ?


The other day on twitter a German twitter friend Nachdufter (Tati) ask what I was reading I said Cat and mouse ,she  said she had a problem with grass and like his book ,but not the man so much .So a quick question on twitter last night and some great replies from Rachel and John brought up Marquez because of his views is unpopular in some latin american communities .Evelyn Waugh well he was a very strong and opinionated character .Dickens due to his disregard in real life to the poor and Nietzsche  who’s beyond good and evil I read but has had connections with fascism ,mainly to his sister promoting his book as a right-wing work .Now another I can think I ve read is Aleister Crowley whose novel the diary of a drug fiend  I read many years ago he was called the great beast and dabbled in the occult   .


To scribble or not to scrbble ,that is the question

Now I m in two minds having been against writing in the margins as I read a book ,and prefer taking notes in my note-book .But sometimes forget my  notebook or don’t note down a thought straight away I wonder if a pencil and notes in margins as I go is best .As I think back on  a book for review I sometimes have thought I need more notes ,so do I take this step and change habit of lifetime not writing in a book ?

What do you do ?

How do you keep track of thoughts as you read ?

Note don Quixote post tomorrow as I didn’t finish reading it til 2 in the morning this morning

2011 100years of tolstoy ,lets have a war and peace readalong to celebrate

Now 2010-1 is Tolstoy’s centenary year he died in november 1910 ,so I ve enjoyed doing my summer Don Quixote read along I want to do a war and peace read along at start 2011 last 20 weekes I d say ,I m think of using the New ,well out in October Oxford World Classic centenary tie in updated version of the definitive translation by Louise and Amy Mandelker .Now like Don Quixote this has been one I ve started a few times but never got more than couple of hunderd pages in ,now with a nice new edition and a confidence in doing a read along I want to ,this book is the masterpiece of russian literature and I know I should have read it already and always feel a pang in my heart that I haven ‘t so if you want to join in let me know and we can wrestle through the Napoleonic wars with the Rostov’s and Bolkonskys together in the winter of 2011 guys and gals.The new edition is available in both hard and Paperback hopefully in october see here

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