Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Chat: Lost in Translation

By Mathilde Madden

It's a strange experience: holding a book in your hands that has your name on the cover. And not being able to read a word of it.

My first ever foreign rights sale was a Norwegian version of Peep Show. After I had got over how non-plussed I was with the cover. (A woman in lingerie! For a book about a woman who spies on gay men having sex? Huh?) And the title:! *Peh!* I started wondering about the inside.

I mean - my words. I know how precious this sounds - but my words! My lovely, lovely words. Um, I'll stop that now.

Peep Show's written in first person present. Super tight point of view and a very quirky voice. I just wanted to know if my translator had done that too. How had this come across:

I pull open the front door and hurl myself out into the vicious cold of the arctic cul-de-sac. Making giant cartoonish stampy steps to keep my feet warm, I head down the slope to the main road and lean against the bus shelter.

It’s not long before our Ford Focus rounds the corner and slides to a halt beside me. And, feeling just like Kate Winslet must have done when that lifeboat came back for her (except for the dead Leonardo bit), I open the passenger door and tumble into a comforting womb-like fug of blasting heat and blasting Joy Division.

Or this:

Christian finally rolls in at 3am. I’m so sozzled by this time I’m totally recumbent. With a whoop of greeting that betrays the fact that he has also had more than a drink or two, Christian takes a flying leap from the doorway onto sofa and my prostrate form. Luckily I’m merry enough to be more or less anaesthetised to the floor shaking impact of his misjudged belly-flop.

Lying full length on top of me, he observes me for a sec, in super close up, no doubt clocking my bleary eyes and wobbly movements.

‘Baby,’ he says, his voice kind of soft-loud, which is Christian’s pathetic version of a whisper, rendered even less like one by his own alcohol consumption. ‘Baby, are you pissed?’

‘Bit, maybe.’ I say. And Christian goggles, understandably, because I don’t really drink. I have my vices and alcohol just isn’t one of them. Control freaks like me don’t like to drink. Well, except when they have to ask their boyfriend to pretend to be them in some kind of homoerotic tragi-farce. Which, frankly, is the very definition of exceptional circumstances.

Christian leans in and pops a beery kiss on my lips. Normally I hate the taste of beer on his breath, but a few drinks always make me horny, and so I stretch up as he retreats from the kiss, and catch his mouth a full on lusty smacker. Then, somehow, the frantic snogging that quickly ensues, causes Christian to fall completely off the sofa, taking me with him, and next moment we are rolling around on the floor, all panting hot breath and fabric tugging hands.

It’s not a shag really. It’s more of a clumsy clothing-shedding fumble, which turns into penetration through sheer fluke. And it ends, with Christian collapsing, unsated on top of me laughing and spluttering, ‘I can’t. It’s going soft.’ It’s possibly the worst wannabe-fuck that Christian and I have ever perpetrated together.

So we abort and in our drunken states we roll into bed. Alarms are not set. Clothes (the ones that survived the shag, at least) are not properly removed. Huge, reviving glasses of water are not drunk. And hangovers develop nicely.

There's really no way of knowing. The only Norwegian in my world is the practice nurse at my local medical centre - and I just wouldn't know how to begin to ask.


So, having your work translated, tell me, and exciting yet strangely frustrating experience? And if you're a reader, tell me am I a crazy bitch, what kind of writing language does it for you?

I'm listening
Mat x


Madelynne Ellis said...

I think translations are cool, but I do agree that holding a book you wrote and not being able to read it is strange.

So far I've made it into Norwegian and German. Mr Madelynne reads German and informs me that the translation is pretty good and manages to maintain the feel of the original text. I just have to content myself with looking at the covers. The German one is a rather lovely male torso.

Janine Ashbless said...

I had a couple of short stories translated into German, but I never saw the book (just the cash). I did receive the Japanese translation of Divine Torment, and loved the cover so much I used the illustration as the landing strip for my website. The Japanese book is slimmer than the original but I guess that's because a pictographic language is more efficient in terms of space.
I'd be interested in how the phonetic transliterations of words stood up. What does "Veraine" sound like in Japanese?

kristina lloyd said...

I love translations. I was thrilled with the Japanese version of Asking for Trouble - it's all backwards and full of squiggles and even though it's a paperback, it has a dustjacket (see top pic). Really gorgeous. Also, all the chapters have been given titles (I just numbered them in the original) and I'd love to know what they are.

In Dutch, Asking for Trouble became Vurig Verlangen - or 'Enthusiastic Desiring' according to Babel Fish. In the story, 'cuttlefish' is a sort of safeword the characters have which becomes 'Inktvis' in translation. According to Babel Fish, that means octopus. I really hope that's wrong.

Madelynne, I'm jealous of your torso. I've just got tits and arse.

Nice excerpt, Mat. 'Lusty smacker' - heck, that could go very wrong in translation.

Erastes said...

It must be great to be translated, I have yet to break that barrier but it must be an odd feeling!

Olivia Knight said...

I'm rather hoping I'll be translated into French, so I can expand my vocabulary by reading something where I already know exactly what it says. I suspect the French don't need to import their erotica, though. I do recommend reading erotica as a way to learn a foreign language - suddenly, the prepositions really really matter! I remember reading snippets of Histoire d'O (The Story of O, in which, naturally, I take a proprietary interest, being O) and reaching frantically for a dictionary to answer that eternal question: he put what, where?

So far my preciousness about my words (My words! My beloved words!) has only been challenged by editors, but I usually browbeat them into submission. So as I haven't yet been translated, all I can offer you are these potential snippets:

"Ja, Ja, das is goed, ja!" (Any given German text)

"Il a mis son sauccisson dans sa petite chatte -
'Oui, Oui,' ella a cri -
So he did.

Jeremy Edwards said...

Great topic! It's fascinating reading about your various adventures (both real and imagined) in this area—though, yes, it's painful contemplating all that could go wrong.

Someday, I'm hoping to have some of my work translated into pig latin.

Madeline Moore said...

I've not been translated but I think it would be great. I'm all for getting paid without doing anyrhing.
Felix has been translated into a few other languages. Recently we receied copies of 'Dominant' with a new cover. it wasn't until we cracked the book that we realized it was a German edition. The word 'Dominant' is spelled exactly the same in English and German. The cover shows a woman in black vinyl whipping another woman in black vinyl. That would bother me, because it doesn't happen in the novel, but Felix doesn't care. More ka-ching! (The universal word for MONEY.)

Alison Tyler said...

Crazy bitch, I love it. Foreign translations are so exciting—I adore seeing the different takes on the covers, and I don't really mind not being able to understand what the words are anymore. I like imagining sexy foreigners reading the books in bed. Or in the bath. Which is where I read my favorite sexy books.


sm said...

Hey Lusties,

Interesting post, MM.
I've been lucky enough to have my plays translated several times. I even got to see an Italian translation of my cannibal-themed play, Leftovers.

It fucking rocked.

Even though I don't understand Italian, I was still able to follow the general major beats of the play and get a feel from the audience that it worked.


Deanna Ashford said...

I've had two of my books translated into German, and one into Swedish. Nothing in Japanese, however.

It is very strange holding a book you've written and not being able to understand the title, let alone the text. I don't speak German, just French, rather badly, and a smattering of Spanish but at least one German title was vaguely understandable as it was 'Die Privatklinik', and Doctor's Orders was about a private hospital.

Just out of interest does anyone know how many different languages Black Lace titles have been translated into?

Sabrina Luna said...

No translations here, yet, either. However, I'm so happy for you & PEEP SHOW --one of my favorite BL titles! Congrats! ;)

Big Hugs,
S )O(

Kate Pearce said...

Blogger ate my comment!
Great excerpt Madeline!
I've never had anything translated yet-maybe Cowboys aren't that big in Europe:)
But I do occasionally hear from a US fan who tells me that my books are great but really badly edited. I have to explain that they are published by an English publisher using English grammar and punctuation-for a book set in the USA...

Janine Ashbless said...

"Britain and America: two nations divided by a common language"

t'Sade said...

There is something about holding a book and wanting to read it, despite not knowing the language. A hunger as you look at words you don't know, hoping that maybe one or two will filter through your memories.

I love my Japanese copy of Divine Torment. It is an absolutely lovely book and I adore the two Japanese writing systems inside it. Lovely, lovely.

Marinca said...

Something from the other side of the fence - I'm a translator (among other things), bilingual, Dutch-English and vice versa. Playing around with words to see what fits best makes it worthwhile for me. I haven't had the honour of translating a BL book, but I'd happily sacrifice nights to find the words that hit the spot just right.

By the way, Ms. Lloyd, I think I can put some of your Dutch translation worries to rest - I loved Asking for Trouble, and Vurig Verlangen actually translates into Fiery Desire - it sounds good in Dutch, slightly more generic than the English title, but it conjures a strong image, flames and deep, all-encompassing longing.

The translation of cuttlefish as "inktvis" is also more accurate than it seems - Dutch doesn't have more specific words for the different kinds of sea animals that have ink, as the cuttlefish does, so those animals are all referred to as "inktvis" - literally, ink fish. The word conjures a mysterious deep sea creature with overtones of the written word - so not too bad, all in all!

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

I was thrilled when Cat Scratch Fever was translated into German (as Scharfe Krallen, which Babelfish translates back asSharp Claws . Can't read a word of it, of course, but it was still exciting!

limecello said...

As a reader... I can only read English. I took Latin in HS - and that didn't help much. College, Chinese- but that's an insanely difficult language. My parents always make fun of me for being illiterate. [I can speak it fluently.] Also, I only can read some traditional Chinese, and pretty much no simplified. I'd love to see a book in Chinese, but it'd just be way too frustrating.

Savanna Kougar said...

I think it would be a mixed blessing to have a book translated. Absolute frustration at not being able to read it, but hoping it is being enjoyed.
Although, I would luv to one of my novels translated into French. Would it sound sexier?

kristina lloyd said...

Marinca, thank you so much! Your explanation is poetry and inkfish is now my new favourite word.

Thanks too for the kind words on Asking for Trouble. Much appreciated.