Monday, 5 August 2013

My Spanish Summer School and its Challenges

As BCLT intern since January, I’ve had the opportunity to do some really great things that I couldn’t have done otherwise – making posters for the International Literature Reading Group, interviewing Pushkin Press, going to the London Book Fair, and, most exciting of all, attending this year’s Summer School. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect apart from, of course, a bit of translation. And, it turns out, a bit of translation was what we did, along with a bit of editing, a bit of reading aloud, a bit of running around printing (for me anyway) and a lot of laughing. I was in the Spanish group with author Javier Montes and workshop leader, Anne Mclean.

We had two texts to work on, one which we translated in advance and one which we launched into on day one. The text we worked on together, an extract from Javier’s second novel, Segunda Parte, was quite difficult in Spanish and very funny – we wanted to keep the humour and Javier wanted to keep the difficulty. One phrase gave us a big challenge but also a lot of amusement. The Spanish text involves a father reassuring his son that his boyfriend, who has disappeared without a word, is bound to be ok. The father is rather absent-minded but takes time out from this character trait to speak to his son with clarity. The Spanish text has it as ‘aquella tenía aspect de ser una de las sacudidas imprevistas de su despiste’ [that had the aspect of being one of the unexpected jolts from his absent-mindedness]. We didn’t much like ‘absent-mindedness’ and a lot of debate ensued. For a while we had ‘jolted out of his abstraction’ (a bit formal), then ‘jolted out of his daydreams’ (not quite right), ‘jolted out of his own world’ (popular but still not quite right), ‘back from being away with the fairies’ (Javier threatened to walk out). Things went rapidly downhill after this as the debate digressed onto how shrews are related to elephants. In Spanish, ‘pensando en las musarañas’ means to be daydreaming but literally ‘to be thinking of shrews’. Much google image searching ensued on how some shrews have long noses like trunks , followed by much cooing over how cute they were. We ended up with ‘shrugged off his absent-minded façade’ (all happy).

Another challenge was the word ‘cursi’ which, in Spanish, means a lot of different things all at once: tacky, corny, snooty, pretentious, affected, kitch, la-di-da.  To make matters worse the specific word in question wasn’t actually ‘cursi’ but ‘cursilería’, a noun not an adjective. The father says that he hates hearing ‘about the tacky/the tackiness of/some snooty git mention’ the Cinque Terre. We went round and round in circles with many solutions that were too blue to replicate. We wanted a word/phrase that conveyed the pretentiousness of mentioning a holiday destination which marks you as part of a certain set. In the end we went for ‘tacky waffle’ to explain the idea of someone going on and on about something which bores you to death but which they think makes them sound good.

On the Thursday we were joined by editor Ted Hodgkinson which was a very interesting experience, especially seeing as Javier was not used to being edited, and this text had not gone through that process the first time around.  By this point in the week we all knew the text back to front and it was great to have someone else come in to read it to point out the parts where it didn’t really work. A lot of punctuation needed to be changed and, taking advantage of Javier’s absence later in the day, we changed it! A change we tried to make light of in our presentation with ‘live-action’ representations of brackets and dashes which went horribly wrong – one phrase was opened with a bracket and closed with a dash.

That text being finished, we moved on to look at the other excerpt, from Los penúltimos, which we had all translated in advance. You might assume that already having different options written down would make the process quicker but you’d be wrong! It almost made it harder because there were too many options to choose from. For example, in the story a girl is snooping around a boy’s house, she opens a fridge and sees some carrots ‘de poco fiar’, the translations for this were: unsavoury carrots, untrustworthy carrots, dodgy carrots, dubious carrots and questionable carrots. It’s not just that the carrots might be going off but that they might not tell her what she wants to know (she’s examining the fridge to find information on the boy – queue anthropomorphized fruit and veg). In the end the carrots were dodgy. We also had trouble with a pun involving bananas. In Spanish the orange in the fridge was very orange (pun kept as in both languages the word is the fruit and the colour) and the banana was so weary - a banana is a ‘plátano’ and weary is ‘aplatanado’. In English, ‘banana’ is not a word that gives itself easily to punning. First we had a banana which was so bananas (opposite to weariness), then we had a banana that was banana-y (not a pun), then a banana that was banackered or abanandoned (hilarious but no). We had to decide which was more important – the pun or the meaning. If it was the pun then we could choose any fruit and any adjective: melons being melancholy, blueberries being blue, peaches being peachy or cherrys being cheery. If it was the meaning then the banana could be very banana-like to match the orange orange. We went for the banana being so bananaesque.

In the end though, it wasn’t the collaborative translation that mattered the most (though everybody’s texts were amazing – the full texts will go up here). For me it was the process of looking closely at the text, hearing from the author themselves what the text really means and about the nuances that I’d never noticed and seeing other people’s solutions which was so helpful. I would recommend the Summer School to anyone who is looking to be a literary translator, or if you can’t make it/they don’t have your language, I’d also recommend the free plenary sessions, they were extremely enlightening on how to become a translator, how authors feel about being translated, what the editing process involves and what support mechanisms are out there.  It’s amazing to be surrounded by people who share your passion and are perhaps in the same position as you, and above all, it’s really really fun!


Emily Rose translates from French and Spanish into English and is currently writing her dissertation on the translation of gender in a 17th century French text. Contact her

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