INTERVIEWS WITH AUTHORS AND TRANSLATORS
(Last Updated: 23 December 2007)
With the exception of Enid Blyton herself, I believe that all the authors and translators featured in the Whoís Who and other parts of this Web site are very much alive and kicking. So what I would like to do, if itís at all possible, is talk to some of them and learn more about their experiences of writing and/or translating Enid Blyton continuation novels. Provided they are willing, I will then post their interviews in this section. I think everyone would be a winner here. The writers would benefit from the exposure, and readers of this Web site would undoubtedly gain some valuable insights. Of course, a number of author donít speak English, but Iím happy to conduct interviews in French or German. In the case of a foreign-language interview, I would post the interview in both the original language and English (the latter would be my translation of the interview).
If you are one of the authors and translators featured on this site, and would like me to interview you, please send an e-mail to me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To give you some idea of what an interview might be like, I hereby present one that I recently conducted with myself. It was hard-hitting, I can tell you! ;-)
Q. So, Rowan, how did you come to get involved in translating Enid Blyton continuation novels?
A. Well, Rowan, I have enjoyed the writings of Enid Blyton from quite a young age, but especially her mystery/adventure series like the Famous Five and Secret Seven. But I also quite enjoyed the continuation novels by Claude Voilier and Evelyne Lallemand, which were translated by Anthea Bell in the 1980s. So when I found out a year or so ago that not all of those books had been translated into English, it intrigued me. I thus bought some of the untranslated books, read one (Les Cinq et le rubis díAkbar) and thought it might be fun to translate it. And so, in September 2006, I made a start on it. I finished it in December 2007, and now I hope to do more titles and perhaps eventually complete the Voilier and Lallemand series in English.
Q. Did you have any prior experience of literary translation before starting this project?
A. Um, well actually, none whatsoever. I am a translator by profession, and have been since 1997, but to date I have only done commercial translation work (thrilling stuff like instruction manuals and medical articles, but at least it helps pay the bills!). Les Cinq et le rubis díAkbar has been my first serious literary translation project.
Q. So how do you find that this project compares to the commercial translation work you have done?
A. Itís certainly a lot more fun! But I wouldnít say itís especially easy. In a commercial translation, accuracy is paramount. If you, for instance, screw up an important safety instruction in a manual, it wonít matter how beautifully you worded it if someone gets injured or even dies as a result. Style still matters in a commercial translation (especially in a piece of advertising copy, which is not far removed from literary translation) but is less vital than accuracy. In literary translation on the other hand, style is absolutely crucial, and dead-on accuracy is not quite so important. This is not to say that faithfulness to the source text doesnít matter, but with a literary translation, you can take more liberties than would be possible with most commercial texts. (Indeed, some translators take a lot of liberties, but thatís another story.) When I first embarked on the translation of Les Cinq et le rubis díAkbar, I had a little trouble adjusting. I focussed too much on accuracy and the style suffered as a result. I got too hung up on trying to translate every word. But as I have continued on and gained more experience, I have found my ďgrooveĒ, with the result that the translation now reads reasonably well, but without drifting too far from the French text. Now I take more liberties to transform the text into proper English prose and concentrate a lot more on getting the style right. But I still try to be as faithful to the original text as reasonably possible.
Q. What sorts of challenges does the text of Les Cinq et le rubis díAkbar pose?
A. More than you might initially suppose. On one hand, itís a fairly simple childrenís story, narrated in an orthodox style and without too much in the way of complicated plot layering, use of odd linguistic devices and so forth. Indeed, at first glance you might be tempted to think itís something any idiot could do. But when you delve a little deeper, the complexity of the task before you becomes apparent. For one thing, youíre not just dealing with one author, but two. There is Claude Voilier, who wrote the text, but there is also Enid Blyton, who created the Famous Five in the first place, and whose original versions had a certain style. Anthea Bell emulated the Blyton style to some extent in her translations of Voilier and Evelyne Lallemandís work, and Iím trying to do the same. Another tricky thing is that youíre dealing with the French ďtakeĒ on the Famous Five. When the FF books were originally translated into French, the translators changed not only the childrenís names, but their nationality. They became French children, Kirrin became Kernach on the Brittany coast, and so on. Of course, Claude Voilierís new books carry this on, so you sometimes get odd passages that mention that the children can speak English fluently, which canít be translated literally, as it would look rather absurd. You need to transform them back into the quintessentially English characters that Blyton created, and any other French characters and scenes need to be made British again. Then, in Les Cinq et le rubis díAkbar, the Five go to India (the whole book is set in India, as a matter of fact). So there are Indian cultural considerations to take into account as well. All in all, itís rather a tricky juggling act!
Q. How far along are you with the translation, and when do you think you might finish it?
A. I pretty well finished it at the end of October, but have only now finalised the last two chapters.† My goal had been to finish it by the end of 2007, and I have achieved that. Actually, another challenge I should mention is that I am working from a hardback edition, and the French hardback editions of Voilierís Famous Five books donít have any chapters. But all the existing English translations do, and I assume that hardbacks were used for those as well, because I donít think that the paperback editions with chapters came out until the 1990s. So either Anthea Bell or her editor must have had to work out chapter divisions in much the same way that I have done with my own translation. OK, back to the question. Ideally, I would have liked to finish the whole thing by the end of September, because I started at the end of last September. However, it didnít quite work out that way, as commercial translation work got a bit too much in the way. Right now, literary translation is something I can only afford to do in my spare time. When commercial translation work (that I actually get paid for) comes in, that has to take top priority. Lately, Iíve had a great deal of paid work, so I unfortunately had to set the Voilier translation aside more often and for longer than I would have liked. If Iíd actually chosen to work on it full time, I probably could have wrapped it up in a couple of months. But anyway, itís done now
Q. Well done on finishing it! But now what?
A. Unfortunately, I probably wonít be able to publish it, because Chorion, who owns all Enid Blyton rights including translation rights, donít want to make the translation rights available for titles by the likes of Voilier, Lallemand, etc. Not even self-publication would be feasible, because that would probably be seen as piracy, and I want nothing to do with that. But I will continue to make it available to the members of the Fans of Enid Blyton Yahoo group, and Iíll also look into other ways that I might be able to publish it online legally, albeit to a limited audience. Actually, you can now read the entire first chapter online, right here on this Web site! But I darenít publish any more than that at the moment. In addition to the Voilier translation, I am working on translating one of the German Three Investigators books, so I will continue on with that. But Iím still planning to tackle another Blyton continuation novel. This time though, I might have a crack at one of the three Secret Seven titles by Evelyne Lallemand that havenít previously been translated.
Q. Thank you for participating in this interview, Rowan. You really are a splendid fellow.
A. Oh I know (and Iím modest too!). It was my pleasure. Always happy to talk with you, Rowan. ;-)
Although I was having a bit of fun there, I hope that my ďanswersĒ were nonetheless informative and interesting, and it is my hope that any interviews I conduct with other authors and translators will be just as enlightening and provide useful insights.