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secrets of a translator: seawigs in dutch!

Oxford University Press has been busy selling foreign rights to Oliver and the Seawigs so our book can come out in lots of different languages (Japanese, French, German, Turkish, American(!) and possibly a few more). I've had books published before in other languages, but usually I just get a copy of the book and that's all I ever hear about it. This is the first time I've had interaction with one of the foreign publishers - Dutch publisher Veltman Uitgevers - and they've been wonderfully enthusiastic! My first contact was with the translator, Sandra Hessels (@creativedifrnce on Twitter). Who also, very relevantly, just happens to be a mermaid:



Fortunately my illustrations translate very well into Dutch, but you don't usually hear much about the translator, and SO much about the Dutch reading experience will depend on her skill. Don't forget that page near the front with the tiny words on it... ah, there's Sandra!



This whole foreign rights thing started when we went with the OUP gang to the Bologna Children's Book Fair (in full costume!) and you can read about that in this earlier blog post.



So what was it like to translate Oliver and the Seawigs? And how does this whole translation thing work? Sandra kindly let me interview her from London:

Sarah: What were some of your favourite parts of translating Oliver and the Seawigs? Favourite words or phrases?

Sandra: Well, Oliver and the Seawigs was my first title for a younger audience than the YA-novels I’m used to translating, so that in itself made it a lot of fun. It contains a lot of humour that needs some finesse. Also knowing that this would be the kind of book my kid would read in a few years’ time made it extra rewarding. I love having to come up with funny names, and I’m still quite proud of Dominique van Tastique for your very own Stacey de Lacey.

I think you already know the one bit that is my absolute favourite: “your boat’s gone all flop”. That made me laugh so hard – I could just see that deflated, sad little thing on the beach. (Sadly, my version, which came down to “your boat is all bleh” was edited into the equivalent of “flat”.)



I LOVE Dominique van Tastique! What were the most tricky bits to translate in the book?

I can’t exactly remember the specific words, but it’s always the ones that you hardly notice when just reading a book. A certain term that carries more meaning in English than a literal translation in Dutch would or that has several partial matches only and none are ‘quite right’. Specific jokes that almost certainly get lost in translation. Or those lovely typical words that you just know the meaning of (you can see it in its natural habitat and hear it speak), and still that one translation that feels right won’t pop up in your head until you’ve squirmed for half an hour.

I also pondered over Thrumcap and Dimsey for quite a while. Wondering if there was a literal meaning or whether I should choose something that sounded alike or just something that had some meaning to Dutch readers. Did you know there is a Little Thrumcap in Nova Scotia and/or Maine? And that ‘thrum’ can refer to something that’s done rather monotonously but as a noun can be bits of rope? And cap could refer to the wig, of course, so you won’t know until you dig deeper. Or tweet (once the publisher says that’s okay).



You seem to get some creative license in renaming the characters. What are their new names and how did you choose them?

In this case, the publisher had already decided that Oliver Crisp would become Olivier Vlot (meaning both ‘quick’ (adj.) and ‘raft’ (noun)). Iris didn’t have to change. In all other cases, I read the book, make a list of names and offer as many suggestions as I can come up with, based either on etymology (whenever that’s actually applicable), sound/meaning (Culpeper was chosen for its fiery character, hence the ‘pepper’ survived) or humour (Stacey’s new last name), and usually a mix of these.

Then the agency I work with will go over these suggestions with the publisher and sometimes the original publisher to decide which one they like best (or come up with a different suggestion). Some examples:
The Hallowed Shallows are de Diepzinnige Ondiepte (the deep undeep, ‘deep’ having a double meaning, so to speak)
Mr Culpeper is meneer van Peperstraten (Pepperstreet, if you want it literally, but this is a common enough surname)
Thrumcap is Tessel (which is how you pronounce Texel, our own biggest island)
Dimsey is Dimsie (sounds exactly the same as the English name)
Thurlstone is Dondersteen (a double meaning – thunder stone / rascal)
St Porrocks is St Juttemis (our version of the day pigs can fly)



What's your first language, and how many languages do you speak?

I’m a native Dutch speaker and a near-native English speaker (thanks to a love for the language, reading, university and of course television, haha). At my grammar school I also took German, French, Latin and Greek. Yup. Did a course in Irish once at university, too, since I get to brag. But my German has ebbed away (in spite of being fifty per cent Austrian, but that’s a dialect and so not the same) and my French is more than rusty. The others were never more than passive to begin with.

I'd say that's pretty impressive, all the same! Other than Oliver and the Seawigs, what's the most fun or exciting thing you've ever translated?

This is where the gushing starts: I love my job and I’ve been extremely fortunate to absolutely love almost all of the books I’ve done so far. I started by translating pockets in the Charmed-series (those three sister witches from the telly, a show that I really loved!), so those will always be special. I love certain innovative and cleverly written Young Adult novels (the Mara Dyer series, for instance) I get to work on. And fairly recently, I’ve been given Oliver and now also two other comic translations, from two dear colleagues of yours...

Ah yes, Monster and Chips by David O'Connell and John Dougherty's Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face!

...that are just so very different from what I’ve done before. They have a wholly different style and sense of humour, for a different audience, which makes them almost an entirely different ballgame that’s exciting and fun in its very own ways. Especially since I know I’ll read these to my son as soon as he is old enough.


Our Seawigs editor, Saskia Kalter at Veltman Uitgevers. Saskia was the one who commissioned the Seawigs activity sheets from me!

What's a standard working day like for you? Do you have a standard working day?

It’s standard in that I work whenever my son is asleep – so I’m completely at his mercy (he’s two and a half now). I started translating as a freelancer in 2012, after quitting my then day job at a magazine publisher’s so that I could work from home and be with my son, which is absolutely a great combination. A bit of a time crunch now and then, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Some excellent words from meneer Riddell

Do you have an interesting top tip or two for other people who are thinking of going into translation as a profession?

Read, read, read. In the language you want to translate from and into. Get a relevant education – I studied English, not translation – and background (work experience), even if that means starting out just translating a friend’s website or a brochure for a merchant down the street.



Thanks so much, Sandra! And to Saskia and all of the Dutch team! If you have any questions for Sandra, you can find out more from her website, and chat with her over on Twitter. And you can order the Dutch version of the book through the Veltman Uitgevers website.

Edit: 30 Sept is International Translation Day! Read more about translation in this Huffington Post article: 10 Ways Translation Shapes your Life.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Sep. 29th, 2013 04:24 pm (UTC)
Brilliant to read this - and very funny too, coming at it with a knowledge of Dutch. Very glad to have discovered Sandra via you,sarah, I shall be keeping an eye out for her now!

I did wonder about the quote from Riddell - won't they be getting quotes from notables in the Dutch children's literature scene? It just struck me as a bit odd (though understandable) that next to Chris' name there is an explanation about who he is ( " a successfull British children's author") - surely with quotes you want to persuade the audience that the book is brilliant, and with quotes a lot of that comes from the authority of the person making the quote. So whilst Riddell's quote works brilliantly for UK fans, if you have to explain who Riddell is, wouldn't it be better to get a well loved Dutch author (or blogger eg http://mevrouwkinderboek.nl/) of MG books to give a quote? Not a criticism at all, - just an observation.
jabberworks
Sep. 29th, 2013 04:50 pm (UTC)
Hi, Zoe! That's an interesting point! I don't know if Chris's books are popular yet in the Netherlands, but it would make sense to have a Dutch big name recommending the book. Perhaps it's not easy to get a good quotation right away if the Dutch author doesn't know me; I'm friends with Chris, so he was probably more predisposed to agree to read the book. (Although I can't imagine he'd give me a good quote unless he liked it.)

Getting a book quotation is an interesting thing in itself. I was asked awhile back by an author to provide a quote for a back cover, and when the publisher sent me a review copy, I read the book very carefully, took notes, and gave what I thought were good quotations. But I never heard anything from the publisher or the author again, and the quote never appeared. That made me quite sad, as I'd spent quite a lot of time to get it right! I didn't know the author at all, and he didn't know me, so maybe it wasn't as important to him that the quote appear anywhere. But the experience made me more inclined to save my time for writing comments about friends' books I like, and not bother with books by people I've never heard of. (I can always review them later, on my own blog, if I really like them.) That might be a common experience.
fjm
Oct. 6th, 2013 09:03 am (UTC)
That's a peep board!

I am really, really keen to get hold of some peep boards. Who made it? Where is it? Who do I beg?

Farah
jabberworks
Dec. 18th, 2013 12:57 pm (UTC)
Oh! What is a peep board?
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )