Welcome back to our Geatest Women in Translation interview series!
This month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Ardizzone (nominated by Sophie Lewis), French to English literary translator.
1. One of your translations worth noting here is the graphic novel Alpha, the story of a migrant desperately searching for his family (by Bessora, illustrated by Barroux). In this interview you gave to Authors Live, you say that in your career as a translator, this is the one book you were adamant had to be published, so you were very proactive in going to publishers to publish it. Why is that?
Because it tells the most pressing story of our times: that of human migration. Equally, a graphic diary penned by a fictional migrant, who embarks on a cruel odyssey from Ivory Coast to France, and aimed at everyone, from YA (young adult) readers to the grown-up literary market to Amnesty supporters, wasn’t the easiest sell: so I had to work hard to find the right publisher. Barrington Stoke proved just that publisher. They fell in love with Alpha when we ran a Spectacular Translation Machine event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 2015. Which brings me to your next question…
2. Another of your translations worth noting is another graphic novel, Line of Fire. The original book in French originated “a groundbreaking new translation event” called the Spectacular Translation Machine. What was the event about and how was you experience with it?
Together with co-curator Daniel Hahn, and with the support of the British Centre for Literary Translation, we created the Spectacular Translation Machine at the Southbank Centre for the London Literature Festival 2013. The idea was simple: invite the general public to translate an entire book, as a collaborative and creative endeavour, across a couple of weekends. What better way of re-discovering and celebrating what it is that we think we do when we translate? Around the room, as if at an art gallery, we hung the images from Line of Fire (a graphic diary created by Barroux, who discovered in a skip the real handwritten diary of an unknown First World War French soldier). The public was invited to choose a picture to translate, before receiving the text that accompanied it – together with expert help on hand should they need support or want to talk ideas through. One picture alone received 17 translations… Most of all, people took the time to sit and weigh words with each other, to talk about why they made the subtle and nuanced choices they did, to solicit each other on how they could express a voice more ‘authentically’ or push a turn of phrase further or produce something fresh while avoiding infelicities or anachronisms…
3. What are the challenges and what is so fascinating about translating graphic novels, in your opinion?
Translating graphic novels can be very liberating, because the text tends to be stripped right down to the essentials. It can also mark a shift from more verbose and sometimes ‘fanciful’ literary translation to what you might call ‘urgent quality translation’. There are all sorts of other issues that come into play too, because I’m obeying two masters (pictures as well as words) whose creators in the case of Alpha both have one-name monikers beginning with B! Alpha is a fictional character but it’s an Everyman story, and as a translator that puts the wind in my sail.
4. Your real translation journey began with the translation of Daniel Pennac’s The Rights of the Reader. Can you describe your experience to us?
Well, Daniel Pennac is a master storyteller and thinker – so that’s a challenge in itself, in terms of conveying his originality into the English language. The way he expresses his ideas is so unique and so characterfully voiced that it’s as if he’s pushing the French language beyond its limits – there should be an adjective for it: Pennacian. With The Rights of the Reader he goes to the heart of why we are naturally beguiled by stories, when we are first told them, and why the education system risks making us fall out of love with them as readers. Trying to communicate Pennac’s ideas in English led to some of the most memorable editorial sessions I’ve ever experienced at my publishers, Walker Books.
5. You co-founded Translators in Schools, “a professional development programme to widen the pool of translators and teachers with the skills to run creative translation workshops in schools.” Could you tell us briefly how it works, your current role in it and your experience so far?
I co-curate the programmes we run, in partnership with the Stephen Spender Trust. Recently, we held The Big Translate which was due to take place at the Southbank Centre but, due to recent tragic events in London, took place instead at Heathbrook Primary School – this was supported by King’s Cultural Institute. We are also running a Creative Translation in the Classroom programme, supported by the Rothschild Foundation; following a CPD day, four translators and teachers have now been paired to collaborate on piloting original approaches to translation in the classroom.
6. You are a judge and translation advisor of the In Other Words initiative, by BookTrust, “a new project to promote the translation and UK publication of outstanding children’s literature from around the world.” How are books shortlisted for the initiative, i.e. on what basis are they chosen to be translated?
We’re looking for exceptional children’s fiction for children aged 6 to 12 that has not yet been published in the English language. This year, we’re open to untranslated classics still within copyright as well as recent titles, and we welcome books written by authors of all backgrounds. The deadline for entries is 16th August – so please help spread the word. How do we choose which titles get shortlisted and have 10,000-word extracts translated? That’s the eye-opening bit, as well as the hard-graft. We work through 400 odd submissions, and consider which compelling stories, excellent writing and original, timeless or previously unheard voices stand out.
7. Now it is your turn. Who do you nominate to be our next interviewee?