News and views
Being Dad - Common ground amongst disparate writers.
Lander Hawes is a father and writer based in Norwich, and is a regular attendee of WCN workshops and events. He is published by Unthank Books, and has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. Here, he explains the process of being involved in an anthology about fatherhood, that pulled together writers of disparate styles who all share one special thing - fatherhood...
The starting point for the Being Dad: Short Stories about Fatherhood anthology was the editor, Dan Coxon, realising the degree to which his short story writing peers shared his parenting experiences. When Dan contacted me to enquire if I could contribute, I was immediately interested as the anthology seemed a way of peering into the hatch of different writers lives, or as a potential area of common ground amongst writers who were otherwise likely to be largely disparate.
Ironically, parenthood and the resulting dawn writing routine has made me so dough-headed from exhaustion that I initially forgot I had a story featuring parenting, and so respectfully declined involvement at first. Luckily, Dan was persistent enough to keep asking, and eventually I remembered ‘Bird Tables for Swans’. This story had been ranked in the top 100 for the Bridport Prize in 2014, and featured a divorcing father failing to cope whilst obsessed with extreme domestic carpentry. It took around two months to write, largely in 6.00-6.30am sessions. These had the effect of padding the process out with thinking space, so I spent more time than I might otherwise have done considering each step the story took. It’s also the last story I wrote, and the only really viable one, of a series in which the male protagonist struggled with an alarming, compulsive hobby. So, for me, completing this story marked a break-out from a creative cul-de-sac, and a writing phase of relative stagnation.
Being Dad: Short Stories about Fatherhood is an anthology of brand new fiction about fatherhood edited by Dan Coxon.
It features stories by: Toby Litt, Nikesh Shukla, Dan Rhodes, Courttia Newland, Nicholas Royle, Johnny Mains, Dan Powell, Rodge Glass, R.J. Price, Tim Sykes, Lander Hawes, Andrew McDonnell, Iain Robinson, Richard W. Strachan, Richard V. Hirst and Samuel Wright and is being published via a kickstarter campaign
. You can find out more about it here
If You Liked Brave New Reads, You’ll Love....
Did you devour the Brave New Reads titles? We’ve picked out some books which we think you’ll also enjoy. Scroll down to see them all, or click the relevant title.
Any Other Mouth by Anneliese Mackintosh
Badgerlands by Patrick Barkham
Black Country by Liz Berry
The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov
Fallen Land by Patrick Flanery
Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement
We'd love to hear what you thought of Brave New Reads 2015. Please take the time to fill in this brief survey and you could win book tokens!
Any Other Mouth by Anneliese Mackintosh
A brutal, compelling and savagely funny collection of interlinked short stories. Semi-autobiographical, Any Other Mouth
is a candid and deeply personal exploration of grief, growing-up, family dynamics and explicit sexual experience. Mackintosh deftly reveals the raw reality of bereavement, balancing supreme honesty with a wrenching tenderness.
Find out more about Any Other Mouth.
If you liked
Any Other Mouth, we think you might enjoy:
Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth
Not that Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned by Lena Dunham
Animals is a hilarious, moving and refreshingly honest tale of how a friendship can become the ultimate love story.
A hilarious, poignant, and extremely frank collection of personal essays by Lena Dunham, the acclaimed creator, producer, and star of HBO’s ‘Girls’.
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Part memoir, part rant, How to be a Woman
offers a new way to look at feminism from Caitlin Moran, one of our funniest writers.
Nobody Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
A remarkable collection of stories which explores seemingly ordinary people living extraordinary lives and how a single moment can change everything.
Eat My Heart Out by Zoe Pilger
Fiercely clever and unapologetically wild, Eat My Heart Out
is the satire for our narcissistic, hedonistic, post-post-feminist era.
Brass by Helen Walsh
Shockingly candid and brutally poetic, Walsh creates a portrait of a city and a generation that offers a female perspective on the harsh truth of growing up in Britain.
Music for Torching by AM Homes
Homes lays bare the foundations of marriage and family life and creates characters outrageously flawed, deeply human and entirely believable.
Black Vodka by Deborah Levy
Twenty-first century lives dissected with razor-sharp humour and curiosity, stories about what it means to live and love, together and alone.
The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
In language dazzling, energetic and pure, The Panopticon
introduces us to a heartbreaking young heroine on her way to the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders.
Dig deep and discover the subterranean world of the humble badger in this compelling account of the animal’s history. In Badgerlands
Barkham examines one of our most controversial creatures. Intriguing and instructive, Badgerlands
debunks myths and proves that when it comes to badgers it’s never just black and white.
Find out more about Badgerlands
If you enjoyed Badgerlands we think you might like:
H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
H is for Hawk
is an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald's struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk's taming and her own untaming.
A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson
A Sting in the Tale
tells the story of Goulson’s passionate drive to reintroduce the short-haired bumblebee to its native land and contains groundbreaking research into these curious creatures.
The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane
Following the tracks, holloways, drove-roads and sea paths that form part of a vast ancient network of routes criss-crossing the British Isles, Robert Macfarlane discovers a lost world of places and journeys which inspire and inhabit our imaginations.
Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin
Roger Deakin's unmatched exploration of our relationship with trees is autobiography, history, traveller's tale as well as incisive work in natural history.
The Dig by Cynan Jones
Deep in rural Wales, a farmer is struggling through lambing season when he becomes aware that his land is being stalked by a badger-baiter who brings with him the stark threat of violence.
Claxton by Mark Cocker
Passionate, astonishing and inspiring, this book is a celebration of the wonder that lies in our everyday experience.
Four Fields by Tim Dee
Tim Dee tells the story of four fields spread around the world: their grasses, their hedges, their birds, their skies, and their natural and human histories.
A soaring collection of poetry, which weaves birds of all kinds through the text and swoops from childhood innocence to sensual pleasures. Black Country melds traditional West Midlands dialect with Berry’s fresh and contemporary voice, creating a distinctive linguistic energy. Using precise language and an acute awareness of heritage, Berry creates an enchanting atmosphere of folklore and magic.
Find out more about Black Country.
If you enjoyed Black Country we think you might like:
Chick by Hannah Lowe
Division Street by Helen Mort
From the clash between striking miners and police to the delicate conflicts in personal relationships, Mort’s stunning debut is marked by distance and division.
With London as their backdrop, Hannah Lowe's deeply personal narrative poems are often filmic in effect and brimming with sensory detail in their evocations of childhood and coming-of-age, love and loss of love, grief and regret.
Fire Songs by David Harsent
David Harsent's new collection of poems shares a dark territory and a sometimes haunting, sometimes steely, lyrical tone.
Moontide by Niall Campbell
is filled with images of the island's seascapes, its myths, its wildlife, and the long dark of its winters. Quietly reflective and deftly musical, these thoughtful poems explore ideas of companionship and withdrawal, love and the stillness of solitude.
The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion by Kei Miller
Acclaimed Jamaican poet Miller dramatizes what happens when one system of knowledge, one method of understanding place and territory, comes up against another, as the cartographer, a scientific rationalist, attempts to map his way to the eternal city of Zion.
Mesmerising and haunting, this otherworldly fairytale describes a life shaped by landscape. Yerzhan is seemingly an ordinary young boy, but as you travel across the Kazakhstan steppes together he’ll lead you through his blighted youth; from the nuclear wasteland of his home to his lost love. Emotionally true, The Dead Lake
will echo long after you’ve finished reading.
Find out more about The Dead Lake
If you liked The Dead Lake, you might enjoy:
Soul by Andrey Platonov, Translated by Elizabeth Chandler, Olga Meerson and Robert Chandler
'For the mind, everthing is in the future' Platonov once wrote; 'for the heart, everything is in the past'. The protagonist of Soul
is a young man torn between these opposing desires, sent as a kind of missionary to bring the values of modern Russia to his childhood home town in Central Asia.
All That is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon
All That is Solid Melts into Air
is an exceptionally moving novel of interwoven lives, set amidst one of the most iconic disasters in living memory, Chernobyl.
White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen, Translated by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah
1867: a year of devastating famine in Finland. Marja, a farmer's wife from the north, sets off on foot through the snow with her two young children. Their goal: St Petersburg, where people say there is bread.
Sworn Virgin by Elvira Jones, Translated by Clarissa Botsford
Hana is forced to adopt male persona Mark to avoid an arranged marriage. After many years as a man, Mark is offered the chance to move to the US – but what does he know about being an American woman?
The Wall by William Sutcliffe
Joshua is a troubled boy who lives in a divided city, where a wall and soldiers separate two communities. One day Joshua discovers a tunnel, which leads under the wall to the forbidden territory of the other side.
Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos, Translated by Rosalind Harvey
A masterful and darkly comic first novel, Down the Rabbit Hole
is the chronicle of a delirious journey to grant a child’s wish. Tochtli, son of a drug baron, has everything apart from his heart’s desire: a pygmy hippotamus from Liberia.
The Good Angel of Death by Andrey Kurkov, Translated by Andrew Bromfield
Koyla moves into a new flat and discovers an annotated manuscript hidden inside a copy of War and Peace
. He decides to track down the author, and begins a very bizarre
charts the downfall of three generations of land-owners and the disintegration of their American dream. Louise reluctantly sells her family land, property developer Krovik builds on it and goes bankrupt, and the Noallies family move in, ready for an untainted future but unprepared for what’s to come. Saturated with an eerie menace, the prose shifts and mutates to create an unsettling and gripping novel.
Find out more about Fallen Land
If you liked Fallen Land we think you might enjoy:
Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates
The House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski
The Bellefleurs own vast lands and profitable businesses, they employ their neighbors, and they influence the government. A prolific and eccentric group, they include several millionaires; a mass murderer; a spiritual seeker; a wealthy noctambulist who dies of a chicken scratch; a baby, Germaine - the heroine of the novel - and her parents, Leah and Gideon.
Immensely imaginative. Impossible to put down. Impossible to forget. House of Leaves
is thrilling, terrifying and unlike anything you have ever read before.
Wreaking by James Scudamore
Three solitary characters remember their shared past in a sprawling, derelict psychiatric hospital on the English coast. Wreaking
is an intricate, labyrinthine novel about the opiate power of place, the fragility of sanity and the fickle nature of memory.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it tells a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate.
Absolution by Patrick Flanery
Sam Leroux returns to South Africa to write the biography of Clare Wald, world-renowned author. But as the project continues and her life story develops, the line between truth and fiction becomes blurred, and Sam’s own ghosts emerge.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Over six decades, the consequences of a moment's impulse unfold, drawing an heroine Holly Sykes woman into a world far beyond her imagining. A kaleidoscopic story of an unusual woman's life, a metaphysical thriller and a profound meditation on mortality and survival.
The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
In a sleepy little New England village stands a dark, weather-beaten, many-gabled house. This brooding mansion is haunted by a centuries-old curse that casts the shadow of ancestral sin upon the last four members of the distinctive Pyncheon family.
A potent tale of survival and determination, Prayers for the Stolen
tells the story of Ladydi: a fierce young girl who masquerades as a boy to escape the grasping threat of drug cartels. Ladydi is taught defiance by her wisecracking mother, yet the mountains of Mexico are filled with dangers; from toxic herbicides to ravaging gunmen. Immerse yourself in her enthralling life, and an unforgettable adventure.
Find out more about Prayers for the Stolen
If you liked
Prayers for the Stolen, we think you might enjoy:
The Underground Girls Of Kabul: The Hidden Lives of Afghan Girls Disguised as Boys by Jenny Nordberg
An Afghan woman's life expectancy is just 44 years, and her life cycle often begins and ends in disappointment. For some, disguising themselves as boys is the only way to get ahead. Exploring the historical and religious roots of this tradition, The Underground Girls of Kabul
is a fascinating and moving narrative that speaks to the roots of gender.
The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle
Two very different men find their lives entwined when wealthy American Delaney Mossbacher knocks down a Mexican pedestrian. The two men are fated to collide, and as Delaney attempts to clear the land of the illegal immigrants a boiling pot of racism and prejudice threatens to spill over.
2666 by Robert Bolano
On the Mexico-US border there is an urban sprawl that draws lost souls to it like a vortex. Convicts and academics find themselves here, as does a sportswriter, a student with her widowed father, and a reclusive 'missing' author. But there is a darker side to the town: girls and women are disappearing at an alarming rate...
Heliopolis by James Scudamore
As a child Ludo is plucked out of the shantytown and transported to a world of cosseted luxury; at twenty-seven, he works high above the above the sprawling metropolis of São Paulo. But this is not a simple rags-to-riches story: Ludo's destiny moves him around like a chess piece, showing him both extremities of opulent excess and abject poverty, taking him to the brink of madness and brutality.
The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
Lilith is born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. As she comes of age and begins to understand her own feelings and identity, she dares to push at the edges of what is imaginable for the life of a slave woman.
Any of these titles take your fancy? Check out the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire library catalogues and reserve the books online, or pop to your local bookshop.
Brave New Reads is brought to you by Writers’ Centre Norwich and the library services in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, and was created in Norwich, England’s first UNESCO City of Literature.
Shifting Debates and Modern Translation
Programme Director Jon Morley looks forward to our upcoming event Translation in the Margins. Taking place on the 3rd of October at the Free Word Centre, this practical symposium will investigate issues around translation. Tickets are still available at only £15.
Translation in the Margins, which I’m curating at the Free Word Centre on Saturday 3 October, will explore the radical edges of literary translation in an interactive, writer-led format.
When I used to study Postcolonial Literature in a Translation Studies department, it always seemed to me that there was something of a rift between the two fields. At the annual postgraduate conferences, I was often the lone postcolonialist, listening with fascination while translators outlined cutting-edge research. I remember illuminating presentations on the inadequacies of the classic English translations of Chinese poetry; on the pressure that Thai and Sri Lankan translators faced from Buddhist supremacists when they sought to bring narratives that challenged nationalist myths to a wider international readership; on unexpurgated English versions of Osama Bin Laden’s speeches, whose rhetoric seemed uncomfortably close to that of emblematic heroes of Third World liberation struggles (Mandela, Castro or Cabral). Like the history of empire which I was discovering more about, translation seemed to turn the world on its head.
With performance techniques borrowed from the Caribbean poets I loved (including samples of reggae music in an analysis of poetry, for example) I was able in turn to seize the attention of the translators, exposing them to New World perspectives on literature. It always struck me as strange that, for translators, there was such novelty in mixing up ‘literature’ and common speech in this way, given that multilingualism and ‘the oral tradition’ are conditions of the developing world.
The debate is shifting. International Translation Day, In Other Words and Modern Poetry in Translation regularly include discussion of postcolonial ‘englishes’ and how they might serve to bring texts from Africa or Asia into European markets. But our event (funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation) seeks to refine the issue a little more, by including translators, writers and political activists on the same platform and seeing what kinds of discussion, what lines of enquiry, emerge.
Jamaican poet Olive Senior will start the day off with a keynote lecture that explores the issues from a new world, Caribbean perspective. Bestselling Korean novelist Sun-mi Hwang will talk about setting children’s fiction – stories so dark and thought-provoking that they’re categorised as books for adults when the English translations hit the shelves of Waterstones – in war zones and disputed territories. Meena Kandasamy, Tamil poet, activist and agitator will argue that translation is a feminist act, speaking about the intimidation and threats she has received as a result of translating the political writings of ‘Untouchables’. Hamid Ismailov will reflect on the experience of being widely acclaimed as Uzbekistan’s foremost novelist whilst living in political exile, and how translation has facilitated wider access to his work. We’ll have a crash-course on how to translate poetry composed partly in Braille by Indonesian disability activist Khairani Barokka, radical publisher Deborah Smith will give her view on why the world still needs independent presses, Yrsa Daley-Ward will explore the new routes to publication that young, multiple-identity writers are experimenting with across Africa and the Americas, Francesca Beard will help us find new forms of expression through a live literature master-class, and we’ll close the afternoon with the announcement of the Harvill Secker Young Translators Prize and an international poetry reading by several of our delegates.
Of course, there is much, much more that we could include. I hope the Q&A sessions will be lively debates where a multiplicity of writers, from different styles and different cultural backgrounds, can share their experiences and their hopes for the future.
The event runs at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon from 10.30am on Saturday 3 October. I hope to see you there!
Programme Director, Writers’ Centre Norwich
As Slowly as Possible: Han Kang Reports from the BCLT Summer School
In the summer of 2015, the acclaimed South Korean novelist Han Kang stayed in this Fine City as our latest UNESCO Writer in Residence, sponsored by the Arts Council of Korea. She attended Worlds, gave readings in Norwich, London and Edinburgh, translated poetry, explored the Norfolk landscape, met her publishers at Granta and prepared the proofs of her next novel, Human Acts (due to be published in the UK in January in Deborah Smith’s translation).
Following the BCLT Summer School, a practical symposium was organised to explore some of the issues around translation. Taking place on the 3rd of October at the Free Word Centre, Translation in the Margins will investigate the radical edges of literary translation. (Find out more about the event.)
Here, Han Kang reflects on the experience of being a guest author at the BCLT Translation Summer School in July. With additional support from the Korean Literary Translation Institute, a number of novice literary translators participated in a week-long workshop with Deborah and Daniel Hahn, testing different approaches to translating Kang's fiction in the presence of the author herself. Kang's fascinating diary entries form the basis of her account of the process. The below piece was translated by Deborah Smith.
Slowly, as slowly as possible
This summer just past, I spent two months in the small, peaceful British city of Norwich, supported by the British Council and the Korean Arts Council, ARKO. As it happened to coincide with my residency, I also participated as a writer in the translation workshop held for a week every July at the University of East Anglia
. That workshop was on a larger scale, and more intensive, than any other translation programme I had previously heard of or experienced. Translation sessions were organised by language, for Dutch, German, Norwegian, Italian, and even Korean, included this year for the first time. Workshops were also held under the name of ‘multi-language sessions’, translating literary works from a variety of languages into English, shared between poetry and prose classes.
On Sunday 26th July, the evening before the workshop commenced, the participants gathered in the campus bar for the opening event. It was scheduled to be led by Deborah Smith, who has translated my novels The Vegetarian
and Human Acts
, with help from the translator and author Daniel Hahn, who frequently dropped in on our sessions. After the writer and translators had shared brief introductory remarks, Daniel said with a smile, “My role in these sessions will be to obstruct the work of translation as much as I can, in order for it to progress slowly, as slowly as possible.” I nodded, because I liked the sound of those words ‘as slowly as possible’. I thought it was lucky that this was not to be a workshop where everything was done ‘as quickly as possible’. Of course, at that point I was unable to guess just how slowly our sessions were going to go.
Because the participants who were coming from Korea arrived late on the Sunday night, I was only able to meet everybody in our session first thing on the Monday. Sophie, Hyo-kyung, Victoria, and Celin, students from LTI Korea’s Translation Academy, and their professor Kim Chung-hee. Roxanne, who studies Korean literature at SOAS in London.
The text we were to translate that week was my short story “Europa”. At Deborah’s suggestion, I first briefly explained my motivation for writing the story, and what I had thought particularly important about it, and straight after that the translation began. After each member had translated the first sentenced, they took in it turns to present their translations. After Deborah had typed them up on the computer, she examined each individual word in minute detail - even down to the punctuation marks. She led the discussion tirelessly, neither agreeing completely with one person’s translation nor unilaterally dismissing another’s. In that first session, which took place from 11am to 1pm, I was shocked to see that we didn't even manage to fully translate one sentence. “The important thing is the process,” Deborah said.
The afternoon session was held from 3.30pm to 5.30pm; Daniel came in, and was entirely satisfied with the slow speed of our progress. He had the students read the sentence that was being translated out loud, and after also having me read the Korean, stressed the desirability of the sense of rhythm given by the length of the sentences in the two languages being as similar as possible. Eventually, once three sentences had been completed, when we parted having arranged to meet again the next day, Deborah said that as we continued with the translation, the sentences we thought were 'done' could in fact be revised almost endlessly, to make sure they matched with the following passage.
Instantly I realised that this extremely delicate, elaborate process was giving me a very particular sense of deja vu. All of this was what I myself did every day. Changing the position of a word, rearranging the order of sentences, cutting out unnecessary words, reading out loud, reading out loud again from the first sentence after writing the final sentence, cutting more words, taking out punctuation, putting it in, cutting again. Accepting dispassionately the fact that after writing the next day’s sentences, today’s might all have to be cut, forcing me to re-write everything from the beginning.
Tuesday and Wednesday
Various observers (people from the Writers’ Centre Norwich, the British Council
, teachers and students from the creative writing MA course) came in and watched our sessions, cautiously giving their opinions if we happened to be struggling with certain words, certain expressions. Their input almost always made our debates all the richer, and there were times when it enabled us to suddenly get to the nub of the matter and make progress.
The interesting thing, was the fact that, in direct contrast to the translated sentences given by the participants on the Monday being generally rather similar, the more time went by the more varied the expressions which appeared became. Rather than automatically transposing the original Korean sentence structure, they began to concentrate on the ‘feeling’ of that sentence and inventively seek an English expression which could vividly convey that feeling. Deborah continually encouraged them in this by saying things like “Isn’t this sentence a bit plain?” “What might be an expression that isn’t flat?” “Ah, that’s too bland”, “This expression is awkward in English”.
The result was that on Tuesday we succeeded in translating five sentences and connecting them with the previous three. Before we turned in for the day, everyone read it out loud and exclaimed how happy they were with it. Because we were all well aware of how difficult it had been to find a point of contact and come up with sentences which satisfied us all. Following on from this, on the Wednesday we translated a section of dialogue. We put our heads together to reach an agreement as to how colloquial it should be, what were the idiomatic expressions that are written in English in similar situations. Wanting to test that it was sufficiently natural-sounding, the participants even acted the conversation out, and burst out laughing in doing so.
In the early hours of the morning, I had a dream. Someone was lying in a white bed, and I was quietly watching them. Their face was covered with a white sheet, so I couldn’t tell whether they were male or female. Somehow, I was able to hear what he/she was saying. ‘I have to get up now…no, that’s too flat.’ ‘I really will have to get up now…no, that’s too bland.’ ‘I have to leave this bed…no, that’s awkward.’
Having woken from the dream, I thought of the participants in our session, and thought of Deborah, who had translated two of my novels, and finally thought of myself. I thought about the lives of the struggling people beneath the white sheet that covered their faces, tenaciously asking questions of and answering themselves, ceaselessly rewriting sentences.
In the session that morning, everyone enjoyed hearing about my dream. (I have come to realise that it is possible for someone’s nightmare to make many people happy). In the second session that day, we translated eight lines with surprising concentration, making it the day when our yield was greatest.
On Friday, which was the final day, after putting the finishing touches to our translation in the morning session, in the afternoon we shifted to the Writers’ Centre in Norwich city centre and had a session set aside for presentations. The translation sessions for European languages had translated quite a lot of pages in a week, as might be expected for languages from the same family, whereas we had managed to produce only a little over a single page, from the very beginning of the story. During the fifteen minutes allotted in the presentation session, the participants for our session stood up on stage and read their translation as slowly as possible, and took it in turns to speak methodically about the minute difficulties of the translation process. Sitting in the audience, I was quite moved.
People who delight in the intricacies of language. People who take even the most minute difference to be something large, important, significant. People who, through that keen sensibility, give a single text a new birth in another language. People who move forwards following that strange, beautiful rule which says that it is good to go as slowly as possible. People who ask questions of and answer themselves, alone beneath the white sheet, ceaselessly re-writing sentences. I felt touchingly grateful to everyone in our session, including Deborah - no, somehow to every translator in the world.
Each of the other sessions' presentations was also enjoyable. There was one group who, at the beginning and end of the passage, had the writer and translator read at the same time, producing an effect akin to music, and there was one who, after two people had translated the same text, read a passage from the various versions, so that we could appreciate the differences. There was one group who amused the audience by humorously disclosing that, as their session leader had been unable to attend due to personal reasons, and the only participant in the week who was able to speak that language had arrived late, the other participants had spent the entire week engaged in a bitter struggle, relying only on a dictionary, at the end of which they had managed to produce a grand total of three sentences. I laughed along with the rest, of course, but I also thought it was a bit of a shame. That there was a group who'd succeeded in going even slower than our session had...
Bookseller Louisa Theobald reviews Fallen Land
Bookseller Louisa Theobald reviews Fallen Land, one of our Brave New Reads titles, written by Patrick Flanery. Get a feel of the book below:
Fallen Land is Patrick Flanery’s second novel and one that is stuffed full of themes which range from the nature of madness and cruelty, the legacy of family abuse and the intrusion of business into every sector of our life.
Most overtly, Patrick Flanery explores and dissects the American dream through his cast of diverse characters, and finds the dream wanting. There is the widow Louise Washington, a teacher who is unable to keep her farm profitable after her husband’s death. There is Paul Krovik, the callous property developer who buys Louise's land, driven by dreams of a gleaming subdivision which unravels into a nightmare of lawsuits and foreclosure. Sent mad by his failure Paul loses his family and holes himself up in an underground bunker attached to his former home. Into this house moves Nathaniel Noailles, a ‘director of rehabilitation’ at EKK, a corporation which seeks to monetize the prison population as effective slave labour. As the rain begins to hit this unnamed Midwestern land and a flood begins to rise, Patrick Flanery creates a tense atmosphere where the fates of these three characters collide and the book builds to a tragic conclusion.
It is partly a dystopian vision of corporate greed and partly a psychological thriller of two men’s descent into madness. It has a modern setting yet it seethes with a gothic menace. Patrick Flanery’s skill is building a world where the very land on which the characters place their feet seems to simmer with threat as sinkholes appear to swallow objects whole. Flanery's prose is dark and intense and wholly effective in keeping the reader turning the pages. It is an unsettling read, disturbing but fascinating.
Patrick Flanery will be reading from Fallen Land at Bury St Edmunds Library on the 22nd September, 7pm. Tickets are only £2 and can be purchased online, or directly from the library.
Find out more about Fallen Land.
Enjoy extra Fallen Land content, including podcasts and films.
Listen to a recording of our Brave New Reads event with Patrick Flanery below.
Follow Patrick Flanery on Twitter @PFlaneryAuthor.
Find out more about Brave New Reads.
National Conversation: The Science of Reading by Charles Fernyhough
A provocation by writer and psychologist Charles Fernyhough, first presented at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, August 31st, 2015
Open a book and a chorus of voices starts back at you. I remember being asked as a bookwormish child whether I could hear a novel’s characters speaking in my head. ‘I hear them,’ I enthused (my own eleven-year-old son recently said the same). With a sheaf of printed pages in front of her, a reader settles in for an extraordinary internal performance. It’s an everyday happening that illustrates a deep mystery of consciousness: how someone sitting alone in a room, ostensibly doing nothing but silently turning the pages, can be hearing the voice of an unreliable narrator, listening into conversations that never happened, conversing with the dead.
I want to do more than propose that fiction transports you into a different reality: it can certainly do that. Rather, I’m interested in how reading for pleasure can have specific effects of something like an auditory quality. It leaves its sounds resonating in our minds and brains. I want to suggest that one of the pleasures of reading fiction is an engagement with simulated voices with a certain phenomenology (the ‘What is it like?’ qualities of experience). If reading is a pleasure, tuning into these voices must be part of its appeal.
Psychologists have become increasingly interested in the phenomenon of ‘inner speech’: the internal conversation that occupies many of our waking moments. Reading colonises that inner dialogue in varied ways. If you are asked silently to read words with long vowels (as in cape) you will do so more slowly than if the vowels are short (as in hat). If you are told about a certain fictional character who speaks fast, you will read their speeches more quickly than those of a character with a more leisurely speaking pace. Such findings show that you as a silent reader are nevertheless sounding out the words: you are not processing the text purely at some abstract level of meaning, but rather are articulating those voices for yourself in your head.
In this context, voice can mean a whole lot of different things. We speak of writers ‘finding’ their voice, or of succeeding (or otherwise) in channeling the right voice for a particular piece. One of the most influential figures in recent literary studies, Mikhail Bakhtin, argued that novels work when distinct voices, manifested in language, come into creative dialogue with each other. When our team of researchers asked Guardian readers last year what the experience of reading was like for them, we wanted to be very specific about its phenomenology. When listening in to fictional characters, do readers actually hear something like a voice? It seems that many of them do. One in seven of our readers said that the voices they heard were as vivid as an actual person speaking. For some respondents, not hearing the voices of the protagonists was a sign that they were never really going to get into the book.
If hearing these fictional voices is a big part of the reading experience, you would expect that writers would have cottoned on. Any creative writing student will tell you that, if you want to make your characters’ voices resonate, you should use direct rather than reported speech (compare Jane said ‘I love you’ to Jane said that she loved him). Glasgow neuroscientists recently demonstrated a neural basis for the observation that direct speech is experienced more vividly than its reported form. But writers give us their characters’ silent, unheard voices as well as their externally uttered ones. They play with the fact that a character can think (in inner speech) something different to what she is saying out loud, and they build inner worlds through deft portrayals of the stream of verbal consciousness. They fill our heads with voices.
It stands to reason, then, that writers must hear those voices too. As the author of two novels, I am familiar with the experience of hearing my characters speak. They don’t talk directly to me, but I overhear them. I know their accents and tones of expression, their choice of words and how their voices betray certain emotions. I don’t confuse them with real people, but I do need to be able to hear them. It’s a common view about the creative process that writers need to hear their characters speak before they can really bring them alive.
Eager to put that idea to the test, our researchers teamed up last year with the Edinburgh International Book Festival to ask professional writers about the voices they heard. Seventy percent of the writers who completed our questionnaire said that they heard their characters’ voices; a quarter said it was as clear as if the protagonist were in the room with them. Two-fifths said they could enter into a dialogue with their characters. In detailed follow-up interviews, our researcher Jennifer Hodgson heard writers describing the experience as something like eavesdropping or taking dictation. One writer described it as a process of ‘tuning in’: ‘It is intimate, like being let in on their thoughts.’
We conducted these studies as part of Hearing the Voice, an ongoing interdisciplinary study of the experience of hearing voices, based at Durham University and funded by the Wellcome Trust. Some of the writers we have been studying literally heard voices that no one else could hear. Dickens was pestered by his characters in all sorts of vivid ways. Virginia Woolf was troubled by auditory hallucinations related to sexual abuse, bullying and bereavement (she put some of her experiences into the character of her war veteran voice-hearer, Septimus Smith, in Mrs Dalloway). Thinking about the range and variety of heard voices points to measures for helping people who are distressed by their experiences, and some of these insights are being integrated into our cognitive behaviour therapy work with voice-hearers. Certain fictional characters can act as though they are beyond the author’s conscious control; understanding the psychological processes involved holds out the possibility of relief for those troubled by uncontrollable voices.
Writers hijack the voices of our ordinary inner speech in all of these ways. Part of the contract we make as readers is to simulate, in our own minds, the vocal hubbub of other consciousnesses. Writers stimulate our regular inner dialogue too; they make us talk back. I am actually a highly distractable reader. If I’m reading fiction that delights, I am constantly fighting the impulse to put the book down and do my own writing. Even beloved novels and stories have the paradoxical effect of making me disconnect from the text for moments or minutes. I don't think that makes me less of a reader. In fact, I want to suggest that one of the pleasures of fiction is its capacity to make us wander off somewhere else.
To understand why that can be a blessing rather than a curse, we need to be easier on ourselves about this distractibility. A mind that is temporarily gazing away from a book is anything but disengaged. In our Hubbub project at Wellcome Collection in London, a diverse group of academics, artists and clinicians are taking an ambitiously interdisciplinary approach to rest and its opposites, and finding that a mind that is ostensibly doing nothing is a lively and varied place to be. Our psychologists and neuroscientists are tying richly detailed descriptions of consciousness to the complex patterns of activation shown by a brain that is busy with nothing in particular. This focus on the so-called ‘resting state’ is one of the growth areas in cognitive neuroscience, and I suspect that reading—or momentarily failing to read—offers many of us a direct line into it. I mean that gorgeous moment of putting a book down, not from boredom or external distraction, but because one’s mind is full of new, unexpected wonders. Woolf herself, like plenty of other writers, enthused about the process of what she termed ‘woolgathering’, or what I would like to call creative mind-wandering. Watch me in my armchair: I may end up reading the same paragraph several times over, but in the process I am having delicious thoughts of my own.
Putting science to work on an experience as intimate, personal and deeply human as reading is a risky business. In a world of library closures and device addiction, it is natural to try to harness scientific evidence to prove a greater good. But we should tread carefully. I’ve suggested that some of the pleasures of reading fiction are its stimulation of the varied voices of our inner speech and its capacity to trigger creative mind-wandering. I’m not here to tell you that reading changes your brain (whatever that laughable statement might mean), or that books make you a better person, in the narrow definition of some inevitably limited research methodology. I am fascinated by how we sometimes seem to think that neuroscientific truth is somehow 'more' true than other kinds of knowledge, such that even literary people are disproportionately swayed by it. We don’t need brain scans to tell us that reading is good for you. Rather, let’s delight in the varieties of that exquisite internal performance: ‘the beautiful stillness,’ as Paul Auster described it, ‘that surrounds you when you hear an author's words reverberating in your head.’
This provocation is part of the National Conversation series of events featuring thought-provoking original ideas from writers. Read more, and follow the discussion here.
"Pulled Gently Back in the Direction of Your Goals" - Rebecca Done on the value of Writing Coaching
Rebecca Done’s debut novel This Secret We’re Keeping will be published by Penguin in March 2016. Here she shares how our coaching sessions provided a sounding board for ideas and something ‘to pull you gently back in the direction of your goals’
Coaching and Creativity
As a copywriter and novelist, I know there are times when writing can be tough. Whether you do it for pleasure or professionally, writing does have a frustrating little habit of throwing up obstacles along the way. Perhaps you’re experiencing writer’s block, struggling to protect your writing time, or finding it hard to reach your goals in the face of everything else life has to throw at you. Overcoming these barriers can seem like an impossible task, and that’s where writing coaching comes in.
Writing coaching is all about exploring how to overcome the challenges you’re facing and moving forward as a writer. That can mean different things for different people: finally nailing the plot of that short story, hitting ‘The end’ on your first novel, or finding new ways to develop so your work doesn’t stagnate.
The latter certainly rang true for me last summer. I was working full-time as an in-house copywriter during the day, and spending every spare minute of my own time putting the final touches to my first novel so my agent could begin the nerve-racking process of submitting to publishers. Essentially I was living and breathing writing, and doing little else. With a high volume of creative briefs to tackle at work – for a brand that has a very distinctive voice – the imperative to deliver something original and exciting day-in day-out was as pressing as ever. Finding different ways to keep my writing fresh was something I knew coaching could help with.
Heidi asked me to come to our first session with some ideas about what I wanted to discuss. Aside from anything else, it was fantastic to simply have some time in a room with someone sharing the ups and downs of writing life! As a practising professional, Heidi knew exactly what I was talking about. This helped to maximise our time during the session, as she has a first-hand understanding of many of the problems and issues that writers commonly face.
The great thing about coaching is that it’s very pressure-free. It feels like an exploration of ideas and possibilities, and it’s certainly not about being told what to do. Heidi began by asking me a series of open questions designed to be a jumping-off point for us to explore together what I could do practically to move forward. What’s brilliant about conversations like this is that they tend to throw up a lot of ‘Oh – I’d never thought about it like that’ moments, which for a writer is fantastic because it draws your mind along new paths and gets you excited about fresh ideas.
The main focus of my initial session with Heidi was to come up with new ways of approaching creative briefs at work – how to dream up different concepts, how to cope with self-doubt, what I could do to spark new ideas when a deadline’s looming and I’m against the clock. Together we created a list of things to work on and I went away re-energised, invigorated and brimming with ideas. This, combined with my follow-up session, helped me to compile what was essentially a creative toolkit that I now use whenever I’m writing.
As a writer you might routinely receive feedback on your work from a writing group, friends or employer – but it’s less likely you’ll be questioned about how you wrote something. For me, even just articulating out loud how I put the words together was fascinating – I’d never really pondered over it that much, and it definitely served to highlight where my strengths and weaknesses lay.
You might find you only need one coaching session – it’s amazing how just this short amount of time can focus the mind and generate solutions. For me, having more than one session was useful, because it gave me a timeframe within which to shape my ideas before bringing them back for more discussion.
Writing coaching is very much about manageable steps, which is great if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It breaks down the problem into mini-goals that don’t feel too daunting to tackle.
Although editing a novel is a different process to nailing a killer headline for an advertising campaign, I have found that I employ a lot of the same techniques for both. Many of the thoughts and ideas I discussed with Heidi in a copywriting context became invaluable during the editing process for my novel, and they’ve certainly helped my brain to fire in a different way. Thinking of new creative ideas when I’m convinced I’m all out of them is something that’s relevant to both walks of my writing life, and beyond. It really doesn’t matter what kind of writing you do: coaching is applicable to any and every strand.
As a result of these sessions, I was able to create myself a dossier that I could refer back to whenever I needed a little inspiration hit. Writing coaching isn’t only useful for now – what you glean from it is like a resource you can draw upon when times get tough or you feel particularly stretched. Something to pull you gently back in the direction of your goals. Whether you’re struggling for time or banging your head against writer’s block, coaching is an opportunity to share your difficulties with someone who understands, and who can help you explore ways of moving past (or through) them in a supportive environment.
I can’t recommend writing coaching highly enough. It remains one of the most valuable things I have done as a writer to date.
Rebecca Done is a copywriter and author living in Norwich. Her first novel, This Secret We’re Keeping, will be published by Penguin in March 2016.
Writers’ Centre offer various sessions with two professional writing coaches – Heidi Williamson and Katherine Skala. It is easy to book a session online, or contact us if you would like more information.
Readers' Circle Member Anna Reviews Black Country
Anna Reckin, Readers' Circle Member, gives a tempting introduction to Liz Berry's debut collection Black Country, a 2015 Brave New Reads pick.
Black Country was my number one selection for the Brave New Reads poetry choice, so I’m thrilled that it made it into the final six books! It’s sparkling with wit, energy and linguistic virtuosity, as well as being wonderfully unafraid of myth and magic.
I really appreciate the range of poetry included in the collection, especially the more magical pieces, which read like a poetic re-imagining of Angela Carter. Here are poems that are themselves spells and invocations; including the exhilarating opening piece, ‘Bird’. Others, like ‘Christmas Eve’ and ‘Wulfrun Hotel’ are more straightforward lyrics of landscapes and cityscapes.
The sparkiness of Berry’s writing isn’t superficial glitter; the fairytale elements are grounded in the themes woven throughout the collection: home and flight, love and loss.
Would you be interested in joining the Readers' Circle? Find out more about the group, and how to apply.
About Anna Reckin
Anna lives in Norwich, where she works part-time as a creative-writing teacher and freelance editor. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota and a PhD in the Poetics Programme at SUNY Buffalo. Her poems have appeared in magazines in the UK and the US, including Shearsman, How2, Poetry Wales and Chain. Her first book, Broder (Traffic Street Press, 2000), won a Minnesota Book Award; a pamphlet, Spill (Chibcha Press) appeared in 2004. Her first book-length collection, Three Reds (Shearsman, 2011) draws on materials from Portugal, Australia, China and East Anglia. She is currently working on her second, supported by a grant from Arts Council England.
Visit Anna's website.
On the International Literary Translation and Creative Writing Summer School
I have always felt grateful to literary translators: without their work I wouldn’t have been able to discover many great authors and read some of my favourite books, masterpieces which have somehow changed my way of looking at the world or texts which have just (just!?) made me smile during the reading – and sometimes, quite a long time after it. Now that I am a foreigner in the UK, using a non-native language on a daily basis, I am even more aware of the importance of their work, not only in a literary context, also in a cultural one: translated literature is a way of discovering new cultures, new ideas, different ways of seeing, thinking, living.
For that reason, I felt really lucky when I had the opportunity of collaborating in the organisation of the International Literary Translation and Creative Writing Summer School together with our colleagues from the British Centre for Literary Translation. From the 26th July to 1st August 2015 at the UEA and at the new home of the Writers’ Centre Norwich – the beautiful Dragon Hall-almost 50 participants from many different countries took part in a series of creative writing and translation workshops.
All of them translated into English, but from different languages depending on the workshop: from Dutch (led by David Colmer and Jeroen Thijssen), German (with Katy Derbyshire and Kristof Magnusson), Italian (Howard Curtis and Andrea Tarabbia), Korean (Deborah Smith and Han Kang) and Norwegian (Kari Dickson and Brit Bildøen), but also two multilingual, one for prose led by Sarah Bower and Daniel Hahn; the other one for poetry with George Szirtes. In every single workshop participants and tutors organised their work in a different way, but sharing the same goal: not to translate in just a literal way, word by word, but to go beyond that and translate the cultural context, the feeling, the sensibility of the writer. A very enriching point in this summer school was the fact that in most of the workshops the authors of the texts being translated were involved in the working process and answering the queries that the translators had.
This year for the first time the summer school also included creative writing workshops with Sarah Bower, Sharlene Teo, Cecilia Rossi, Henrietta Rose-Innes and Eliza Robertson. Sessions where the translators were invited to develop their own writing, adapting texts to different voices and contexts, reinterpreting them and also, being aware of the constraints that a translator can face when working.
Whilst the 2015 summer school has finished, the translations and texts created by the participants – and successfully presented during the last afternoon at Dragon Hall - will remain, and are a good souvenir of a very intensive and fulfilling week.
See you next year!
Giggles and Gasps with Anneliese Mackintosh
Bookseller Louisa Theobald reports on our Brave New Reads finale with Anneliese Mackintosh, author of Any Other Mouth.
I absolutely loved reading Any Other Mouth
. It is exactly the sort of book that sums up Brave New Reads. It is provocative, experimental in its content and, best of all, written by a writer at the start of fantastic career. Anneliese Mackintosh's debut is a collection of linked short stories that blurs fiction and memoir by drawing on her own experiences of academia, sex, her father's death and living with Borderline Personality Disorder. Any Other Mouth
felt so bold and uncompromising that I couldn't wait to attend the Brave New Reads finale and hear Anneliese speak. And clearly I was not alone, as the the room at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library was abuzz with anticipation.
The Brave New Reads Programme Co-Ordinator Melanie Kidd began with an introduction that outlined Anneliese's pedigree, (many of the individual stories have been shortlisted or won a whole host of short fiction prizes whilst the collection itself won the 2014 Green Carnation prize), before discussing the strength of feeling that Any Other Mouth
has generated: thousands of library loans, scores of heated discussions and impassioned feedback!
Next Anneliese read the story 'Doctors' from Any Other Mouth
, and her previous experience on the live literature scene was immediately apparent. She had a lively and theatrical reading style, with spirited gestures and an excellent comic timing which was invigorating to watch. Wry jokes peppered a story that took a darker turn as Anneliese detailed her father's passing and her subsequent grief. I was on the edge of my seat as her tone softened and drew the audience in.
After the reading there was a discussion with questions from Melanie and Readers' Circle
members Isabelle and Frances: all three were deeply impressed and affected by the book. Anneliese described the shift in her writing process following her father's death, how she quit her job and spent two months writing rants about things she was angry about, calling them explosions of feelings and screams on the page. She added that she still felt so emotionally close to the material that some stories she is unable to read publicly for fear of tears. Another recurring point was the liberating feeling of writing for oneself as therapy, in contrast to the process involved in taking that writing and shaping it for public consumption: she called it the initial splurge. Anneliese was also very frank about the way her writing had tested her relationship with her family.
It was fantastic event which left me feeling very lucky to hear such an honest discussion of the role of creating art in order to navigate one's own emotional landscape. It was also great to share that experience with a group of engaged, intelligent and curious readers. A brave and bold event indeed!
Listen to Anneliese read her short story 'Doctors':
Listen to a podcast of the whole event:
See photos from the event.
Find out more about Any Other Mouth.
Read Sam's review of Any Other Mouth.
Enjoy extra Any Other Mouth content
, including videos and interviews.
Follow Anneliese on Twitter @AnnelieseMack
Any Other Mouth
is available to borrow from the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge Libraries.
Readers' Circle Member Frances Reviews The Dead Lake
The Dead Lake is one of our Brave New Reads titles, written by Hamid Ismailov and translated by Andrew Bromfield. Get a taster of the book with Frances' review:
I'm going to write about my experiences of being part of last year's Readers Circle
, and specifically one of my favourite books The Dead Lake
Before I start there are three things you should know about me:
1. I love reading. I've always read. At one point I wanted to write, but as my first book would need to win the Man Booker prize I wasn't sure I could handle the disappointment.
2. I'd like to be a literary pundit.
3. I've always wanted to be a judge of the Man Booker prize.
So, what's not to like about being a reader for Brave New Reads? I get to read very many interesting, entertaining, great books. I get to judge and rank them and discuss them. My opinions count as much as the next persons. And at the end, if I'm lucky, the books about which I have been passionate and fought for get to be chosen for the summer event. And, wow, have I been lucky this year! Of the 5 selected books 2 were in my top 5. Oh, and until I joined this reading group I had never read a book of poetry. Now I have, and I will again. I have lost my fear.
Now to The Dead Lake
by Hamid Ismailov. This book from Peirene Press forms part of their Coming-Of-Age series
. As such it deals with a young boy's maturation. He lives with his family and one set of neighbours on the desolate Russian Steppes during the period when Russia was competing with America to become the premier nuclear weapons force in the world. Russian nuclear explosions rendered an enormous area of the steppes a Dead Zone. The story that this boy, now a man, tells to a stranger on a train is moving, shocking, and heart-breaking. The more I think about it as I write this the more I think it is truly wonderful.
Hamid Ismailov had to flee to the UK from Uzbekistan in 1994 because of his "unacceptable democratic tendencies". His work is still banned there. I thought the translation was excellent. It was poetic. For me, this book illustrates the fantastic work that publishers like Peirene do in making accessible works in other languages.
Find out more about The Dead Lake.
Enjoy extra content from the The Dead Lake including interviews and photos.
Follow Hamid on Twitter @Ismailov_writer.
Find out more about Brave New Reads.
Kate Griffin, WCN Associate Programme Director, reports back from Link the Worlds in Myanmar, and discusses the issues faced by Burmese writers, translators and publishers.
Myanmar has only recently emerged from a long period of isolation. Throughout the week, we explored ways to revive the flow of contemporary writing and ideas between Myanmar and other countries, particularly in South East Asia.
Literary exchange in Burma – now Myanmar – flourished in the years after the declaration of independence in 1948. The Burma Translation Society was established in Rangoon in 1947, and high quality translations of the best literature from other countries became available to readers and writers in Burma. Despite the opening up of the country three or so years ago, in today’s Myanmar many of the translations available in bookshops still date from this period. Censorship has meant that since the 1960s, little world literature – other than Soviet literature – has been translated into Burmese. Since the 1990s, translators have been making an effort to change the situation, but in Myanmar, translation tends to be a labour of love, with little or no financial remuneration. Although there is a need to nurture a new generation of literary translators, there is no systematic support in the form of workshops, or skills development in schools and colleges.
This means that Burmese readers have difficulty gaining access to more contemporary writing and ideas from around the world, and Burmese writers find themselves isolated from their international counterparts. At the same time, little contemporary Burmese writing is translated into other languages as there is a shortage of experienced literary translators who can translate out of the languages of Myanmar. We hoped that Link the Worlds would be a first step towards changing this.
Since its establishment in late 2013, PEN Myanmar has aimed to encourage dialogue between writers
and readers, reaching out to different parts of Burmese society by holding literary discussions in public places across the country, including on trains and at bus stops. The level of education in Myanmar is low, so people read very little. PEN Myanmar president Ma Thida
said that children need to be encouraged to read and write short stories and poems.
As part of its drive to open up the Burmese literary scene, PEN Myanmar holds literary evenings in Yangon (in English), presenting non-Burmese literature, as well as writing from the other ethnic states of Myanmar. Little ethnic literature is available, because of censorship; PEN would like to help develop more writing and translation between Burmese and ethnic languages. This is also the focus of the British Council’s Hidden Words Hidden Worlds
There are four main barriers to publishing in Myanmar, according to San Mon Aung. The distribution system is terrible; the lack of a reliable postal system makes it difficult to get books to readers, either via bookshops or direct. It’s also difficult to collect money from bookshops, and therefore to survive.
Secondly, the reading rate is very low; a book that sells 1,000 copies is considered a bestseller. Thirdly, publishers struggle to find quality writers and translators; even when they do, high quality and literary style don’t necessarily attract a lot of new readers. Finally, although official censorship is in the past, there are still a lot of laws that control publishing – in effect an alternative version of censorship.
Generally there is not a strong culture of editing in the Burmese publishing industry, and many of the small independent publishers cannot afford to hire editors. Most Burmese editors work for periodicals rather than publishers. Myo Myint Nyein, one of the few experienced editors in Myanmar, told us that until two or three years ago there was an official censorship bureau overseeing publications. The editor was captain of the ship, navigating the waters of censorship. And in daily life, whenever people had a conversation they felt had to self-edit before they spoke; this atmosphere of caution has left its mark on writers. Burmese writers are still resistant to editing when they see it being used as a form of censorship.
Nowadays, editors are more able to focus on style rather than policing content, but even this can be complicated, for a number of reasons. Spoken Burmese sounds smooth, but when the informal language is written down it can be full of grammatical mistakes. Readers in Myanmar don’t mind this, but if the translation echoes this informality, international readers may be less understanding.
Another barrier for many publishers in South East Asia more generally is the linguistic diversity of the region; translation is very important for books to travel even to neighbouring countries. There are no literary agents in Myanmar to promote either Burmese or other writers. It is expensive for Burmese publishers to pay for copyright, as books have such a low circulation and make so little money.
Link the Worlds was welcomed by all concerned, as a first step towards improving the situation for
literary translation in Myanmar. At the core of the five-day event were two workshops, each with ten participants from different parts of Myanmar. The Burmese to English group worked with workshop leader Moe Thet Han to translate work by UK author Suzanne Joinson
and Singaporean author Alfian Sa’at
into Burmese. The English to Burmese group translated work by Myanmar writers Nay Myo and Min Khite Soe San into English, under the guidance of Alfred Birnbaum.
‘I enjoyed the opportunity to talk to people from Myanmar,’ said Suzanne Joinson. ‘Using the process of translation as a common task, what really opened up was a range of narratives: stories, explorations of language, communication. I have already edited a short story for one participant, and have been in touch with another about Burmese writers. It’s a unique chance to make friends from a distant part of the world.’
Alfian Sa’at said he ‘really appreciated the experience as someone living in Southeast Asia. There haven’t been many initiatives to understand the region and I have to admit that Myanmar was never really in my radar as a writer. But now I’m really keen on reading works from Myanmar writers and hoping that these little acts of connecting with one another will lead to greater cultural integration among the Southeast Asian nations.’
One of the senior translators praised Link the Worlds as the first major translation event in Myanmar since 1969. We hope that we won’t have to wait as long until the next time.
Never never never never / Shame - Worlds 2015 Part IV by George Szirtes
George Szirtes continues his blog on Worlds Literature Festival, sharing his personal experience of the provocations, salons and readings. Reflecting on the fourth day, he discusses literary translation, and writing as an act of political resistance.
After the Wednesday salon there was a two hour session on translation in which three authors appeared with their translators.
The authors read a sentence or two in the original language then the translars read longer passages in translation. Each author was then invited to ask their translator three questions.
This session was led by Erica Jarnes. The three writers - Geir Gulliksen, Han Kang and Sigitas Parulskis - write in quite different ways about quite different things. The translators were asked the normal but vital translation questions and each answered differently. Deborah Smith, the translator of Han Kang, argued that the translator should feed the text through her blood stream by accessing the experience described. Deborah Dawkin, who had just one week to translate a longish passage of Geir’s book about gender and sexuality thought it was the original text one should go back to time after time. Translation, she said, was like acting, a fascinating if unexplored idea. Romas insisted that the translator should know the full cultural and historical context, be utterly at home in both languages, and that translators never never never never improved original texts or, if there were mistakes in the text they should be left to the copy editor. (This concurs with Nabokov’s view of translators as mischievous and incompetent servants who think they know better than the genius writers they serve. Max Sebald too kept his eye closely on what his translators were up to.)
In the Salon on Thursday, Mamta Sagar and Sigitas Parulskis gave the provocations.
Mamta talked of India with its many languages of which her own, Kannada is one. One may make a name for oneself in one language alone, but that name may be extended by translation into other Indian languages. Being translated into, or writing in English made one available to an international public and offered the chance of international reputation. However, there were many complications such as religion, caste and gender. Reputation, she argued, was rooted in imagined memory, a memory that was exclusive and omitted anything it didn’t want to admit, particularly the writing of women and the Dalit (or Untouchables). Social and gender roles would be defined by ideals derived from sacred or mythological text, the Ramayana. Male roles were defined by Rama: female by Sita. If individuals departed from these models their reputations were ruined. The current government of India led by Modi emphasised the martial aspect of Rama and looked to very conservative interpretations of the Ramayana. The women’s movement had brought progress but the major roles were still all male (Bhavit argued that this was not the case now and that all the major festivals had equal numbers of men and women as well as Dalit writers.)
Afterwards there were questions about women-only publishers. Mamta didn’t like the idea of special spots for ‘women’ poets feeling that this meant they were expected to produce ‘women’s poetry’and be like the flowers at a reception. Indian writing should not be looking to package particular groups in specific ways but focus on diversity. India was after all a secular democratic nation. (Mamta’s work is much translated but generally in workshops at festivals or universities.) There was talk of the tension between Hindu and Muslim and Mamta mentioned but did not expand on the episode of the Godhra train blaze. Marion Molteno argued that the increasing popularity of the ghazal verse form in Urdu was evidence of an essential anti-fundamentalism. Jon Morley wondered how far writing was a form of resistance. Someone else asked whether there were examples of writers forging a reputation in one language than forging a different one in another.
Sigitas’s provocation was read by his translator, Romas. It was the story behind his current book which is about the murder of Lithuanian Jews, as much by Lithuanians as by German Nazis. It was in the Imperial War Museum in London that he discovered how, in his own small home community of just over two thousand, over a thousand Jews were executed. No one had ever mentioned this or chose to remember it, partly because years of Soviet occupation had implanted the idea that it was the Germans alone who were the murderers and that the victims were not so much Jews as communists. This became a matter of “shameful knowledge” in Lithuania and for him too personally. Not even his mother - who had lived through it - believed that Lithuanians could do this. Sigitas went on to resist the idea that literature should by ideologically committed which was not surprising in view of years of ideologically committed or controlled literature. There was no repentance in Lithuanian society, he said, only denial. How much time did it take for a corpse to become a historical corpse, he asked. We are, he said, parasites living on the corpses of the past. Lithuanians, he added, had certainly suffered but suffering can make you more cruel. There was a constant referring back to Christian belief in both Sigitas’s novel and his provocation. Religion was a form of resistance to the Soviets. It is deeply embedded in Lithuanian people.
James asked whether the book was unusual for Sigitas. It was important to irritate yourself, Sigitas replied. Without irritation, no literature. Erica wondered whether it was odd that he should be promoted by the state when he was writing something that questioned the narrative of the Lithuanian nation. The state did not determine culture, argued Rita Valiukonyte, the Cultural Attaché at the Lithuanian Embassy in London. Was the opposite view - a guiltless version - expressed in Lithuanian literature, asked Dan? There is an anti-Semitic spirit in Lithuania, said Sigitas, but it is not overt in literature. Jack Wang said his own book - about Vienna’s Kristallnacht - began at the opposite end, with a pride in saving Jews. What, asked Deborah Dawkin, was the effect, on both nation and writer, of the awareness that once a book like this was translated everyone outside would be invited to view the nation’s dirty washing. (I would have answered that the role of some Lithuanian people in the extermintations has long not been a secret and it was just that Lithuanian authors hadn’t referred to it). Sigitas replied that he gets panned for it and called a lot names. Kyoko made a very interesting remark at the end: We like to take the side of the victim, she said, but that makes it very hard for us to imagine ourselves as perpetrators, and went on to ask whether the obscenity referred to by Sigitas in his provocation consisted of the act itself or of the describing of it. It was the describing, said Sigitas, but it had to be done for didactic reasons.
What is it we identify with in stories of atrocities elsewhere? In the case of Sigitas and Lithuania we were moved to hear that truth could be spoken in a place where previously there was concealment. But are we glad to hear such things only because they confirm our superiority? Would we have acted better than the Lithuanians? Perhaps the story should inspire us to tell truths about our own circumstances rather than feel too comfortable about our sympathies for distant victims.
Sigitas’s angle on reputation concerned the reputation of his own society, not so much in the outside world but at home. Reputation could be a lie. In Mamta’s case reputation was a social status you could lose, a repressive force. Was Creative Writing about the power of partially closed societies - such as universities, but also publishers perhaps - to make reputations that that flattered their own preferences and extended their own power?
This is the fourth in a series of blogs reporting back from Worlds Literature Festival, and more blogs will be posted over the next few weeks. The first blog, "Introducing the Octopus", the second, "The Whirligig of Time", and the third, "Solitude and the Racket", can be found on our website. Alternatively, you can watch the provocations on YouTube or listen to them on SoundCloud.
Find out more about Worlds Literature Festival
George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948, and came to England with his family after the 1956 Hungarian uprising. He was educated in England, training as a painter, and has always written in English. In recent years he has worked as a translator of Hungarian literature, producing editions of such writers as Ottó Orbán, Zsuzsa Rakovszky and Ágnes Nemes Nagy. He co-edited Bloodaxe’s Hungarian anthology The Colonnade of Teeth. His Bloodaxe poetry books are The Budapest File (2000); An English Apocalypse (2001); Reel (2004), winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize; New & Collected Poems (2008); The Burning of the Books and other poems (2009) and Bad Machine (2013). Bloodaxe has also published John Sears’ critical study Reading George Szirtes (2008). Szirtes lives in Norfolk and recently retired from teaching at the University of East Anglia. He is currently translating the Man Booker Prize winner László Krasznahorkai.Visit George's website
Follow George on Twitter @George_Szirtes
Brave New Reads: #ReadingSpot Competition
To coincide with our Brave New Reads summer programme, we've been running an exciting competition on our Twitter and Instagram pages. WCN Communications Intern Miranda tells us more, and explains how finding a new #ReadingSpot can be just as exhilarating as finding a new read.
Sometimes allowing ourselves time to sit down and relax with a book is a hard thing to do. We often say that we don’t have enough hours in a day, that time reading is time that could be spent doing something more productive, like finally replying to those emails, clearing out the cupboard under the stairs or giving the dog his long-overdue bath. Placing our undivided attention on a new novel, memoir, or collection of poetry seems just too indulgent. As Arthur Schopenhauer said: ‘Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them’. Consequently, we often end up opening our books whenever and wherever we get a spare moment, and can find a relaxing reading spot in the most unlikely of places.
In the summer I usually find myself waking up earlier than usual, and recently I’ve started to dedicate the first half hour of my day to reading. I sit down in a comfy chair and squeeze in a chapter or two while I have breakfast (and an all-important bucket of coffee) and, for a little while, my mind is allowed to drift off somewhere else. My book stays with me throughout the day, often in a heap at the bottom of my bag, getting dog-eared and damp as I carry it around and wait for another moment of quiet. Ideally, I would spend an entire morning sat back in that comfy chair, turning page after page of whatever I’m reading that week without having to re-renter the real world, but I can’t deny that I have found some imaginative and varied ad-hoc reading spots over the years.
I’ve read Jack Kerouac on a transatlantic flight to New York, Jane Austen in a Hertfordshire park, Ian McEwan in the Student Union at UEA; I’ve taken books to beaches, bars, banks and birthday parties, and even carried a tattered copy of Harry Potter in my backpack whilst climbing a volcano in Costa Rica. Reading spots can be as diverse as the books being read. Sometimes, I’ll want nothing more than to curl up in an armchair reading Gatsby for the tenth time. Other times, I’ll be on a train heading somewhere new and unexplored, courageously reading a new book by an author I’ve never encountered before.
To coincide with our Brave New Read
s summer programme, here at WCN we’ve been running a competition on our Twitter
pages to see where our followers are devouring their books this July. From rugged countryside in Yorkshire to pebbles on Brighton beach, from a cosy bedroom chair to a seat on the number 28 bus, we’ve seen some great reading spots all over the UK, and have become quite envious in the process!
Every Wednesday we are sharing our favourite two pictures from the week on our social media accounts, and sending the lucky winner and runner-up a Brave New Reads book or tote bag.
Are you reading something new and brave in your usual, comfy spot? Or an old favourite in an exciting new place? Wherever and whatever you’re reading, we’d love to see it!
To enter our competition, simply tweet @WritersCentre
with a picture of your #readingspot,
using the hashtag #BraveNewReads
. You can also follow our Instagram account @WritersCentre
, and tag us in your #readingspot
Here are some of our favourites so far:
The first week's winner was @HattieLC on Twitter, with this enviable view of Calder Valley, Yorkshire.She described it as a 'perfect reading escape' and we have to agree - it looks idyllic!
was our second winner. She tagged us in this picturesque snapshot of the Norfolk Broads over on Instagram - her prize was a copy of Badgerlands, a Brave New Reads title
by Norfolk author Patrick Barkham.
Our first runner-up was @gettingtonomi on Twitter. It seems there was a strong 'tea' theme that first week!
We had two runners-up as a special treat for week two. First, @leanne.rio tagged us in this breathtaking bath picture on Instagram. There really is nothing better than a good book and a long soak!
Our other runner-up for the second week was @MrStuAnderson, who tweeted us this picture of him and William Faulkner sharing a bus journey. All runners-up win a Brave New Reads tote bag, which will no doubt prove useful for carrying their various books around!
Solitude and the Racket - Worlds 2015 Part III by George Szirtes
George Szirtes continues his blog on Worlds Literature Festival, sharing his personal experience of the provocations, salons and readings. Reflecting on the third day, he discusses taught Creative Writing degrees, and the role of professional writers in academic institutions.
This is the third in a series of blogs reporting back from Worlds Literature Festival, and more blogs will be posted over the next few weeks. The first blog, "Introducing the Octopus", and the second, "The Whirligig of Time", can be found on our website. Alternatively, you can watch the provocations on YouTube or listen to them on SoundCloud.
Find out more about Worlds Literature Festival
On Wednesday morning the attention turned, as it often does, to Creative Writing (henceforth CW for short) and its place in university. Did this relate directly to reputation or was it something quite separate, an intruder in our menagerie? Jon Cook quoted Malcolm Bradbury on the unlikelihood of transforming small talent to big talent more of establishing a significant climate within which writing in general might prosper.
D J (David) Taylor led the attack via Cyril Connolly’s 1938 book, Enemies of Promise. What Connolly - a “romantic, classicist, sensualist and anti-academic” in David’s words - offered us in his book was mostly a critical view and a personal memoir, but in the middle section of the same book, he examined factors militating against the production of great literature and the writing life proper: these included hack-work, political committment, escapism, the pressure of ‘promise’, sex, domesticity (the famous pram in the hall) and last, and possibly worst of all, success itself.
David invented a family, the Littlejohns, one member of which in an earlier generation wrote neglected books but survived by hackwork. A later, contemporary figure in the same family proceeded from a CW degree to book publication then returned to university to join what David called a racket, wherein academics write for each other and lose contact with the greater public. He preferred the earlier generation if only because they did things in the real world, the academic world not being considered real.
Instead of asking questions at this stage, Jon Morley, in the chair, asked Vesna Goldsworthy to respond with her own provocation. Vesna talked of her early youth of writing poetry and of her parents’ determination that she should be a doctor. She studied Comparative Literature instead, but the study of it led her to write less and less as the course went on. Studying literature as a subject of criticism did not make one a writer, she said: vets don’t make jockeys. She referred to Hanif Kureishi’s contemptuous dismissal of CW while teaching it. There were the natural comparison with other Arts subjects such as music and visual art where no-one thought to question the idea of formal, institutional education. Was CW a vocational course that prepared you for the life of a wage-earning writer. Would it help you to succeed, to gain a reputation?” Or was it something else? Was the respectability of academic opinion actually one of the underwriters of reputation, I wondered? Vesna herself did not make too high a claim for institutions and shared a certain writerly wariness of them.
In the discussion afterwards Geir Gulliksen suggested that the best a CW course could do was to create good readers, and added that publishing - the field in which he worked - was also a kind of institution. Jonty Driver said he had heard that the Norwegian state bought a thousand copies of all literary books. True, said Geir, the state does intervene to save the literature that it recognizes as literature. Jack Wang has long experience of teaching CW and referred to an essay by Chad Harbach comparing the MFA culture of universities with the NYC culture of writing in a world of publishers. Neither was free of limiting considerations he said but at least the university allowed for experminet and the avant-garde. Ana Clavel talked of the problem of commercialisation in Mexico, Mamta Sagar of the tension between Comparative Literature and straight Literature Departments. James Shea remarked that CW was hardly new since there were ancient schools of haiku in Japan and China and that CW was currently expanding in China and Singapore. Anna Funder wondered how teaching might affect one’s writing while Erica said publishers (and she had worked in publishing) don’t really like CW. This may be so, I thought, but if they really didn’t like it they wouldn’t be publishing as many graduates as they do.
Lauren K Alleyne commented that institutions bestowed a kind of respectabilty in the eyes of the outside world (as for example in the eyes of her own parents). Kyoko Yoshida had done an MFA course and returned to Japan to find that people back home no idea what that meant. She did however emphasise that there existed in CW an ethical contract that agreed your writing, and desire to write, were legitimate and guaranteed that it would be taken seriously. I suggested that not only had writers always met, albeit informally and without institutions, but that before CW started it had been a matter of luck if you happened to come across senior writers willing to discuss your work in person, I also suggested that teaching was essentially intelligent conversation. Dan - whom I had in fact taught at one time - agreed but rightly pointed out the increasingly high cost of such courses.
Lucy Hughes-Hallett wondered why CW should not be regarded, almost incidentally, as a kind of vocational training providing transferable skills just as other humanities degrees did. You did not necessarily have to become a writer. Thinking and reading were the important things. Amit pointed out that CW classes were the only ones where no one ever bunked off. Students wanted every minute they could get. He also noted a certain tension between literary theory in reading, and reading for literary style. Deborah Smith agreed with Kyoko and imagined CW must be a great deal better than straight English Literature which was a matter of ploughing through work by a lot of dead white men.
Romas Kinka worried about the lack of support and respect for translators. Jack said it was a matter of earning a living. All writers had to do it one way or the other and modern pedagogic practice was far from the racket DJT had called it: it was a profession with high professional standards. Bhavit Mehta surprised us by arguing that there no shrinking readership, that readership was wider than ever, it was just that readers weren’t all reading in hard-copy book form. DJT ended on a different note: that of a necessary solitude. He lamented its loss in the climate of workshops, social media and public forums. The notion of writers not just writing but developing in solitude was, I thought, worth considering.
Are you interested in creative writing? Writers' Centre Norwich has teamed up with the world-renowned University of East Anglia and developed new Creative Writing Courses to help you advance with your writing. Available both online, and face-to-face, these Creative Writing Courses are taught by critically acclaimed professional writers and are open to writers of various levels and disciplines. Find out more and book your place.
George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948, and came to England with his family after the 1956 Hungarian uprising. He was educated in England, training as a painter, and has always written in English. In recent years he has worked as a translator of Hungarian literature, producing editions of such writers as Ottó Orbán, Zsuzsa Rakovszky and Ágnes Nemes Nagy. He co-edited Bloodaxe’s Hungarian anthology The Colonnade of Teeth. His Bloodaxe poetry books are The Budapest File (2000); An English Apocalypse (2001); Reel (2004), winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize; New & Collected Poems (2008); The Burning of the Books and other poems (2009) and Bad Machine (2013). Bloodaxe has also published John Sears’ critical study Reading George Szirtes (2008). Szirtes lives in Norfolk and recently retired from teaching at the University of East Anglia. He is currently translating the Man Booker Prize winner László Krasznahorkai.
Visit George's website
Follow George on Twitter @George_Szirtes