Thursday, 12 January 2017

We sat down for a chat...with Zana Fraillon

I loved Zana Fraillon's The Bone Sparrow, a tale about a young boy born in a refugee detention centre and a young rural girl in Australia. The novel epitomises what I'm starting to consider my favourite elements of Australian teen/young adult fiction so I'm absolutely delighted to have asked her some questions and to share them here today.

Zan Fraillon, author of The Bone Sparrow
WSD: You've written about refugee children and your inspiration for The Bone Sparrow, and particularly Subhi. Could you say something about your inspiration for Jimmie and her story? For me, it is she that gives the book its sense of Australia.

Zana Fraillon: I really love Jimmie as a character. While she is distinctly her own self, there are many similarities between Jimmie’s life and Subhi’s life, and I think they recognise this in each other. Jimmie is growing up surrounded by grief; she has the sense of being almost forgotten by society; she is desperately trying to get a sense of her past and her family’s past so that she can step forward into the future; and despite everything, she is so strong, and so resilient.

In the same way I wanted to write about children growing up in immigration detention centres, I knew for a long time that I also wanted to write about kids growing up in a really remote area, where the usual support networks don’t exist. In Australia, there are many remote communities whose people are living in third world conditions and whose life expectancies are dramatically lower than people living in other parts of Australia. John Pilger’s amazing documentary 'Utopia' is a very eye opening insight into the conditions of many remote communities, and many people – both in and out of Australia – are not aware of this hugely important social issue. While I wasn’t able to go into great detail of this issue in The Bone Sparrow, it was something I felt I could touch upon and shed just a little light on in the context of the story. 

WSD: You've talked about the resilience of childhood and their ability to imagine and hold onto a 'someday'. When you were a child, what was one of your 'somedays' that you dreamed about?

Zana Fraillon: My someday was all about travel and getting away. I imagined the far away places I would discover – remote places, away from everyone and everything, wild, natural places where I could be completely myself. I always wanted to have kids of my own and imagined a large, gloriously happy family full of kids and dogs. On a recent trip overseas we went to Ireland, and while travelling through the countryside there, I felt an incredible sense of being ‘home’. This was exactly the kind of place I imagined my ‘someday’ unfolding. There is still time…

WSD: You've mentioned being a fan of Isabel Allende (yes!) and discovering magical realism through her and how it finds a place in your books. Can you say a bit about what draws you to magical realism (and do you think there's more magic or more realism in it)?

Zana Fraillon: I have always been drawn to magic. That idea that there are other worlds and other existences and other possibilities just hiding in the shadows is so exciting! As a kid I slept curled up with a garden gnome (who still lives with me, although no longer shares my bed) and used to climb out my second story window and leap across to a huge tree that grew outside and was definitely full of fairies. I suppose magical realism gives me a way, now I no longer have a fairy tree outside my window, of believing that there just may be magic in this very real world we live in. I am not at all religious, so perhaps this is my religion of sorts! This was another bonus for us when we visited Ireland – where we stayed had a lot of information regarding the Sidhe (the fairy people of Ireland) who, in some parts, are very much believed in, and respected and feared. I love this idea. The notion that you have to divert a road to go around a fairy thorn, rather than cut down the tree and risk the Sidhe’s wrath – it was a little like living in a story, where anything is possible because the world is more than what it seems.

I think the reason I love magical realism, but rarely enjoy fantasy, is because of the wonderful balance between the magic and real. There is that sense that the magical phenomenon could almost be explained by other, more real worldly explanations, but then, perhaps, just perhaps, they really are magic…I love that feeling of not knowing, and then that freedom of giving in to the magic. It gets me excited just thinking about it!

WSD: If someone gave you a necklace, what would you like it to be and why?

Zana Fraillon: Something with a story behind it. Something that has passed through countless hands, had hopes and dreams whispered into it, been rubbed in excitement or anxiety or fear. I majored in history at university and am very much drawn to the ghosts of places and things. I quite often (much in the same way Jimmie does) sit on a rock and imagine all the other people that have sat on that very same rock, trying to fly my imagination as far back as it will go, trying to breathe in that person’s story. So an old necklace. A simple necklace, but one that has something to say…

WSD: Please tell us about the mysterious passageways of Melbourne!

Zana Fraillon: I wish I knew more about them! But Melbourne, as with most cities, has an incredible hidden history. There is a huge network of underground tunnels and drains – there is talk of an old, beautifully decorated train station right under what is now the CBD, although its exact whereabouts is currently unknown. There are alleyways and hideouts of local criminal gangs from the turn of the century, and then other smaller laneways that you can wander down and suddenly find yourself surrounded by quite incredible, and usually surreal, street art that makes you feel as though you have stepped into another world all together. And of course there are then all those doors – the ones that are in odd walls, or at curious heights or are just a very strange size for a door, and they make you wonder where they lead, and who are they for and why are all these people walking past without noticing?! But all of them, the lanes and the passageways and the tunnels and the doors – they all have stories in them, just waiting for us to discover.

Thank you so much, Zana, and wishing you all the best for reaching your 'someday'!

The Bone Sparrow is published in UK paperback today and has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie medal,

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Wing Jones - Katherine Webber

Wing Jones - Katherine Webber
Katherine Webber's debut novel, Wing Jones, is a delicious mix of ingredients. Based in 1990s Atlanta, the main teen characters are all mixed race or black, there's an inter-racial relationship, there's binge drinking and suspenseful moments of gun-toting. But, there's also - and primarily - a naive and painfully vilified fifteen year old girl who is relentlessly bullied, is mocked by her loving Ghanaian and Chinese grandmothers, has a girlhood crush on her popular brother's best friend, and she calls on her dragon and lioness to help her through the most tragic events of her life.  Wrap all of this up in Jessica Ennis 'this girl can' attitudes to sport and sprinkle with happy bliss. Then you've met Wing Jones.

Wing Jones is a pleasure to read. Katherine Webber's writing flows, and she creates immediately likeable characters. Prejudiced attitudes to race and what constitutes criminal activity form central parts of the story without being tackled as 'issues'. The tragic event*, which provides a plot turning point, covers an issue I don't think I've seen in YA before (I'm sure it is out there though) and is tragically very real. Curiously, and despite these elements of the plot (which were my favourite), the overall tone in Wing Jones is cosily warm and those who love cute couples will no doubt be charmed.

*See below for small plot spoiler about the tragic event......

Publication details: 5 January 2017, Walker Books, London, paperback
This copy: uncorrected proof from the publisher for review

Caution: Plot spoiler follows.

Plot spoiler

Plot spoiler.

Tragic event: drinking and driving

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Alpha in translation - part 2, Sarah Ardizzone

Yesterday, author Bessora chatted a bit about herself and writing Alpha. Today, in part 2, translator Sarah Ardizzone goes behind the scenes to tell us about Alpha's artistic and cultural development. her answers are really fascinating. 

Sarah Ardizzone and Bessora on BBC Authors Live

WSD: I think I've gathered that you were the person championing the idea of translating Alpha into English? Why? 

Sarah Ardizzone: Alpha was published in France just before the great wave of desperate migration or what we think of as the ‘migrant crisis’ (which you could say began in the summer of 2015). It stemmed from an encounter that Barroux had with Togola, a migrant who spent time at the artists’ squat in Paris where Barroux had his studio space. It came into artistic life thanks to the creative collaboration between Barroux and Bessora (they’d met at a book fair, where Barroux had sensed that Bessora, with her research background as an anthropologist, was the right person to ‘write’ Alpha’s story). This is important, because the story is not a deliberately ‘timely’ response to world events (although it turned out to be uncomfortably prescient). Rather, it is an organic tale that two artists at the top of their game felt compelled to tell. Barroux was moved by a personal encounter; Bessora became immersed in the research aspect, in order to be sufficiently informed for her fiction to work its truth.

 Translator, Sarah Ardizzone
For me, reading the French version for the first time at home in Brixton (South London) in 2014, it chimed on every level. Firstly, it rendered the excruciating journey that so many people embark on – out of sheer desperation, when they have no option left but to leave their country behind - very concrete and palpable. Whereas the term ‘migrants’ tends to ‘translate’ these people into faceless statistics.

Secondly, it was incredibly exciting to witness the development of Barroux’s artistic style as he tackled a very different topic from the last project on which we had collaborated: the found diary of a WW1 soldier ( Barroux always enjoys a challenge with every new book, and this time it was about creating a diary in transit by an Ivorian man using the kinds of materials (cheap notebooks, and a packet of felt-tips) he might have been able to access.

Thirdly, and perhaps for me most intriguing of all, was being introduced to a writer whose work I didn’t know, but in whose presence I instantly felt comfortable: Bessora brilliantly performs the high-wire act of plotting her searing tale without the characters ever becoming ciphers; of investing in crucial research but ensuring that her text wears it lightly; of politicizing her readers without telling them what to think. Her prose is stripped back, so that it can be a true partner to Barroux’s images – she makes the space for words and pictures to co-exist. And yet her humanity, her humour, her affection for her characters is never far from reach.

All of which to say, what I knew I had in my hands in Brixton was a book that mattered, had been impeccably served by two great artists, and that it was going to be my job to get it out into the English speaking world. Barroux’s and my long-term publisher had changed careers, so we needed to find a new publisher. The children’s publishers I spoke to felt the subject-matter was too tough for their readers, while my concern with the grown-up publishers was whether they’d truly invest in and make all the noise around this book that it deserved. Enter the brand new YA imprint, The Bucket List, at Barrington Stoke!

WSD: You run a variety of interactive translation projects. Do you see performance (and maybe iteration) as being part of a translation process?

SA: Well, one of those interactive translation projects was literally what catapulted ALPHA into securing a UK publisher. At London’s Southbank Centre, I’d been involved in curating something called The Spectacular Translation Machine (scroll down to find out more). This was about getting translation into public spaces, making it visible, encouraging people to engage with it and… oh yes, asking the general public to translate Line of Fire from scratch across two weekends, no matter how much or little French they had – starting with the images. 

When the Edinburgh International Book Festival invited myself and co-curator, Daniel Hahn, to create a Spectacular Translation Machine in their Author’s Retreat tent, I knew I wanted to see how ALPHA would fare up there. And, within moments of Mairi Kidd, MD of Barrington Stoke, walking into the tent, it seemed we’d interested a prospective publisher. So, in that sense, ‘performance’ – turning Alpha into a public spectacle – is precisely what led to it being translated.

We then went on to create Alpha The Spectacle (apologies for the confusing double use of ‘spectacle’) which is a staging of the book, with Barroux drawing live (his work projected onto a big screen by a visualiser), a wonderful actor called Thierry Lawson playing the part of Alpha, and a kick-ass musical soundtrack supervised by Carole Mendy, whose musical roots lie in Marseille.

All these stages are performative and acts of translation – getting a story out to a different audience in a different way.

And, on a personal note, hearing the text of Alpha spoken as actor’s lines of course focused my attention back onto the quality and lexical choices of my translation. We were freely able to change those lines for the live performance. If Alpha is lucky enough to have a second print-run, I would hope that some of those changes would also make it into the printed text.

WSD: And, to end on a humorous note, what's your favourite pun (only because you probably have at least one or two)?

SA: I was being ‘auditioned’ once to translate the children’s writer Timothee de Fombelle. His book, Toby Alone, is an eco-novel about people as tall as a grain of rice who live in a tree containing all sorts of warring factors. I was asked, off the cuff, how I’d translate Con-seil (conseil meant    council or gathering in the context, but the characters were emphasizing the prefix ‘con’             meaning ‘stupid’, to put it politely. I offered ass-embly. It got me the gig, so I’m always fond of       that one.

WSD: Haha, that IS funny! I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more               collaborations from you and Bessora.


To find out more about Alpha, go here:


Friday, 16 December 2016

Alpha - in translation: part 1, Bessora

Alpha is a graphic novel, originally published in French and now published in English by The Bucket List.  It's a straightly told story about a man who unwittingly becomes a refugee. It's award-winning and it's wonderful; and I'm delighted to have asked the author, Bessora, and the translator, Sarah Ardizzone, a few questions about its development (and themselves). 

Today, it's Bessora's turn with a couple of interjections from Sarah when search engines led to things getting out of hand!   

Bessora talking about Alpha on BBC Authors Live
WSD: Alpha has become much more than a book. Anything to say about this?

Bessora: A book should always be more than a book: it is a 3D universe, a reflection of life, characters are flesh and blood, with a story bearing a deep theme. Here, it is a guy who puts his life at stake for a better life: disorders of the world, migrations, everyone is concerned. I’m so glad to see that this book has a “life” beyond the book itself.

WSD: I'm imagining that in translating, you're going to lose 'something' from the original story but gain 'something' in the new language (aside from a new and different audience!). What do you think you might have 'lost' but also 'gained' in your translation of Alpha?

Bessora: A translation is an adaptation, and a creation. So it has to betray more or less the          original work. I do not believe that Alpha has lost anything in the translation: it is rather a new  breath. In the end, when I read it, I recognized my story, but I also felt like I was discovering        something new.

WSD: How collaborative a project was Alpha, especially in terms of the translation? Or did you have to put your trust in Sarah (and her reputation)?

Bessora: Alpha is a "simple" text, there is no hidden meaning to words or phrases. Sarah did not need me to explain anything to her. Trust is implicit: a translator is an author who also exercises his freedom of creation.
WSD: Without proficiency in French and without a Sarah, I have used Google translate to read your biography on your website. It is hilarious and interesting. I don't quite understand what happened to your reproductive organs but I think it might be along the lines of madwomen in attics?  

Bessora: Ask Sarah what she thinks of Google Translate. I share the same opinion! Maybe you   did not understand what happened to my reproductive organs because Google translate did not capture the mood of the text! Hooray, it'll never replace a professional translator!
To tell you everything, I do not remember what I told about my reproductive organs (maybe        that they were stressed !). 

Sarah Ardizzone: So the greatest description of Google Translate I’ve ever come across was told to me by a Year 6 (final year primary school) student, who I met at a translation workshop in Essex. ‘The thing is, Sarah,’ she informed me with terrifying assurance, ‘Google Translate doesn’t do flair, and it can’t do voice’.
As for Bessora’s reproductive organs, that all depends on what you’re translating: her language, her soaring imagination, or her mordant wit?

WSD: Have any of your other writings been translated into English?
Bessora: Alpha is the first of my texts to have been translated into English. Others will follow I  hope!

WSD: Here’s Bessora, explaining a bit about herself:

Bessora, lunatic author with variable geography Last book in English : Alpha ! Last book written in French (but very easy to read for English speaking people…): Nicolas !
Bessora, a fanciful author with variable geography. Tragedy, comedy, short story or comic, she    can do it all! Latest comic translated in English by Sarah: Alpha. Last novel in French:                     Le Testament de Nicolas (Nicolas’s Will)!
SA: Which Sarah also hopes to translate!

WSD: Looking forward to that, Sarah and Bessora!

Tomorrow, come back for Part 2 to find out more from Sarah Ardizzone about the background and artistic development of Alpha, and her role in championing it for translation and publication in English.


You can read WSD's review of Alpha here.

To find out more about Bessora's charmingly funny bio, take a look at her blog - and beware Google translate!