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!

Tuesday 13 December 2016

A Boy Called Christmas - Matt Haig & Chris Mould

A Boy Called Christmas
When I first read the blurb: "You are about to read the true story of Father Christmas" and I saw that it was authored by Matt Haig, I knew I wanted to read this. From the very first page, I was smitten.

A Boy Called Christmas is rollicking good fun, full of laughs for child and adult alike on every page, (and Haig has taken the opportunity to poke fingers at the state of the international nation). It's also an adventure quest story, perfect for shared bedtime reading - or cosying up under the Christmas tree. And Chris Mould provides plenty of illustrated pages.

For anyone who's been wondering how to chat about the way we treat outsiders to young children - without getting all politicised - this could be a fun place to start.

If you believe in Father Christmas - the old man dressed in white and red, whose reindeers like Donner and Cupid and Blitzen (okay, Cupid might not be mentioned in this book!) fly him through the night delivering gifts to children who've been good; if you believe in the potential of humanity to be a generous and giving species; if you believe in the possibilities for little boys and girls to go out and become who they want to be; and if you really like a bit of mischievous fun about how things came to be, chances are you'll love this little book.

There is an elf swear word in the novel: impossible.

A Boy Called Christmas has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie medal.

Publication details: 2016, Canongate, Edinburgh, paperback
This copy: received for review from the publisher

Monday 12 December 2016

Dreaming the Bear – Mimi Thebo

Dreaming the Bear - Mimi Thebo
Dreaming the Bear is a quick read about a teenage girl, Darcy, who’s recovering from pneumonia after begrudgingly moving to Yellowstone National Park in its deep winter snow. She stumbles across an injured bear and things get a little more complicated.

Darcy seemingly moves in and out of bodily consciousness and this is interestingly written and quite atmospheric too. Her narration of the overwhelming and consuming tiredness that can accompany debilitating illness is conveyed very convincingly. Her relationship with the bear is an interesting one. It provides a storyline with heartstring-pull moments (oh yes, I did cry) and explores worthy questions about wildlife habituation but I didn't feel this was as richly conveyed as Darcy's consciousness was, perhaps because the novel is quite short. 

Characterwise, Darcy, perhaps justifiably, is a whinger. Yes, she is ill but she’s very spoilt too: it’s in her tone, in her thoughts and in her shopping behaviour so I struggled to warm to her. Sometimes that matters when I read a book. In terms of character development, she does change and she does become more aware of the different ways of life around her. 

The cover and the size of the book made me think this was a middle grade novel but I think the interest level is perhaps for readers older than 9 or 10 years, and definitely for teens too.

Dreaming the Bear has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie Medal.

Publication details: Oxford University Press, 2016, Oxford, paperback

This copy: received for review from the publisher

Sunday 4 December 2016

We sat down for a chat...with Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's debut novel, The Smell of Other People's Houses, paints a superbly grounded sense of teenage life in small town 1970s Alaska. We asked her a few questions and she's even shared her favourite fish recipe too!

The Smell of Other People's Houses - Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Thursday 1 December 2016

The Smell of Other People’s Houses – Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

The Smell of Other People's Houses - Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Can you picture flowers in a whisky bottle? I can; Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock did and this conjuring permeates the pages of this novel beautifully. It's her debut and my goodness....

Saturday 26 November 2016

Australian fiction highlight

Dust, steam, grit and wonder. I am very much a fan of the Australian children's and YA fiction that is published in the UK. Of the novels we've reviewed on We Sat Down, all of them immediately transport you to to a different place. You can feel the dust, or the steamy rain. You can feel the grit and you can feel the magical and lyrical wonder. The Australian fiction that I love is a whole sensory experience. Here's a recap of the ones We Sat Down has featured:

We sat down for a chat......with Glenda Millard

Glenda Millard is the author of Australian novel The Stars at Oktober Bend, published in the UK by Old Barn Books. As part of our Carnegie 2017 theme, we asked her a few questions:

Australian Author Glenda Millard