Tag Archives: words

Lost in translation

So I’m reading War & Peace at the moment. It’s a book that has been on my To Read list for years, I guess because it is probably *the book* that everyone feels that they should (even if they don’t) read. It’s actually really rather good – a little pedestrian to begin with but it gets going. The thing is, it’s occurred to me that I’m not actually reading Leo Tolstoy’s book, but some translator’s version of the Tolstoy book.

This isn’t a problem because it’s not as if I’m ever going to be able to read the original, but it does make me think that I simply cannot imagine how you go about translating a novel with all the nuance and subtlety that exists in the language.

I find it hard enough to comprehend how one goes about translating short, simple documents (although a friend of mine who is a translator will probably tell me that there is no such thing as a short, simple document), let along something that has metaphor, story, and emotion involved…


Anyone who has watched a film with subtitles will know that the half of the audience who can speak the language will be chuckling along with the laughter in the lines awkwardly ahead of those of us waiting for the subtitles. And dubbed films can be worse, with words that just don’t fit – all because sentences have to be reordered. How does anyone go about doing that? And where do you start? Presumably sometimes whole chapters have to be completely restructured so that in translation they work the same as in the original. It just blows my mind.

And in short, however much I read and enjoy War & Peace, I will never actually read the real War & Peace.

Climbing through the wardrobe

Climbing through the wardrobe

Today I have had the best afternoon out in Oxford, ever! Emma and I headed into the city this afternoon to go to the excellent and inspiring home of The Story Museum – I think that maybe this place, the old telephone exchange – is my cathedral. We went to see the amazing 26 Characters exhibition before it closes on 2 November (if you haven’t been to see it, go soon, you won’t regret it!).

From the moment you enter the courtyard that sits at the heart of the three loosely interconnected buildings that make up the Story Museum, you can feel the sense of fun at work here, from the curiouser and curiouser messages up the doors to the cafe and shop with the furniture on the walls and the ceilings and the tables for drawing on.

For the 26 Characters exhibition, the photographer Cambridge Jones found 26 authors to each name their favourite storybook character to have inspired them. He then photographed dressed as those characters, and the exhibiton is a series of installations based on this. You work your way round the crumbling old building exploring the different rooms to feel, touch, and smell the world of the story book characters, and in many there are readings from the stories.

On one floor you go from standing on the pirate ship listening to an excerpt from Treasure Island (Philip Pullman’s favourite), to entering the dark forest of Mirkwood for a passage from the Lord of the Rings. In the corner of this room, inconspicuous is an old wardrobe…


Now who hasn’t, ever since reading C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, wanted to investigate inside of an innocent wardrobe. And this one actually did lead to a secret wood, with a lamp post and snow, a carriage, and… the white witch!

In another room there was a story making wheel where you were given three ingrediants of a story – and then a whole wall behind you of stories written by children and pinned to it.

But another favourite was when we entered the room that once once the old General Post Office kitchens. As soon as you entered you could hear the tiny, tiny voices of… The Borrowers! They were living behind the grill at the bottom of the stainless steel units and you could actually see Pod’s and Arietty’s home! Into another room and you didn’t see anything unless you followed out the instructions to walk into the room and clap twice if you believed in fairies. And then you were in the world of Peter Pan and Wendy and Tinkerbell.

Of Dreams and Dylan Thomas: the power and mystery of words

Of Dreams and Dylan Thomas: the power and mystery of words

In contrast to yesterday, today has been altogether a more productive, enjoyable kind of day. It began with a bit of read in bed this morning, which included a spot of dream reading. Now, does anyone else ever dream read. Dream reading is when you are there reading, your book in front of you, working your way through the story/text just like you do albeit with varying levels of sense… and then you wake up. You realise, that you’ve dozed off and when you try and find your place you find the words on the page are completely different. It is a weird, confusing occurence though!! Does anyone else experience this? No? Just me, then. Me and my weird brain…

Nice, relaxing breakfast, and then I set to cleaning out the animals in the sunshine whilst listening to last week’s Desert Island Discs with Blue Peter editor Biddy Baxter. I made lemonade from the kit that the Shaw’s gave me for Christmas and I finally got round to writing my review of Time Was Soft There which Helen gave me for my birthday. I mention this last act particularly because I wrote the review on my laptop, which whilst still being a little slow to open things (it is 4½ years old though!) was accessing the old t’internet with some degree of speed expected of it. Maybe whatever it was I did succeed in doing yesterday worked?

I’ve earthed up the potatoes this afternoon too, and read lots more of my book during the heat of the day – well I sure as hell ain’t getting hot and sticky vacumning when its already hot and sticky! Then I made dinner of mashed fish (really this is a dish that is a lot tastier than the name might suggest – I seem to have quite a few recipes in my repetoire that seem to fall into this category) and then we settled down to watch the new production of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood with an all-star, mostly Welsh cast. It was very interesting done, briliantly made in a way that completely highlighted the power of Dylan Thomas’ words…. but they cut it! It was only about an hour long which means they actually cut at least half an hour, maybe more. I would love to have seen this version but complete. Oh, why BBC, why did you deprive us so.

And now I’ve caught up with writing about my weekend in these pages. I used to write about my daily goings on so much more regularly than of late. I need to get back into the habit of it.

A bookophile’s book

A bookophile's book

55008Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co.by Jeremy Mercer

This is a bookophiles book; a book for everyone who loves everything about books, and the written word. It is impossible that I wouldn’t love it.

I had little idea what to expect when I added this to my too read wish list. I have only recently discovered that Shakespeare & Co. is a real place. I first encountered it whilst watching the brilliant, Before Sunset. I just assumed that the bookshop was an invention of a clever script and a location manager – I never dreamed it was actually real until a friend posted a picture of them outside of it a few years later.

And what a marvellous truth it is that this bookshop does exist. Who hasn’t – or a least who who doesn’t also love books – dreamed of living in a bookshop. Next to eating and sleeping in a library, surely it is the most perfect of dreams. Time Was Soft There is Jeremy Mercer’s own story of the time when he ended up living and working, and writing, and loving in Shakespeare & Co., and through him you get the biography of the bookshops owner and creator, George Whitman.

The cast is bohemian, as are the stories, many of them self-contained in their nature. Indeed, for me, the book works best in the first two-thirds, when each chapter is pretty much a self-contained story. When we get towards the end of Mercer’s accounts, the book has more of an over-arching story, and this for me detracts from the portraits of individual characters. Even so, a wonderful book of a a wonderful place, that one day I will visit.

Realistic language, WTF?

Realistic language, WTF?

Tonight on Front Row tonight they were discussing the challenges of keeping the dialogue of teenagers authentic with writer of E4’s Youngers Levi David Addai and star Calvin Demba, along with reflections from Val McDermid, Phil Redmond and Joss Whedon on how they’ve tried to make their teen characters ring true.

I always remember an interview in the Radio Times with Steven Moffatt (long before Doctor Who) about how he wrote Press Gang. He said, on the subject of naturalistic young dialogue that he couldn’t, not at 5.05pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Truly naturalistic dialogue would be to have a f-word a minute, and swear words peppered like punctuation. I was reminded of this only a few weeks ago as I found myself sat diagonally opposite by some college kids on the bus home. They were, if you listened – and their voices were loud enough that you couldn’t not – talking quite intelligently and profoundly but it was peppered like machine-gun fire with f-words.

The solution that Moffat found was to layer the dialogue with linguistic tricks and to write the kind of dialogue that 16-words would want to, and aspire to speak. Redmond and Whedon were saying something similar.

I agree with this stance. Truly naturalistic dialogue of whatever kind may be authentic, but it can be almost unreadable and can date very, very quickly. better i think to hint at a relaxed way of speech and allow the reader or the actor to bring their own interpretation.

Alphabetical: the story of the ox-house

Alphabetical: the story of the ox-house

alphabetical  by

I have enjoyed dipping in an out of this book a chapter – or should I say a letter – at a time since Christmas. The history of, and the stories behind, words, letters, and languages are fascinating and this book is every bit as fascinating.

I never realised that, to take its actual, literal meaning, the alphabet is an ox-house! And there are so many other gems that its hard to single them out. Each chapter concerns the history and story of one letter, and then Michael goes on to use the letter to tell some other story about how language has evolved. He goes back to the earliest cyphers and rune markings right up through letterpress and mass publication to the 21st century texts and tweets of the digital age.

Next time you send a tweet, stop for a moment, and think of it as a telegram of old.

words words words

1. Another lunchtime, and I’m down to the last 100 pages of revision. I can reach The End…

2. Leaving the canteen, I passed the OUP Bookshop, children’s book sale. Damn, childrens’ book sales, I’ve only gone and bought a couple of presents for Jonas’ birthday. Still they were at the staff discount of 50% off, so… 🙂

Past, present

I’ve been writing in present tense for so long now, I now find, as make the first tentative steps to Louis Tumnal’s story I’m finding that the natural choice for me is still present tense. This is awkward as I want to write this story in the more traditional past tense. I guess seven years of working on Blood & Fire and the screen writing before it has taken its toll on my poor brain… :-

The Curious Tales of Thomas Shepherd…

Helen recently posted information about a new competition being run and I am tempted to enter Blood & Fire into it. Normally I am cautious about entering my WIP into a competition because of the fear that they will want to see all of it, and if its not already finished then I will look like a right dimwit. In this case, with them wanting the first two and last chapter and a (cursed) synopsis, I am well-placed to enter…

Of course Emma would like me to write and enter (The Curious Tale of) Mr Tumnal. I find this a bit difficult. I really like Louis Tumnal’s story, and I really, really want to write it. In fact I can’t wait to write it because I do think it is pretty damn original, and intriguing and compelling. At the same time Blood & Fire has been part of my life for so long I have to finish it now. I have to do something with it… :-

What’s in a name?

I’m going to try and get the revisions to part three of Blood & Fire finished by the end of this weekend, and thus reach the half-way point. The thing is, I think I’m going to have to change the title. Annoyingly Blood & Fire seems to be a popular name for a book, along with lots of other websites.

So here’s the thing. Originally, the idea for calling the novel Blood & Fire, is that the blood would reflect the family saga of the story, and the fire would be volcanoes beneath Iceland.

Keeping with this idea of having a title that conjures up family, legend, magic, and climate change, what do you suggest? Please comment here with your brainstorming.

Pretty please…?

To Flashback or Not To Flashback

As you know I switch quite regularly between different POVs and plotlines, and I make use flashbacks in my novel Blood & Fire. I’ve just started looking at Part Two in my process of revising it, and I have a question for…

Part One covers Eleanor getting lost in the mountains from Ben and Hanna’s perspective with occasional glimpses into how Eleanor is getting on.

Then in Part Two, I roll the clock back and go back over the same period in time but from Eleanor’s perspective.

Nothing wrong with that you might say. However, currently Part Two currently starts where Part One left off and is a little prologue to Eleanor’s story. I then go back to the beginning and tell Eleanor’s story as if in the current time (ie. not a flashback). I’m thinking that this is going to get very confusing for the reader.

So what would you suggest? I’m thinking maybe it’s best to chop the ‘prologue’ from the beginning of Part Two and work it in to narrative when I get there. But my only problem there is that I have Eleanor’s story dovetailing in and out with ‘the present’. Ggrrr, I’m not really explaining this very well, which probably doesn’t bode well for it…

Views and opinions gratefully received!

Words On Sunday

Today has largely been about words for me, and I like words…

1. Critted (is that a word – probably not but it sounds better than Critiqued) three chapters of someone’s book on CritiqueCircle. I wonder how much critting you need to do in order to become ‘hyper-active’. Currently I am just ‘very active’. And yes I do know that I have at least two chapters of bright_as_day‘s Sea People story to go.

2. Worked on my chapter 6. It’s coming, slowly. There’s still time for me finish the second draft tonight but it’s looking unlike.

3. Started to read my Four British Fantasists book yesterday. Very interesting and makes you think. More later…

4. Have also started to read this debut novel by Rachael Wing, Star-Crossed. It’s umm – intriguing. It’s written in the second person. I don’t think I’ve read anything written in the second person before and I can see why. Still, it’s not badly written, but the style is unusual. I guess it gives my present tense novel hope…

5. No Sunday Night PizzaTM tonight. Instead I had a nice (almost) vegetarian meal of pasta, salad with pine nuts and feta cheese drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil … oh, and parma ham… 🙂

Now, back to chapter six I go, or (2) on the list. Or should I have a read of (3) or (4)…? Which words should I choose?!

A productive weekend

Finally, after some two months have got back to The Novel, and progress is being made. The world is fast becoming a changeable and dangerous place, and the various forces are converging in battle…

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
96,378 / 100,000


In other news, the playwriting group had our August meeting. We have now sketched out the basis of Act Four (the second part) and I have begun work on my bit. There is a possibility that we might follow Act Four with an ‘Act Five’ epilogue to take place after the curtain call. We shall see… 😉