Thursday, 8 October 2015

Cornelia Funke Founds Breathing Books

This is not new news, I'm afraid – I'm working too hard at the moment to keep up – but I do find it interesting.

German writer and illustrator Cornelia Funke, asked to make significant changes to the the structure of the third Reckless book, The Golden Garn, by her US/UK publishers, said no. Her books are edited in the German original, she told the press (two different but similar interview pieces were published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Publishers Weekly has the full scoop in English).

So they gave her the rights back and she didn't even have to pay for the finished translation, and she has set up her own publishing house, Breathing Books, to bring out the book on her own terms. No one's really saying why the Americans and British wanted the changes, although Funke suspects they wanted to market the novel at younger readers – they didn't want it to open with a birth scene or close with an open ending. I'm impressed with Cornelia Funke. The internet would say Cornelia Funke gives zero fucks.

The plan now is to bring out the novel with a title closer to the German original than the planned "Heartless", as an e-book and a limited print edition to begin with in November, and see how things go. The new company will also do book-related apps and new editions of Funke's books with her own illustrations, plus re-releases of out-of-print titles like the fabulous Pirate Girl (tr. Chantal Wright) – which coined the phrase "you piratical nincompoop", much beloved in my household. The website looks exciting but doesn't credit Funke's usual translator Oliver Latsch, who is also her agent. And her cousin, I believe. So maybe he's OK with that.

I like the idea of a writer gaining greater command over her work in translation. I have to say I was surprised an editor would suggest structural changes to a translated and thus already edited book, but perhaps it really is the done thing in children's and young adult publishing, which seems to be rather concerned about putting readers off. And what makes me particularly happy about the whole story is the tiny spark of hope that Breathing Books might one day publish writers other than Cornelia Funke. Maybe they could offer a gateway to young Anglophone readers' hearts and devices for translated fiction. If they're reckless enough, maybe.

3 comments:

R said...

Re US/UK editors suggesting structural changes to books in translation: I can give you one data point on a recent successful title. English rights in this book were sold by a literary agent to a US publisher, who proceeded to cut around 10,000 words from the English version before publication, without consulting the translator. As I understand it, the translator had been commissioned by the author's agent to translate the entire book (an increasingly common tactic among Nordic agents & foreign rights depts) and the first the translator knew of the English rights being picked up was when he saw "his" translation (with significant changes) on sale in a bookshop.

This is a cautionary tale for translators who accept commissions on a "work for hire" basis -- if you do that, the party that acquires your translation will own it outright and can do whatever they like with it, with no obligation to consult you.

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