Monday 18 July 2011

Upcoming Events

love german books is taking a holiday over the next two weeks. But you can catch me in person at a couple of translation-related events in Berlin, Edinburgh and London.

First of all I'll be talking to Thomas Pletzinger and Ross Benjamin about their book Funeral for a Dog (see my review). Wednesday, 27 July, 7 pm at Soho House Berlin - entry is free but you have to RSVP to the organisers Dialogue Books.

Then it's my first ever trip to Edinburgh, where I hope I'll be on stage with Clemens Meyer and Stuart Evers to help present my translation All the Lights. Tuesday, 16 August, 5 pm at the RBS Corner Theatre. 21st-century dirty realism, they're calling it, and I agree.

On down to London, where we have three readings in two days: Wednesday, 17 August, 6.30 pm at the European Bookshop - with Juan Pablo Villalobos and his translator Rosalind Harvey, then Thursday, 17 August, from 2 pm at the Ritter/Zamet gallery, followed by an evening do at the former East German embassy on Belgravia Square. Again, follow the link above for booking details for the London events, which are free and involve alcohol.

Incidentally, Clemens Meyer is nominated for the Newton First Book Award, which is somehow related to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It's decided by a public vote - simply go here to cast your ballot online.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Translation Idol IV - All the Entries

All the entries for this year's round of the now legendary talent contest Translation Idol are now online at no man's land. The event went very well, with a good few people taking the chance to get more creative with Verena Rossbacher's very tricky text than we translators are usually allowed to be. For me, that's one of the great things about Translation Idol - it's an opportunity for people to get their teeth into translation without an editor or a reader saying, "But that's not what it says here!" or, "But we don't say that in English!" Also, it's a reminder that translation can actually be a real joy. I hope that comes across in the entries.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Schoßgebete - Gearing Up to the New Charlotte Roche

The follow-up to Charlotte Roche's gazillion-selling Feuchtgebiete/Wetlands is on its way, and it's called Schoßgebete. Apparently it's about that "last great taboo: marital sex". I'm looking forward to it, although I'm not entirely sure marital sex is really a taboo subject. But whatever, no doubt Charlotte Roche will give it the bestselling funny treatment one would expect.

I'm fascinated by the dodgy pun of the title. It's a play on the words "Schoß" - lap, womb, even bosom in certain contexts - and "Stoßgebet" - a short, sudden prayer known in English as an ejaculation. I kid you not.

Anyway, die Zeit's literary lady Ursula März writes about all the marketing kerfuffle going on right now, with an initial print-run of half a million copies and a book trailer and a multitude of internet promotions and 200-packs of books for retailers. She also interviewed Roche's publisher Marcel Hartges a while back, which makes very entertaining reading. Lots of passive-aggressive dispute about what makes proper literature and whether it's a bad thing that people who don't normally read books read Charlotte Roche. The most bizarre bit is when Hartges compares Roche with Thomas Bernhard.

So roll on 15 August, is all I can say.

Monday 11 July 2011

Ingeborg Bachmann Prize to Maja Haderlap

So the competition's over and I've almost recovered. The top prize in Klagenfurt went to Maja Haderlap for her "Im Kessel" (Encircled). Like last year, the judges chose the text that was most difficult to translate, although according to the official website there was some dissent. And as some critics have pointed out (see Buchreport), this year's winner was another childhood recollection by a more mature writer than the average in the contest, like Peter Wawerzinek's winning text in 2010.

The Kelag Prize went to Steffen Popp for "Spur einer Dorfgeschichte" (Traces of a Village Story), another linguistically challenging piece. Next came Nina Bußmann ("Große Ferien"/Long Holidays) followed by Leif Randt ("Schimmernder Dunst über CobyCounty"/The Haze over Coby County). The audience award went to Thomas Klupp, unsurprisingly, for his entertaining "9to5 Hardcore".

Do I sound a bit miffed? Had I been on the jury I'd have chosen different winners, certainly. But the pattern I've noticed is this - as a translator, I have very different expectations or requirements of a text to German critics. For me it has to work in English, and that means it has to deal with a subject of interest outside the German-speaking world in a way that we can relate to. And it has to be - no, not easy to translate, but it has to be a text that doesn't positively resist translation. If it uses fragments of nursery rhymes or regional dialect, for example, those are inevitably going to be lost not in the translation itself, because we can replace them or transpose them or find some way of dealing with them, but in the reception. The text will be a different one (as is always the case in translation, obviously enough) with a very different effect on the reader.

I shall take these thoughts away with me and mull them over. Haderlap's novel Engel des Vergessens (Angels of Forgetting) is released today.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Ingeborg Bachmann Prize 2011 Day 3

Start at the bottom and scroll up!

2:00: And that's it for today. Tomorrow there's the voting and from 3 o'clock today you can vote for the Villiglas Audience Award. I'll add a link as and when. I won't be blogging live on the winners, partly because that's a very boring part. But I will let you know who won...

1:57: Why not use satire? says Strigl. She says there's nothing wrong with funny texts, nothing to be ashamed of! Why thank you, Frau Strigl - that gets you the love german books critics prize in one fell swoop.

1:53: Winkels chose the text and is irritated by having to defend it at the end of the discussion. Possibly because he didn't get to go first as usual? He says the character is deliberately part of the world - in which research is carried out that nobody reads at all. So that's reflected in the text's lack of direction? Have I understood that correctly? Who knows. Jandl finds it too predictable.

1:48: Sulzer finds the idea of the text more important than the character. And he's found some contradictions in the text. Which seem rather petty.

1:46: Spinnen: if it's so accurate then it can't be satire! We're getting another fascinating anecdote from the life of Burkhard Spinnen... ah, but what he's asking is what's new and up-to-date about the story. The text focuses on the character as a traditional satirical structure, and he found that tiring. And also that distracts from the criticism he wants to make. Does he?

1:42: We just had a wee dispute about the anglicisms in the text. I'm usually allergic too but I think they match the character here.

1:41: Paul Jandl says the text gets boring rather quickly - we found that too... Daniela Strigl disagrees. She seems fascinated by the character and the gender issues he raises.

1:38: Meike Fessmann's going first, she says it made them all laugh to start with, a persiflage of the cultural studies business. She says the text prostitutes itself as much as the narrator does. But it drags, all those plays for laughs. Keller says it's funny, very critical of the academic world (from which Keller herself comes). But the last third doesn't fit so well. What's making this guy stay in the job?

1:32: We're getting porn fatigue here...

1:25: By offended, below, I mean the jury might well be offended by the actually funny humour. There's a strange reaction among German critics to humour - it's not serious, so how can it be Serious Literature? Odd, huh? I don't think that's the case in other countries.

1:17: Actual smiling faces in the audience. We think he's going to win the public vote. How could he not, in fact?

1:12: I sometimes see Thomas Klupp on the other side of the room at events. I've never actually met him, but he always makes me feel uncomfortable. I don't think this story is going to improve matters.

1:07: We'd prefer it if he'd brushed his hair though. I sent my daughter out of the room. The Room 101 reference is a tad obvious, but hey.

1:06: Thomas Klupp’s text made me laugh. All the way through. I spent two days at my desk giggling out loud. Apparently there were rumours going around Klagenfurt that it was going to be pornographic. Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s about an academic who studies internet porn, clicking his way through thousands of images every day and cataloguing what they show. And he’s also a test person in a study on the effect of pornography on men. So it’s really more about – tadaaa! – modern-day academia and society.

That doesn’t sound terribly funny, does it? But in fact the devil’s in the details, and many of them are in the language in this case. The narrator is forever penetrating subjects, keeping abreast of matters, in the bosom of things, and so on. It’s a cheap laugh, I know, but it sure as fuck works. And the other thing is that the narrator’s an ambitious and cynical bastard who points out the drawbacks and sordid sides of academia. He’s in constant competition for attention from his female professor, battling the equal opportunities officer, and trying to simulate normal lust curves as a test subject. Which of course doesn’t work well because he’s completely numb from looking at so much porn every day. The only thing he finds arousing is – wait for it! - looking in the mirror. The jury are going to hate it, they’ll be mortally offended. Or they might just lighten up and love it, who knows? Either way, it was great fun to translate.

1:04: Video portrait Thomas Klupp. A day out at the petting zoo. Not an author we can trust – this is a very strange video about the poetological value of donkeys.

1:01: Daniela Strigl: the Croation setting was used as a backdrop to the Karl May films. I'm not entirely sure why. That's it, I'd say he didn't do terribly well.

12:58: Keller again: the language is coupled to the character, it's fine to be taken from movies, why would a man in a war be terribly sensitive? Fessmann's not impressed. There's some argument about this text, we're unimpressed by how un-constructive it is for the author though.

12:55: Spinnen's getting terribly patronising - perhaps it was a poor choice of extract... It's strange how the criticism seems all the more cruel when they pretend to be nice about it. What he's actually saying is that it's too macho.

12:52: Meike Fessmann doesn't think it's plausible and finds it too sentimental. We're angry that she keeps saying things aren't plausible. This is fiction - anything is plausible. Keller's fighting back, of course it's sentimental, someone wants to kill himself! Sulzer likes the wasp, it adds a quieter note before the chase.

12:50: Paul Jandl does understand what's happening, hooray! The protagonist is a deserter, thank you. But still, he's not well pleased and finds the hero too clichéd and stupid. Hildegard Keller's defending her choice of text. The language reflects the character and that character is de-personified, wearing a mask. It's a war novel, a man's world, an extract from a novel.

12:46: Daniela Strigl doesn't like the lingusitic borrowing from Hollywood films. Why is it that I know what's going on but the critics don't? OK, I read texts very closely indeed when I translate them, but these critics have read the text several times over as well. We don't think they're very constructive with their criticism.

12:43: Sulzer is completely missing the point, oh boy, he says it might be a Yugoslavian speeding along a Swiss motorway. Is this some kind of weird racist assumption?

12:41: Hubert Winkels wants to say something. To say something positive, he says, it has great pace and it's a daring way to tell a story. But he doesn't like that Hemingway reverence or the mythical setting - man, sea, gun, police. He says it's not clear what war is raging - which is plainly wrong.

12:38: Such lovely long sentences, we translators do like that. Terribly dramatic.

12:29: My friend hasn't quite got what's going on yet. But she's interested.

12:27: I've realised this whole "man" thing is impossible to transport into English. My version is much more immediate because I had to use "you" - it's almost intrusive, whereas the original is simply less so. I can't explain it any better.

12:19: He's reading a bit too quickly, which is a shame. My translation is here.

12:17: Aha, Michel Bozikovic! One of my favourites, which the jury will therefore not like at all. One of the most striking features is that it’s written in an unusual way, addressing “you” as in the German "man" - making the experience a universal one. The story starts as if it’s going to be about teenage angst, with an abandoned suicide attempt and a rediscovery of the will to live. And then a line that made me laugh – your parents wouldn’t have let you have the car anyway. And then the camera pulls back from the very intimate opening shot, if you like, and we gradually realise this isn’t quite what it seems.

The protagonist is actually someone like Bozikovic himself, a Croatian-German who’s expected to fight for a country he doesn’t really feel a part of. And he’s on the run from the police for a not terribly clear reason and from the army. Next comes a great macho fight scene and an adrenaline-soaked car drive and scramble across the mountainside. The action goes from a tiny wasp to a geo-political conflict in a fairly short time. I do like this kind of thing but I’m perfectly aware it’s going to be too simplistic and macho for the jury. Never mind – we can still enjoy the fun.

12:15: Hello! Video portrait Michel Bozikovic. I'm intrigued as to how the jury will react. A very attractive man, I think, which people often don't like. Rather self-confident. A bar rather than a café, ha ha. Hemingway reverence, oh dear. Another sailing boat. He does seem to have made the film himself, at least.

11:35: Paul Jandl's not satisfied either. I just put my cinnamon rolls in the oven and now it's lunchtime.

11:34: Keller likes the objective narration that's not un-emotional. But an elementary subject - the family. Spinnen's pointing out that the individual death reflects the death of the porcelain industry and the economic death of an entire region. He likes the text's discretion but still seems a wee bit disappointed at the lack of authorial voice. Doesn't quite work, he says.

11:30: Winkels is getting a bit rude, a "narrative accident". Keller's being rude back, claiming Winkels doesn't like it because it's East German and he's had to pay extra taxes for twenty years for the East! I think she just said Anne Richter writes in pastel tones rather than black and white. Which is rather faint praise, if you ask me.

11:27: Strigl feels there should be more, the content's full of blood but the story's rather pallid. Closed-down glass factories seem to be a leitmotif this year, she says. Meike Fessmann rather likes it, she says, the conventional framework is just fine, why not write about families? At least something happens in the story, she says. She's telling us the story all over again, how annoying. And she rather likes the very caring brother, a Maria Magdalena character. The mother, she says, is absent and that's interesting and well told.

11:23: Sulzer's starting the discussion. He's a bit frustrated, he says, by not finding out much about the father and the uncle's problem. But it's well done, he says, BUT rather too nice and uninteresting.

11:05: We just talked about expectations of women writers in terms of appearance. About how we're not supposed to be conspicuously attractive, which is a bit of a bummer. But on the other hand, it's kind of up to us what we want to look like. And we only talk about Angela Merkel's hair and not Wolfgang Schäuble's. To make up for it: we don't approve of Burkhard Spinnen's facial hair.

10:55: Nobody's particularly impressed round here.

10:52: Anne Richter's is another of the texts that Stefan translated and that left me rather cold. Not uninteresting but with the odd cliché, it’s about a brother and sister and their father and his brother. As the story unfolds we find out it’s set in the former East Germany, with the uncle out of work and then dying of cancer. He and the father had fallen out when the children were children – violence was at play, and is reflected in the child siblings. I don’t have a great deal to say about the story, I’m afraid. It’s competently framed by a funeral, at which the father has to come to terms with losing his estranged brother. And that’s about it.

10:50: Video portrait Anne Richter. More books in trees. Really, they're making this too easy for us.

10:47: Even the discussion's a bit pallid and unenthusiastic. Although Strigl likes it because it's scary and funny at the same time.

10:43: Oh, I missed Sulzer defending his choice. He says it's like science fiction and he's waiting for apocalypse.

10:40: We think Randt's written this text expressly to please critics and cultural types. But it's not quite critical enough to upset anyone. It's not just the content that's moderate.

10:37: Meike Fessmann feels amused but is reminded of Antonia Baum's criticism of the parental generation - Randt's saying today's parents are just too relaxed. Is this "generation" subject becoming a literary supermarket where writers can just walk in and help themselves - too easy. I think she's annoyed. Paul Jandl say the problem with the text is that there's nothing authentic in it. An artificial reality attempting to present an authentic feeling. We don't find out much at all about the narrator and Jandl can't find the core of the text.

10:33: Hubert Winkels goes first, just for a change. He likes the story, tells us everything's moderate in this artificial world, no highs or lows, reminded of wellness oases and cruise ships in our world. Pointing out that there's a risk of it getting boring but he's managed to avoid that (hmmm...). Daniela Strigl agrees. Truman Show! All the self-observation and self-obsession and the narrowly defined generations. And that New Literature Marketing is like a big baited hook to catch critics on, and it works.

10:28: My friend's wondering two things: has the hero got a problem? (I think his only problem is that everything's so great; she thinks he might be gay.) And is there a story? (I don't think there is.)

10:20: Such an uncomfortable sex scene. It's very well done, so cool and factual and absolutely free from passion, overly intellectual and really not much fun.

10:12: We're just talking about how "literary" writers use so much indirect speech in German, so many subjunctives (like Leif Randt). It's not much fun to translate. My friend says dialogue is seen as genre writing and Not Literary. Which is pretty ridiculous, we think, considering how much everyone here loves Zadie Smith and Jonathan Safran Foer.

10:06: No major discussion happening here. Has Leif Randt got elfish ears? Is the text reminiscent of TC Boyle? A slight laugh at his performance of "New Literature Marketing".

9:56: Leif Randt’s story is truly odd. It’s set in some distant Americanised place called Coby County, which seems to be populated entirely by happy ex-hippies and their children. It’s a place where everybody wants to be, with beaches that attract party-happy tourists from all over the Western world. A place people write popular books and films about. It reminded me of what some people think Berlin is like. The narrator, Wim, is a young literary agent for the extremely young, and he has a superficial relationship with a beautiful young woman with no character as such. Not that he has much character either.

There’s no real old age in this strange place, and only hints of poverty and weakness. It’s a deliberately artificial text that is presumably meant to make us reflect on our urban lives today, on the shallowness of our relationships and event culture, etc. etc. It made me feel slightly dirty and manipulated. Stefan Tobler’s translation is here – an extract from a forthcoming novel, I believe.

9:55: Jury all look very tough and annoyed. Video portrait Leif Randt. Home made but not as irritating as the others.

9:50: OK, this may be socially humiliating, because people keep calling up and cancelling. It may make for unpleasant reading as I bemoan my lack of friends. I'll try not to harp on about it. One lovely friend is here but she has to leave early.

9:30: Morning! Today I'm wearing my live blogging hat and my nervous hostess apron. I've invited people round to watch the readings with me, but I suspect we'll be a tiny group because the summer holidays have started (the competition was moved into July because of an Iron Man contest in Klagenfurt. No kidding.). We shall see. Only four writers are reading today, one of whom will cause a stir, guaranteed.

Friday 8 July 2011

Ingeborg Bachmann Prize 2011 Day 2

Start at the bottom and scroll up!

3:15: See you tomorrow, when I have some people coming round again and things may get a bit hectic.

3:07: That's it for today! Ooh, except that now an Austrian translator is talking about our work on a text like Steffen Popp's. A good literary translator has to be creative, he says, and enjoy the challenge. Oh God, I feel like a fake now. Hey, and the lucky Bachmann Prize writers get their texts translated by Stefan and myself and many other translators into the other six languages, and that's a badge of honour and opens doors into the rest of the world. Now he's saying - correctly - that translating is really great fun but really badly paid. What a very clever man. Unfortunately I forgot to notice what his name was. Herr Haffner, says the lady. Ah, Fabjan Hafner. Well, what a funny feeling to have someone on TV apparently talking about me, myself and I.

3:05: It was Meike Fessmann who invited Popp, and Daniela Strigl is grateful. It's fine to make readers work for their pleasure, she says. Gosh, they're very keen, even Hubert Winkels. Even when he's picking holes.

3:02: Some argument over whether beauty is enough, I think, and whether we need finished texts or not. Paul Jandl says it's an aesthetic pleasure to read, the images throw up a lot of questions for the reader. And that's a good thing. Interesting question, huh?

3:00: Spinnen seems to admire this highly rhythmic text as well. But, he says, his banal question is: so what? He says it's a tightrope walk and he was impressed for a long time but wants more than just form.

2:54: Keller says the text lacks a supportive structure for the village, the travellers, the hunt for traces. She says it's picturesque but baffling. Fessmann says it's not called Trace of a Village Story for nothing (bullshit bingo). She's explaining what the piece is about, which is kind of the writer's job in the piece itself, if you ask me.

2:52: And Sulzer also just pointed out that it's actually a very long poem and he can't judge the quality, being a prose writer. He finds the characters confusing and undefined.

2:50: Winkels says it's an unfinished text that leaves it up to us to complete it, intellectually. The light is playing on his nose in an unflattering way. Sulzer is complaining - and I agree - about the way Popp read, as if it was a litany.

2:47: It's about hunting for traces and clues, says Daniela Strigl. It's like a film, she says, in that it's a long series of still images, and she finds it very rich. She's very impressed by the poetry of it all.

2:40: Odd creatures in odd places. The text does make the village in question look like a strange, cold junkshop full of oddballs, cacti and broken things. Like Emily's shop in Bagpuss.

2:35: Oops, I've just noticed that the page numbers have accidentally made their way into my translation. Please ignore them entirely. It's not quite that avant-garde.

2:32: There are lots of cameo appearances by earthy, meat-eating East German individuals. Our heroes, of course, are healthy middle-class vegetarians. Snow.

2:23: It does seem to work slightly better when read aloud. It feels a bit like cheating, because he can use intonation to define his characters. Not that the intonation is any great shakes - Popp is applying the male version of the serious literary reading style. Not so much depressing pronouncements as a very long list. Possibly because he doesn't bother with verbs or personal pronouns, alternately.

2:21: Steffen Popp is a poet who’s recently branched out into prose. Kind of. Because this is really a whole short story written as prose poetry, and it really does stretch the reader. It seems to be about a group of friends on a trip to a village somewhere in the former East Germany, some time in winter. But it’s not a story as such – there are a few characters but they’re terribly opaque because they don’t get developed for all the poeticising that goes on. And there’s certainly no plot or any of that banal story development one does tend to expect of a short story.

I translated it, which was difficult. Eventually I found my way in to the rhythm, but not until about a third of the way in. You can probably tell from my translation. To be honest I disliked it quite violently to start with, but after a while I made my peace with the piece and relaxed slightly. It’s sort of enjoyable in its own way, but I wouldn’t want to read a whole novel like this.

2:19: Video portrait Steffen Popp. A white plastic chair jumping around on its own. Sigh.

2:16: Oh gosh, they do all seem to genuinely like it. How strange. Paul Jandl invited Nina Bußmann, I believe, and says her text is very intelligent, the juxtaposition of the social and the natural. Defending the clichéd mother with - pardon me - a clichéd argument: clichés do exist. The highly precise language is what does it for him. Spinnen says it's a very confident text. Rather like an unemotional scientist carrying out an experiment with rats, he says. Jandl is positively ecstatic.

2:09: Strigl likes the combination of two mirrored intelligent individuals, the victim as perpetrator, the teacher fighting weeds and slugs and children. Ah! She says it's deliberately sallow. I agree. I wouldn't use that as a compliment though.

2:05: Burkhard Spinnen is saying something I don't quite understand about the young generation nowadays. Keller says the language is very strong - a micro-world in the garden, snails or slugs as metaphor.

2:02: Sulzer: something or other must have happened. But he does have a problem with the clichéd mother-son relationship. Not convinced by the speed of OAP's home -> dementia. Sulzer's jacket is hurting my eyes. Sulzer and Fessmann are arguing about whether the character is gay or whether we don't know either way.

1:59: Meike Fessmann says it's very precise, and she's telling us what it's about. Philosophical idea: we can't find the truth. Winkels says weeding the garden is neurotic (bullshit bingo) and he likes the text. Ah, the text is too subtle for me. I've missed all this hidden eroticism he's talking about.

1:56: Just spotted someone in the audience who I once talked to on a station platform. Smiling.

1:52: I wonder whether the jury will use the word Mephisto. There should be a kind of critics' bullshit bingo. Thomas Bernhard, Mephisto, fundamental conflicts, The Big Picture, poetology...

1:46: I'm resisting the temptation to be rude.

1:38: So here we have your archetypal young, serious literary woman reading at Klagenfurt. Short hair, no intonation whatsoever, other than a slight disinclination towards the end of every sentence. Sort of like anti-Australian pronounciation. You know? Those young people whose every sentence is a question? Well, here we have the opposite. Every sentence is a depressing pronouncement. It's very widespread among young women writers in Germany.

1:33: Nina Bußmann. Hmmm. I’d entirely forgotten this text and just had to re-read it. Not a terribly good sign, huh? It’s about an old teacher who’s had to resign. And Bußmann takes her time hinting at why that was. Competent prose, an unusual teacher-pupil relationship, but Clemens Meyer does it better in one of his short stories. I don’t have much to say – Stefan’s translation is here.

1:30: Hello! Video portrait Nina Bußmann. Water and green plants. Something about beavers. It's making me say rude words out loud.

12:55: Lunch break! See you at 1:30.

12:53: I think they quite like it but find it too busy, too much material in it. Spinnen loves that dart bit too, loves the basic set-up. Strigl says she loves that smorgasbord, Fessmann likes the disgust our narrator feels.

12:50: Paul Jandl's comparing it to Steven King's Misery. Only of course he's forgotten that it's by Steven King (or is pretending to have forgotten) and talks about the film. Spinnen: Arthur Schnitzler comparison (Winkels compared it to Ulla Hahn's Mann im Haus).

12:48: They've obviously all understood the text differently. Meike Fessmann likes the strong physical images, says the narrator is an eastern European woman, former prostitute, paid to look after the sick man. Daniela Strigl chose the text and says it's also about a real character and a strange love story, love and work in one and aggression. The narrator wants to control the sick Leo, feels no self-pity. The family history is a legitimate element, she says, and the narrator longs to disappear into the earth. Does this make any sense?

12:44: Winkels goes first, what a surprise. He's spotted lots of mythological women, spiders, etc. But he says it hasn't worked because the child left behind doesn't go with the sick man in his room - too many elements. Sulzer says it's hard to understand because it's hard. Interested.

12:39: Camera operator getting bored = close-ups of attractive individuals in the audience.

12:33: Oh, but Winkels has put down his script and taken off his glasses. Get ready for a huge bitching session. You can see him in the background thinking up nasty comments. Or perhaps he just needs the bathroom.

12:31: Rabinowich is getting more and more jolly as the reading goes on. What fun!

12:26: Hmm, the audience is looking bored. Paul Jandl looks unhappy. It is a teeny bit messy, I have to admit. They may be wondering where it's going. I think this was my fourth favourite.

12:20: Can you spot the Paul Celan quote? It's quite well hidden. I do like this text in her reading. So mischievous and slightly silly and a tad pretentious, not trying to make any political points, beautifully sordid scenes, self-hate and cynicism.

12:16: Strange, she seems to be actually enjoying herself. Nice accent, Austrian I assume. Lovely shiny black hair.

12:13: Ah, Julya Rabinowich! Now here’s a text I enjoyed translating. I’m not sure if that was because my friend Tess Lewis has already translated one of her books (Splithead), so it felt like a privilege to “borrow” her for a while. But perhaps I just genuinely liked the thing. A strong female narrator who sleeps on beaches and makes friends with dogs and has a child who she has to send money back home for. And now she’s living with and caring for a dying man in Vienna and may or may not be a casual prostitute on the side. In fact there’s quite a bit of “may or may not” going on in the text, but that didn’t bother me.

Whatever, rather enthralling language that nicely evades cliché, an oppressive setting and situation and none of all that neuroticism we had yesterday, just plain and simple (Austrian? Russian?) oddballs. There’s a plot of sorts, or at least a narrative arc, in which the narrator gets annoyed with the neighbours for having exhibitionist sex and hunts through the dying man’s flat for a dart which she then throws at the stupid cow across the road. It’s strange, but it’s great fun to read and that’s pretty much what counts.

12:10: Video portrait Julya Rabinowich. Aha, she's a painter! Red and black and she reminds me of my quasi-stepmother. She doesn't write when she's happy. And she writes plays. More red, and another blooming café. She doesn't want labels. Really rather cool.

12:08: And of course the Slovenian thing in modern-day Carinthia. Oh, sometimes I do dislike myself.

12:07: Winkels has something or other to say and claims he'll keep it short. Picking a few holes, not all that plausible in the narration, doesn't like the ending (rather sudden fear that we hadn't encountered before). Spinnen: the end comes too suddenly. Ahhhhh, here we have it: they don't seem to feel confortable criticising a text about Yugoslav partisans who fought against the Nazis while their parents and grandparents didn't. Could that be it? Is that a terribly cynical thing to say?

12:02: Meike Fessmann doesn't like it! Hoorah! She's not happy with the child's perspective without sufficient distance. She enjoyed it well enough but doesn't think it's anything special. Daniela Strigl says you can't compare Haderlap with Peter Handke. She chose the text and is defending the strange sentence about the "resounding name of Dachau". I see in retrospect that I've smoothed that out with an interpretive translation. Ooops. Defending the father character - he's not nice and trustworthy at all! He gets drunk and falls down a hill, hooray. It seems to be the subject matter that interested her most.

11:57: They all seem to like it. You can tell by the way they're just retelling the "story", even Paul Jandl. Maybe it's that forest thing that's uniting the German-speaking souls across national borders. Still, for me as an English-speaking reader it's not exciting.

11:54: Lots of clapping. Maybe she has a local bonus. Keller likes the rhythm and the forests. Praising the slow pace and lack of spectacular narration. Sulzer hasn't got much to add - "faultless text" - nostalgic, strong language, starts with a landscape but they didn't like that yesterday when Geltinger did it. Likes the nostalgia for Dachau. How odd.

11:46: Ha! The live-chatters at sopranisse don't know the lovely word tschentschen either (I'm lurking). I left it in German, which is cheating, but it's such a beautifully onomatopoeic word for complaining and none of the Germans I asked (OK, neither of the Germans I asked) had ever heard it either. So I went for the equivalent effect by just writing, "Don't tschentsch like your mother." That's my favourite part.

11:42: Let's see if honey-roasted peanuts and fizzy water are less headache-inducing. Oh, I missed the funny bit. Damn.

11:34: It's funny, I think I can tell it's quite good writing, she uses quite original language - being a bilingual poet and academic - but I just can't bring myself to admire the text.

11:31: I also had problems with the blooming rucksacks. I always worry that Americans don't know that word, and I get really paranoid about what to call the dang things in English. In this case, there are a number of rucksacks and one of them even seems large enough to contain a dead dear. I called them backpacks.

11:23: There’s always one text that’s a complete bugger to translate (she says as if she’s been doing this for years). Last time around I had deep-sea fishing terminology to cope with. This time it was Maja Haderlap with her text about foresters in the Slovenian-speaking region of Carinthia. And how they go hunting and talk about the old days when they were partisans. So that’s four different kinds of specialist terminology in one text. Plus she uses wordplay between the contexts, to wit the title: Im Kessel. That’s German for a badger’s den, a geological formation, a hunting practice where the hunters encircle an animal, and also what the army does to the partisans.

I hope I’ve managed to rescue as much of the specific terminology as possible, because that’s pretty much what gives this text it colour and makes it worth reading. Otherwise it’s a rather muddled story of a child and her Slovenian father, who seems to cross the border to communist Yugoslavia at will and talks about the war at every opportunity, when he’s not talking about hunting and tree-felling. Oh, and another problem: the writing veers between direct and indirect speech at random, sometimes within a single sentence. Difficult to deal with. I don’t know if Maja Haderlap will get special ethnic minority bonus points or the jury will find it folkloristic. Sometimes I find translating a difficult text is a genuine pleasure. That wasn’t the case here. My translation is here, such as it is.

11:20: Video portrait Maja Haderlap. Lots of trees. There's a reason for that. Oh, haha, they've scattered books and stuff on the forest floor. How terribly witty. Now there are pieces of paper pegged onto branches. Slovenia. She's very earnest and tells us the stories in her novel have been accompanying her for many years. Two pencils = bilinguality. Hmm.

11:18: Spinnen says Catch-22 does the same, but Fessmann says the unique thing is that the soldier's not allowed to kill. Great point. Sulzer's standing up for Fessmann, which may be a liability because he's the unpopular kid in the playground. Great discussion.

11:16: Fessmann's fighting for her text, she's had enough of monologues yesterday and has finally arrived in real life. She says there are fantastic sentences and great writing here. She doesn't understand the criticism that the reader is shown very clearly what happens and what the character's thinking. Jandl says that spoils the tension - why not write non-fiction about the subject? Oh, this is a great argument! The patronising men against Meike Fantastic Fessmann. This is good TV.

11:10 Hildegard Keller's overdone the pale blue today, I must say. Doesn't like the characters. Oh no, Frau Keller - please don't ask if it's realistic what the guy's thinking under the circumstances. For goodness' sake, have you ever been in a tank in Afghanistan? What a redundant criticism. Burkhard Spinnen gives her a tap on the wrist for it. Before launching into a bit more autobiographical detail. Yawn. The Burkhard Spinnen Show, day 2.

11:08: Daniela Strigl contradicts Jandl - it's not Kolportage - allow me to look that up - oh, trashy writing! What's new about the piece? She's comparing it to Hemingway's A Call to Arms - Reichlin hasn't made progress since then, hasn't taken any narrative risks.

11:05: Paul Jandl's sceptical. No arguing about the moral issues the text raises, obviously irritated by the Greek tragedy elements (which I didn't spot). But he's not impressed by the aesthetic means. Meike Fessmann chose the text and is powering into the argument: no pathos, strong characters, strong dialogues, a new kind of conflict - the soldier who's not supposed to kill. She's defending the shoe device that annoyed Winkels.

11:01: Winkels says it's too simple. Of course he says that in a very long-winded way. Sulzer (whose stripy jacket doesn't work on TV): it's about guilt, about responsibility. Sulzer and Reichlin are both with Galiani. He doesn't find it too simple, he finds it clear.

10:58: Winkels has to get the first word in, and that first noun is "courage" - and he mentions Kämmerlings right away. He says the wealth and intensity of material that the war in Afghanistan offers isn't reflected in the text. Too efficient for him. This guy's such a bitch. Kammerspiel, he says. I hate sharing this man's thoughts.

10:50: He calls the Germans "die Eigenen" - our people - and the unnamed enemy (Afghanistan's never named) "die Anderen" - the others. Which is one of the few literary devices he uses. But you wouldn't want to get all literary on war.

10:45: Much of the action takes place inside a tank, which is an impressive variation on the Kammerspiel. Now comes the denouement - he really has shot a woman. Actually that realisation would have been a good point to stop. But hey.

10:41: And you can tell there's a bit of a love story in the background. I'm wondering if the jury will find the text too efficient, if you see what I mean. Because I think sometimes critics don't want books to be too smooth, too professional. And there might be a touch of that here.

10:35: Another thing I like about the content is that Reichlin's showing men thrown together who'd never usually know each other, "an interpreter from Kreuzberg" and a doctor are now close friends. Actually, I'm starting to find his reading slightly too tame. I want more drama! OK, now he's waving his arms a bit to make me happier.

10:26: So he's reading the first three chapters of a novel. I once attended a party that Linus Reichlin was at too, but he came across as rather arrogant and also seemed to have a very attentive girlfriend watching his every move, so I’ve never actually spoken to him. Nevertheless, his is pretty much our favourite text (although I have a two others that I like a lot too). A doctor is with the German army in Afghanistan, a bomb goes off, he seems to have shot a woman by accident. The text deals with how he deals with it, shell-shocked as he is (literally).

It’s a text of the kind that the critic Richard Kämmerlings has been calling for recently: German writing about war – today rather than in a historical context. There’s only been one book on the subject so far (Deutscher Sohn by Ingo Niermann and Alexander Wallasch), and that didn’t go down terribly well. This text is well written (I liked the brain as “one big cocktail shaker”) but the form doesn’t overshadow the content and it hits home hard. Reichlin has written left-field crime fiction so far and is published by Galiani Berlin, who fielded last year’s winner Peter Wawerzinek. Stefan Tobler’s translation is here.

Reading very well, which is no surprise. Strange remains of a Swiss accent, unfortunate spectacles.

10:23: Linus Reichlin's video portrait. Steering a boat, looking a wee bit psycho. Quite funny actually. He's moving away from crime writing, which he's won prizes for. Everything he says seems to make actual sense. What a professional...

10:21: Last night they had a reception with the mayor. You can tell by looking at the jury - they all look a wee bit tired.

10:19: The presenter lady is wearing a better top today and surrounded by the nice frog-green shoulder bags. Oh look, she's talking about Bachmann Goes Europe, the project I'm involved in - the idea being to raise interest from foreign publishers. And yes, I ended up translating Dorothee Elmiger's Einladung an die Waghalsigen, from which she read an extract of sorts last year and won the Kelag Prize. Hooray!

10:00: Morning! Welcome to day 2 of the love german books coverage of the Bachmann Prize. I'm going to do things slightly differently today, because I had a bit of an existential crisis yesterday afternoon. I found myself wondering, why am I doing this? Surely I ought to be earning a living or saving the world? And I also had a bit of a headache from concentrating so hard while eating licorice allsorts and tortilla chips. But then I realised two things: first of all, this is actually part of my job as a translator. I translated half the texts for this competition and it'd be foolish of me not to watch it. So why not write about it while I'm at it? And secondly, I came across a radio interview with Keith Oakley, a psychologist in Toronto who has looked into what reading fiction does to us. His conclusion? It helps us to understand the social world around us. So in my own modest way, I too am helping to save the world.

What I'm doing differently today is this: aside from eating healthier food, I've prepared some of my comments on the texts in advance, and I'll try to concentrate on explaining what's going on (with comments...) rather than assuming my readers are watching the show at the same time as me. We shall see.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Ingeborg Bachmann Prize 2011 Day 1

Start at the bottom and scroll up!

15:15: So, that was day 1. The stronger texts are coming up in the next two days, although I'm not quite sure who's reading when yet. Certainly, my favourites are yet to come. And the jury have been quite kind so far, I think. Join me again tomorrow - I'm going out to stretch my legs now.

15:10: That didn't go terribly well, did it? Daniela Strigl says the essential sentence is this: "My head is just a head taken from the past and plonked here on my contemporary clothes."

15:07: Spinnen is really very wordy. What is he trying to tell us with this comment about how we sometimes don't like our friends' girlfriends? I think that nobody likes it except Hubert Winkels.

15:04: Winkels says it's all deliberate. Quite what is deliberate I'm not sure. A matter of taste, he says. Sounds like a rap, apparently. Looking for love is apparently un-Bernhardesque. Note to self: Reread Thomas Bernhard before next year's Bachmann Prize. There's obviously nobody else one could use as a comparison.

15:00: Fessmann's talking about Hegemann without mentioning her name, she says the failed parents are a fashionable subject. Much argument about whether the Bernhardisms are deliberate or not. Jandl doesn't like the purple prose and clashing images. No, nor do I.

14:57: Sulzer equally unimpressed but likes the development between the two chapters. Keller says no, it has three parts and no development! She liked the beginning, the sulky teenage world, certain scenes "written to death" - good but rather tiring. And permanent victimhood. So she was disappointed in the long run.

14:53: Daniela Strigl hopes it's not a Thomas Bernhard parody because it doesn't work very well as such, but fears it isn't one because the parody would lend the whole thing a structure. Some things she likes, some she dislikes, but she finds it predictable. Techno = Hitler, we've been here before, she says.

14:51: Oooh, is she going into the vacuous nature of the techno scene and the emptiness of random sexual relationships? And is the writer she ends up underneath a reference to an actual writer with a similar name? That would be nice. I prefer Nino Haratischwili though.

14:47: And she's also thinking about sexual expectations society has of girls. Which might work better if Baum didn't look quite so much like a porcelain doll, but I suppose that's not entirely her fault.

14:43: BUT - and it's quite a big but - at least Baum has written about sex, which German women tend not to do, according to my nascent theory. As such, she deserves a certain degree of recognition.

14:40: Because actually, we've actually read before about controlling men and the terribly modern club setting doesn't add all that much. Actually. Although there is a touch of self-irony. Perhaps it's the good daughterlyness gone bad of the whole thing that doesn't impress me. It makes me feel jaded and cynical and old. In a bad way. Unlike Axolotl, which made me feel old in a good way.

14:37: OK, here we come to the second part, which is more interesting. Now our narrator is a trophy girlfriend of a successful man, now a drinker herself, hooray! But she's looking for a stranger called Jo(e). So she's discovered hedonism but - wow! - it doesn't make her happy. I feel rather mean and patronising, but I still don't think the text works well.

14:34: One of the problems, very possibly, is that it's very bitty because it's made up of excerpts from a novel. But the whole teenage angst and hate thing doesn't work for me. Also, the teenage section was hard for Stefan to translate because the language is rather pretentious, no doubt deliberately. Our teenage narrator is pretentious.

14:24: It's about a good daughter in a dysfunctional family, and then she runs away to Berlin and gets trapped in an exploitative, unhappy relationship. Now if you read this blog regularly, you may be aware that I've translated Helene Hegemann's Axolotl Roadkill. And Baum's text has a lot in common with that novel. Partly the club backdrop, terribly modern, partly the stepmother scenario, partly the alcoholic parents, whatever. But this text feels more like teenage fiction than Axolotl ever did, a much more naive narrator, at least in the first half when she's still living with her father. It does get better though, as I recall.

14:21: Stefan's translation is here. And oh dear, she's terribly nervous. Opens with a bang, deviant sex in public in a club, a writer writing as he's at it. This is a text I had a few problems with.

14:19: Video portrait Antonia Baum. I watched this one in advance because I was puzzled by the text and the writer. Stefan Tobler translated the text. Baum obviously has something to say but has problems getting it across in the portrait. She has some kind of problem - does anyone want to read the stuff she writes? She says she's decided not to care. Writes about love.

14:17: I think we can safely say it didn't go down well.

14:15: Winkels finds it very frugal and dry, and now they're arguing about what happens in the text like an undergraduate seminar. Winkels points out that a writer who has to say, "I never cry," has done something wrong. I agree.

14:12: Daniela Strigl (who my friend Rasha and I have just crowned coolest critic in the show) says the text is something we don't like to read. Ha!

14:09: Spinnen admits the text meanders, but at least there aren't any landscapes, he says! He's impressed by the moment in which the academic is confronted by real death and her language breaks down into the trivial level. Modern relationships, cynicism. She's using him or is he using her? Jandl just said something rude but it was rather noisy outside so I missed it. Must just close the window.

14:06: Spinnen chose the text. Impressed by the character portrayal. Look, can you see they've all got the same frog-green bags as me? Last year's were silver, I like this one slightly better.

14:03: Winkels disappointed. Keller is of course an academic too, but does she like it? Is it because we're too dumb to understand it? Subjective approach towards the research subject, the character has her own language that suits her. True, perhaps that was what I liked about translating it. And also the fact that it wasn't difficult, the voice flowed quite nicely and had a very characteristic feel to it. But perhaps not enough.

13:58: Meike Fessmann says it felt like a storyboard, lots and lots of different elements but doesn't work as a text. Sulzer unimpressed by the writing. Awkward sentences, found it trivial as a whole. Not clear why she's not allowed to go to the funeral.

13:54: Strange that the narrator is so well read and intelligent but the text is so un-literary.

13:48: What a difference a voice makes. I've had enough of this text now. A young academic starts a relationship with a nice earthy man - a sound recordist or something like that, married, then he leaves his wife and she doesn't like him any more. Then he gets cancer and tries to get her back. Nothing doing because she's now a Strong Woman. So he makes sure she can't go to his funeral. Interesting that a female academic has that stereotypical thing with a bit of rough, intellectually inferior but showing her what real life is about, simple and real. Which we know from countless books by male academics who have sexual adventures with women from the lower classes. Only Praßler doesn't go into the sex, disappointingly. Presumably female academics don't talk about sex, unlike the male ones.

13:40: You can read my translation here. I'm falling out of like with this text by the moment. It feels awkward, the all too obvious references to the date, the overly plain references to the narrator's neuroses. Perhaps my general dislike of prose about academics is getting in the way. There are a few sort of funny bits, but the sparks do tend to get stamped out instantly by this difficult narrator. And of course a bit of reported speech from a messed-up mother. A shame she wasn't more daring, really.

13:33: Ah, I see I'm going to have a problem with Praßler's rather girlish voice, which doesn't match the narrator's character for me. This text has some things in common with Wisser's cool neurotic character portrait. Only - and forgive me for even thinking this, let alone writing it down - her's is a woman. So while we get some missing of buses and some rattling of suitcase wheels and rather a lot of detail about an academic dissertation on death, we also get a love story. Failed, of course. Come on, this is German literature, what do you expect?

13:30: Oops, back with a video portrait of Anna Maria Praßler, who writes screenplays and stuff. I translated her text, which I quite enjoyed. Poor woman obviously let herself get talked into carrying a mirror around a shopping mall for the video.

12:50: Lunch break.

12:46: It's certainly getting them arguing. Possibly, the passive is more unpleasant to read in English than in German, which uses it more frequently. But Spinnen doesn't like it either, it's not just me. Jandl visibly upset by taste differences. The discussion is moving further and further away from the text. Bad TV, frankly.

12:44: Paul Jandl seems to be reading what I write under the desk. We're not in a psychology seminar, he says. Thank you, Paul Jandl. Otherwise, he chose this text and now has to defend it. I spoke to him once, at the Frankfurt book fair, I think I asked if he could hand me a book. I was rather shy. Anyway, he says it has a very clever construction, the simplistic sentences reflect our banal world.

12:40: Fessmann says the passive is disguising overly simplistic writing. Oh, but must we diagnose characters' psychological symptoms precisely? Must we pigeonhole characters in terms and attempt to heal them? Do we care whether they're depressed or neurotic? Seriously.

11:38: Sulzer says we can speculate about the character, the character can observe himself through this passive voice. Thomas Bernhard??!

11:34: Keller. Liked presentation and form, exaggerated attention to detail not comfortable reading. Spinnen's read lots of texts about oddball men. Funny that much of what Spinnen says is about Spinnen, but it doesn't annoy me. Anyway. Spinnen sceptical about the use of the passive, disappointed. Grammatical criticism. No alternative interpretations.

12:31: Strigl seems to like it. But she seems to be retelling the "story", i.e. the character. She's convinced by the form and the subtle meanness. What doesn't she like? Reminded of Genazino and Houellebecq, genre doesn't quite stand up to the models.

12:28: Winkels wants the first word: passive voice to indicate neuroticism, not quite consistent. Story as a whole inconsistent, he says, with a lack of tension. Monotonous, he says the monotony works well for the reader but perhaps the writer could have used less monotonous means.

12:25: One of the problems Stefan and I had with several of the texts was the use of indirect speech. It's hard to render in English because we don't have a way of marking it out as strongly as you can in German, which has a special verb declination (?) to indicate it. So we have to add slightly annoying "according to his father" tags, etc. We'll come back to this.

12:20: Frowning women in the audience. We don't like the character and we don't find it interesting. Sorry. I can see the appeal for the writer of slipping into this not very nice but not actually evil character. But there's little appeal for the reader.

12:14: I have a visitor who says Wisser sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Which makes the text more interesting - hey, imagine it was Arnie cleaning the sink with his wife's toothbrush! That would be rather more entertaining. But maybe that's not what literature is for. Presumably it's terribly shallow of me to expect literature not to be dull.

12:06: And do I want to know what this cold character thinks about going to the toilet? No, I do not.

12:04: A dull day in the life of a dull man. Let me have a quick check to see if anything happens. Nope. Just a great deal of detail, a dysfunctional relationship, memories of a failed attempt at an affair, an elderly father. So perhaps like all our own dull lives. But do we want to read about that in this sober tone? Possibly not. But then sometimes German readers really go for this kind of thing. Funny really, national literary tastes.

12:01: Ahhh, there's no better way to irritate translators into English than writing an entire text in the passive voice.

11: 58: Portrait Daniel Wisser. Home-made. Annoying. Stefan Tobler translated this one. This annoyingness may be reflected in the text. Neither of us particularly enjoyed it.

11:54: Burkhard Spinnen chose the text and Fessmann's reminded of Aleks Scholz last year, who Spinnen hated, but Spinnen is well into this one: very big contemporary issue, concern over financial system collapse. 18th-century satire. Simple dystopian solution makes everything even worse - devilish.

11:51: Strigl likes the current relevance and the anti-humanism, enjoyed it. The murder is like a punchline, which seems to offend Jandl. Fessmann: Mephisto! Nobody's mentioned the effect of the form of address.

11:46: AC Sulzer is offended by the wittiness. Says there's no people in it. Which I think is wrong. Paul Jandl doesn't even think it's funny. Ah, here we see the difference between British and Austrian/Swiss/German expectations of literature. Slight internet problems here, sorry. Winkels likes it, Keller seems to as well. Clever satirical subject, likes the humour. Finds it not quite clear who's talking. Strigl's got it - an advice handbook, devaluation of human life, funny.

11:40: Yeah, you have to kill the helper. Which is making people laugh in the audience. And which ultimately makes this more than a clever text, because it raises a lot of moral issues about the importance of money and personal wealth. Your personal wealth - yours! - is worth more than the life of your helper. And you're standing there, euphoric, at dawn, and you're a cynical rich bastard who's just killed a man. Have a good sleep - you are free.

11:38: I wonder how he researched it. Because it's terribly precise. Can you guess what's coming now?

11:35: Here comes the really good bit. You need a helper... Now come the instructions about how to do the actual burying. There was the rucksack (for putting the gold in)!

11:33: I bet at least one critic mentions computer games, always a popular comparison, with a slight note of disapproval. Or Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. Because it's even reminding me of them...

11:30: Another fun thing for the reader is imagining you're rich enough to do this stuff, buy an isolated piece of property and bury your treasure in it. Which is very clever, almost a conjuring trick because it's not done with terribly literary means but it has a very strong effect.

11:27: And here's Stefan's translation. I'm curious about what the critics will think, because they might well be irritated. But again, this text builds slowly and has a surprise in store at the end. It almost feels like a creative writing exercise, they might find it too "artificial" - not that any text is ever "genuine".

11:24: So you get an introduction. It's almost like a brochure or an instruction manual - about how to bury treasure. Clever - pointed, precise language. He's obviously had great fun writing it, and he's reading it very well indeed. The "narrator" has a very clear character, not likeable but someone you'd respect. There's an ominous threat of the state taking all your money - because you are the direct addressee of this text. And you have to exchange all your fortune for gold bars and bury it to keep it safe.

11:18: Maximilian Steinbeis. My colleague Stefan Tobler translated this text and we both liked it. Rather sensible video portrait, filmed in government buildings, background in law and Bavaria. You'll be pleased to hear that the text isn't as sensible as you might expect.

11:16: Winkels. Really, his criticism is always so wordy and cruel.

11:13: Burkhard Spinnen appears to be talking about something else entirely... As far as I understand, he finds it very literary, a literary approach to dealing with memories. Tough material, he says. Respect for dealing with things we've all read before.

11:09: Paul Jandl doesn't quite get it, feels the writer isn't quite sure enough of himself. Alain Claude Sulzer defending his choice. Almost apologising for those fluids and the "almost clichéd" landscapes, explaining the complexity that the others don't seem to have noticed. Ha, first rude comment about Austria of the competition. Yay!

11:06: Go Meike Fessmann! Ambivalent mother-son relationship. She seems to have read the text similarly to the way I did, interested in the mother (is that a personal thing?). Interested in the adult/child perspective idea too. It is clever but they're not going to give it any prizes, are they?

11:03: Hildegard Keller always seems to have something nice to say, a kind smile on her face. They're all interested in the bodily fluids, but she thinks the text isn't quite finished. She wants us to digest it more.

11:02: Oh thank you, please do stop this man from talking.

11:00: Frau Strigl is quite critical of individual images and phrases. Hubert Winkels liked the stuttered presentation. Misses enjambements in the text though. Oh, we're going into great detail here, I'm reminded of a waiter tearing a Peking duck into shreds with two forks.

10:56: Stops fairly suddenly, doesn't it? Here come the jury. Daniela Strigl: special genre of sad lonely lives in rural north Germany. Doesn't she like the bodily fluids? I just deleted something about people who don't like bodily fluids.

10:49: I don't know, I think this is a good solid text but it doesn't get my pulse racing. Here comes the masturbation scene, nice language and I must say a bit of sordid childhood masturbation and scatology always perks things up a bit. But still. Skillful writing, possibly more interesting in novel form. Ah, I see Klaus Schöffling is his publisher, a good sign.

10:42: Ha, he just emphasised the bit I didn't get! So now the changing child/adult perspectives come in.

10:39: Rural north German setting, moor, an isolated house. That's what I had to ask about. It's getting a little more complex now, building slowly. Close-up of Klaus Schöffling's beard.

10:35: I do wish he'd done his shirt up all the way though. It's a little distracting. Which may be a bad sign about the text, if you get what I mean.

10:33: The mother is an artist, poor kid. The language is good, I think, doesn't distract from the ideas in the text or the conflicts he hints at through the child's eyes and the adult's eyes. So it's a little more complex than a story about a kid whose mother attempts suicide.

10:30: OK, here comes the story. He is indeed stuttering. Which makes an odd impression, because the adult narrator stuttered as a child. I'm reminded of Kevin Rowland, inappropriately. You can read my translation here. It's a story about a kid whose mother attempts suicide, and how he remembers it as an adult.

10:26: He's just apologised in advance in case he stutters. How sweet. This text is one of the few without rucksacks in it. But it does start - disappointingly - with snow. Last year there was lots of snow as well. Basically you have to give this one a bit of time, and then it starts getting good.

10:23: We're starting with Gunther Geltinger, who was very nice and friendly when I asked him a dumb question about the translation. I therefore thoroughly approve of him. His film is nice and dull, calm green colours. Moor - which comes up in the text as you'll see, pop-psychology about what a moor has to do with writing. I do wonder if anyone gets this stuff. Invited by Sulzer.

10:21: OK, now we're getting an intro to the jury. Is Daniela Strigl new? Otherwise I like Paul Jandl very much and recently sat next to Meike Fessmann, who does have good dress sense.

10:18: We have a presenter demonstrating why the Austrians aren't famous for their dress sense. But presumably nobody's listening anyway. Not that you can listen to clothes. I shall attempt to make more sense from now on.

10:15: Tadaaa! And they're off! In a minute. After a short bit of modern music and some chatting.

10:05: There's also a live chat at sopranisse.

9:50: Morning! I hope you're feeling well rested and ready for a day of bitching about aspiring writers. I have licorice allsorts and fizzy water, potato salad and a comfy sofa. The blinds are down to stop that annoying sunlight reflecting off the TV. There's been much hilarity in advance, as ORF have released the authors' video portraits in advance. And they are very very funny, some of them deliberately, as Richard Kämmerlings points out in Die Welt.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

The Klagenfurt Kit

So tomorrow's the first day of the Ingeborg Bachmann literary competition in Klagenfurt, Austria. For the 35th time, 14 writers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland will be reading over three days while seven critics pick over their remains. It's not unlike a Eurovision Song Contest for literary types, only obviously much more glamorous. As you may or may not know, my colleague Stefan Tobler and I have translated all the entries in advance. That means I know something you don't know, unless you happen to be the person who runs the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize. Which you probably aren't.

You can watch the fun live on 3Sat, and there should be a livestream too. And for all those who've had enough already of those newspaper articles about what fun it is to go to Klagenfurt and meet all one's literary chums for a swim in the lake and a nice fish dinner, I'll be running an alternative live ticker right here on love german books - from my sofa.

The nice people at ORF kindly sent me a useful kit through the post, though. It came in a frog-green shoulder bag and consisted of rather a lot of marketing material, a programme, a pad of paper and a green pen, a book containing last year's texts, the excellent Volltext magazine, two postcards, a nametag with my name printed on it - my favourite, naturally - a two-euro drinks voucher redeemable in the Kelag café, and also a sample of small glass tiles using the advertising slogan "Inspire your world, your personal thinking rooms and your wellness and sanity regions."

So here's the plan: I'll be inspiring you - wearing the frog-green nametag - with my special insights from my personal thinking room and hoping to preserve my wellness and sanity regions. I'll have plenty of drinks in and the kind of food you can eat in front of the TV. Join me from about 10 a.m. CET. You know you want to.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Translation Idol Tonite!

Come over to the lovely new Dialogue Books in Berlin for a night of fascinating translation fun, featuring Verena Rossbacher and versions of her tricky text from as far afield as Kreuzberg, New York and Israel. no man's land Translation Idol rules.

Oh, and there'll be cheap drinks on sale.

Monday 4 July 2011

Things To Spend Your Money On

You know how it is, come July and you've got so much spare cash on your hands you have trouble getting rid of it. We translators often have that problem, what with being paid so lavishly. So I have two new suggestions for offloading your funds - both of which will help save the world. At least in terms of German literature.

First of all, you could donate to the Hotlist. I talked to one of the movers and shakers on Saturday and he says they haven't quite scraped together all the prize money yet for this fantastic venture awarding a prize to the best indie book of the year in German. So dig deep, literary philanthropists, to support independent publishing, especially as the thirty books on the hotlist longlist are pretty hot stuff and it'd be a bit embarrassing if they had to say, Sorry, great book you've written there and we know we actually promised you some money for it but, well, would you maybe settle for free drinks and a back rub instead?

And second of all, you could buy an Eichborn book. After much to-ing and fro-ing over whether they'd have to move to Berlin and merge with Aufbau Verlag, the publishers have filed for insolvency. Which means that if you buy their books, they can pay their writers. Pretty good deal, huh? My favourite is this one, but they have many more fiction and non-fiction titles worth blowing your cash on. Eichborn also has the best blog in German publishing and the loveliest foreign rights lady (and that's a tough call, because almost all foreign rights ladies are extremely lovely).

The whole takeover/bankruptcy thing is terribly complicated, but if you're interested Christoph Schroeder sums it up nicely in the taz, as far as I can tell.