Thursday 29 November 2012

Five Dials Teaser

Another guest post today, this time from the delectable Anna Kelly, a woman of excellent taste. Anna is an editor at Hamish Hamilton, and has put together a special edition of Five Dials magazine. 

On the 3rd December Five Dials will publish a special issue featuring writing by some dozen German-language writers, translated into English.

I've wanted to put together an issue of Five Dials devoted to German-language writers for some time - partly because it's a personal interest of mine that I'd like to share with the world, and partly out of a more emphatic feeling that somehow English-language readers should be experiencing these writers more than they’re able to at the moment.

I work as an editor in a mainstream publishing house and I’m also lucky enough to read French and German as well as English, so I feel it’s partly my responsibility to champion writers working in those other languages to other British readers, just so they know what’s out there.  In reality that can’t always be done by publishing every single book that I read in German and love -- I work on a small, select list which can only publish so many books every year, and the majority of them are in English to start with. But with such a  vast array of interesting names and novels turning up in my inbox from month to month, I've come across many submissions over the past few years which have made me feel excited about what's being written in German at the moment and made me want to do something about that -- so putting together an issue of Five Dials is a way to publish these talented writers, celebrate them, and in some cases, introduce them to British readers for the first time.

It's also an opportunity to set up an event which enables us to actually meet some of these authors. Five Dials is proud to think of itself as an international magazine, with readers all over the world, and one of the ways in which it tries to keep in touch with these readers and to publish work which is relevant to everyone is by actually physically travelling around and meeting people - both readers and writers. So in that way this issue of Five Dials actually follows on from a few others which have come before it - an issue devoted to Paris, for example, which we celebrated with a launch event in Paris, and an issue featuring Quebecois literature, which had its launch in Montreal.

There are thirteen German-language writers featured in this issue, and they're a mixture of the already-known-in-English (for example, the brilliant Peter Stamm, Juli Zeh, and Judith Schalansky, whose Atlas of Remote Islands struck a chord here last year), the writers whose novels are currently being translated into English for the first time (eg. Jan Brandt, Simon Urban and Tilman Rammstedt), and those who (as far as I know) haven't yet ever been published in English but whose work impresses me so much that I am sure -- and hope -- that it can only be a matter of time before they are (eg. Clemens Setz and Ulrike Almut Sandig). 

One of the concerns I had while selecting work for the issue was that people would get up in arms about omissions of important writers. And to that I have to hold up my hands and say that this can only ever be a glimpse. There are numerous authors writing wonderful things in German at the moment and this issue could never show anything more than a handful. On a similar note, I always wanted this to be a German-language rather than a German issue, but it just so happens that the final selection includes far more German writers than it does Austrian or Swiss. This is purely coincidental, but to see the glass half empty, it does also leave open the opportunity that I might in the future be able to look into the option of doing a whole new issue dedicated to Swiss writers, or Austrian writers. There's no reason why not, and there would be plenty to fill either of these with.

But back to this issue. I wanted to include in it a mixture of fiction, non fiction and poetry, so there are stories by Simon Urban, Peter Stamm, Ulrike Almut Sandig, Tilman Rammstedt and  Clemens Setz, and novel extracts from Marjana Gaponenko and Judith Schalansky; poems by Raoul Schrott, Marion Poschmann and Pedro Lenz; and non-fiction by Jan Brandt and Juli Zeh. Many of the writers featured are those whose work has been submitted to me to publish and who I've been impressed by and wanted to publish in some format ever since. Some were recommended to me by friends. Some, like Peter Stamm, are already established in the English literary world thanks to having already been published by mainstream publishers in the UK.

One slightly exceptional inclusion in the issue is an essay by German literary translator Ulrich Blumenbach, about his experiences translating David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest into German. This fits in with the theme in a different way to the rest of the issue, and in some ways represents the opposite of what the rest is about: it's about English being translated into German instead of vice versa. But I loved the idea of including this essay. I find the process of a book's movement from one language into another fascinating, and I thought that there was a sort of beautiful mirroring in the idea of English-language readers finding out about the process of a particularly well-known -- and famously challenging -– book being translated into German, at exactly the same time that they were reading, in the rest of the issue, writing that had been translated the other way. As well as highlighting the idea of a mutual cultural exchange, which I hope this issue exemplifies, I thought that Blumenbach's essay might also lead readers to respond differently and more deeply, maybe, to the German writing they were reading in translation: that they might be provoked into thinking about what it means to read writing in translation, about what is lost and gained in the process, about how close and far two different languages can be to one another, about what that says about our understanding of the world, and about how that understanding can be expanded.

To receive the issue as a pdf by email as soon as it’s available, you can subscribe here. It’s free.

And a word from me again: Monday, 3 December is also the launch party in Berlin. Please come. It's going to be the party of the year, with short readings from Jan Brandt, Joe Dunthorne, Clare Wigfall, Judith Schalansky and me. And dancing and drinking. So all your favourite things.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Writing Left

It was a little while ago now, but the three-day special at Berlin's Brecht-Haus did leave a rather lasting impression. Called Writing Left, it brought together a number of writers and publishers to talk about what exactly "left" means and how - and whether - to be left-wing writers and publishers.

A word to begin with: I can see the point of doing these things on three consecutive evenings, but I imagine most people didn't attend every night, just as I didn't either. Certainly nobody in the audience on the final evening had been on any of the previous panels. And I think continuity is key to discussions like this, so I would suggest spreading them out over a longer period, like the Literaturwerkstatt did with its series about writing the other a couple of years ago. At the session I attended, rather a lot of prose writers and poets freestyled on the topic, and you can read about the first evening in Der Freitag here and the second evening here.

So what happened? First of all there was no consensus about what "left" might mean. Some of the writers picked especially for being left-wing writers, including my favourites Raul Zelik and Michael Wildenhain, obviously think of their politics as separate from their writing and apparently don't define themselves as left-wing writers. Remembering where we were, I'd say that says a lot about the times we live in. In Brecht's day, from the 1920s right through to the 50s and of course beyond, it was perfectly viable for a writer to define their work in political terms. In East Germany, think Brecht but also Anna Seghers and Christa Wolf and of course the dissident writers, in the West Grass with his pro-SPD campaigns and Peter Schneider further to the left, and in fact large parts of a whole generation. And now? I can think of a few examples of writers who are fairly outspoken (Dietmar Dath, Ulrich Peltzer?) but the younger writers I know are very shy about airing their political views.

At the event, Tanja Dückers talked about distancing herself as a writer from that pro-SPD generation now that the SPD has waged wars on other countries and the domestic unemployed, not to mention their "asylum compromise" and the more recent chickening-out of reforming citizenship effectively (she didn't mention them in fact, so I have). But with no charismatic or convincing alternative and no dogma left standing, I felt many of the authors present were a little adrift. Dückers herself seemed to define her politics in opposition to others - the SPD, the radical right - and went as far as suggesting we reject the term "left-wing writers" in favour of "socially committed writers". Hmmm.

Two rays of hope and light shone through though. The first was poetry, perhaps a good form for pithy or even thoughtful statements. In fact the politically schizophrenic Die Zeit ran a series of new political poems not long ago. And the young Austrian poet Stefan Schmitzer read some exciting stuff and suggested a more useful term: progressive. The other part of the evening that refreshed my belief in utopias was Rery Madonaldo and Nikola Richter, alias Los Superdemokraticos, who presented a fabulous manifesto about how the fifth international will emerge from the internet, how Trotsky would be an internet troll, how creative work deserves fair pay and how sharing is the new black:
Hyper-left trolls always act in the interest of the group they're fighting for and lobby for hyper-left ideas. They write obsessively about a subject, wherever they can, even if they don't get paid for it. They are provocative. Words are their weapons. They don't hide their faces behind sock puppets; they stand up for their opinion in public. They react impulsively, are unconscious of commercial factors, take their orientation not from the market but from people. That's why one of the basic commandments of the hyper-left trolls is sharing: the better form of charity! And so these lone wolves build up textual cooperatives, which carry on trolling content independently and autonomously. Solidarity among trolls is a must, group trolling is the revolutionary tactic.
For that alone, the event was worth attending. What a pity there was no room for more structured debate - but perhaps the Brecht-Haus can document what went on and build on it in the future?

Monday 26 November 2012

Toledo Translation Fund and Rosa Luxemburg

A guest post today from Hamburg-based translator Henry Holland.

If you thought crowd-funding to finance translation & literature was something newish, like I did for at least a couple of days, well, then we were both wrong together. Going under the old term of collecting subscriptions, crowd-funding to publish print literature by major authors went on for centuries & at least into the 1940s. An edition of Yeats's collected works was published in this way. What is new about the Toledo Translation Fund, established this year to support the translation into English of major works in the humanities and social sciences, from a wide range of world languages and cultures, are the dynamics of donating.

And the guys running the TTF have chosen a more than dynamic author to translate, for the first major work in the series. Rosa Luxemburg (1871 - 1919) -- whose Complete Works are due to be published, thanks to the TTF, for the first time in English by Verso, in 14 volumes from February 2013 on. Those of you who've stuffed Rosa Luxemburg into the drawer marked “difficult, political, avoid”, may want to take a peek at Jacqueline Rose's fiery review in the LRB of the companion volume, titled The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg.

Jacqueline Rose would like us to pull Luxemburg back out of the drawer & stick on new labels: “must-read, audacious, lyrical”. Rosa Luxemburg's Complete Works should also break down other categories inside our minds: does our fascination with / professional work in translated fiction mean we're somehow disinterested in translated literary non-fiction? Which of us manage to be simultaneously really into Ingo Schulze's novels but able to blank out all his critiques of capitalism,  shouting out from any German newspaper you care to open?

Your own answers to these questions can tell us why the TTF model could also work for translating fiction in the future. Enough people enthusiastic about a book or group of books, & willing to put their credit cards we're they're mouths are. As you may have guessed by now, I'm going to be one of the translators in the translation-team for the Luxemburg edition, so my interest in the Toledo Fund raising the $ 11 000 / c. € 8500 it still needs -- (up to now they've already raised $ 19 000 / c.€14500) -- is not solely altruistic.

And I'm going to be enjoying the fundraising work, by sending the appeal letter (no email for such serious matters) to famous well-off Germans who have at any time shown an interest in that side of philosophical & political life that Luxemburg embodies. You know the type: champagne socialists, others we may love to hate, others still who we would love even more if we knew more of them -- Günter Grass, Stefan Raab, Fritz Raddaz, Charlotte Roche, Gregor Gysi, Ingo Herzke -- and a hundred other individuals of that ilk who might wish to back the intellectual inheritance of one of the most intriguing women in German history. Writing to celebs & the nearly-famous in the off chance they'll back your project isn't just childish, it has pedigree: a good Hamburg friend got £1000 for acting school through an unsolicited letter to Anthony Hopkins. And a very polite refusal letter from Richard Briers as part of the same fundraising offensive.

So, if you're now itching to lung for the credit card & donate online to making quality translation happen, then ... Don't let me stop you: 

With many thanks, Henry Holland

Thursday 22 November 2012

Bookshelf Paranoia

Is there a phobia of letting people peruse your library? My bookshelves are divided into three sections, the least presentable of which is hidden away in the bedroom. While I'm fairly casual about guests looking at the non-fiction and the German fiction in the living room, my really quite random collection of English-language writing is not for all eyes. I left a guest alone with it for a minute recently and felt quite exposed when I returned.

Herbert Grieshop is possibly my worst nightmare. He and some friends run the very professional-looking video blog Herbert liest (there is an exclamation mark in the title but I believe I've made my standpoint on punctuation in proper names clear in the past). Aside from recommending some rather fine reads, he does bookshelf analysis in people's homes. Being German people, their homes are very clean and tasteful, and Herbert is quite kind about their book collections. He's not coming round my house though.

Monday 19 November 2012

Please Slap Me with a Rollmops

I have failed to notice German Literature Month 2012, taking place on all number of blogs right bloody now. Jeez.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Translation and the Academy

As I've probably mentioned before, there are few links between practitioners of literary translation and Translation Studies scholars - at least in the UK and Germany. In the US, however, the links are more obvious because many translators are also academics. I have no clear explanation for why this might be, other than a feeling that language learning takes place earlier (and more commonly) in Europe than the US, which means Europeans can reach the high level of understanding of foreign languages required to translate without necessarily having to gain a doctorate. Or have been able to in the past, when it comes to the UK.

I find European translators are often dismissive or wary of translation theory, or at least often say it has no influence on their work. I'm not sure that's actually the case - all of us are aware of equivalence of effect or translator invisibility, foreignising and domesticating, ideas that have trickled down over the centuries from scholars to practitioners. Personally, I think it makes sense for translators to take a look at translation theory, if only to help us defend our translation decisions in a more coherent way.

Whatever the case, those American translators working in academia seem to be gradually gaining more respect from their scholarly peers, as this interesting piece in Publishing Perspectives points out. Anna Clark tells us about what's going on at various American universities, including a cross-campus Translation Theme Semester at Michigan. Fascinating stuff.

I'd like to add a footnote on the subject of translation as part of creative writing courses. For writers, translation is a wonderful exercise in duplicating style, and a skill that they can hone, for example, on Columbia University's creative writing programme. I met a group of students taking part in an exchange between Leipzig and New York last year and felt they got a lot out of it. In fact one participant later received a PEN translation grant to continue his work. It would be great to see other creative writing courses adopting translation - although of course that will always require students to have sufficient foreign language skills, which may not be a problem in Germany but may well be in the States, and almost certainly will be in the UK, what with the general decline in language learning there.

My second footnote is on an academic conference at IULM in Milan, home to Tim Parks and his theory of globalisation leading to bland literature. I can heartily recommend Michele Hutchison's take on the conference and the issue on the English PEN website, partly because she shares my opinion that we have no proof of the phenomenon taking place to a significant extent. Swiss writer Peter Stamm had a chance to defend himself against accusations of writing plain style specifically with a global market in mind, and I particularly like the view of the Mexican writer Jorge Volpi:
who claimed similarly that, ‘all novels take place in imaginary space’. His own novels are set in Germany, France and the US. It was only when he was published in Spain that he realised, to his great surprise, that he was considered ‘an exotic Mexican writer’. He repeatedly had to defend himself against the question – why had a Mexican written about Germany. The only possible answer was: why not?

Thursday 15 November 2012

Utlu Meets Aotearoa

Deniz Utlu is a Berlin-based writer doing fascinating things with short fiction. Rest assured that if he does ever finish a novel, it will be good and you'll hear about it here. An Aotearoa Affair is a "blog fest from Kiel to Kaitaita" celebrating New Zealand's year as guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair and featuring writers and bloggers from both countries.

One of the things I've found fascinating during my brief peeks at New Zealand literature this year is that the relationship between - oh God, what words to use? - white and of colour, majority and minority, Paheka and Maori - is the opposite to the one we seem to have in Europe, at least for many of the writers I became aware of. In that the Maori were there first and everyone else came later, and in that I sensed a different kind of respect and a great deal more interest for and in their cultures.

So Deniz's "minimals from the belly of the beast", imagining a Berlin without the immigrants and their descendants who make the system work, seemed the perfect piece to submit to An Aotearoa Affair. I'm so glad they came together.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Launch Party

There's a project I've been translating for, which I'm very excited about. It's a special edition of Hamish Hamilton's Five Dials magazine dedicated to contemporary writing in German. In case you're not familiar with it, it's a free online magazine in pdf format, the idea being that you just download it and go. Check it out now please to help you understand how pleased I am to be involved.

So part of the Five Dials fun always seems to be a launch party, often in out-of-the-way places (Greek hillside, anyone?). This time the out-of-the-way place is Berlin. I shall be reading alongside some other people, and I hope you can all attend. Although the event announcement doesn't include an explicit dress code, my friends the co-organisers from Dialogue Books and I have already decided we'll be dressing up. So in case you were looking for an excuse to put on your gladrags on a Monday evening, this is your chance. There'll also be electronic music by DJ Anika and drinks on sale all night long and books to buy and just general glamour.

3 December, 7 p.m., The Wye. See you there then.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Impac Award Longlist

The Impac Dublin Literary Award is an exciting thing for fans of international writing, not just because of the big fat prize purse of €100,000, but also because the longlist is put together by librarians all around the world. Which makes for a very long and international list of nominees. Some libraries plump for translations from their national language (good old Bremen public library) and some just go for books they love, regardless of where they're from. The only conditions for the 2013 nominees is that they were first published in English or in English translation during 2011 and are of high literary merit.

And this year is a very good year for German-language writing. The longlist of 154 titles includes six translated from German:

Alina Bronsky, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, trans. Tim Mohr

Judith Hermann, Alice, trans. Margot Bettauer Dembo

Ulrich Peltzer, Part of the Solution, trans. Martin Chalmers

Thomas Pletzinger, Funeral for a Dog, trans. Ross Benjamin

Julya Rabinovich, Splithead, trans. Tess Lewis

Ingo Schulze, Adam and Evelyn, trans. John E. Woods

It's so exciting! I can't possibly decide who to root for. If a translation wins (which does happen but not always) the translator gets a quarter of the money. I like that. The poor judges have until April to wade their way through and choose a ten-strong shortlist. Incidentally, I'm pleased to see that they've made their website very beautiful compared to the way it used to be.

Monday 12 November 2012

Swiss Book Prize to Peter von Matt

This year's Swiss Book Prize has gone to Peter von Matt for his essay collection Das Kalb vor der Gotthardpost. You can read more about the book in English in 12 Swiss Books, including a sample translation by Ross Benjamin. Apparently the essays tackle Swiss literature and politics in a witty way - sounds like a good thing. The author receives 30,000 Swiss Francs (that's about €25,000 or 20,000 pounds or 31,000 dollars). The judges said it was
a book that speaks to the Swiss present day in an outstanding manner. In analyses of great linguistic force and intellectual originality, Peter von Matt illuminates the nexus between literature and politics.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Open Mike 2012 Winners

At some point in my teenage years - I can't say when, I'm an unreliable narrator - my mother took me aside and told me something along the lines of, "You know, I have some friends who are lesbians. And if you turn out to be a lesbian, you should know that it'll be difficult for you but I'll support you all the way." Now my daughter keeps starting writing novels, which is perhaps a little precocious, but I think I know how my mother must have felt. So I thought I'd take my daughter along to the Open Mike to give her a taste of what might await her, should she ever finish one of her manuscripts and get good enough to be invited to take part. Perhaps as a warning. Only we arrived right at the least eventful moment, the break between the last lot of readings and the awards announcement, and then we had to leave before anything happened. And I only got to show her off to two people. Pretty dumb really.

I did, however, buy the book. And read three of the prose texts while we were waiting for something to happen. One of which was co-winner Sandra Gugic's tantalising piece about a woman who goes flat-hopping and subsumes herself into other people's lives while they're away, a thoroughly modern story in a good way. I hope that's not all there is of it. The other prose winner I didn't read then but have now: Juan S. Guse with a totally scary text full of barking dogs and fear. The poetry winner is Martin Piekar and the audience prize went to Joey Juschka.

These are names to watch, obviously, but it's interesting that none of them are exactly newbies. My buddy Nikola Richter addresses the issue of ways to get a foot in the door a little bit here, and the friend I met today said she thinks the competition might be becoming less of a shoe-in than it once was - she'd got the feeling there were fewer editors there on the lookout for new talent than usual. Perhaps that just means their budgets are stretched, or maybe the creative writing courses are doing too good a job.

All of which is speculation pure and simple, and should not diminish our congratulations to the winners and the takers-part.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Open Mike in Berlin

It's such a shame the name's so misleading. Berlin's Open Mike is a one-of-a-kind literary competition for writers in German under the age of 35. It's not a free-for-all of back-biting wannabes - the wannabes have to apply in advance and are picked out by a team of professional editors, then perform on stage before a huge audience, and then a team of established writers chooses the winners. Who often go on to greater things, but even the non-winners get a lot out of it, flanked as the competition itself is by workshops and activities.

It's always a pleasure to attend, albeit in a rather sado-masochistic way. After all, you have to watch the poor candidates sweating on stage, some of them reading for the first time ever in public, in a really huge space (and I've stood on the old stage myself, the audience looks truly formidable and rendered me a quivering wreck). And also you have to sit through two solid days of readings.

They've turned twenty now and are venturing into new territories with a different venue and their own blog. I like it so far. Sadly, I can't really attend but I shall keep up with events from afar.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Time for a Rant: Actors v. Translators

I forgot to say at this interview that a blog is a wonderful platform for a nice private rant. And here's one that's been brewing for a while, after we talked about it at our recent workshop: when publishers or event organisers fly a writer in for readings (mostly to Germany) and then put her on stage with an actor to read the translation - often even in the actual city where the translator lives.

I've heard similar anecdotes a number of times, and even accompanied translators to events where they sat unacknowledged in the audience while an actor read the words they wrote. Let me tell you, that's pretty humiliating. It seems that people aren't picking up on the idea of simply asking the translator whether she'd like to do that job, at least if she's going to be there anyway. Is it a communications breakdown?

My German translator friends tell me they sometimes get an email from an editor they work with saying, Hey, guess what, your author's going to be in town on Tuesday! Would you like to come along? Worse still: Hey, guess what, your author was in town last Tuesday! Why didn't you come along? Whereas what ought to be happening, in an ideal world, is that the editor informs the translator the minute they know the writer is coming over, and asks her whether she'd like to read from her translation.

German publishing houses will often have people who take care of events specifically, because readings are very important for the literary landscape here. And I'm guessing that these people may sometimes be the loose connection where things are going wrong. I don't know enough about how these things work so I'm moving on thin ice here, but my next guess is that if someone other than the publisher organises an event with a translated writer, which is very often the case, they won't have the information about the translator. And that's where I think the publisher's events people could easily step in and say, Ah, my file here says the writer's translator lives in your city! I'll send you her contact details so you can ask if she'd like to read.

Or, as a friend pointed out, authors will often have had some contact with their translator in advance. They could possibly get in touch too and ask that all-important question.

Of course not everyone's going to say yes. Some people would rather not read in front of an audience, which is fine. Or they might hate the writer's guts, in which case they probably wouldn't want to share the same space. But in many cases, a translator of a specific text has specific insights and can read that text better than an actor could. A case in point is Ingo Herzke, a Hamburg-based translator who holds readings with his writer A.L. Kennedy. In fact - as if by magic, the perfect best-practice example - he's chairing an event with her at the LCB next Thursday. And need I mention Hamburg's most famous translator, beardo extraordinaire Harry Rowohlt? A man who makes a living out of reading his translations better than anyone else possibly could? The German translators' association offers regular events helping people to train for readings. Event organisers - think of all you're missing out on!

In the other direction, i.e. when translated writers get invited to the UK, I've had some very positive experiences of being put on the podium, not only to interpret and read but also to share a couple of insights. I try not to hog the limelight too much. But of course translated literature has a very different status there than it does in Germany, where it's much less exotic.

I shall be reading in Berlin soon. I just thought I'd mention that. I was delighted to be asked.

Update: Please read the comments section for a detailed description of the event organiser's view!

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Tilman Rammstedt: Die Abenteuer meines ehemaligen Bankberaters

It's been a little while since I read Tilman Rammstedt's new novel Die Abenteuer meines ehemaligen Bankberaters, so I don't want to tell you much about the plot. Basically, Tilmann Rammstedt is having trouble writing a novel and so turns to Bruce Willis (via email), whom he needs as a character in order to get his former adviser at the bank out of trouble. The bank guy is a bit of an odd fellow and now Tilmann Rammstedt wants Bruce to play his part in the novel and give him a bit of oomph, a bit more of a grubby-vest aesthetic. Adventures ensue. Terribly gripping adventures.

The resulting meta-novel is an action movie for writers. Money troubles, editor breathing down your neck, writer's block - who wouldn't turn to Bruce Willis for help? Rammstedt tells his story through his emails to Willis (will he ever answer?), recounting all the action Willis gets up to as a character alongside Tilman himself on the pages of the novel. He uses all his powers of persuasion to prompt the Bruce Willis of his imagination to get up to all kinds of shenanigans, several of them physically impossible, while assuming that the Bruce Willis of his imagination is extremely reluctant to do so.

This first, main strand is accompanied by a melancholy little story about the actual guy from the bank, who does some strange enough things in the book's second strand even before stepping up to the novel's next level. I hope I'm making this clear.

What compounded my confusion - and hence delight - was that I actually know Tilman Rammstedt vaguely and I'm currently translating his previous novel, Der Kaiser von China, a book that also gets up to a bit of nonsense with those narrative levels. Anyway, every time I saw Tilman Rammstedt over the past few months I'd ask him, So, how's the new book coming along?* And he'd say, Oh, not very well, I don't think I'll get it done on time. And he'd look a bit green about the gills as he said it.

So imagine my surprise to find the whole book was about how Tilman Rammstedt is having trouble getting his novel done on time. Imagine! My surprise! It messed with my head, let me tell you. Because either Tilman Rammstedt was telling the truth on both levels - in real life, plus in the novel about how he's having trouble writing a novel - or it was all an elaborate piece of performance art-slash-literature, in which the writer Tilman Rammstedt pretends to be having trouble writing a novel on two different levels. I can't decide which I would prefer.

Certainly, if the real-life Tilman Rammstedt was telling the truth, the writing hasn't suffered for being put down in a mad and desperate dash under daily duress from his editor, wife and bank adviser. No, wait, those three were fictional. Although one of them is a real person, with an email address given in the novel. I just sent a mail to see if it was a real address. I shall update you if I ever find out. Probably I should have sent it during office hours, right?**

I digress. But form follows function, so it's fine to digress in order to give you an idea of what this book might do to you. What I was saying was that the writing is good. Tilman has a great laconic style in the second strand, all matter-of-fact narrator. And he contrasts that with his highly emotive begging letters to Bruce Willis. Nicely done.

If I had to make a comparison, I'd say Die Abenteuer meines ehemaligen Bankberaters is the book version of Being John Malkovich. All writers with a sense of humour will like it. And there's a cat on the cover.

*Sorry, Tilman. I now realise this is probably the second-awfullest question you can ever ask a writer. At least I didn't ask what it was about.

**It is. My head hurts. Don't send the poor guy any more manuscripts.

Indigo Failure

I have failed to read Clemens J. Setz's new novel Indigo. Turns out it's not the right book for an e-reader. Plus too many things got in the way for me to remember the plot in between sittings. I'm sure it's very good though.

Luckily, my friend Lucy Renner-Jones has written about it for culturmag - and interviewed all-round superhero and Setz-afficionado Ross Benjamin in detail on her blog Transfiction. You'll be wiser for reading both, and both are in English, so.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

...And it's live

Featuring fiction by Christian Helm, Johanna Hemkentokrax, Kemal Kurt, Clemens J. Setz, Thomas Stangl, Thomas von Steinaecker, Antje Rávic Strubel, Steven Uhly, and poetry by Sylvia Geist, Dagmara Kraus, Arne Rautenberg, Ulrike Almut Sandig, Katharina Schultens, Lutz Seiler, Judith Zander, and members of the g13 poetry collective: no man's land issue #7.

Thanks to everyone who came along to our launch last night.

Monday 5 November 2012

Speaking of no man's land

We're launching issue #7 tonight! Everybody come along.

no man's land # 7 launch reading
with Sylvia Geist, Katharina Schultens, Lutz Seiler and Antje Rávic Strubel.
November 5, 2012, 8 p.m.
Saint Georges Bookshop
Wörther Str. 27
Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg

The bilingual launch of no man's land Issue # 7 features authors Sylvia Geist, Katharina Schultens, Lutz Seiler and Antje Rávic Strubel with their translators Catherine Hales, Bradley Schmidt and Zaia Alexander.
Award-winning poet Sylvia Geist's Periodic Song reflects her background in chemistry, while her up-and-coming colleague Katharina Schultens offers a very different fusion of scientific and poetic language. Antje Rávic Strubel will read via Skype from her novel When Days Plunge Into Night, a dark love story long-listed for the German Book Prize. And Bachmann-Prize-winning Lutz Seiler will read from his latest short story collection, The Balance of Time.
Issue # 7 will appear early November at, with fiction by Christian Helm, Johanna Hemkentokrax, Kemal Kurt, Clemens J. Setz, Thomas Stangl, Thomas von Steinaecker, Antje Rávic Strubel, Steven Uhly, and poetry by Sylvia Geist, Dagmara Kraus, Arne Rautenberg, Ulrike Almut Sandig, Katharina Schultens, Lutz Seiler, Judith Zander, and members of the g13 poetry collective.
As usual, drinks will be available from the Saint Georges bar, and we hope you'll linger to chat and celebrate with us after the reading!

Translator Under Thirty?

Are you a translator under thirty? Would you like to be? Wouldn't we all?

The Berlin-based literary journal SAND is holding a translation competition, in conjunction with Youth in Action - hence the age limit.

Here's what they say:
The Rules: Submit an original English translation of another work (you must have permission from the author and/or publisher). The original piece may be in any language, from Urdu to Russian to Chinese. Our panel of judges will be basing their decision on the quality of your translation. Because we’re working with Youth in Action, you do need to be under the age of 30 to be eligible for the competition. (However, if you are over 30, you are still free to submit works under the regular submission guidelines.)
The Reward: There will be two winners, one for poetry and one for prose. Each winner will receive 150€ as well as publication in SAND.
The Workshop: Both winners and 8 runners up will be selected to participate in a translation workshop held in Berlin.* In the workshop, we’ll talk about the art of translation, your own translation and what it means to write, speak and live in multiple languages. The workshop will be led by some of our jurors and/or experts in the field and will be held in English. Of course it’s not all work – we promise a Berlin-style party with translation themed cocktails. (We don’t know what that means yet, but we’ll think of something good…)
*If you’re coming from outside the city, SAND will cover travel expenses up to a certain point.

Just a wee pointer from me: If you've never done this kind of thing before, take a look at the "Translators' Tips" at no man's land, where Isabel Cole has some useful advice about obtaining permissions.

Friday 2 November 2012

German Hits Fifty

As I learned at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Goethe Institut reserves 15% of its literary translation funding for supporting translations into English. The idea, I assume, is that when a book makes it into English it can serve as a bridge to other languages. Also for some reason, English is often considered a prestigious language so making it into English suggests a book is really good, at least to people who subscribe to the language hierarchy view. I'd guess it would also suggest to publishers that a book could be a commercial success, seeing as English-language publishing is a pretty cut-throat business. Whatever the case, 2011 was the first year in which they spent all that 15% budget. Hooray!

And you can see why at Three Percent: There are fifty first-time translations from German being published in the USA in 2012, up from 39 last year. Why? That's trickier. One reason is Seagull Books with their German and Swiss lists, but that only accounts for five extra books. AmazonCrossing has also done eleven titles from German rather than ten last year, mainly genre fiction I believe. There's also been a 4% increase in total translations published, suggesting to this eternal optimist right here that US publishers are becoming more daring. Possibly it's all down to the huge numbers of Americans in Berlin right now, only a fraction of whom actually speak German (anecdotal evidence only). Maybe everyone in US publishing has a friend in the city and their trips to the Panorama Bar make them more disposed to commission translations of German books.