Sunday 13 October 2013

On Gushing

I gush. I do, I know I do it but I can't stop.

I get hooked on certain books and certain writers. I write about them here and sometimes elsewhere, in glowing tones and all that. Repeatedly. And then occasionally, I'm lucky enough to translate them. So I have a vested interest in gushing, to some extent.

I read my friend Henry Holland's report on Clemens Meyer on his blog Goethe's Gonna Getya. He says:
I had got it wrong, quite, quite wrong. I'd read Katy (Derbyshire) hyping, pushing, gushing about & explaining this man on her Love German Books, but I wasn't able to trust her backing Meyer. I thought self-interest was at play, that she's only praising this guy to the heavens cause she's already had her translation of one of Meyer's books published, & maybe more are in the pipeline. (...) But thank God I did read Katy communicating Meyer, even if I mis-read her. That misreading was enough to make me get a ticket to hear and see Meyer reading on the old trans-atlantic ferry boat, The Cap San Diego, two nights ago as part of the Harbour Front Festival.
Thankfully, Henry was actually impressed when he saw Meyer in person.

Another time, I met Clemens on the evening after he was shortlisted for the German Book Prize, and I was very excited and pleased for him, and for myself as his translator, I have to admit. And a friend said to me, Oh, you've got dollar signs in your eyes. And I was upset because I hadn't been thinking in terms of money. It's not like I'd have got any of Clemens's prize money if he had actually won. It was more that it would have made it easier for his publisher to sell the translation rights to his 550-page novel about the sex industry.

So I've been thinking about my literary enthusiasms and how they come across to other people. I do gush, it's true. I think, as far as I can judge myself, that my gushing is just part of my personality, that evangelical zeal to share my passions. I'm glad there are things I'm enthusiastic enough about to want to recommend them to other people. I'm glad I'm not a wizened cynic like some of the people who work in publishing, and I'm glad I have the buffer of working for myself rather than for a publisher, which I hope protects me from that cynicism and the kind of glassy-eyed automatic praise I occasionally hear from publishing people whose job it is to talk up their company's books.

But here's the thing. There is indeed some self-interest at play. I do really want to translate certain books. But that self-interest is not of a monetary nature. At the risk of laying on the pathos, I have to explain that every book I translates makes me poorer than I could be. If I were translating contracts and advertising copy rather than literature, as I used to, I would be earning more. Translating literature does pay better in the UK than in many other countries (including the USA), but translating almost anything else pays better than that. I supplement what I earn from literary translation through commercial translation, mainly for museums. If I didn't do that I wouldn't be able to pay the rent - although my rent isn't as low as it could be, for personal reasons.

The reason why I really want to translate certain books is because I love translating books I adore. It's a huge luxury and something that makes me genuinely happy. I know I'm privileged to be in my position right now, having enough literary work to keep me going. That's a wonderful thing. Most people I come across do not love their jobs, and I do. When I translate Clemens Meyer, for instance, I develop tunnel vision and focus only on words and rhythm for hours on end. It's scary but exhilarating.

But I'm becoming aware that people may not understand that. That it may be a tiny bit annoying when I rabbit on about a book I love for the seventeenth time. That editors to whom I recommend books may think I'm doing it solely to get my hands on their budgets. That readers of my blog might think I big up my own translations in order to boost my huge royalty payments (while most contracts I sign either don't grant me any royalties at all, or royalties only kick in after a very optimistic number of books have been sold). I've always felt slightly uncomfortable writing about my own translations, actually, and I'm trying to come up with a way to do that without feeling like I'm blowing my own trumpet too much. More on that another time. 

So, to sum up this rambling post: Yes, I gush. Part of that gushing comes in the form of translating extracts, placing them in magazines, sending them to editors and so on, in the hope that I can one day possibly translate the entire book for my own pleasure and also so that other people can read it for their pleasure. The other part is just plain gushing on this blog. You don't have to read it and if you do read it, you don't have to share my opinion. But I'm proud to say that when I gush, it is genuine.


Unknown said...

I think people who don't get that you really like the book and want it to be translated probably just don't get literature and translation at all. I'm sure anyone who really cares about these things knows where you're coming from :)

kjd said...

That's a nice thing to say, Tony. I hope people don't think I'm trying to get at Henry. Henry is a lovely guy and I think he does care about these things. Which is why I'm glad he overcame his suspicion and went to see Clemens Meyer reading - and had a great night out.

But then I think, well if someone as decent and clever as Henry doesn't trust my gushing, what do actual dumb people think?

But maybe life's too short to worry about what actual dumb people think.

Anonymous said...

I say gush away, Katy, and let the haters hate and the misunderstanders misunderstand! Anyone who thinks that literary translators do it for the fabulous royalties and the glory needs his or her head examined, anyway. I think your enthusiasm is wonderful. By the way, I really enjoyed Blutsbrüder and am so happy I read about it here.

kjd said...

Ah, thanks Pam. xx

kjd said...

Maybe I'm just feeling paranoid because I couldn't go to the book fair.

Nikki ( said...

I like the gushing. I'm a gusher myself. Frankly, I trust a gusher more than someone who approaches something in a drier tone because, hello, passion. The passion behind a recommendation is what I trust, and it comes through in gushing.

Patrick Murtha said...

I agree with the other commenters. Carry on about what you love as much as you want. It's refreshing. And the fact that it's not motivated by the greatest amount of financial gain you could potentially command is also thoroughly refreshing, in our market-driven, neo-liberal world where we are all supposed to be "rational maximizers" - but ONLY about money. Nice to be reminded that some of us do have other drives! And love of literature is one of the nicest drives there is.