Category Archives: Behind the Book

I find the whole book making process, from initial idea through to publication to be fascinating. This page shows a series of articles on the processes that all contribute towards making a book.

The Journey to Publication – Helen Giltrow – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Helen Giltrow to the blog. Helen’s novel, The Distance, out now in paperback and will be reviewed here soon.

Today Helen talks about the journey to publication.

Tell us about your journey to publication. When did you start writing?

I started young. I’ve still got the first book I wrote, when I was six. By my teens I was writing full-length novels. I even sent one to a publisher – I got rejected but the editor wrote me an encouraging letter, suggesting I submit it elsewhere.

And did you?

No – which in retrospect was crazy. But I did keep writing. 

In my twenties and early thirties I worked in educational publishing, but the more my career took off, the less time I had to write. Finally I thought, ‘If I don’t have a proper crack at this now, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.’ I’d had an idea for a book that really intrigued me, and I’d got some money saved, so I decided to take a year off to write it. I entered the opening for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger, and quit my job. But half an hour before my leaving party, I got a call to say my elderly dad – whose behaviour had become increasingly erratic – had run away from home. He was found a few hours later. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s followed, Mum (also elderly) decided she wanted to look after him at home, and all my plans changed overnight. 

I made the Debut Dagger shortlist. Stephen King’s editor Philippa Pride was on the judging panel that year and she wrote to me, asking to see the manuscript. But by then I’d put the book aside.

How long was it before you got back to writing?

I worked on the book in short bursts when I could, but for years one crisis seemed to follow another, and there were long stretches in which I didn’t touch it. I didn’t hit clear water again until early 2009. The first thing I did was dig out what I’d written. As you’d expect from that sort of writing process, it was all over the place. But I still loved the story and I thought I could make it work.

When did you finish the novel?

October 2011. I sent it out to three agents during November, and two of them asked for meetings. One of them was Judith Murray at Greene & Heaton. She hit me with a whole heap of comments, but I really liked her, and I liked the way she was pushing me to make the book better. I spent a few months reworking the manuscript, then Judith sent it out to publishers. But secretly I felt it still wasn’t quite right. I thought nothing much would happen.

We got the first offer a week later. By the middle of the next week, six editors had asked to bid – two of those were within the same publishing house, so one had to drop out, which left us with a five-way auction. I couldn’t believe it. 

How did you decide which publisher to go with?

I spent three days going from meeting to meeting, with a heavy cold, dosed up to the eyeballs and trying not to cough all over everyone! Bill Massey at Orion was the last editor I met, and within twenty minutes I knew I wanted to work with him. He saw the book exactly as I did – problems and all. And he made me laugh. 

Shortly afterwards I signed up with US and Canadian publishers too. So now I had three sets of comments coming in.

Was that difficult to deal with?

The hardest part was the waiting. Two sets of comments arrived in early May … then nothing. I tried to work on revisions in the interim, but I found I was looking over my shoulder all the time – what if the last editor saw the book in a completely different way? 

Ten more weeks passed before the last set of comments came in, but at last I could start serious work on the edits. There was one particular issue that took a lot of unravelling – one plot point I’d put in almost without thinking, but which caused a host of problems down the line. Eventually I realised I’d have to take it out completely. It meant big changes, but once I’d done it, everything else fell into place.

You’ve worked as an editor yourself. Did anything about your journey to publication surprise you?

Loads of things! Educational publishing is a world away from trade fiction. And even where the basic processes are the same, as an author you’re coming to them from a completely different angle. For the first time, it’s your book you’re talking about. That makes a world of difference.

So what’s next?

A sequel. There’s been talk of a TV adaptation too. After that – who knows?

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About the book:

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“They don’t call her Karla any more. She’s Charlotte Alton: she doesn’t trade in secrets, she doesn’t erase dark pasts, and she doesn’t break hit-men into prison. Except that is exactly what she’s been asked to do. The job is impossible: get the assassin into an experimental new prison so that he can take out a target who isn’t officially there. It’s a suicide mission, and quite probably a set-up.

So why can’t she say no?”


Filed under Behind the Book, Spotlight on Authors

Aven Ellis on Beta Readers

As part of the Behind the Book series, Aven Ellis, author of Connectivity and Waiting for Prince Harry tells us about how she uses Beta readers when writing.

A year has now passed since I published my debut novel, Connectivity. I’ve learned so much about the industry in these past 12 months, and this is the most important thing I have learned:  the importance of having a good beta team behind me as I write.

My Beta Team (affectionately called my Beta Baes) is made up of avid readers and book bloggers. I was blessed to find women of all ages, from around the globe, who are willing to take on the challenge of reading my work in progress. They’ll offer feedback if a scene doesn’t seem quite right, tell me when I’m headed in the right direction, and will re-read scenes a couple of times if I’m struggling with something in the manuscript. They see things I don’t.  And they’re always willing to stop down and answer a poll question if I’m not sure which direction I’m going in.

I have used the team for my next two releases, Surviving The Rachel  (February 2015) and The Definition of Icing (Dallas Demons #2, May 2015) and I can only say that they made the process of writing both of these books more FUN. I loved sharing my work as I wrote. With my team, they get each chapter as I write it, so we really are writing the book together in that respect. But to get feedback and encouragement through the whole process made all the difference in the world, as I was able to correct things as I went along rather than finding something that didn’t work and have to rewrite the whole manuscript. 

But my team is more than beta readers to me. My Beta Baes are my family. They inspire me daily to keep writing. They encourage me with emails and tweets and I look forward to my daily interactions with my friends. These are friends I didn’t know a year ago, but now can’t get through the day without talking to them.

And now I’ll never write a book without them. That’s how important they are to the process, and I’m grateful to have such amazing women be a part of my writing journey. 

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Ros Schwartz/Arcadia – translation special

Today I am pleased to share a fantastic interview with translator Ros Schwartz and Karen Sullivan from the publishers Arcadia who discuss the fabulous and often unsung work done by translators who help introduce us all to the wonderful world of foreign language fiction.


Ros – What process do you go through when you first receive a manuscript for translation?

I read it and decide whether it’s right for me. You have to feel empathy with a book to translate it well. Once I decide to accept the job, I start thinking about the specific challenges, which are different for each book. These questions are constantly in the back of my mind and I ponder them while swimming lengths, standing in the queue at the Post Office or sitting on a bus.

Ros – How much direct input do you have with the author? Is it a constant flow of communication or a series of submissions?

I generally contact the author at the beginning of the process to introduce myself and let them know how delighted I am to be working on their book. I inform them of the deadline and ask if it will  be OK for me to email them any queries towards the end. I try not to pester authors with unnecessary questions. Often, problems early on resolve themselves once I’m immersed in the book. If there is something that doesn’t seem clear, I check it with two or three native French speakers first, and if they’re stumped, I ask the author. When a book is at the translation stage, it can be more than a year since the author wrote it, and when asked what they mean, it’s not uncommon for them to reply, “I really have no idea.”

Ros – Is it difficult to keep to the intention of the author? I would imagine that sometimes there can be a danger of missing a point the author intends to make given possible social or linguistic differences.

It’s my job to know about those social and linguistic differences! Translators don’t just transpose words, they act as cultural bridges. Take a word like ‘suburbs’ for example. The connotations are completely different in French and in English. When an English person says ‘I grew up in the suburbs’, we picture a pleasant, leafy, middle-class environment. When a French person says ‘I’m from the banlieue’, it means the equivalent of our inner cities. So my job is to get across the implicit social/class connotation. 

As a translator, you are primarily a reader and then a writer. No reader can ever be 100% certain that they have received the text as the author intended. A translator is a very close reader, but can only convey his or her reading of the book – which you hope is as close to the author’s intention as possible. That’s why empathy is so important.

Ros – How does the author approve a translation, if, for example, they don’t speak English, how will they be able to ensure that the integrity of the story is maintained?

The author rarely has the power to ‘approve’ the translation, unless they have superstar status like Claude Lanzmann or Yasmina Reza. There has to be trust. The author needs to trust the publisher to find the best translator for their book. One problem with translating into English is that a lot of foreign authors (or their friends) think their English is better than it is, and they can start querying the translator’s choices. Of course if an author’s English is excellent and they ask to see the translation, then it is a courtesy to let them see it. 

As a translator you take responsibility for your translation, and work in a holistic way to find an appropriate ‘voice’. It is important to be true to the spirit and intention of the book, and not work at the word-by-word, line-by-line level. Once the translation has been accepted by the publisher and copy-edited, I wouldn’t expect an author to start nitpicking.

Ros – What do you love about translating?

Every book’s a challenge, a new adventure. I learn something new every single day. It’s a privilege to spend months with a book and really be inhabited by it. You appreciate it on so many more levels than as a casual reader. I love words, I love language, I love the process, I love the sense of satisfaction when the book is printed and my name’s on it. I love the freedom of working for myself, I love the exchanges with authors and editors, the rich relationships, and I love being part of the translation community. 

Ros – How did you come to be a translator?

Ah, well, like most translators, in a rather unorthodox way. I dropped out of university (it was the early 70s!) and ran away to Paris. I came back in the early 80s, having spent a year in India, and thought I’d get ‘a proper job’ but times had changed, and I discovered that I was totally unemployable. No one was interested in a dropout who could speak several languages but didn’t know how to do anything else, not even type, and had never had a job in the UK other than as a student. So I launched myself as a translator and literally learned on the job. I had fallen in love with a book and translated it while still in Paris but hadn’t found a publisher for it yet (I did eventually, after five years). There were not translation courses then, no peer training. I was fortunate enough to receive a commission – from Pete Ayrton at Serpent’s Tail – and after that I took myself to the Frankfurt Book Fair and picked up a couple of titles which I then found publishers for. I haven’t looked back since. 

Karen – How do you know that a foreign language manuscript is one that you’ll want to publish? Do you receive them with a translated version when they are submitted?

It’s always difficult to choose, partly because there are so many wonderful books on there, from many, many different countries, but also because we have to make a decision based on a sample translation, a pitch by a publisher or agent and usually a reader’s report of the whole book. We have a stable of excellent readers who will take a look at anything we think looks great, and not only give us a full synopsis of the book and an opinion of its merits, but also provide a little background to the book and the author, which we may not have. Our readers are invaluable. Then, it’s a question of waiting until we get the translation. There’s a bit of a fingers-crossed moment, but we’ve never been let down yet.

Karen – How much input do you have in the translation process?

A fair bit, really. We choose the translator and often have the text delivered in chunks so that we can be involved, pick up any problems that may emerge at the outset, and also understand what it is we are publishing! In the case of something like Zenith Hotel, by Oscar Coop-Phane, I sat down with Ros Schwartz for several hours going through the text almost line by line. I point out bits that I think may not work for an English market (very few of those) or may need qualification, or didn’t make sense to me. Good translators (and Ros is one of the very best) are always happy to explain, to rethink, to talk through potential solutions. Translations are, like all manuscripts, edited, and in this case the ‘author’ is really the translator. We are very respectful of that, and trust their judgement completely. It’s lovely to work together on the polishing, though. Translators are the life blood of a lot of what we do, and the interaction is integral to a successful book.

Karen – I would guess that you must have a lot of trust in your translator. How important is the relationship between translator, author and publisher?

I think I may have just answered that. We choose translators who have an excellent cv and produce high-quality, very readable, very beautiful translations. As I mentioned above, the translator is, in fact, very much the ‘author’ for the duration of the translation process, and we put our faith in their ability to write this book – capture the nuances of the language, the subtleties … Dialogue is particularly hard to translate successfully in my view, and we’ve been very luck to have some brilliant translators. Sean Kinsella managed to turn ‘600 pages of pure energy’ in Norwegian into 600 pages of pure energy in English, in a completely dialogue-driven book (See You Tomorrow by Tore Renberg) and that is a feat I can only stand back and admire. We trust the translator. The author trusts the translator and us. The translator trusts us to give support and input, and to promote their work, too. So many people forget about the translators when they review books, which is a travesty! Their work is exceptionally difficult and completely crucial to the success of the book!

Karen – How do you know that the translated version is the version that the author intended to write and isn’t the translators version?

You don’t! If something comes in that seems wildly different from the book we thought we had commissioned and, indeed, the sample translation provided by the agent or publisher, we might get the original reader to take a look and give his/her thoughts. In reality, however, this is very, very rare. We have wonderful translators who are very happy to explain their choice of words, their approach, everything else. They agonise over single sentences (Sean Kinsella, Ros Schwartz and Kaija Straumanis, who translated Flesh-Coloured Dominoes from the Latvian are great examples of this), they worry about such minute detail, we simply know we are in good hands. Most if not all of our translators work closely with the author, too, to query intention, literary devices, plot mechanisms, etc., to ensure that the final product is exactly what the author wrote in another language, with tiny tweaks to make it accessible to an English-speaking audience. We’ve never yet had an unhappy author, and we are, most certainly, delighted publishers! It’s an honour to be able to publish some of the best of world literature and it is certainly a huge responsibility to be sure we do it properly. Without a team of experienced, very talented translators, it would simply never be possible.


Filed under Behind the Book, Spotlight on Publishers

Barbara Nadal – Cold hearted killer? Moi?

Today on the blog I’m honoured to feature Barbara Nadal, author of the Inspector Ikem and the Hakin and Arnold mystery series. Here, in a moving piece, she talks about killing off characters.

Cold hearted killer? Moi?

Authors are in the most unique position of being masters of their own fictional universes. Scriptwriters, poets, artists and musicians may also fall under this data gory. And as creators of our own universes we can also, completely or in part, destroy them too.

How do you go about killing off a character and why? We’ll, you got about it with caution as I know to my cost. As an inexperienced writer at the beginning of my Cetin Ikmen series I killed off a character that I liked and readers liked. It was Ikmen’s father Timur and I regret it bitterly. Even now I don’t know why I did it. Relating what happened at that time makes my skin crawl.

My own father was still alive when I killed Timur Ikmen, but unlike him, dad was healthy. He was about the same age as Timur Ikmen and shared some of his vices. But he wasn’t nearly so irascible. However, only a few months after I killed Timur, my father died very suddenly and very shockingly. And like Timur Ikmen he spent his last hours on this earth on a life support machine. Horribly the decision Cetin Ikmen and his brother Halil had to make about Timur when he was on life support was one that I had to make too. It was as if in that book ‘A Chemical Prison’, I had been rehearsing for my own loss. Magical thinking I know. But how would you feel?

Ever since then I’ve been very wary of killing off my series characters. I’ve tended to only slaughter those who are, or become, unlikeable. In ‘Harem’ I killed off a rouge sergeant called Orhan Tepe who turned out to be a massive misogynist – other characters have left, moved on, got divorced etc. I have always avoided killing them.

But in ‘Body Count’ my sixteenth Ikmen book, I came to the decision that one particular character had to go. Basically this person was in a bind and I couldn’t see any way that he or she could get out of it undamaged. Confidence was waning, he or she was losing their grip and some, albeit subtle, signs of mental illness were beginning to manifest. I could see the slow decline approaching and so I had to decide whether I wanted to put my character through that. Would he or she want to go out like that? Or would a sudden, albeit shocking, end be more appropriate.

As I do a lot in my fiction, I let the book dictate what happened next. Too cowardly to take the decision myself I watched the way the wind was blowing with this character, I shall call X. At one point I did actually decide that the slow decline was my way forward. But then I changed my mind. X was becoming pitiful and it wasn’t right.

Characters who have featured prominently in a series deserve to be treated with respect. God almighty, they’ve worked, cried, laughed and bled for our amusement! No author, or reader should just write such people off (as it were)! There has to be dignity and, in some cases, a level of nobility too. And so I decided to kill X in a way that would ensure that he or she went down in the annals of Ikmen as somebody bloody good who we would all miss.

I planned the ending of X for some weeks. Insanely, I felt guilty and had moments of doubt and even self-loathing. But by this time the plot was moving inexorably towards the death of X and, although his or her death was not essential to the resolution of the plot, X and myself were gearing up for it.

I designated a day when I would do it and I stuck to it. In the morning of that day, I resolved that I wouldn’t leave my desk until X was dead. I almost stuck to it. What stopped me was that I had to go to the bathroom to get some paper tissues. As X began to die, I wept. I really, really did. Was it just because, like the death of my father, once the process had started it was unstoppable? Or was it because I’d got to know X very well over the years and had come to like, almost love the character? Or was it a bit of both?

I achieved my goal that day and killed X without hesitation or mercy. But it drained me. In fact I took the rest of that day off and just read, which is most unprecedented for me. When I went back to ‘Body Count’ the next day I felt as bereft as my bereaved characters. Unlike them however I was glad that X had died as opposed to just faded away. X’s death had some nobility in it and I knew then and know now that he or she will be remembered for a long time in part because of that demise.

So how do you act as a cold hearted killer to your characters? Carefully is the answer. It takes a lot of thought, a lot of soul searching and quite a few tears to do it properly – which I think I’ve done. But read ‘Body Count’ and judge for yourselves.

I’d be lying if I said that killing X gave me some sort of insight into my father’s death or even some form of closure. It didn’t. But I think, and hope, that my many experiences of bereavement since dad’s death have at least made me able to write about loss in a convincing manner. Because when I killed X I really did lose someone and it was someone that I cared about.


Body Count is published by Headline and out now.

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Emma Chapman – My Journey to Publication


On the day her novel How To Be A Good Wife comes out in paperback, Emma Chapman tells us about her journey to publication…


When I was at university and I’d tell people I wanted to be a writer, they would inevitably ask me what I’d already written.

“Nothing,” I’d say. “I just know it’s what I want to do.”

Usually, they’d look at me like I was a terrible fraud. But it was the truth. Apart from adolescent diaries, I hadn’t written much of anything before I enrolled on a Masters course after my undergraduate degree.

How did I know with such conviction that writing was for me? It was an odd, overwhelming feeling I would get from reading: a desire to achieve what those storytellers had. I wanted to make people feel the way I felt when I got lost in a brilliant novel. I was also attracted to the freedom of being a writer: the flexibility of working for myself and being able to travel.

When I arrived in London at the beginning of my Masters course, I was buzzing with anticipation. I looked around at the seven other people in my group, and wondered which of us (if any) would end up published. (Four out of eight of us have deals to date, and the others have agents – not bad going.) I wanted to get on with it: to learn the skills I needed to give myself the best chance of success. We all set to work. We were taught about point of view, voice, character, place, and a million other technical terms. We were sent away to write, and then brought back to be critiqued. This was the most daunting: the exposure of finally been held accountable for things I had written in secret.

In my interview, Andrew Motion – the then poet laureate – told me that I would probably find the year challenging. He’d read my short stories, hastily written to submit for acceptance to the course: and he said I had work to do. I nodded eagerly, my heart beating fast in my chest. I’ll do it, I thought as I left, I’ll do whatever it takes. I applied myself, listened to critiques and tried to improve. Over the course of that year, my novel – which would one day become How To Be A Good Wife – started to take shape.

I also worked three days a week at Toby Eady Associates – a small, delightful literary agency near Hyde Park – where I learnt about the business side of publishing. I learnt the realities of what it meant to be a writer: how they got paid, how to make up contracts, what foreign rights were and how they were sold. I did a lot of filing in that office – after all, I was still a student – and every time I would slip a royalty statement into someone’s folder in the filing cabinet I would hope against hope that one day there would be one with my name on it.

After my Masters, I went to Australia to ‘visit’ my boyfriend. When I finished my manuscript, I sent it to Toby Eady Associates. It was perhaps the most terrifying moment of my entire writing career. At that point, I had no idea if I was any good at all, or even whether I had the potential to be. I only had the words of my creative writing group, which meant a lot, but easily became twisted in my mind until they were little more than smoke. I’d seen so many submissions come into that agency, and so many end up in the recycling bin. Plus, I’d got to know these people: they were my colleagues, and I really wanted them to like it.

When I met with them a month after I’d sent the manuscript, they were very positive. Over lunch, they talked about ways the manuscript could be improved. But they never came out and said they wanted to sign it. I thought perhaps they were being polite: giving me pointers before sending me on my way. On the way back to the office, I asked them straight out. Will you be taking me on as a client? They laughed. Of course, they said, did we not already say that?

I walked home from that meeting in a state of airy disbelief. I’d climbed one step on the ladder, I thought. Although I knew there were changes needed to the manuscript, it felt like everything else I’d wanted couldn’t be that far away.

Fast-forward two years. I’m living in Australia: working in a gift shop full time, and editing the book before work and at the weekends. My agent has just told me he thinks we’re ready to go to publishers with the manuscript. Did I imagine it would take this long? I knew it might: three years is a normal length of time to spend writing a novel. But I’d hoped, as I’m sure everyone does, that I would be some sort of genius exception. That perhaps all that ‘hard work’ wouldn’t be applicable to me.

Then came the second terror-filled moment. Close to the anxiety-inducing intensity of first sending the book to my agent, submitting to publishers was nerve-racking. At every moment, you know that someone could be reading and liking (or not liking) your manuscript. Someone with the power to make something happen. And there’s not one tiny thing you can do about it.

We heard within forty-eight hours that someone liked it. But I didn’t realize that it’s not enough for an editor to like the book: they then have to convince the rest of the publishing house – sales, marketing, PR etc – that it’s a good investment. There are meetings and people need time to read it. It took two weeks in total, and every day felt like a year. The only things I found took my mind off the fear were romantic comedies and Bikram yoga. In that sweaty room, I couldn’t think about anything except my own aching muscles.

Of course, this story ended happily. Picador pre-empted the novel, and I accepted their offer. But it so easily could have gone the other way. If none of the editors we sent it to had connected to it, or had connected but not quite enough. If the other people at the publishing house had said no. I know how lucky I am that it did work out, and I remind myself of it, every day.

When you hope for something for so long, there is a strange period of disbelief after it has actually happened. A blankness, which is broken every time you remember, and you are thrilled to the very core. I never thought that ‘being published’ would become normal: in fact, I was determined for it not to, to keep appreciating it. And today, as we reach another milestone and the paperback is put out on the shelves in bookshops all over the country, I’m sure I will feel that surge disbelief, amazement and happiness, and I’ll ride it as long as it lasts.


About the author:

Emma Chapman _Web_mg_1849

Emma Chapman grew up in Manchester.  After attending university in Edinburgh and London, she travelled in Scandinavia, then moved to Perth, Western Australia, where she lived for four years.  She now lives in Jakarta, Indonesia. How To Be A Good Wife is her first novel, a ‘creepy little chiller’ (Hilary Mantel) about a terrible secret between a husband and a wife.

About the book:

Paperback UK

” ‘I know what my husband would say: that I have too much time on my hands; that I need to keep myself busy. That I need to take my medication. Empty nest syndrome, he tells his friends at the pub, his mother. He’s always said I have a vivid imagination.’

In How To Be a Good Wife, Marta has been married to Hector for longer than she can remember. She has always tried hard to be a good wife.

But now Hector has come home with a secret. And Marta is beginning to imagine – or revisit – a terrifying truth.”

– See more at:



You can find out more about Emma and How to be A Good Wife  at and

How To Be A Good Wife is published in paperback by Picador and is available from Amazon and book shops now.

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Susan Buchanan – How hard is it being a translator?

Today I’m please to welcome Susan Buchanan to the blog. Susan has is an author and has just set up her own translation company Perfect Prose.

About Susan:


Susan Buchanan lives near Glasgow, Scotland and is the author of three novels, as well as being  a proofreader, editor, and translator. She has an MA in French and Hispanic Studies from the University of Glasgow, although ironically her most fluent language after English is Italian.  She has lived in both Spain and France and worked for 15 years in European and international sales, using her  languages daily, as well as proofreading, editing, and writing copy in various fields, including IT, electronics, electronic components, and the water industry. She also speaks French and Portuguese.

Twitter -@perfect_prose

Here Susan tells us all about translation, what she loves about it, and what she doesn’t like so much

“Every year many of us buy books, sometimes by authors whose native tongue isn’t English (although clearly for those living in non-English speaking countries, this is the norm). We buy those books in translation. I particularly like the Nordic crime writers: Camilla Läckberg, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo. I’ve also read many authors over the years in translation, including many classics, sometimes as a dual text (where it appears in the original version and in English) – Macchiavelli, Boccaccio, Flaubert. But do you know the names Laurie Thompson, Steven T Murray, and Don Bartlett? No? I thought not, but if it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t be reading the Nordic writers’ works in English. As a languages graduate and a linguist, I know just how much work is involved in translating books. It’s not just a case of ‘working out’ what it means in English, but also remaining true to the author’s voice and style, whilst also capturing all the subtle nuances of English, and ensuring you don’t mistranslate.

Neither is it just a case of simply translating what you see? What if you are translating a 14th century text into English from Italian? Dante’s La Divina Commedia for example. You’d have to know the language of that era and be a student of the language of the time to be able to do the translation justice. Likewise, if you’re translating Mexican Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese into English, you need to bear in mind that many words have completely different meanings from their European equivalents. It can be quite a minefield – and that’s why I love it!

I actually started writing novels as, 25 years ago in high school, I was told that if I wanted to translate books (languages other than English were my first love back then)I’d have to be a published writer before I would be considered as a book translator. Naively I believed this. In the end, that wasn’t why I became a novelist, but I still harbour a desire to translate a full-length novel and I’m sure that I will do it at some point. I used to translate sections of novels just for fun, as I read in Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Yes, my book-buying habits are not restricted only to English!

Yet translation clearly isn’t only restricted to translation of books. For more than 15 years I worked in European and international sales, and I was called upon regularly to translate instruction manuals, press releases, website content, media articles, product flyers, presentations, and trade show information packs. In the business world, translators are often chosen by specialism. It has been my experience that those who do well are those who specialise in a particular sector or have a technical area of expertise. For example, from a technical translation perspective I focus mainly on Manufacturing and Environment . Other key sectors often looking for translators include Life Sciences, Legal, Oil and Gas, Medical, Financial, Public Sector, and Financial Services. Very specific terminology is used within each niche industry, as well as a lot of jargon which a layman is unlikely to know. Therein lies the need for someone with that specific knowledge to ensure a flawless translation.

Although you should be a native speaker if translating into a language, or bilingual if translating professionally from and into the given language, just speaking the language doesn’t automatically make you a candidate for being a good translator. In the same way as not all English speakers can write English well, this is also true of other nationalities. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve proofread a translation done by a well-meaning native-speaking employee, into their mother tongue, and discovered a whole array of spelling and grammatical errors. Hence, hiring a professional really is the only way. I only translate into Italian and Spanish at the moment, as

although my French was fluent when I lived in France and my Portuguese is pretty good, I just don’t feel they are currently of an elevated enough standard for professional translation.

As someone who reads in five languages, I’ve read some great translations and some by which I wasn’t quite so enthralled. I’ve witnessed the practice on job auction sites where translators are requested to bid for a quarter of a book. How does that work? With language being so fluid, one person’s interpretation of a clause or sentence might be phrased slightly differently from another’s. Some words have more than one direct translation in English. How do they ensure consistency? They can’t. I’ve seen this firsthand when working in industry when a translation agency we’d employed had two translators working on the same piece of material. When I read the translation, I spotted straightaway it wasn’t the work of a single person, as later in the piece of work, there were different translations for the same word used in the first section. I can only imagine how annoying this would be in a full-length novel.

However, my favourite part about translation, aside from simply knowing I’ve nailed it, is when I come across an absolute howler. These examples all happened in the same week: someone referring to a lawyer used the term ‘avocado’ instead of ‘abogado’ , ‘cobra’ for ‘cabra’ , (goat) and my favourite one of all was ‘me duelen mis osos’ , trying to say ‘their bones were hurting’, but actually saying literally ‘their bears were hurting them’. Images of being chased by a grizzly bear abounded. Now that’s what I call a mistranslation!”

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Guest Post – Nick Alexander

Today Nick Alexander, author of ten novels including The French House and The Half-life of Hannah, has kindly shared his inspiration behind Other Halves, his latest novel.

The inspiration for Other Halves came to me in the middle of the messiest of divorces. Luckily for me, it was someone else’s divorce.  I was caught in the middle, and it was an uncomfortable place to be. A couple I knew were falling apart, and both parties were phoning me to bitch and gain information about the other (but mainly just to bitch). That’s when it struck me just how much truth each of the two entirely opposed realities of their breakup story were. And how compelling it was to be in a position
where I knew both sides of that story.

In the end, of course, I had to choose one side over the other. I had to opt for the oldest, closest friend, and wave goodbye to his ex. The alternative  was to lose contact with both friends.
But the memory of being stuck in the middle remained with me: conflicting realities was something I wanted to explore further.

A sequel for my novel The Half-Life of Hannah seemed the perfect place to do this, because it ends, precisely, in the breakup of a fifteen year marriage. In The Half-Life of Hannah, the reader sees things almost exclusively from Hannah’s point of view. The reader discovers, with horror, her husband’s fifteen years of deceit, and has little choice but to pray that she will flee. How exciting it could be, for a reader, I figured, if we took them into Cliff’s mind as well, and showed that from his, entirely different vision of the world, he had never done anything other than offer his very best. For no matter how bad their best, who out there really sets out to do their worst?

How interesting and unusual an experience for a reader it would be, I reckoned, to be dragged back and forth from Hannah’s point of view, to Cliff’s; to be forced to see Hannah’s behaviour, outrageous through Cliff’s eyes, and then to see it again, so utterly reasonable through her own.  So, like Cliff, I did my best. And as far as I can tell from the first reviews, which all seem mention the reader’s allegiances being dragged back and forth, I managed it!

Readers can get both The Half-Life of Hannah and Other Halves for less than a pound at the moment, so see what you think!
The Half-Life of Hannah and Other Halves are available from <
and Apple <> and all major ebook retailers.

HALF_LIFE_OF_HANNAH_med               OTHER_HALVES_med1

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