Prime Writer Alison Layland, author of Someone Else’s Conflict, is also a literary translator. Her latest translation, the crime novel Raven Sisters by German author Gabi Kreslehner, is published today by AmazonCrossing, established in 2010 to bring a wide range of translated fiction from around the world to English-speaking readers. Find out more in this interview with Martine Bailey, author of historical crime novels An Appetite For Violets and The Penny Heart. Both Alison and Martine are members of the Crime Writers’ Association.
MB I love European crime novels. Tell us a little about the novel.
AL Raven Sisters is set in southern Germany, but also takes us to Austria and the Greek islands. When Gertrud Rabinsky is murdered and her foster sister Hanna goes missing, a web of family secrets, lies and deceit is opened up, and detective Franza Oberwieser and her team have to get to the bottom of it. The backstory, especially the relationship between the two sisters and the love triangle that came between them, is dark and particularly beautifully drawn, providing an intriguing contrast with the present-day investigation. This is the second novel featuring Franza Oberwieser, who’s a fascinating character combining insight and sensitivity in her work with a down-to-earth sense of humour in her personal life and her relations with her police team. In the tradition of a good detective novel, the complications of her private life are woven into the story. Although it’s the second in the series that features her, it’s not essential to have read the first, Rain Girl – though I recommend it!
MB How does translating a novel compare with writing one? Does one help the other in your work? And how long does it take?
AL It’s quite different in the sense that the characters and plot are already there, as is the voice – when translating a work of fiction I have to convey the style and voice of the German novel as accurately as possible in my own language, English. I liken it to an actor interpreting a playwright’s script. Technically, the process is quite similar to my writing in that I do a rough draft, which I then refine in a second draft. My translations also go through a thorough editing process just like my own writing does.
The two processes are complementary. In order to be a good translator you have to be able to write well in your own language, so my experience as a novelist is a definite help. Conversely, my work as a translator is an excellent ongoing way of honing my writing skills. All writers are readers, and learn from their reading. Translation involves reading and getting to know a work more closely than anyone, except perhaps an editor, so I’m always learning and practising my craft.
Deadlines for translation are fairly tight; depending on the length of the novel, I usually have to deliver the translation within 2-3 months of being given the contract. The thorough editing – in which I’m involved – means a further period of about 7-8 months from delivery of my translation manuscript to publication.
MB How did you go about researching for the translation?
AL The process of researching for a translation is different from that of researching for your own novel – obviously, the facts have already been researched by the author, but I do check them, especially to ensure that I’m choosing the right words when translating. I may also contact the author to discuss certain aspects – it’s always lovely to connect with another writer. research for this one also involved reading the first novel in the series, Rain Girl (which I didn’t translate), to familiarise myself with the characters and settings, and to make sure aspects such as chosen terminology were consistent. For instance, I had to make sure we were using the same terms for police ranks and other official titles, which have rough equivalents between Germany and the US or UK, but are not always directly comparable. Another example was whether to call the unnamed German town that provides the location for the novel a town or a city (German doesn’t differentiate, as Stadt can mean either, depending on the context).
MB Thanks Alison. I’m currently listening to another of your translations from German, Corina Bomann’s bestselling ‘The Moonlit Garden’, partly set in Indonesia. I look forward to reading ‘Raven Sisters’ next.
AL Thank you, Martine – I hope you enjoy both!
Alison Layland: www.alayland.uk