Thanks so much for your lovely letter. Right away I get such a strong sense of you and your personality from your words – it’s easy to forget what magic a good writer and a good translator can make when they work together!
Before I answer your questions, I have one of my own. When you are writing, do you ever write with translation in mind? I remember hearing Kazuo Ishiguro say in an interview that he was always very aware that his novels would be translated into many languages, and because of that he decided to avoid using certain puns and jokes that he feared wouldn’t survive the journey from one language to the next. That’s really something, isn’t it?
For myself, I can’t say that I write with those kinds of thoughts of the future – but I do become increasingly aware as I move through copy editing (the stage I am at now with The Friday Gospels) that there are certain phrases and words that my Chorley-born characters use (or even syntactical differences – like ‘try and’ do something instead of ‘try to’) which are regionally correct and perfect for the voice that I want to create, but are going to sound unfamiliar – perhaps even a bit odd, to readers in other parts of my own country. Lots of regional accents are quite distinct here – I love it.
What makes the task even more difficult is that the family (there are five, first person narrators) are Mormons. (You asked for a sneak preview: here it is – the four members of the one family are waiting for the fifth member – the middle son – to come back from Utah where he’s been serving a mission. He’s been away for two years. They all want him to come back and solve the problems in their family, to rescue them in some way. But in fact it turns out he needs a bit of rescuing himself.)
Mormonism is a very minority religion here (I wonder if you’ve heard of it?) so it’s been a tricky balance to strike – between being true to their voices, their language and vocabulary, their way of viewing the world – while also making sure that an eventual reader is going to understand what they (and I) are trying to say. And all that is just within my one language, English. I think I’d go mad if I wrote while considering all the future issues with translation too. How does it work for you?
You asked a little bit about the way I wrote my second novel, Cold Light. That was a tough year for me – I was working full time at the prison and it was the kind of job that didn’t leave any time at all for thinking and daydreaming and planning the book. I did enjoy working there, but that hour at lunch time was the only time I had at all to write. I managed a very messy first draft that day. But, as you would expect – the novel had been written in one-hour bursts and felt very disjoined and episodic because of that. In the end I applied for some writing money from the Arts Council and was able to stop working for a while so that I could finish the book. No matter how interesting and stimulating the job is, sometimes you just need a bit of quiet, don’t you?
I liked what you said about a room of your own – it really made sense to me. And yes, it is an unattainable luxury for most writers – women or not. I think people forget the whole of that Virginia Woolf quote, which is that a woman needs a room of her own and five hundred pounds a year! (I don’t know what the equivalent amount would be today, but it sounds like a lot…) Writers don’t need much money, but they need lots of time – and often the writing itself does not pay for that time. I know when writers get together the conversation turns as much to cash and the lack of it as it does to the art! I have an office of my own at work at the University of Lancaster – but I don’t at home. Right now I am writing in bed and I can hear my husband down-stairs cooking lunch for our little boy. No silence here!
Your project in Barcelona sounds really interesting. It’s been a while since I did one – but the last one I did was in Manchester – the Station Stories project. There’s a link to it on my website. My work tends to stay in the North West of England, as you can see. Do you travel a lot? Does that travel find its way into your writing, in some way? And can you tell me a little about what projects and writing you are working on now?
Hoping this letter finds you well and with all best wishes,