Friday, August 12, 2011

Writing and Translating into Magical Stories

I belong to a wonderful goals group created by founder, Amy Atwell. One meets the most interesting people in our group, among them the prolific Annemarie Nikolaus who is a German journalist and author, who has lived in Germany and Northern Italy and recently moved to France with her daughter. This January Annemarie decided to publish as an indie author. She began with her out-of print-work and e-published. Magical Stories is her first book translated into English. I work so hard to make the stories I write in English make sense, I can't imagine translating my work into a foreign language. But Annemarie fearlessly takes this on. I asked her to tell us about it. Please welcome Annemarie Nikolaus.

Magical Stories is a compilation which includes a water ghost, a young magician, a magic-talented hare and a good witch: Magic and intelligence, reality and legend connect in these short stories. Two stories about the force of nature and the thoughtlessness of man. One story's message is to consider well what you wish. And last is a Christmas story.

Some years ago, “The Brook“ and “Cork“ were published in German, the Christmas story in Italian. These short stories, imparting wisdom are not only for children.


Being multi-lingual: Usually I write fiction and non-fiction in German; sometimes in Italian. My daughter normally writes in Italian, as this was her “school language” for most years. Meanwhile she’s begun to write in German too and actually she tries to translate her YWP-story in French. (Young Writers' Program).

Now I have e-published an anthology of children's stories in English - and this is not an original work, but a translation of my German book.

So Donnell asked me, how it's working for me to translate my stories.

First thought in my mind was an Italian saying: "Traduttori sono trahitori." - Translators are betrayers.


Did you ever put a text into a translator and then re-translate the output into the original language?

But translating is not only substituting the words of a text of one language with another. You have to find the bridge from one culture to the other one. That's one of the reasons, why automatic translators don't work at all; even when they find the right words and know the correct grammar.

Sometimes I professionally translate from other languages to German, what is my mother tongue; and even with technical or scientific translations I often have to discuss with my clients about the meaning of sentences and words.

Translation of literature is more difficult, because it means to catch also the voice of the author. For this reason, often a new edition of books in foreign languages are translated anew. The next translator gives the reader another interpretation of said story and a new voice to the author. That's why translators, next to the author, own the copyright for the work.

But which one is right? When the book is in English, many German readers prefer to read the original work. Because none is right. Think of a movie that doesn't come with sub-titles, but with translation. The voices of the actors are different; no way.

Now I went to translate my own stories. Would I be able to maintain my voice? That was an enormous experiment. And much much more work than I had expected. I often write in English or in Italian: I barely use a dictionary - I just take the words that come into my mind. Which in general are rather common than poetic.

But especially for "The Brook" I needed poetic words to catch the fairy-tale atmosphere of the story and the music of the waterfall. I needed a dictionary. I used three different dictionaries; sort of cross-research. Sometimes I could not help but take what has the nearest meaning.

There are words that just don't translate. After twenty years living in Italy, I have some Italian words in my mind, for which I have no German ones. There is nothing "identical". Till today - we live in France now - I think [of] them in Italian. Because it's a different way of "thinking".

So I should have known it. But translating my own stories, nonetheless, got me in difficulties. I gave my translations to fellow writers to correct the English. Both did not only correct grammar, but also edited. Different way of thinking. Most of it I did accept - English is like that. But at some points I said, no; it's not at all what I want to say.

Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof - someone still knows this name?

He was a Russian, born at Bialystok in the mid-19th century. A place, whose population spoke Russian, Polish, German and Yiddish. At the end of the 19th century, he made an invention that some decades ago was rather popular - as far as I know at least in Germany. I remember that I wanted to learn it, when I was young. Esperanto. He wanted all people to understand each other speaking the same language; so he created this artificial language.

After WWII it gained a certain interest because of the idea that a unique language could resolve something. So many things should be easier without misunderstandings. As if war was ever caused by misunderstanding and not by economic and political interests.

Nowadays "no one" mentions Esperanto. No one even knows how many people learnt it - numbers go from half a million to two millions. Why? It doesn't work. A unique language can't catch all the very different cultures.

Know what? I'm glad it failed. With only one language our world would be poorer; a lot of cultural differences would get lost. That I wanted to learn Esperanto was due to the school's methods to teach: School taught - if ever - children to translate, not to think in other languages.

I grew up in Germany, then lived in Italy for many years and recently moved to France. Sometimes I get the question, why? What's better in France than in Italy? - Nothing. It's different. That's the point.

And except of the translation issues, what has all this to do with me as a writer?

With legacy publishing, writers went worldwide, when their books were translated in foreign languages. As far as it happened.

Now we have internet, e-book and worldwide operating distributors. Most of the e-books are in English. And I read author's happily blogging about the unlimited sales of their English books, because everywhere in the world are millions and millions of readers capable to read in English.

Great. And the other ones? There are much more millions of people who will never read a book, written in English.

So what?

Most indie authors can't afford translations of their books; hard enough to pay edits and cover art. So for foreign rights we have to go back to agents and legacy publishers and let them gain their percents for a lifetime?

I dream something else: Exchange of translations between indie authors. German authors translating English and Italian books in German; Americans translating German and French books in English ... It would take a while, but it would cost only time.

As indie authors with e-books we are anyway at the long haul.

Annemarie Nikolaus has been writing fiction since 2001. She has studied psychology, journalism, history and political science. Her preferred genres are historicals and fantasy, but with her political background, she also writes thrillers. Her complete bio at Wikipedia is

Magical Stories at Amazon: Magical Stories at smashwords

Annemarie, thanks for stopping by. Readers, have you ever thought of translating your work into another language?


Donnell said...

I'll answer my own question. Have I ever thought of translating my work into a foreign language?

No. I wouldn't have the first clue, and what Annemarie says about cultural meanings is so true. What someone says in one language doesn't have the same in another.

But I did work with some Russian engineers once who pooh-poohed a Russian friend of mine from writing in English. They changed their tune, when her book finaled in the SANDY WRITING COMPETITION.

To these phenomenal people I salute them!

Edie Ramer said...

Annemarie, very interesting. I admire you for your curiosity and sense of adventure. Most of all, for your work ethic.

I have a hard enough time writing in English and can't see publishing in another language right now. But who knows what will happen in the future? Everything changes so fast. This is an exciting time in publishing.

Mary Marvella said...

I am in absolute awe of Annemarie! I am just starting to Indie publish books in English. Maybe someday.

I'll yell for my friend Annemarie for help. I am always willing to correct grammar and usage for someone who is translating into English.

Donnell said...

Edie and Mary, why didn't I think of that? We will all contact Annemarie!

Annemarie Nikolaus said...

Donnell, in my experience - with different languages: The turning point is the moment, you begin to "dream" in that other language. Then it becomes rather easy to handle it, because you gets the pictures.
In literature, perhaps we'd better speak of transferring, not translating.

Annemarie Nikolaus said...

Edie, "adventure" is cute. I'm always up for something new.
And these exciting, changing times - I am more motivated than ever.
Publishing in "our" own languages might be only the first step.

Annemarie Nikolaus said...

Mary, after this experience, I have the suspicion that writing something new in English - or perhaps Italian - might be easier for me than translating my own work.
I'm meditating about it - if I could find something that would not need many pages to be told.

But I look forward to the day we could exchange translations.

Donnell said...

Oh, Annemarie, so true. My mother, as a child, dreamed in Spanish. It wasn't until she moved away from Florida that she started dreaming in English.