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Translating the untranslatable: Indonesia’s Laksmi Pamuntjak and her editors

(From Publishing Perspectives. Link to the complete article given below)

The bilingual author and translator Laksmi Pamuntjak easily drew a crowd to the Amazon Publishing stand in Hall 3.0 at the Frankfurter Buchmesse earlier this month, not least because her first novel, The Question of Red, won the 2016 LiBeraturpreis, a 30-year-old award in Germany for women writers of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Arab world in Germany.

The surprise for the audience about that title, published in its English translation by AmazonCrossing (2016), was that Pamuntjak translated it, herself.

“And for the most part, it was an excruciating process,” she said, eliciting immediate laughter from the audience. “The most difficult thing is that there’s always something lost in the act of rewriting, of translating something into another language. There’s a reduction of things not transferable, such as cultural collective memories. Contextualization is very difficult.

“And when you talk about self-translation, it can enrich the process but can make it more difficult because you must negotiate all the time. You’re probably not the best person to do it because while you know the work well,” that requirement of compromise makes it “something I don’t want to do again.”

Pamuntjak actually had tried writing The Question of Red in English, abandoned the effort, wrote it in Indonesian, then translated it, herself, to English.

“I recommend you not do this,” she said. “I think I’ve learned my lesson.”

More recently released by AmazonCrossing, her novel, The Birdwoman’s Palate (February 2018), is translated into English by Tiffany Tsao, and its grounding in the vast culinary life of her native Indonesia is based in this author’s work as a journalist and food writer.

Read more at the Publishing Perspectives link here

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Counterview: Urvashi Butalia’s rejoinder to AR Venkatachalapathy on women publishers and editors

Long years ago, when I began working in publishing, it was an almost entirely male world. Women were to be found in some publishing houses, but mainly in administrative and secretarial positions. The bosses were all men – at least in English language publishing in India – and so were the editors. There was something about their anatomy that seemed to qualify them more to work in the business of creating and disseminating knowledge – an activity that is generally governed by the brain, something that lies between the ears (and not the legs) and looks the same no matter what sort of bodily shell it’s placed in.

As women, we – the handful of us who joined the industry at that time and who slowly made our way to becoming editors – knew well we would never rise to the top of our professions. My bosses at the Oxford University Press were concerned that I was a woman: “We’ve never employed a woman in an executive position,” they told me. “They get married and go away.” They made it sound like a crime – one, clearly, that the men never had to answer for.

The Oxford University Press, where I began work, was filled with kind and caring men: Charles Lewis, Santosh Mukherjee, Ravi Dayal, Adil Tyabji, Adrian Bullock, Dipen Mitra. Yet none of them ever had to answer to the kind of questions posed to me. None of them needed to worry about how they would get home at night if they had to work late. None of them needed to be concerned about the safety of seedy hotel rooms when they travelled on business. None of them had to defend themselves against leering printers who wanted to take you out to coffee when all you wanted was to get a book printed. Not surprising then that their paths to the top were smooth, whereas ours were non-existent.

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With fewer debut novels selling, what do editors want to tell authors?

In a tightening market for fiction and especially for debut authors looking for that big break, editors can be choosier—and many are more dependent than ever on literary agents to find their next debuts.

A room filled with aspiring writers awaited three editors and a debut author last week at London Book Fair’s session “Why We Commissioned These Debuts.” Speakers included:

  • Penguin Random House UK editor Jade Chandler, who handles crime and thrillers for Harvill Secker and Vintage
  • Nick Wells, the founding publisher at independent house Flame Tree Publishing, which is to launch an imprint for horror, crime, and science fiction/fantasy in September
  • HarperCollins UK editorial director Martha Ashby
  • HarperCollins author Sarah J. Harris was on hand to provide the debut writer’s viewpoint

Harris is also published in the States by Simon & Schuster, and she’s written three YA novels under a pseudonym.  And she described the comparatively dreamy experience she had in entering the market with The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder.

Having spent nine months writing the book, she said she researched agents and picked out the ones she thought would suit her best. Among them was Jemima Forrester who was starting a new list at David Higham’s agency.

Harris wrote a cover letter, targeted her agents’ list, met Forrester first and signed with her.  Once the book was edited, Harris said, Forrester submitted it and the manuscript drew overnight interest from publishers.

Within less than a week, HarperCollins made a bid, which Harris said she knows is unusually fast action.

From an editor’s viewpoint, Harvill Secker’s Chandler said that in a pre-empt, a publisher may “offer quite a lot to the agent because you want the book” to be taken off the table.

“But sometimes the agent will have it go to auction. I’ve pre-empted two books this year,” Chandler said, “and it usually involves reading the book overnight. It’s very dramatic and exciting and involves sleepless nights.”

Chandler said that like most editors, she finds authors through literary agents who filter submissions. “It’s quite an old fashioned process,” she said, “but in reality, I’m just one woman and I can only read so much.” Not surprisingly, she said that good relationships with agents become important if an editor is to find the best material.

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