Today we are celebrating the IFFP shortlisting of Burgit Vanderbeke’s very fabulous Mussel Feast with a 3-course menu charting the book’s progress from author’s brainchild to finished product.
The Mussel Feast Menu
Starter: Meet the Author (Birgit Vanderbeke)
Main Course: Meet the Translator (Jamie Bulloch)
Dessert: Meet the Editor (Meike Ziervogel)
Jamie Bulloch answers:
How did you come to be the translator of The Mussel Feast?
I had already translated two titles for Peirene Press: Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by F.C. Delius, and Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe.
Describe your working method. How long did it take, how many drafts until you handed your translation to the publisher?
Birgit famously wrote this book in three weeks; I wasn’t able to match that tempo! I’m not always working full time, so it’s difficult to tell exactly how long a translation takes. I like to work through a first draft relatively speedily, then edit slowly and carefully, with minimum reference to the German original. In this way I can best satisfy my principal aim, which is to produce good English prose that doesn’t read like a translation. The publisher always receives my second draft, therefore, though the final text will involve further corrections/amendments after both the copyediting and proofreading stages.
What were the specific challenges of translating the text? How did you resolve these issues?
The style of Mussel Feast is quite particular, with very few breaks and sparse punctuation. In consultation with the publisher I took the decision to add more commas, semi-colons and full stops to ensure clarity and allow the text to read more elegantly. Because of its highly structured rules regarding word order, German as a language remains intelligible with minimal punctuation. English does not work in the same way, so the challenge was to find a solution which recaptured the breathlessness of the original without confusing the reader.
I take the view that everything is translatable; sometimes you just need to think laterally. For example, if a joke (especially a pun) in one sentence seems to defeat your creative powers, perhaps it’s possible to invent a different joke in the next sentence, or even paragraph. Cultural and historical references can be an issue, but I’m firmly of the belief that the (hopefully curious) reader should make an effort to find out about things they may not be aware of – no ordeal these days with the internet constantly at our fingertips. After all, one of the joys of literature in translation is the way in which it introduces the reader to new worlds.
What does the IFFP shortlisting mean to you?
The IFFP is the premier, most high-profile disctinction for our profession, and unique in that it places equal emphasis on the writer and translator. The competition is very stiff, and the judges all extremely well read and erudite. So it’s a thrill for any translator to find themselves on the shortlist.