I’ve been looking forward so much to today’s post. Marina Sofia, who is well-known in blogging circles, has her eye set on new horizons. A founding member of a new publishing house, Corylus Books, she has just published her first full-length translation.
Translated from Romanian, Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu, is not what you expect it to be. A serial killer is on the loose. He kills his victims with one stab to the throat with seeming impunity. But this is not a whodunnit, or even a whydunnit. It is an examination of the ripple effects of his crimes: on both urban and rural communities, on the press, on the politicians. It lays bare the crass manipulation of public opinion, the twisting of words and the cynicism prevalent in political circles, and the often knowing collaboration of the news agencies. I lost count of the lies ….
I’ve never had as much fun with a crime novel! I loved how it confirmed my distrust of all things political and belief that power, and the desire to cling onto it, even when not absolute, corrupts. As we have seen all to clearly in recent days in the UK …. Novels will follow, mark my words. But for now, let’s hear Marina Sofia’s story of how this new business venture came to be, and why Sword was the first novel she choose to translate.
How did Corylus Books (@CorylusB) come into being? Can you give us an idea of the timescale and workload from the initial seed of the idea to publication of the first title?
The four of us had been meeting at crime fiction festivals for a few years and really enjoyed sharing ideas and opinions. What brought us together was a deep love of fiction – particularly crime fiction, and even more particularly, crime fiction with a social dimension. We all felt it was a shame that so many great books from lesser-known cultures never make it into English translation. We’d each tried individually to raise interest in these books amongst well-established publishers, but to no avail. So in the end we realised that we would have to do this ourselves – be the change you want to see in the world, right?We all have very different backgrounds (publishing, translation, academia, crime writing, reviewing, festival organising) and experience of at least 5-6 different countries amongst us, but we only realised what a great set of complementary skills we had about a year ago and finally decided to take the plunge in late autumn 2019. We did all the behind the scenes admin for a few months and were supposed to launch officially at the London Book Fair in March this year.
I think we can agree that 1Q 2020 was not the most fortuitous time to launch a new publishing house. How has the Covid-19 crisis affected your both your launch and your publication plans for the near future?
2020 was probably the worst possible time to start a venture like this! The Covid situation has nixed all the events where we could have reached new readers – plus created delays to printing and shipping. We hope to have paperbacks available by July, but so far we’ve had to rely on e-books and word of mouth recommendations. Luckily, there are some great bloggers out there who are willing to give unknown authors in translation a chance – and who have been providing us with some very thoughtful, in-depth reviews.
The first batch from Corylus Books consists entirely of Romanian noir. Will your list continue to focus exclusively on Romanian crime fiction, or will it expand to include other lesser translated territories?
Not at all! We have two Icelandic novels (The Fox and Shackles by Sólveig Pálsdóttir) on the way, plus a short Spanish novel Llevar en la piel (Skin Deep) by Antonia Lassa. We are focusing on countries on the edges of Europe, so we might consider Greece and the Balkans or the Baltic States next. However, we have to be realistic about our ambitions, both in terms of our translation capabilities and how many titles we can publish per year.
How were the first 3 Corylus titles chosen?
One of our founders runs Tritonic Press, which publishes the cream of the crop of crime fiction titles in the Romanian marketplace. So we were a bit like children in a sweet shop – we had so much to choose from! We picked bestselling titles that we felt would translate well into another culture, but also offer a window of insight into Romanian society and daily life. It was important for us to have women writers, as they tend to be less translated generally, so our first two authors were women, Anamaria Ionescu and Teodora Matei.
Why did you choose Bogdan Teodorescu’s Sword for your first translation?
I was at the crime fiction festival in Lyon when Bogdan Teodorescu presented the French translation of Sword in 2016 and was mesmerised by his insight into political manipulation. I read the French edition first, then the Romanian one, and instantly wanted to translate it. As events in 2016 escalated, the book seemed to become more and more topical. It presents such a stark warning as to how politicians and the media work together to influence public opinion, whether deliberately or not.
What are some of the technical challenges of translating from Romanian to English?
Romanian is a language of Latin origin, and like its Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese sisters, it is a lot more verbose than English. Sentences tend to run on over several lines and there are lots of references to historical or cultural events unfamiliar to non-Romanian readers. Additionally, most of the book seems to be written in dialogue, and name-calling can get decidedly colourful in Romanian!
How did you deal with exposition given the unfamiliarity of the English-speaking audience with Romanian politics?
I don’t think footnotes are appropriate in a crime novel; they really pull you out of the story. So I included some very brief explanations where absolutely necessary and hoped that if readers are really curious about a name or an event, they would google it.
How did the prolonged exposure to all the lies, back-biting and political spin affect you?
It just seems to be the norm now in most countries, doesn’t it? Although it is very sad and frustrating that it’s become so widespread, I also find it oddly reassuring. It means that readers will no longer see it as an ‘exotic’ novel about politics in a far-distant place, but that they can actually relate to the outrageous ideas and behaviours displayed there.
I marvel at your multi-tasking prowess. You are the mother of two teenage boys in full-time employment. In addition you are a poet, a reviewer and a blogger at Finding Time to Write. Now it’s time to add publisher and translator of novels to your achievements. How do you manage to fit it all in? What is your daily schedule like?
Very kind of you to say so! I’ve always had other projects bubbling on in the background: I was part of the organising committee of the Geneva Writers’ Group when I was still living in that region, I was a regular reviewer for Crime Fiction Lover, I was a marketing manager at Asymptote Journal for a while, I’ve translated shorter pieces from Romanian and German for literary journals. I just love literature too much for it not to be part of my life in one form or another. Sadly, there were still only 24 hours a day the last time I looked! And, although my chronic insomnia does give me more reading time than most, it just means that some things just don’t get done. Housework tends to fall by the wayside (although the boys do help), my garden is a jungle and I don’t watch TV much other than certain crime dramas or classic films (or anime with my boys). As for my own writing, I’ve got a poetry collection and two crime novels waiting for me to pay them some attention and I fear they might have to wait a good deal longer.
It’s time now to take a well-earned rest with a sojourn on a dessert island. I can’t imagine you wanting to be without books though. So you are allowed one to read and one to translate. Which would they be and why?
That’s harsh! For reading, I’ll cheat a little and go for the collected works of Margaret Millar recently reissued by Soho Press. She is the queen of truly suspenseful psychological thrillers and there are about 20 of them in this collection, so that should keep me going for a while! For translation I would choose Mihail Sebastian’s plays. He was a fantastic Romanian novelist and playwright of the 1920s and 30s. While his journals and a few of his novels have been translated into English (and achieved some modest success), nobody seems to want to know about translated plays, but they are wonderful – think Noel Coward crossed with Chekhov – and deserve a wider audience.