the-little-princeTranslating a piece of work is not a simple or quick process and many folks misunderstand the crucial role of a translator.


Beyond the obvious work of interpreting the words in the first language and finding suitable replacements in the second, a translator (if working alone and not with an interpreter first) must work very closely with the editor and author of the work to ensure a sensitive, accurate and above all readable translation.


The editorial process has already played a key role in ironing out the subtleties in a piece that give the author their voice and maintain the narrative flow. When translating this, each and every one of these changes must be reexamined in order to ensure that they are relevant in the chosen language, contain no obvious double meanings (just imagine if a well known sexual double entendre made it into a children's book for example) and also that both the atmosphere and feel of the manuscript is maintained.


Tricky stuff right? But that's just the tip of the iceberg.


Translators in the context of publishing essentially have to do the work of a whole team of people doing a spectrum of tasks; find the original meaning and preserve it, work with author and editor to research and change local reference points (no point referencing the 'Yorkshire Moors of home' if the decision has been made to set the translation in a different country to appeal to the new 'local' audience), translate humorous situations to fit potentially sensitive local cultural traditions (an obvious example here would be a religious, geographic one, say a pork farm in a predominantly Jewish or Muslim country would be changed to a beef or chicken farm).


That list could, of course, go on and on but rather than examining the deep intricacy of the job, let's look at an example from our own collection.


We have recently acquired a French to English translation of Antoine Saint Exupéry's charming and timeless children's classic 'The Little Prince'. The translation is by the late Alan Wakeman who insisted that the translations available on the market did not, in his opinion, give a true interpretation of the story. Many years ago he worked extremely closely with the family and his publisher. He wanted to release his English translation with the original images from the book, delightful watercolours painted by Antoine himself. At the time the publisher decided to commission another artist who created close approximations of the images but Alan was unhappy with this and that version of the book was eventually withdrawn at Alan's request.


He joined Fantastic Books with his autobiography in 2015 and spoke at length to our CEO Dan about how he dreamed of releasing the Little Prince in its original form but with his translation. Alan told Dan that the only thing he wanted to change was the language and even insisted during the typesetting process that the placement of the text was as close to the original placement of the original French as was possible. This we have done faithfully.


So why mention this project at all in a blog about translation you may ask? Because it illustrates a very important point about the roles involved in any translation from a publisher's perspective.


Alan Wakeman was NOT a professional translator.


He spoke fluent French and has written many things in both French and English (and many other languages too numerous to list here) but the most important thing about his translation of the Little Prince was that he felt a real and enduring passion for the story and had the skill as an author to maintain that passion and quality during the translation. What results is an English version of a French Children's classic which has been treated with the time, dedication and respect it deserves.


Finally, as with many aspects of this industry, it is important to note that the vast majority of literary translators are prepared to read and re-read a project in order to get a feel for it before commencing with the translation. We will be employing professional translators in the future but only those with a true and provable passion for the specific project at hand.


Cold translation, like cold editing, leaves a manuscript bereft of the emotion and energy that the creator injected into it during its production and as far as we are concerned, this is unacceptable.


The search for a reliable, passionate and sensitive translator is a long, hard and grueling task but once the connection is made, the rest of the process is usually nothing short of Fantastic!


New English translation of the Little Prince, coming to the Fantastic Books Store soon...


Just Imagine!