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Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Great Horse 13 - Greek translation by Anna Vasileiadi-Dardalis

This week the Muse is delighted to introduce Anna Vasileiadi-Dardalis, who translated "I am the Great Horse" into Greek for the fabulous Greek language edition pictured here.
Anna is also an author herself, so Katherine was very excited when she agreed to an interview. This is what she has to say about the Great Horse and translating books into other languages...

KR: Since I do not read Greek myself, I find the Greek edition very mysterious. When you translate a book, do you translate it word for word or edit the text as you go?

ANNA: I suppose you must be feeling the same way I feel when I read Japanese – or even German! They say that a translation is like a woman… hasn’t to be faithful in order to be good.

Of course there are differences between two languages. Being an author myself, I feel that need of keeping as strict to the original text as I can. At the same time, by reading the book as from the first time, I try to sink in the original author’s mind – you, at this particular case – and find out/imagine the facts, the sentiments, the pictures that are to be expressed. In that perspective, I sometimes have to use synonym words or phrases of my own language and literature that give the exact same feeling to the Greek readers.

As an author and a literature translator, I can say – and I think that many agree in that – that translating a literature book is more difficult than writing one. Because, one has to respect some other person’s way of expressing, and express at the same quality level of the original text.

KR: I am aware that English titles often get changed in translation... how did "I am the Great Horse" translate into Greek?

ANNA: It’s true that we often have to change the titles so that are well accepted by the local readers and draw their attention as well. With this book, we didn’t need to do anything. The title was just there! Alexander was Great and his horse could not be but the Great Horse. So we kept the title exactly as it is – in the Greek language of course.

KR: The golden Greek cover is very beautiful! Were you involved in its design at all?

ANNA: Yes, it’s lovely, isn’t it? It took us enough time to make it. The truth is that I’m involved in almost everything. Both the publisher and I had a specific picture in our minds on what the Great Horse should look like on the cover. Black, shiny, furious, strong, forceful… simply the best! It took some different pictures by our illustrator until he deeply understood what we had in mind, and the final one was this. A papyrus on the background and golden letters on the title, and everything seemed perfect! I feel that he’s done a great job – although I was a headache in the meantime.

KR: I believe you were interviewed about the Great Horse on Greek TV... is this normal when you translate a book, and what was the experience like?

ANNA: Well… you cannot actually say it normal. It depends on who finds out the work and whether he likes it, or who people one knows. It was not one of the major TV channels but too many people watch it all over Greece. And it was not only one channel, but four different interviews in three different channels. It gave the book some publicity, I must admit. And it was an interesting experience anyway.

Click here to watch one of Anna's interviews.

KR: You are also translating my Seven Fabulous Wonders series, which are written in the third person (using "he" and "she"), rather than the first person (using "I") like the Great Horse... does this make them easier or more difficult to translate?

ANNA: To be honest… no, I can’t find any difference. It’s almost the same. Maybe because of the fact that I’m writing my own books and I have the ability to handle both cases… I don’t know. But the truth is that the Seven Fabulous Wonders are as exciting as the Great Horse to me.

KR: The Great Horse is a long book, which has put off some foreign language publishers from buying rights... did its length cause you any special problems?

ANNA: It’s a fascinating story, easy to read, great humor, lot of sensitivity… I think it’s really amazing and in fact, I didn’t want it to end!

KR: Do you prefer writing books or translating them?

ANNA: They are different but I like both. You know how it is to create something as an author, so you can understand my feeling. On the other hand, being an author gives me the opportunity to “create” as a translator, too, and give the original text the literary standard that it deserves. So it’s as exciting.

KR: Finally, if you could pick any book in the world to translate, which one would it be?

ANNA: The Great Horse… again!!!

Thank you very much, Anna! The Muse sends you an amphora of unicorn glitter.

Visit Anna's website to find out more about her books (if you don't speak Greek, click on the English flag to translate).

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Snow Queen - over at 7 miles of Steel Thistles!

A quick nudge from my glittery horn! In case you think my author is being lazy letting her editor, illustrator and translator post on this blog, Katherine is guest blogger this week over at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles as part of Katherine Langrish's fairytale series.

So if you like magical worlds of snow and ice, devilish mirrors and adventurous heroines, climb into your sleigh and head on over to read what Katherine has to say about her favourite fairytale THE SNOW QUEEN, where you will also find more fabulous fairytale posts by a selection of your favourite fantasy authors.

(The illustration is from a 1937 reprint of the 1920 original edition of My Book House, edited by Olive Beaupré Miller, believed to be in the public domain.)

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Great Horse 12 – Illustrating maps: Brian Sanders

They say a picture is worth a thousand words… and when you’re talking about maps, a picture can be worth a hundred thousand words! There is just one map in this book, but it tells you all you need to know about Bucephalas’ epic journey with Alexander. So this week the Muse is delighted to introduce talented artist Brian Sanders, who created the beautiful map you see at the front of “I am the Great Horse”.

Brian has been a professional artist for five decades, during which time he has worked in every area of the illustrative arts ranging through book publishing, magazines, newspapers, government agencies, film, television and art education. Although he loved to draw maps in his childhood, he has only recently been asked to produce them for books, and the commission for "I am the Great Horse” came from book designer Ian Butterworth, with whom Brian has worked over many years.

The project began with a rough sketch of the historical area supplied by Katherine, together with a draft of Bucephalas’ manuscript as a guide.

Brian then researched the historical details to embellish his version of the map before going to a pencil draft:

When this was completed, Chicken House sent Katherine a scan of the sketch with notes from Brian attached, so she could check it for accuracy before he began the finished art.

Ian Butterworth had also requested a border to the map, so for this Brian decided to continue the mosaic theme from his portrait of Alexander riding Bucephalas. This was the result:

The ground for the finished artwork is faux parchment used to simulate papyrus, and the medium is watercolour with body colour added for extra detail. Brian decided to use actual hoof prints and footprints to demonstrate the routes taken and, because there were so many of each, resorted to a more basic technology… he made potato cuts in the shape of hooves and sandals, dotted the routes in pencil, then printed directly over them. (Muse: Potato cuts are brilliant fun for making stencils… have you ever tried making any yourself?)

The full colour map was originally going to be a fabulous double-page spread in the first UK edition of the book. But in the end it had to be turned sideways and reproduced on the inside front cover to conform to the more traditional paperback format preferred by the main UK booksellers. The Muse still thinks it looks fabulous, and younger readers with sharp eyes should have no trouble counting every single hoof print, though older ones like Katherine might need a magnifying glass to see all the details.

Here is the digitally enhanced version used in the actual book:

In the US hardcover edition, the same map is reproduced in black and white so it could be spread over a double page, which makes it easier to read if not quite so pretty. We are still waiting to see what will happen for the US paperback. (Muse: it never happened!)

Brian Sanders has had a long and interesting career as an artist. During the 1960’s, his work was used in the earliest newspaper colour supplements, leading to Stanley Kubrick employing him to record on set the making of “2001 a Space Odyssey”. (Muse: WOW!)
Following this, he worked with formats ranging from large-scale posters and military paintings to postage stamps, of which he has designed over fifty sets world-wide, including “A History of WW2 in Postage Stamps”. He has also designed a series of forty coins titled: “Historic Fighting Ships”.
He has exhibited widely with one man shows at The Imperial War Museum, York Castle Museum, The Association of Illustrators Gallery, National Trust of Cornwall Trelissic Gallery, and The Sir Rowland Hill Museum. There are permanent exhibitions of his work at the The Unicover Postal Museum in Wyoming USA, and his Royal Mail stamp art is in The British Postal Museum and Archive.
His painting of Her Majesty The Queen presenting Standards to the Royal Tank Regiment is in the collection of the RTR Museum (Muse: WOW again! Bucephalas is very lucky to have his map drawn by someone who has painted a portrait of the Queen of England!)

In partnership with Lizzie Sanders his wife, Brian has jointly produced many 3D paper works, including an Edwardian dolls’ house and an accurately detailed model of Stonehenge. Brian also did the artwork for a large-scale pop-up model and other illustrations for a book about the doomed ship Titanic.
More details on the Sanders website.

Brian also writes and illustrates his own books – his most recently published book is: “Evacuee a Wartime Childhood”, the first of a graphic trilogy.

The Muse sends a bucket of unicorn glitter to Brian for contributing his beautiful maps to this blog! Please leave him a comment below.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Great Horse 11 – Titles

At last we come to the title. You might be wondering why it took so long to get to this point, but titles can be trickier than you think. Sometimes they come straight away and everyone loves them – like the first book of my Seven Fabulous Wonders series, which I knew would be called “The Great Pyramid Robbery” before I wrote a single word. But more often the published title comes after much discussion with the editor, and the author’s original ideas can usually be improved upon.

This might seem overly fussy, but the title is probably the most important word(s) in your book, because title and cover image taken together must inspire a potential reader to pick it up in the first place. They may then turn it over to read the back cover “blurb”, or leaf through the pages to get a feel for the story, but if your book is shelved the traditional way in a bookshop then chances are people won’t even see the cover image, only the spine with title and author’s name. So unless you are a celebrity who can guarantee sales on name alone, the title has to work very hard indeed. (Muse: this is why you sometimes see authors or their agents sneakily turning their own books face-out on the shelves so people can see the cover as well!)

Up until this point, in early 2005, my book was still known as “Bucephalas”. But my editors soon dropped this title because of being difficult to spell… Bucephalas? Bucephalus?… as well as being difficult to pronounce. Bookshop assistants would struggle with it, they decided. They also felt that younger (and many older!) readers might not realize this was the name of Alexander the Great’s horse. I squirmed a bit, because I’d become quite attached to my working title after living with it for so long, and had difficulty thinking of my book as being called anything else. But I had to admit my editors were right, because I’d often spelt it wrong myself to begin with - Bucephalus was the breed of horse; Bucephalas was the horse’s name - so out it went. With no obvious alternative, Chicken House began to call the book “The Amazing Horse Story Without A Name”.

And so it remained throughout the editing process. While I tried to get “Bucephalas” out of my head and think of something better, my editors tossed ideas back and forth between them, and since this book was to have a simultaneous American edition my US publisher Scholastic got involved, too. We wanted a title that would suggest this was a story about Alexander the Great being told by his horse… yet at the same time one that did not sound too historical, in case people thought this was a history book about Alexander and were put off by that. I don’t know how my editors went about their brainstorming. I have an image of them curled up before a roaring fire in Chicken House’s office with coffee and doughnuts having fabulously creative sessions, but at home alone in my study I had to rely on other methods.

Normally I just scribble down ideas until something jumps out at me. But in this case nothing did, so I decided to try a word collage.

I took a piece of white card and wrote down all the words I could think of that suggested the book to me, or occurred many times in the text… such as HORSE, ALEXANDER, GALLOP, EMPIRE, PERSIA, WAR, ILIAD, SQUEAL... Then I cut these up into single words and laid them all out on a table. To find a title, I tried random picks with my eyes shut, as well as looking at the table sideways and grabbing a few that appealed as I passed it on my way to make cups of tea. I left the cards lying there for several days and mixed them around from time to time to freshen them up a bit, adding new words as I thought of them. This threw up some interesting combinations, which I wrote down on a list and emailed to my editors. They must have been doing similar things, perhaps with doughnuts, because they came back with their own list of brilliant ideas I hadn’t even thought of.

Here are a few of my personal favourites:
BUCEPHALAS THE GREAT (couldn’t quite give him up!)

There were many others and different combinations of these, but one that kept springing up in all our lists was the fairly simple "Great Horse". Indeed, the book almost ended up being called this, except Barry Cunningham at Chicken House had the bright idea of putting I AM in front of it to make "I am the Great Horse", suggesting that the story was being told by a horse and not a human. (Muse: you can see it is almost there in the middle of Katherine’s word collage). The Americans favoured "I am the Dark Horse" at this stage, and sent us a jacket rough showing how this would work:

But aside from the fact it looked lovely on their design, we didn’t think “dark” really described Bucephalas’ character. (Muse: Maybe we were we wrong… what say you, American readers of this blog?)

And so we arrived at the final title you see today. It took about two months to find, and has been the trickiest title of all my books so far. I think it works very well with the fabulous horse’s head cover. The only thing I wish we could have added is a strap line on the front mentioning Alexander the Great, because without it the book looks like a standard horse story until you turn it over to read the blurb – though perhaps this would have put off more readers than it attracted?

Of course, the book could have been published in America with a different title, which happens more often than you might think. And when books are translated into other languages, the title often doesn’t translate very well and so gets changed for their market – sometimes without the author even realizing, if they don’t speak that particular language. So far “I am the Great Horse” has only been translated into Greek, and I believe the Greek title is the same as the English one… but I’ll leave that up to my translator Anna Vasileiadi-Dardalis to tell you in her exciting interview, coming up at the end of this month.

Next: Maps – a fascinating insight into the artwork of the book’s illustrator Brian Sanders.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Great Horse 10 – Editing, the editor’s view by Helen Wire

The Muse is delighted to welcome freelance editor Helen Wire to this blog, pictured here passing on her love of books to a young reader! This week she gives us a fascinating glimpse into her work on the Great Horse manuscript… over to you, Helen.

Without exception everyone who read and assessed Katherine’s massive 200,000 word manuscript of what was to become I am the Great Horse, “loved it”. Katherine had already been very successfully published by the Chicken House so we – the innovative publisher of great books for children and young adults Barry Cunningham, his deputy managing director Rachel Hickman, their in-house editor Imogen Cooper and I, a freelance editor – already knew what a thoroughly good writer she is. And we weren’t disappointed.

No one reading this Great Horse blog could fail to recognise that Katherine is a gift to an editor – she barely needs editing. And that leaves one free at first reading to simply enjoy her stories. From page one of Bucephalas – the working title for what became I am the Great Horse – I was hooked. I wanted to read on, and not just because I was being paid to. First to read it was Barry, who wrote some notes prior to the manuscript coming to me for a first reading before we all got together to discuss this epic story with Katherine. To give you a real sense of the kind of things editors and publishers say to one another about a book they have agreed from the outset is brilliant, I quote below an email I sent Barry in response to the few notes he had written. The page numbers I quote below must relate to the first manuscript. (Luckily, I found this five-year-old email lurking in the memory of one of my by-now discarded computers.)

From: helen wire […]
To: Barry at the Chicken House Cunningham […]
Cc: Imogen Cooper […]
Date: Wednesday, February 2, 2005 9:13 pm

Dear Barry and Imogen
What a marvellous book ... I didn’t have any of the reactions you mention, Barry, in your notes to me (in bold below).
It is truly extraordinary how Katherine has written this whole book from the horse’s point of view without ever faltering.
Having Alexander talk to his horse is a brilliant device for getting into the king’s mind – he could and did share any confidence with Bucephalas and know absolutely that any vulnerability or self-doubt he revealed would go no further. And now Katherine has let us the readers be privy to those moments of intimacy. What a knockout!

BarryC: I enjoyed it – it’s much more direct and easy to read than the more complicated parts of Katherine’s Echorium Sequence. But it is rather too long
HW: It is long but there’s no part of it I would want to cut. What’s Katherine’s view? Unlike the [other author’s] book you once considered splitting into two chunks, I think it wouldn’t be too hard to break the Bucephalas story up into two or even three volumes. What do you think?

BC: sometimes all the battles tend to blur together.
HW: They didn’t for me. And on the contrary, in her meticulously spare prose Katherine rarely wastes words on anything that is not driving the story forward. She doesn’t overly dwell on each of the battle scenes and they all seemed very distinct and vital to me. And it’s all a lively history lesson too. I could very easily get bored by battle scenes but I wasn’t ever – not for a single moment.

BC: I’m not overly sure about the end – it seems that the final break of the horse bond isn’t really a satisfactory end to the Charm and Alexander thing – even if it is for the horse part of their lives.
HW: It seems to me that the horse bond broke exactly as predicted throughout the book, and when it happened Charm was indeed finally set free to pursue her life with Tydeos. I really liked the clever way Katherine ended it all with the ghost of Bucephalas making the final links – far better than any stereotypical human-to-human ending [with Alex & Charm] would have been. But I would be interested to know if Katherine would consider coming up with any other ideas about how to end it.

BC: Obviously the horse doesn’t develop much as a character either – he’s pretty much the same throughout.
HW: That seems entirely appropriate to me – he is a horse after all. He is a strong and well perceived character though.

BC: The evil horsemaster is perhaps not a big enough adversary either …
HW: Well I suppose he could be developed, but in the big scheme of things he’s actually a minor character who has ghastly consequences whenever he appears. He is at the heart of some of the nastiest plots, and is certainly horrible enough as it is to provide the story with an evil undercurrent. Indeed, he shot the arrow that wounded Alex (p. 512). I was more puzzled that the Macedonians seemed very careless about having him properly dealt with earlier, and Charm sometimes seemed naively fair with him despite the woeful mistreatment to which he’d always subjected her.

BC: and perhaps we need much more of Alexander at key moments to feel the reality of his awesome character – he often just seems bad tempered.
HW: He did become increasingly bad-tempered as the story unfolded but that seemed entirely well done and appropriate to the kind of pressures he was subject to. He started as a young energetic, forceful young man who was playful with his mates, and gradually became a powerful and determined leader inevitably being corrupted and brutalised by the deaths and pain for which he was responsible. It’s all there in the text.
I thought Alex’s character developed rather well throughout the story and that he displayed a far greater range of emotions than mere kingly rage and cruelty. The device of having him talk to Bucephalas, and also to Charm, was a terrific way to contrast his tough nature with his gentler feelings (p. 427) of friendship, protectiveness, caring (p. 424); fear, remorse, compassion (p. 474; vulnerability and uncertainty (p. 528); repentance (p. 536); irrationality (p. 564); vengefulness (p. 582).
And knowing how much he cared for Bucephalas makes it doubly painful for us when he unthinkingly hurts his beloved horse. We witness his growing madness and fears via his intimate talks with his horse.

BC: I’m tempted to say let’s play a little looser with history at the end – since Alexander is writing his own anyway.
HW: Well yes, but Bucephalas can only tell the story that he the horse is witness to. The horse would tell it straight, not as Alex might have wanted it written. Having a ghost horse is quite a big deviation from known history.

I have marked up the text and started compiling more detailed notes/queries [for Katherine] There’s not much to be changed throughout but of course it is very long and they all add up. I have a few queries but they will be easy for Katherine to deal with.

BC: Let’s chat when you’ve read it.

All very best

Co-incidentally at the time, Katherine and I both lived in Gloucestershire, so Barry and Imogen drove up from their Somerset office and we all met at my house to discuss the text. I have always had the greatest respect for Barry’s publishing intelligence and instinct but I was horrified when he said we would have to cut 50,000 words because Bucephalas was just too long for the children’s book market. I had reckoned the original text to be one of the best and most interesting I’d ever read. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to cut any of it, let alone 50,000 words. Where on earth would I start? Fortunately, Katherine came to the rescue and offered to see what she could do to reduce it. Being the consummate professional she is, Katherine toiled away on the mammoth task of rethinking and cutting the text she must already have been working on for months, years even.
(Muse: the book took about a year part time to research, 9 months full time to write, and 2 years to edit and publish!)

Various communications passed between publisher and author but on 26 May 2005 Katherine emailed us, saying:

Dear Barry,
I have now read through Bucephalas again, and spoken to Helen about it as you suggested.
I am worried that the book has changed somewhat from my original vision, but I agree it is tighter and more of a controlled story now than a wild gallop through history. I think most of the "flatness" you mention comes from having shortened the first part, which makes the rest of the book seem unbalanced. Also, Helen feels some of the condensing I did last time is not as exciting as when it was written out in full, so if we can't have the length then I will need to condense these parts even more to avoid slowing up the story. I also feel that, from the Gordian Knot onwards, I need to make slightly more of the supernatural elements, particularly towards the end in order to build up to the ghostly ending. And we both agree the first chapter should be more explosive to fit the new, condensed version of the book.

She then went on to list the various cuts and changes she could make. As an experienced editor I know that most writing can benefit from cutting and refining to allow the essence of a story its greatest clarity. But there is always a risk that cuts as drastic as those Katherine was having to make could leave the story without its original expansive freshness and vitality – hence the slight “flatness” Katherine mentioned above. It can happen with words just as it often happens when a first, uninhibited, rough sketch in drawing is too carefully redrawn for the final artwork and thereby loses all the vitality of the original sketch. But, as anyone who has read I am the Great Horse will know, Katherine did yet more word magic and the book, like its equine narrator, is magnificent.

Muse: A final question: Katherine broke a few rules in I am the Great Horse, changing from present to past tense and back again several times during the story (e.g. battles told in present tense, journeys in the past). What is your view on tenses as editor?
HW: Without going back and rereading the whole book, I'd say what she did worked well in the service of the narrative and was never confusing, so if a rule was broken that's what makes writing creative.

Thank you very much Helen! And to prove editors never sleep, she has picked up the following typo in this blog and given me a tap on my glittery horn…
FYI Blog typos to correct in:
Great Horse 5 - Research
4. He died in Babylon, aged 33, leaving no heir.
I’m trotting off right now to correct it!

Next: Titles


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