I had to spend a semester in France: Patricia Worth
Patricia J. F. Worth is a French-English translator and private tutor of English and French. Trish received her master of translation studies from the Australian National University, Canberra, where she focused on nineteenth-century French literature and recent New Caledonian literature.
Apparently this degree forced her to spend copious amounts of time in France!
I’m very glad to be able to speak with Trish today about the complex mind games she plays with 19th century French fiction, because translation for an English-speaking audience of the 21st century is a mammoth feat of writing in itself. Read on to discover the heavy-lifting required to bring these books to life for us.
Welcome, Trish, to the Last Word of the Week. Can you tell me why is writing important to you?
Trish: Because I don’t like talking.
Ha! Great answer! What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?
Submit short stories to journals, keep submitting them until they’re accepted. If a story is rejected, send it to another journal the same day. Don’t wait.
Oh, that’s such good advice. There is a home for quality writing somewhere, and persistence really counts. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
A reviewer of Spiridion, my translation of George Sand’s novel of the same name, said:
“I feel that someone needs to point out what an important publishing event this English translation of George Sand’s Spiridion (1839) constitutes.”
Since I didn’t ask for this review, it’s even more precious as a word of praise. And it confirms that my chosen life-filler – to find and translate some of the fantastic forgotten French writing of the 19th century – is worthwhile.
It’s a fabulous niche to get busy in. Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?
Once when a former French lecturer read my translation of a story (after having harshly critiqued a dozen earlier), he was uncharacteristically generous in his comments, and finished by saying “You’re a writer.” That was when I knew.
It does help to get that sort of feedback, I agree. How much research is involved in your writing?
More than anyone (other than another literary translator) would believe. Since I can’t make anything up and my words have to mean precisely what the author meant, the research is never-ending. After reading the original text and deciding firstly that I’m capable of translating it and secondly that other readers will love it as much as I do, I then read everything available about the author, I read some of his/her other works, I search for any of them in English translation. I have to buy books from second-hand bookshops in France because they’ve often been out of print for decades. There are always obscure or outmoded words and expressions that send me digging deep to find their original definition; this can involve not only Internet research but visits to libraries and visits to French experts. And as I work my way through the translation there are countless occasions when I stumble across a word that the present English equivalent doesn’t seem to fit. This is when old dictionaries are opened, to find how the words have changed their meaning over time. And then there are the many trips I’ve made to France to walk and write in streets resembling those in my stories. When translating more modern literature, specifically from New Caledonia, I read a lot about the colonial history and the ongoing social tensions, I read all the arguments for both sides, the indigenous Kanak and the French settlers, and watch interviews and read news articles relevant to the story I’m working on. The New Caledonian author whose writing I translate lets me ask her questions. But I’m on my own when it comes to long-dead authors.
How do you get feedback about your book before it’s published?
Until now, for the past eight years, I’ve had a trusty and willing reader, a retired academic with time to read my drafts (for free) and spend an hour or two with me discussing the changes needed. But he has just died. Over the years, to give him a break, I’ve asked a few other French speakers to help, but they always stress they have limited time available. It looks like I might have to start paying someone for their time…
Oh, and it sounds like you need someone quite specialised, too. That must be tricky What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
To do the Honours year in French I had to spend a semester in France. I was middle-aged and hadn’t been overseas for 20 years, and now I had to go to a strange country and live alone, leaving my husband and three teenage sons here to fend for themselves. I feared my undergraduate-level French would not be good enough. I was scared out of my wits before I left. But if I had chickened out I would not be translating French literature today.
That’s an amazing achievement, I’m impressed. What kind of reader would like your books?
Readers of quirky old writing. Those interested in 19th-century France, 19th-century fantasy. Readers looking for delicious French writing (in English translation) from the era of Baudelaire, Flaubert and Hugo. Readers interested in New Caledonia and Vanuatu and stories from colonised Pacific islands.
Thanks so much for speaking with me today, Trish. Your work is absolutely fascinating!
Facebook: Patricia Worth
Amazon buy links
Stories to Read by Candlelight: https://www.amazon.com.au/Stories-Read-Candlelight-Jean-Lorrain/dp/1925652580