We have an exciting post for you today. Our regional adviser, Elisabeth Norton spoke to Lawrence Schimel, who is an author and translator, about his books which are launched in Switzerland on International Family Equality Day (first Sunday in May). They talk not just about Lawrence's books but they also touch on translation in the world of kidlit and world book rights. Let's listen to their discussions.
EN: Today I’m talking with Lawrence Schimel, an author and translator, and founder of the Spanish chapter of SCBWI. Two of his books, Bedtime, Not Playtime! and Early One Morning, will be released in all four Swiss National languages in May. Can you tell us more about the books?
LS: These are two fun adventures I created with Latvian illustrator Elina Braslina, that just happen to take place within same-sex families. Bedtime, Not Playtime! is about a girl who's trying to get ready for bed but her dog wants to play. Her two dads read to her her favorite book, the dog gets jealous and steals her teddy bear, hijinks ensue. Early One Morning is about a boy who wakes up before everyone else in the household, except for the cat, and they have adventures together.
Our goal was to create fun kidzbooks that took place in rainbow families but took that for granted, it's not in any way a problem or issue, but is just incidental to the fun parts of the story, which are the interactions between the kids and their pets!
EN: While many people realize that Switzerland is an officially multilingual nation, most don’t realize that in addition to German, French and Italian, we have a fourth national language, Rätoromanisch, sometimes also called Romansh or Romansch. It is a language with roots back to the time when Latin and Celtic languages were spoken in what is now Switzerland. How did you and your publisher become aware of Rätoromanisch, and what influenced your decision to have the book translated into that language as well?
LS: The publisher for these titles in Switzerland is an NGO, Dachverband Regenbogenfamilien, which doesn't normally publish books but knows that books like these were lacking in Switzerland. They had seen on social media as I posted about the 8 previous languages the books had been published in (Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Flemish, Galician, Latvian, Slovenian, and Spanish) and asked if the rights were still available for the Swiss languages, in order to publish them in time for IFED (International Family Equality Day) which is celebrated each year on the first Sunday of May.
As a Swiss NGO, they were very aware of the importance of publishing in ALL of the Swiss languages, including Rätoromanisch.
I don't know if these are the first LGBTQ books published in Rätoromanisch, but I do believe they're the first LBGTQ kidzbooks published in this language, which is quite an honor!
EN: I would imagine that there are not many literary translators who can translate books from English into Rätoromanisch. Once you decided to have the book translated into that language, how did you go about finding a translator?
LS: For most books, it is usually the publisher who finds and decides on the translator. In this case, since the Swiss organization who is publishing the book isn't ordinarily a publisher, I helped them to find translators for the German, French and Italian versions. (They knew the collective of Rätoromanisch translators who did the translations.)
The original text, incidentally, was written in Spanish, not English. Although I did also offer both a literal English translation of the Spanish original, as well as a rhyming English language version (that is forthcoming in September from Orca Book Publishers in the US, from Peniarth in Wales, and from Oratia in New Zealand, although with lots of variations and edits to the English in each case.)
The Rätoromanisch translator also had the German and French and Italian translations to look at as well, so they could see the many different liberties or solutions that had been taken in each situation, and could create something that worked in Rätoromanisch.
One thing that's interesting: the artwork in the Rätoromanisch is flipped for the first page of both books, because the sequence of events is inverted: to make the rhymes in Rätoromanisch, the dog, Rex, is not named until the second verse, whereas in the other versions he appears on the left hand page because the story opens with him.
Because translation (especially of kidlit) involves not just text, but also the art!
EN: The world of book rights can get a bit confusing - sometimes a publisher will hold world rights in a specific language, but often for every new language and region in which a book is published, the book has a new publisher. Can you tell us what was the case for these books?
LS: It's been a bit overwhelming for Elina and myself to see the reception these two stories have had over the years, since they were first published in 2018. Mostly the reception has been positive, although in some countries there have been calls to boycott the books, the publisher, or us as their creators. But as of now there are 23 different editions of these books that have been published or are forthcoming, in languages including Welsh, Icelandic, and Russian. (There is a Maltese translation that is completed already, but because of the pandemic, that edition is on hold.)
As I mentioned above, there are three different English language editions being published for North America, the UK, and New Zealand and Australia. This means that we could still license English-language editions to publishers in South Africa or Ireland or Singapore, say.
While publishers always want as many rights as possible, they're not always able to exploit them effectively, especially in other countries where they may be distributed but are not based, and don't have as active a distribution network or publicity contacts, etc. So having different publishers in each territory means that they'll be able to work more closely with local rainbow family groups, let's say, not to mention kidlit media and bookshops and so on, to make sure the books reach young readers.
One thing that's interesting is that Orca is publishing a French-language translation (made from my self-translation into English, so that the two Canadian editions "match") which is a rather different translation from the Swiss version, done by Anne Cohen Buecher, who translates from both Spanish and English and had already translated previous books of mine into French. Anne and I also share a special translator-relationship in that we have both translated some of the same Spanish-language authors, she into French and I into English. So we are always letting the other know about what we're reading or working on, in case it might be of interest to the other as well.
EN: Which came first for you - working as an author, or as a translator?
LS: I grew up speaking Spanish at home as well as English, so I was constantly translating (even if just in my head) or otherwise living a multilingual life. Because I spoke Spanish, when I got to high school and had to pick a language, I chose first Latin and then Homeric Greek, doubling up and later tripling up on languages when I decided to study Spanish as well, because although I spoke it I had no formal grammatical training in it. But because I had spoken fluency in Spanish, I wound up getting skipped a year into Conversation, so I am still missing a huge chunk of formal grammar in Spanish.
My earliest writings were all in English and I began writing (and even submitting my work for publication) when I was in high school. Basically I ran out of things to read and thus started writing out of withdrawal. My early works were often fantasy and science fiction, and I started getting acceptances, to magazines and anthologies, when I was still in high school. My parents had to sign my first professional contracts, because I was still a minor.
So I was a writer first, even if it turns out that my first published books were translations (of graphic novels for adults) before any of my own books were published.
EN: Does your work as a translator influence you during the creative process as a writer?
LS: Translating another writer is definitely a much more intimate relationship with their work than just reading or even editing it. I think it's a very good workout for writers, because you're constantly flexing all these creative muscles and analyzing how to take a sentence apart and put it back together again in the new language.
In pre-pandemic times, I used to like to take my notebook to a café, without a computer, to set aside time in which to be creative and write poetry. And very often, so as not to start with the blank page, one of the things I'd do would be to translate a poem, just for fun and love of language, and to jump start the creative muscles and energy.
EN: What about afterwards, as your books are being published?
LS: Translators of my work have caught all sorts of typos or errors that got through everyone else in the publishing process: me, my editors, the copyeditors, etc. Because you can't translate a sentence without it making sense.
There are also times when a translator hits upon a solution that I think is brilliant, and wish I'd thought of it in the first place. For instance, Jochen Weber, who translated the two books into German, titled the one about the girl with two dads HUNDEMÜDE and now I wish I had called the books DOG TIRED in English instead!
I am not always involved with choosing the translators, but I try to be in touch with my translators whenever possible--to answer any questions or doubts, etc. And actually, sometimes it is via a translator that a project finds a publisher! My picture book ¡QUÉ SUERTE TENGO! illustrated by Juan Camilo Mayorga, originally published in Colombia by Rey Naranjo, is forthcoming next month in Croatia because the translator, Anda Bukvic, had been interested in the book and proposed it to a publisher she works with who bought the rights.
One thing that I think more writers should think about is that by having a relationship with your foreign translators, this means that after those editions go out of print, you can come to an agreement with the translator to try and republish or otherwise exploit the works. (For instance, let's say a novel was translated into German but a German audio edition had never been published; if the author is in direct contract with the translator, after the rights have reverted from the original German-language publisher, they might jointly license these rights again themselves, or come to an agreement to self-publish a German audio edition. Or to re-release the books in the German translation as ebooks and/or POD editions, to keep the title available to new generations of readers.)
EN: What advice would you give writers who are interested in exploring the world of literary translation?
LS: Obviously, read widely, both in the potential source language but also in the target language. It's important to be familiar with both!
SCBWI has a sub-section for translators, and is open to membership by translators as well as authors and illustrators.
I was also one of the co-founders of World Kid Lit Month, celebrated each September, but the blog (currently co-edited by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and Claire Storey) is a wonderful resource, both for readers and budding or experienced translators (or editors looking to broaden their pool of authors or illustrators or translators): https://worldkidlit.wordpress.com/
The trickiest thing perhaps is to understand how translation is a subsidiary copyright, so it's important to always make sure you have permission from the rights holder before trying to publish any translations. (You can, of course, translate for yourself any text you'd like, but you can't publish it without permission from the rightsholder. Likewise, if there are translations of your own work as an author, the translator cannot publish or republish those works without permission from you--or your publisher or agent, as the case may be. Permission from both author (or their representative) and the translator are necessary to publish any translation, neither party is empowered on their own.)
EN: Thank you for talking with me today about your books and about the world of book translation! We wish you all the best with your new releases.
If any SCBWI members are interested in participating in the SCBWI Translator Listserv, email your Regional Advisor and they can arrange for you to join.
Bio: Lawrence Schimel
Lawrence Schimel is a full-time author, writing in both Spanish and English, who has published over one hundred books in a wide range of genres. He is also a prolific literary translator.
His picture books have been selected for the White Ravens from the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany, chosen for IBBY’s Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities three times, and won a Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and illustrators, among many other awards, honors, and distinctions.
His writing has been published in Arabic, Armenian, Basque, Catalan, Changana, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, English, Esperanto, Estonian, Farsi (Dari), Filipino, Finnish, French, Galician, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Kurdish, Latvian, Macua, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romansh, Romanian, Russian, Sena, Serbian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Welsh translations.
He started the Spain chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and served as its Regional Advisor for five years.
Bio: Elisabeth Norton
Originally from the US, Elisabeth Norton now lives with her family in Switzerland, where she writes picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels and serves as the Regional Advisor for the Swiss region of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). She also serves as a reporter for the Cynsations website, covering international aspects of the world of publishing for young readers.
You can find out more about her writing and her interviews on her website.
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