Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Housemaid's Daughter in Polish

Hot on the heels of the Chinese translation, comes Kolor Jej Serca.
Welcome - zapraszany - to The Housemaid's Daughter in Polish!

When a new translation is published, I often see the promotional material and the new cover before I actually receive my physical copy of the book. But never fear: there is always Google Translate. So I can confidently say that the title means 'The Colour of her Heart'. It turns out that this is the same title as the one chosen by the Dutch publishers with De Kleur van Haar Hart.

I am particularly thrilled with the cover image because the young woman and child are the most joyful of any of the covers so far. They positively bound across the African plains! After all, the story is supposed to be uplifting, even though we share the pain of Ada and Cath as they fight to preserve their remarkable friendship. I am delighted that the Polish publishers have chosen to take such a cheery approach.

The book is 432 pages long (rivaling the impressive Icelandic volume) and when I receive my copy I will do my usual check through to see how the translator has managed the uniquely African words scattered throughout the text. Will Miriam's lullaby that she sings to Ada Thula thu' thula bhabha have survived in the original or been changed to reflect local influence? How will the glossary deal with dassies, doeks and dorps?

Good luck to the Polish Housemaid! Powodzenia! (I hope I've got that right)

And there is talk of a Polish radio serialisation - more next time...

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Irish connection

Every year, on St Patrick's Day, I am reminded of my Irish roots and how much they have - often inadvertently - steered my course.

When we're young, we believe our lives are totally within our own remit but as we grow older we realise that the generations which preceded us have a surprisingly bold say in determining our future!

From the obvious to the subtle, we carry within us the traits that have been handed down... and down... and down. My pale skin nurtured for hundreds of years in a cool, wet climate still balks at the heat of an African sun. The qualities of determination or laziness or cheerfulness or misery that we display could very well date from an ancestor who would recognise them in us, too, if time travel was possible. But luckily, we don't seem to be purely a product of our inherited genes. We each have the capacity to add our own particular quirks and experiences to the mix - ready to be passed down to our children, and to theirs.

For me, the epic journey of my grandparents from Ireland to South Africa over a hundred years ago lurked in the back of my mind for most of my life. Who would have guessed, when I sat next to my grandmother as a child, learning the piano and listening to her reminisce, that it would spark not just a lifelong love of music - but a novel many years later? That it would propel me to reconnect with a time and a place and a generation that was long gone?

Ada, the central character in The Housemaid's Daughter, soon learns the joy and the torment of heredity. It influences her own life and it steers the life of her beautiful, spirited daughter, Dawn, in ways she could never have imagined.
Or perhaps she did?
From the moment I learned about inheritance from the kind doctor whose house is no more, I knew Dawn would never belong to me...

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Housemaid's Daughter in Chinese

Yes, it's really happened!

I have in my hand the Chinese version of The Housemaid's Daughter - and very pretty it is, too, with a stormy grey sky above grassy plains, and an etching of 2 blossoms to the left of the title.

It is, I have to admit, a disconcertingly slim book: a lightweight at only 348 pages. The standard copy in English has been about 400 pages, and you will remember my astonishment at receiving the hefty Icelandic version, coming in at a good 40 pages longer than that. So, clearly, the beautiful symbols that I see on each page are particularly adept at conveying the story in a rather efficient way. I wish I could deconstruct a phrase or two! But this is a unique way of writing - drawing? - language. For fun, here are the opening lines of the book in various translations (apologies, Blogger does not appear to allow the appropriate speech marks/accents):

I wasn't supposed to be born in Cradock House. Not me.
Je n'etais pas censee naitre entre les murs de Cradock House. Ce n'etait pas ma place. (French)
Non era previsto che nascessi a Cradock House. Non io. (Italian)
Eg atti ekki ad faedast i Cradock House. Ekki eg (Icelandic)

From what I can tell, there is no glossary at the back of the book, so Chinese readers will have to use their imagination for some of the African words - but perhaps the translator has simply rendered them into a local equivalent that will be readily understood? (Saving space as well)
To my delight, a couple have sneaked through, though:
Ada's mother, Miriam, still sings her lullaby to Ada at night, as in the original.
Thula thu' thula bhabha. Hush, hush, little baby.
There are some things that don't need translation...

Monday, 24 February 2014

Listening to The Housemaid's Daughter

I was excited to receive a package in the post last week:
the MP3-CD version of The Housemaid's Daughter, produced by Blackstone Audio. You may remember that my UK publishers organised a downloadable audiobook which has been available for the last year or so, but this new CD version has been produced for the US market to go alongside the US hardback.

And a handsome beast it is. But also, I have to confess, rather formidable:
13 CDs
15 hours of listening!

Wow! Did I really write that much? It seems I did, especially as the cover says - discreetly? tongue-in-cheek? - that it is "unabridged".

In any event, the book is beautifully read by Cat Gould (as Mrs Cath) and Bahni Turpin (as Ada). I started listening and was instantly drawn in by their performance. And by Bahni's accurate and sensitive rendering of the local words that are sprinkled through the story.

But I wonder who its audience will be?
Long distance truck drivers?
Traffic-snarled commuters?
Happy listening!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Writing a book in a post-quill world!

A few years ago I read a book by an author who was plying her trade in the 1940s. She used to write by hand. She described posting her latest completed work to her publisher in London. Given that she lived in Africa, the manuscript went by sea - and therefore had to brave the Battle of the Atlantic in order to get to the UK. Sadly, her valiant effort was sunk when the ship carrying it was torpedoed. Of course she only discovered this several months later when the publisher sent a plaintive letter (also be sea) asking when to expect her latest offering. So, it was back to the drawing board, or hopefully, to the carbon copy.

It got me thinking how lucky I am to be writing in a digital, software-rich age. For me, the greatest advantage - aside from always having a saved version and never having to send it off on the high seas - is the ability to shift around chunks of text.
Oh, the joy of being able to say:
You know what?
I think this paragraph here would really sit far better in that chapter there, and then that other chunk of text I've been saving for a rainy day/chapter, will slot beautifully into the vacated space.

In the past, that would have meant a lot of messy cutting and pasting, and arrows going back and forth. And, inevitably, a rewrite/type. But I guess it made you very careful before you put pen to paper. You would want to be absolutely sure you had every aspect of the plot and the characters in their right order and frame of mind before you started. No casual matter of getting started and seeing where the story would take you. That way lay exhausting rewrites.

So... my novel The Housemaid's Daughter is a child of its time: born out of nimble word processing software, hopefully free of spelling mistakes, and beautifully dressed in an elegant, legible font.
I shudder to think how much longer the book would have taken to write (more than the 6 years it did take!) if I'd had to contend with sinking manuscripts, and a jigsaw of alterations...

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Journey into the past...

The Housemaid's Daughter is a work of fiction. But is any novel really a totally fresh story? Don't we all carry the stamp of family memory and personal experience, an imprint that forever tinges what we write?

In my case, the inspiration for the book came while learning to play the piano alongside my grandmother, and listening to her life story. A child at the time, I had no idea I was incubating the seeds of what would become a novel some 40 years later...

As we observe the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1, I have started to wonder about some of the influences on my family's migration to South Africa in the early 1900s. It's interesting to reflect that the most recent war Britain had fought prior to 1914 was the South African/Anglo Boer war from 1899-1902, a conflict that wreaked untold damage on both sides and led to a grudging peace. I wonder what my grandparents' families must have thought, as the young couple broke the news that they were seeking their future in this war-torn country. My grandfather, you see, had been offered a job to open a shoe store - the first of its kind - in a tiny town called Cradock in the rural Karoo. The young ones wanted to marry and head out for a new life.
Did their families actively discourage them from going?
Did they fear for their lives?
It's worth noting that my grandmother was not allowed to travel with my grandfather initially, and had to remain behind in Ireland for 5 years, while she served her engagement and he worked to set them up in Cradock. I had always assumed this was the etiquette of the time, but perhaps it was more about letting the dust settle after a bitter war, and allowing my grandfather to assess the lie of the land before they totally committed. Hedging their bets, in today's talk.

Or maybe her family utterly refused to let her go until they could be sure war would not break out again? And that the romance would stand the test of a long separation?
We'll never know. But it certainly makes a springboard for a thought-provoking plot!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Of Magical Aloes...

On the second page of my novel The Housemaid's Daughter, the young heroine, Ada, describes the landscape that surrounds the small community of Cradock where she was born:
"On the edge of town where the sky met the earth, tough Karoo bush hardly ever taller than the height of a child clung to the dry soil. Above the bush poked the withered trunks of aloes, topped by orange flower spikes that stood out like flames against the scrub."

The particular aloe that Ada is describing is Aloe ferox, the signature aloe of the Karoo, which flowers in midwinter to create a dramatic sweep of "standing flames" above the parched veld. To drive through the countryside at that time of year is a truly other-worldly experience. The landscape takes on a kind of jurassic feel - the aloes are such prehistoric-looking plants that you wouldn't be surprised to see the snout of a dinosaur poking out...

Aloes have evolved in some of the harshest, driest climates on earth. Their thick, spine-tipped leaves are as tough as leather, and designed to hoard every drop of water that happens to come their way. They manage to survive not only searing temperatures in summer but icy winds in winter and, as Ada says, cling to the dry soil with determined ferocity.

But the aloe's greatest surprise lies in the gel that oozes from those tough, inhospitable leaves. It has been found to have remarkably soothing properties and is now used around the world in creams and gels to treat skin conditions, burns, and the like. How ironic that such a formidable plant should produce such a tender emollient! Just shows that you can't judge anything - or anyone - by appearances alone...

And, by the way, did you spot the delicately drawn aloe flowers that appear between sections of The Housemaid's Daughter?