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#FreelancerFriday #5 - Robert Falcó, Translator

Posted in: Perfecting your Craft on August 8, 2014 Leave your thoughts 💬

Translations

“You have to almost be the ideal reader of the original. You have to really understand it, you have to be in the author’s skin. You’re thinking ‘Why have they said that?’ or 'Why does that character talk that way?’”

We met Robert Falcó at the London Book Fair last year. Robert runs the Wider Words project with his business partner Ana Alcaina. They concentrate on helping self-published authors translate their work for the Spanish market. Robert has been a translator for fifteen years, translating over 100 books for authors as prominent as Ken Follett and Stephen King. He’s the first translator we’ve spoken to, and he offered us some insights into the (seemingly enormously difficult!) task of translating fiction.

REEDSY

So first I have to ask - you worked with Stephen King?

ROBERT FALCÓ

Yeah, I translated Under The Dome, which is now a TV show in its second season. I did that about 3 or 4 years ago.

REEDSY

Gosh.

ROBERT FALCÓ

Usually, when you’re translating one of those big names, Stephen King, Ken Follett - I think foreign publishers are trying to publish the book around the same time as the United States or in England. You know, just to make the most of the promotion, if the author’s travelling through Europe, they try to publish the book in Spanish or French or whatever at the same time. But the thing is you also have to translate the book.

For instance, if the American publisher has four months after the manuscript is handed in to go through the whole editorial process, the Spanish publishers often have the same amount of time to do that same process - but translated. It’s a lot of pressure. Not to mention the pressure you feel from the readers of authors with a very strong fan base. In the case of Stephen King this is specially significant - you know hardcore King fans have forums and websites devoted to him, you know they’re waiting anxiously for the Spanish translation of his book and you know they’re going to scrutinise your work.

REEDSY

What do you work with when you’re translating? Do you use get to compare multiple drafts of the manuscript or anything?

ROBERT FALCÓ

It depends a lot on the author, on the publisher, on the date of publication and all those things. In some cases I’ve worked straight from Word manuscripts, in others I’ve waited for the final copy. If you’re working in parallel with other editors, and they’re making alterations, you have to add those in. So in those cases you might have a few different versions of the same passage.

I started translating around 2000. Back then, before Facebook, it could be a long process to make those queries and you might not have time to do too many. But now with Twitter you can reach out directly to the author and ask, you know, “At this point here, did you mean this, or something completely different?”

REEDSY

Is that the sort of query you often take to authors, trying to nail down the meaning of some particular passage?

ROBERT FALCÓ

Yeah, that sort of thing. I almost get a little paranoid when I see a sentence that has a double meaning, and I’ll ask “Hey, did you mean to do that, was it on purpose, did you mean this thing or did you mean the other?” With some authors it’s not necessarily - the style is very simple, but with more complicated authors you want to make sure. Hidden references are another thing. The title is sometimes difficult because it might be a reference to - who knows, the author’s favourite author, or anything. When you translate you try to analyse the original from a very rational point of view. So if something doesn’t make sense you have to ask “Does this not make sense on purpose, or is there a hidden reason for it?” I think half of the quotes or references I find in English are either to the Bible, to Shakespeare, or to Lewis Carroll.

You have to almost be the ideal reader of the original. You have to really understand it, you have to be in the author’s skin. You’re thinking “Why have they said that?” or “Why does that character talk that way?” The thing is, you’re trying to be the ideal reader but the ideal reader doesn’t exist. Who’s the ideal reader for Mark Twain? Is it a contemporary American? An American from a century ago? Who is the ideal reader for Julian Barnes?

In the end you just do your best. There’s no such thing as a perfect translation. There are extremely excellent translations.

REEDSY

What do you do when you get a new project?

ROBERT FALCÓ

Unless the publisher thinks the project will be especially difficult, I normally translate as I go through it the first time. I take notes - I thank God everyday for Evernote which is an excellent tool for translators. Like I say, I tend to get a lot of quotes from the Bible, or Shakespeare, and other classic authors. I can take photos of those quotes and keep them together. I have an Evernote notebook for each of the books I’m working on with all the related information. If I have to find any specialised vocabulary on sailing, on guns, on horses, I keep a glossary for that.

My first-draft will be full of comments. My manuscripts are like an annotated version of my own translation. When it’s done, I go back, and have to try to solve all of these thoughts I had. I might need to follow up with specialists on a subject that was relevant. It’s not unlike a writer doing a first-draft and working on that really. Usually the correction part of the process is when I tend to keep away from the original - keep away in the sense of not using the English structure of sentences, I mean. English tends to use the passive tense much more often than Spanish - that’s the kind of thing I’m looking to correct when I do my own translation.

Take for instance if I were editing a John Grisham novel. They often involve the American legal system. That’s not my area, so I’m sure I’d have to consult Spanish lawyers or legal translators to learn the terminology, how a trial in America works, how a trial is different in America compared to Spain, how I should reflect that in my translation, or whether I should at all. Even if you can read the sentence and you know the terminology in Spanish, if you don’t understand what’s taking place it’s difficult to translate it. So my contacts are there to help with that.

REEDSY

Are there any particularly interesting specialists you’ve had to contact?

ROBERT FALCÓ

Last year I had to contact two astrophysicists while working on a passage that referenced black holes. I found some specialists working at Spanish universities. It was very difficult.

REEDSY

Is there anything an author can do to help you?

ROBERT FALCÓ

The best thing they can do is be collaborative. Authors are generally willing to give us a hand, and that’s the best they can do.

REEDSY

Is there anything you think authors should be aware of when they’re exploring translation options?

ROBERT FALCÓ

As you know, there’s this explosion of indie publishing and writers trying all these experiments. I have this project with my business partner where we want to concentrate on self-publishing. We think it’s the next natural step in the market. Authors who have had great success in England or America can have that same success in Spain.

I think the most difficult thing for the author is taking the leap of faith. It’s like handing your baby to another person. We have to say “We’re going to do the best we can, we’re going treat your book with care we’re going to do the best work possible. We want to make sure your book is as good in Spanish as it is in English.” I can understand the authors being worried. For them the world of translation is an unknown world - not many authors work with translators.

Translation is very different to the other publishing specialties in many ways. To translate a book into Spanish, you need to realise there are these varieties of Spanish just like in English. It’s not the same translating for Argentina as for Mexico as for Spain. If your book has a lot of slang, it might be difficult to do a version in Spanish which will be read as well in Spain, in Argentina, in the different markets. Whereas if your book is Standard English, it makes things easier for us. There’s 400 million Spanish speakers in the world, and yes they speak the same language - but each country has differences. Each country has its own cultural specialties.

REEDSY

Do you have any knowledge about books that might succeed in the Spanish market?

ROBERT FALCÓ

Since 50 Shades of Grey, Romance and Erotica are the big thing. We have found we’re getting more of that translation, whereas five years ago we would never have expect that. In the best-sellers list you find all the big names of course. Historical novels are very big. It’s inevitable that there’s all this influence from the American and English markets.

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