Monday, April 22, 2013

Interview with Linda Olsson

Linda Olsson is an acclaimed novelist and Swedish-English self-translator. She was born in Stockholm in 1948, but settled down in New Zealand in 1990. Today she divides her time between Sweden and New Zealand. Her novels have been translated into many languages. She has written her first two novels Astrid & Veronika (2007) and Sonata for Miriam (2008) in English. In an interview on the website of her publisher Penguin, she explains why she hasn’t translated these two books herself:
When my book was published in Sweden, I did not translate the book to Swedish myself. I made an attempt, but quickly realized that I was rewriting, rather than translating. For me, it felt as if the story I had written could not just be translated word by word, but that a Swedish version needed other, different expressions. I am enormously grateful that my translator was able to do what I could not. 
However since her third novel The kindness of your nature (2011) / Det goda inom dig (2011) she writes the English and Swedish versions of her book simultaneously. I had the chance to meet her last year at a public reading in Germany and she kindly agreed to conduct an interview with me via mail to explain her approach to translation and self-translation. What follows now is the interview, which we conducted in November 2012 via mail.

E.G.: You started writing fiction in English in New Zealand and your books have been translated into many languages, among others also into your mother tongue Swedish. How was this experience to read your own books in Swedish?

L.O.: It was with a degree of trepidation that I started reading the first translation, especially since that translator had made it clear that she didn’t want much in the way of communication with me. But all my concerns were quickly laid to rest. And when I read the book for the audio recording, there were just a few words that didn’t feel right in my mouth.

E.G.: Did you recognize your own voice? 

L.O.: Yes, I believe I did, as I said above, all I changed was the odd word here and there. And I think that the translator made parts of my text even better.

E.G.: While you haven’t translated your first two books yourself, everything changed with your third book – The kindness of your nature/Det goda inom dig–, which you wrote simultaneously in English and Swedish. How did this happen? 

L.O.: I had a bad case of writer’s block and someone suggested I should translate what I had written to Swedish, instead of just sitting staring at my screen. And soon, after starting the translation, I found myself back in the story and started writing again. I bought a large screen that allowed me to keep both versions open, side by side, and I continued working on the two versions of the manuscript simultaneously.

E.G.: And how did this bilingual writing shape your way of creating and writing? How are writing and translating interacting with each other? 

L.O.: I am not sure I can answer this question. All I can say is that the process worked for me. I do, however, think that the two versions influenced each other. I often found myself changing phrases or whole paragraphs in one version after finishing it in the other language. Neither would have been the same, had I written it exclusively.

E.G.: What are the advantages and the disadvantages of working with both languages at the same time?

L.O.: The obvious disadvantage is time, of course. It takes twice the time to finish the story. Also, I think there is a risk that you become engrossed in linguistic issues, and that these take over from the creative writing. The technique of writing obscures the flow of the creativity. Also, sometimes, I found that linguistic problems in one language forced me to make changes in what I had already written in the other language. A professional translator is stuck with the given text, but I had more freedom, which sometimes felt like a restriction, if you understand what I mean. If I couldn’t easily translate my own words I felt obliged to rewrite the original, rather than struggle to find a way of translating it. The advantage is that the process works as a simultaneous editing process. I found myself picking up mistakes and flaws that might otherwise have gone undetected. Also, and this was the reason I ended up doing what I did, the two stimulated and inspired each other. An idea that I realised in one language, may not have appeared had I been restricted to the other language.

E.G.: Are you going to keep self-translating your books? 

L.O.: I am not sure. But what I have written on my next novel, I have written in both languages…

E.G.: Do you think your relation with your Swedish readers will change now that you are writing directly in Swedish? 

L.O.: Possibly. For me, because I now feel responsibility for the Swedish text. For my readers, perhaps, if they relate better or not so well to my Swedish language. Many, though, were not aware that my previous books were translated from English.

E.G.: Thank you very much, Linda Olsson, for sharing these insights with us.

To learn more about Linda Olsson, please visit her wonderful official website, which already gives you a hint of her beautiful writing.

Penguin Group USA.  A conversation with Linda Olsson. Online available. Also archived with webcitation.

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