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The Next Best Thing

December 3, 2012

By Bernadette Jansen op de Haar

Rosie Garland, the wonderful author of the poetry collection Everything must Go, which we published, and the author of The Palace of Curiosities, published by Harper Collins in March, asked me to contribute to the Next Best Thing, so I couldn’t refuse.

Now, I’m actually a publisher, not a writer, so I will approach the questions from a slightly different angle. However I do translate and I hope it is interesting to hear the questions answered from a translator’s points of view.

Broadly speaking there are two types of translators, those who translate a range of works by different authors which takes up a large part of their time, and those who have ‘fallen into translation’ and translate a very narrow range of works, often just one author, which has to be fitted in with their main job.

I’m definitely in the latter category as I mainly translate some of my brother’s (Arnold Jansen op de Haar) work: to date his novel Angel and his weekly columns.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

That’s out of the hands of the translator and you have to ask the author. However it helps the translator very much if he or she understands why the author wrote the book.

I think for a certain type of book it is not so much the idea that matters but the need to write the book. When there is this need the idea will follow.

What genre does your book fall under?

Actually this relates to the previous question. Angel is literary fiction. Why? Because Arnold Jansen op de Haar felt compelled to write, it can be read on different levels, and Angel is a book that will live on.

By reading on different levels I mean that you can read Angel as a fast moving, exciting, almost thriller-like story, but it’s also about someone searching for an identity, about grappling with trying to fit into society and if so, which society.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I think this is the job of a director. Personally I don’t think it’s the author’s role to choose the actors. Well, it’s certainly not the translator’s job. However Arnold Jansen op de Haar may well have his favourites and you’ll find out because I will ask him to answer these questions as well.

When reading a book you create your own film in your head. That’s the great fun of reading. So for me a film often disappoints, but if watching a film (or movie of course) makes someone go and read the book, I’m all for it.

Actually there is another key person in making a film, the screen writer, and some authors are very good at it such as, for example, Harold Pinter.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

It’s not mine, it’s the author’s, I just translated it but this sums up the book wonderfully: Angel is a novel about expectations, failures and the fragility of our existence.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Ah, there is a third option, which is what Holland Park Press presents. All our books are ‘traditionally’ published, i.e. the publisher takes the risks and pays for editing, production, marketing, etc. Authors don’t pay but get an income out of royalties. However we do not deal with agents, only directly with authors.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

You have to ask the author. However in this case I’m also Arnold Jansen op de Haar’s first reader and if I remember correctly it took a couple of years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Again, Arnold Jansen op de Haar will answer this. I can tell you what inspired me to translate the book. Arnold’s novels, and poetry, are very closely related to his own life, though they’re not autobiographical. This makes translating his work especially tricky.

I had already translated a few sections of the novel for readings and as I was so familiar with Angel’s background it made a lot of sense for me to translate the novel. It also meant I worked very closely with Arnold on the translation, an ideal way of working which unfortunately is not always possible.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Have you ever thought about running away from it? Well, this is exactly what happens in Angel. But can you run away from yourself and what happens when you try? To find out you have to read Angel.