Friday, 24 June 2011

Lost In Translation?

Edge Author Katie Dale asks: How much YA fiction gets lost in translation...?

I grew up devouring every American teen novel I could. I was obsessed. Sweet Valley High, Caroline B. Cooney, Judy Blume, I just could not get enough. I don't know if it's that there just weren't all that many British teen authors around at the time, or if it was also partly because of the saturation of TV by US shows - Dawson's Creek, Buffy, Friends, Lois and Clark, Gilmore Girls - or if it was just because it was so different from life in the UK, but I lived my teen years yearning to go to America, to be part of that very specific US high school experience, and ultimately it drove me to spend my second year of uni on an exchange in North Carolina (because Dawson's Creek was filmed there - yes, really!), despite the fact I was studying English Literature.

The US culture is so much a part of our own in the UK in fact, that I thought nothing of basing half of my first novel, Someone Else’s Life, in the US. I was sure that I was familiar enough with the country and the culture that I could write about it convincingly - after all, we speak the same language, right?

Wrong. Little did I realise just how many ways our languages are different. It's not just the terminology - tap/faucet, pavement/sidewalk etc but it's the culture itself. I was told having an answer-machine was very odd and old-fashioned in the US, to "get pissed" means getting drunk in the UK, but getting angry in the US and the UK school system was completely mystifying - what are GCSEs? What's a Sixth Form? - I have a whole list of things I had to reword or explain for the US edition! 

Other books too, have I know been modified to cross the Atlantic, even so far as having different titles - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, while the prize-winning The Two Pearls of Wisdom (Australian edition) is also entitled Eon: Dragoneye Reborn (US) and Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye (UK) - you can find a whole list of them here. And coverwise, books pretty much always have different covers for different editions.

So now my book’s also going to be published in Germany and Brazil, I wonder what else will need changing when the language/culture is TOTALLY different, and how much gets altered or lost in translation... 

And it’s also got me thinking.

If English-language fiction is translated and published all over the world, how come we don't have more international translated teen fiction over here? I'm struggling to think of many - Stieg Larsson, Cornelia Funke, and a few others I've probably missed, but why aren't there more? Why don't we have many novels from Brazil, Spain, France, India, China, Japan?

Do they not exist? Or is it that they just don't sell? Do English-speaking teens just find it easier to identify with characters in the culture they're familiar with? If so, why are dystopian and fantasy books so popular at the moment?

Teens love to travel - Gap years are becoming more and more popular, precisely because there is a hunger to see the world, to experience other cultures - why don't we offer a glimpse of this in teen fiction?

Isn't YA fiction about broadening our horizons, after all...?

What do you think? Why do you
 think our YA literature is so dominated by English-language authors, and do you think this should change? Would you like to read more foreign fiction?
Or do you prefer the more familiar characters and locations?

And Authors, have you had to change/edit your books much for foreign editions…?

UK Cover
US Cover
Someone Else's Life will be published by Simon & Schuster in the UK and Delacorte Press in the US in February 2012

Friday, 17 June 2011

Language, Timothy!

Edge author, Dave Cousins looks at swearing in teen fiction and asks – how far should we go?

It has to be said that in fiction, as well as in real life, certain circumstances require a response a little stronger than: “You know, old chap, I’d be jolly pleased if you’d go away”. This is especially the case if the words are coming from the mouth of a teenage protagonist in the pages of an edgy teen novel. The question is – how far should writers go in the quest for authenticity?

If we are hoping to portray believable characters in real situations, authentic dialogue is essential. Often the defence for pages packed with expletives, is simply: that’s how kids speak. Quite possibly, but isn’t it part of the writer’s job to distil the essence, rather than to doggedly transcribe? I mean … um … if we actually wrote down what people actually say … when they talk, yeah? It would be like … really annoying and repetitive and stuff. Saying the same things over and over again, like. You know what I mean?

I’ve read books with lots of swearing and others where bad language is noticeable by its absence. Then there are the books when you don’t even notice, because the dialogue, whatever it contains, feels so natural. If the story, the character and the situation requires swearing, I’ll use it (and argue with my editor later). Having said that, if the speech works just as well without, I remove it, because overuse reduces the impact.

The Pig of Profanity – my writer's swear box. Chapter 15 was expensive!

The books I put down and sometimes don't finish, are the ones where it seems the author has used swearing in an attempt to appear edgy and down with the kids. I’m not offended, just disappointed, because it gets in the way of a good story. 

But what do you think?

All comments, however colourfully phrased, will be very welcome.

15 Days without a Head by Dave Cousins, is out in January 2012, published by Oxford University Press

Friday, 10 June 2011

On the Edge of Things

As a writer, I think it’s natural that I’m often on the edge of things, standing slightly back, looking in.

I’ve done it all my life. I wasn’t part of the ‘in-crowd’ at school and even if I was invited to a party, there was always a part of me that stood back (usually making snarky comments in my head). I’ve always been hyper-aware of how I appear to others, perhaps because I’m so aware of how others appear to me.

I like to think that’s the writer in me.

Recently I’ve been noticing a common theme in writers’ interviews – in almost every one I’ve read in the last few weeks, the writer admits to being bullied at school. And here’s my confession – you guessed it - I was a victim of bullying too (sometimes physical, sometimes verbal – I once cried so hard at the prospect of going to school and seeing a particular set of individuals that I threw up) and I’d love to know how many other writers were victims. Bullies target people who are slightly … other; so does being a writer on the inside put you on the edge of things outside and make you a target?

Perhaps in order to write, especially edgy fiction, you need to have experienced being on the edge of things yourself. Being an outsider – perhaps being bullied.

And of course being bullied, if it doesn’t destroy you, can sometimes make you strong, able to cope with rejection, criticism, even vilification – come to think of it- the perfect set up for dealing with the publishing world.

Which raises the question … am I writer because I was so often an outsider, or was I an outsider, because I was always a writer?

One of the characters in Angel's Fury is terribly bullied, another grew past it. It was hard putting myself in the position of the bully, too easy to put myself in the position of the bullied ...

And I'd really like to know, fellow Edgars – were you bullied? Did you ever feel like an outsider? And if you were, do you think it influenced your writing?

Friday, 3 June 2011

Roller-Coaster Reads - Savita Kalhan


The first thing I ever wrote was an epic fantasy trilogy, set in a world that I created. There were battles on a grand scale, there were monsters of darkness, creatures of light, characters who were good but flawed, characters who were evil but understandably so, and there were three ordinary teenagers who were plucked from the mundanities of village life and hurled into the maelstrom of an adult world caught on the brink of war.
It was not contemporary realistic ‘edgy’ fiction, but there was definitely an edge to my epic fantasy trilogy, lots of edges.
I lived in the Middle East when I wrote it. I was teaching English there and my life and the world around me was pretty safe, very cosseted, very much home or compound based with little interaction with the world outside my front door. I returned to London in the late nineties and when I finally picked up my pen again a very different type of writing emerged. The only constant was that it was now firmly rooted in the in the present and much more immediate, so immediate it was practically on my doorstep. It almost felt as though I had stepped through a portal and emerged in a world where life was no longer at arm’s length, it was right there in your face. My writing became contemporary and real.

I was reading British newspapers again and worst amongst them was the ‘Local Fright’. What struck me was the terrible crimes that were still being committed to kids. Then a flyer went round the local schools warning parents and kids to be aware – the driver of a large flashy car had tried to snatch kids after school.
That was when the monsters I had been writing about became real, more real and terrifying than any monster in a horror story.
There were not many books for teens and young adults that even began to approach the subject matter of my book, The Long Weekend. But I wrote the book with the voice of my main character, Sam, without giving that much thought, without really considering the possibility that child abduction and child abuse was too hot a topic for publishers to be interested in – or take a risk with. By the time I had finished writing it, I knew it was very close to the edge, but I was also keenly aware of the fact that it was a teen book. And although I did not shy away from the horror of the abduction and what follows, I saw no need to be graphic. People have said to me that the fact that certain scenes are left to the imagination have made the book far more terrifying.
The Long Weekend is at heart a roller-coaster thriller that hurtles you so close to the edge that you feel you might almost tip over it. It is a book that teens, young adults and adults have picked up and not been able to put down. They’ve told me it’s an absorbing, scary, but ultimately satisfying read. It’s opened up debates in schools and homes about the whole topic of child abuse, and, as one reviewer said, “it’s better than any school talk on stranger-danger”.
So whether it’s fantasy writing, or contemporary modern fiction, there is an undeniable edge to my work, and the only thing that pulls me back from going over that edge is the fact that I don’t think my readers would ever forgive me for dragging them over the precipice with me!

Readers - What was the last roller-coaster book you read that sent you hurtling towards the edge?
Writers – How close to the edge does your work go and what, if anything, holds you back?