It is a sad fact that very few of the books sold in the UK are those that have been translated into English from their original language. Most of the books we buy- and read- are written by English and American authors. Which means that children- and adults- are missing out of a wealth of literature. Little Island is a publishing company that is trying to change this!
Since our first list in 2010, Little Island has had a commitment to publishing titles in translation alongside our books by new and emerging Irish authors. Anglophone children are saturated in Anglo-American culture and have access to hundreds of thousands of books written in English – which is precisely why they also need something different from time to time. Everything that happens in the world does not happen in English. To bring that realisation to young readers is at the heart of Little Island’s translation project.
As a very small publisher, Little Island’s resources are limited, and anyone who understands anything about the finances of publishing can tell you that publishing in translation is an expensive and risky business. Apart from the cost of translation itself (which may be subsidised), promotion costs are also higher when authors have to come from abroad, and then there is a residual resistance in some quarters among booksellers and readers to books set in unfamiliar places and by authors with foreign names – though that is changing. On the other hand, being a small, independent publisher means that Little Island has more flexibility, more autonomy and maybe even a little more courage than larger publishers, along with a commitment to bringing international perspectives to our readers. So we just do it.
Our most recently published translated title is No Heroes by Anna Seidl, a gripping psychological study of how a group of teenage girls cope with and recover from the trauma, grief, loss and guilt left in the devastating wake of a school shooting. This is the kind of story we tend to associate more with America than Europe, but it is of course an international phenomenon, and bringing this story ‘home’ can help readers to see this experience in a different context. Anna was only sixteen years old when she wrote this novel, which appeared to great acclaim in Germany just a few years ago.
The artist we commissioned to make the cover for our edition actually built a model of the school and then photographed it. The front cover shows the school – ‘It looks so German,’ was Anna’s own comment on the image – before the shooting takes place, with a sinister figure silhouetted in a window; the back cover shows the same building with bullet holes in the windows and the school wrapped in police scene-of-crime tape, and our designer went out of his way to use German police tape. That is totally in keeping with our philosophy of not ‘localising’ translated texts; our aim is to make the prose sound as if it was written in English, while keeping the cultural context faithful to the original.
We track down translators for other languages in various ways, but the German titles I translate myself. As I know from my own experience as a writer whose work has been translated, there is not usually any contact between the writer and the translator. However, I like to run my translations past the writer, and German writers tend to have excellent English. This can be very helpful, as the writer is of course the person who knows the text best, and I occasionally get told that I’ve inadvertently deleted a paragraph or misunderstood a cultural reference, which is always good to know. More than once, a writer has said they actually prefer the translation to the original – probably an indication that seeing your own prose from a new perspective is exciting and satisfying for an author.
The secret of publishing in translation really isn’t a secret at all. You just need to find a foreign title that you love enough to want to publish it for Anglophone children. Because that, at the end of the day, is the point – bringing new voices from other cultures with different cultural perspectives to English-speaking children.
Siobhan Parkinson was Ireland’s first Children’s Laureate; she is also a translator and is publisher of Little Island Books. Her next children’s novel, Miraculous Miranda, is coming out in September from Hodder Children’s Books.
The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.