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Posted by Fleur, April 20, 2017

Translating Murder in Midwinter

Today’s guest post is by Fleur Hitchcock, author of Dear Scarlett, Saving Sophia, and most recently, Murder in Midwinter, on the experience of having her work translated.

On 10th of Feb of this year, this is how it all began- a Facebook message from a man called Tomasz:

Hello ☺i’m translating you book from english and i want to ask about few things because i want to make a good translation ☺would you like to help me just a little bit?☺

And at the end of March this is how it finished:

T: I know everything ! Translation is done and I just sent it to the publisher ! 🙂

But in between there were more than 100 emails between us, many of them with photos. Sometimes he misunderstood me, sometimes I misunderstood him. Here is a little flavour of those emails:

T:  “The princess thing’s wearing a bit thin, Ollie, I say.”  To be honest I have no idea how to understand it 😛

F: The “Princess thing” is Ollie’s continuous making fun of Maya for coming from the city – he imagines her as a Princess, with delicate sensibilities like someone from a fairy tale, rather than as a real person.   Does this help at all?

T: I was rather asking about “wearing a bit thin” cuz I had no idea what it is 🙂

F: Ah! Ok, so “wearing a bit thin” is an English expression that means something is starting to become less. So if someone took you to the cinema every day for a week, for the first few days it might be exciting, but by the end of the week, the joy would have gone and you might say: “the joy of going to the cinema is wearing a bit thin” – you can use it to mean anything is getting less enjoyable, or less funny, or less interesting. ☺

T: “(Samson) feels sprung.”  I’m trying to google it but it doesn’t help me to find good meaning.
Now I don’t know what’s more difficult to write a book or to translate one 😉

F: Like a coiled spring? Like you get in a clock? Incidentally, I couldn’t translate a thing!

T: Hmm… that slate mountain in my imagination is like big hill / mountain of slate in which the top was destroyed and because of that it looks like lets say horns or batman’s mask 😛

F: Yes – like Batman’s mask!  Kind of. ☺

T: “I’ve cleaned the  spark plugs, rewired the wiring. Made a cog.” – Maya made a cog? Or in this context she fixed that cog? 🙂 and “It used to drive your gran mad, although  she was just as bad….” – I’m thinking what drove gran mad and how to understand “she was just as bad”

I’m reading my translation of that chapter and I feel that some parts sound very bad 😛

F: I think Maya is boasting when she says she “made a cog” – and it’s not necessarily true. She says afterwards something about most of it being true.  As my husband says, making a cog is really hard – but I think she’s stretching the truth a bit to impress Ollie.

Gran was driven mad by all the bits of mechanical mending that Granddad did around the place – but she did it too.  When we say driven mad, we mean “really annoyed”.

I suspect you may have to be a bit less exact with the translation in order to make it flow?  I think it must be very hard to translate my words as I use short sentences and I don’t always make things clear! ☺

T: “I yank the door and step forward into the stable, but the floor sags under my foot and a flaming plank that runs under the door falls away.”  I think I see that scene in my imagination, but I want to be sure 🙂  Maya opens door and step forward because she wants to reach Samson. Floor sags under her foot, she wants to make another step and that burning plank breaks and her foot almost falls into burning hole? 🙂

F: Yes! That’s right!

T: Hooray for me ! 😀 Now I’m starting to think that don’t suck at translating 😛 ha ha 🙂

T: Hmm…. Aunt V and Ollie has horses or ponies? Because you use both words 🙂

F: Do you have words for small horses in Polish?  They are really ponies.

T: In Polish generally big or small horse is still a horse, pony is pony 🙂 we don’t say pony=small horse 🙂

F: Ah  – so for us, at fully grown, if a horse is smaller than 14.2 hands high then it’s a pony. A young horse is a colt or a foal. But pony trekking is usually done on small horses or ponies as they are more sure footed. Use pony.

T: OK, so I need to change every “horse” for “pony” 🙂

But then later I found an article about pony trekking in the High Tatras mountain in Slovakia, and they called them horses so…

T: Ok so not Poland but i don’t think they make a distinction between horse and pony – so use horse….

T: Oh… Samson is dead 🙁

F: No! No! He isn’t!

T: I’m reading page 220 so he has about 35 to return in glory ! 🙂

T: “Her or one of her meatheads. She knew Georgio’s heart wasn’t in it…. ” It means that Georgio and Peter wasn’t close? They were brothers but there wasn’t strong relationship between them?

F: It means that Georgio was close to Peter, and didn’t really believe in the deals surrounding the painting. He would give the painting back to its owner, not hold it to ransom.   He wasn’t committed to her plans. Does that make sense?

T: I’m not to write very long sentences so I simply wrote: She knew that Georgio wasn’t involve. My brother wasn’t a thief, he was real art historian 🙂 Sounds good?

T: “A little later, when Helen’s made about a thousand phone calls and fed me the police supply of emergency chocolate hobnobs, Gethin’s dad arrives on a tractor with Auntie V following behind on the quad bike.”   I have problem with “hobnobs”. In Polish it means “to hang out / be in touch with sb’s being at higher position / rank” something like that

F:  Ha!  In the UK – hobnobs are a type of biscuit.



It does also mean to hang out, but….

And so they went on…

It’s not the first time I’ve been contacted by a translator, I have had long telephone conversations and short email exchanges with a lovely French woman called Catherine Guillet who has translated both Dear Scarlett and Saving Sophia.  but mostly, we authors hear nothing until a freshly minted copy of a book drops through the letterbox, which unless you’re very unusual you can’t check or read or engage with in any way.  Tomasz has made me look much more closely at the words I use – regret some of the expressions I used. Regret some of the place names I invented. I have learned that a truck is a lorry, not a Landrover, that hugger mugger doesn’t actually mean what I thought it did. That in Tomazs’s words, “English is very simple language and in few words you can describe some things. Unfortunately polish isn’t so simple :)”

But, it’s been fun. And I’m pretty sure that children in Poland will be reading a very faithful copy of Murder in Midwinter – I wonder how that translates?

And I will give Tomasz the last word:

“For me translating Murder in Midwinter was fun and challenge at the same time. It was my first book I’ve ever translated and that was really exciting. At the beginning I was afraid that I might be not good enough, but book is written in a very simple and easy way. My english isn’t perfect and I had some problems, but the author was so kind and she explained me everything. Using pictures was very usefull and helped me a lot. Using colloqial speech or idioms was a little diffucult for me because I didn’t know these phrases, but thanks to Google and the autor I made it. I want to thank Fluer Hitchcock for being so kind and helpful.”


Thank you, Fleur and Tomasz! You can take a look inside Murder in Midwinter below:

Buy the book online.

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