I’ve been translated into six languages, seven if you count American* – French, German, Swedish, Japanese, Russian and Serbian. This is the kind of information some writers and publishers put on their websites. It sounds impressive in this globalised age, but is it?
In my case it is not. The French publisher, Rivages, issued ten Cliff Hardy books and the one-off novel The Winning Side (Le Camp des Vainqueurs). I had a very enjoyable correspondence with the translators and was delighted with the appearance of the books: very classy paperbacks with evocative covers.
There was some problem in extracting the money because a French agent somehow inserted herself into the deal and payment was temporarily lost, stolen or strayed. Eventually this was sorted out and in the last few years, after a long gap, Rivages have revived their interest and another book is in the pipeline.
Sales in France were good enough for me to be invited to a crime-writing conference in Grenoble with my fares paid by Rivages and my Australian publishers, Allen & Unwin. There I met James Ellroy, the self-styled ‘demon dog’ of American literature. His queue at the signing table stretched out into the Rue de Something while mine was considerably shorter. I also met the charming translators, Danielle and Pierre Bondil.
Inevitably, there were some oddities in the translation. The TAB and an SP bookie presented problems. A safe Country Party seat (the book pre-dated the change to the National Party), became a Safe Country Party seat. Well, I suppose it was a safe sort of party.
All in all, the French experience has been good, with only the return in francs and euros a disappointment.
But that was the high point. The Germans issued only two Hardy books, both in rather dreary hardcovers and the deutschmarks didn’t amount to much. Liberties were taken with the titles. The Greenwich Apartments, which centres around a batch of videos containing incriminating material, became Todliche Videos, which I am told translates as ‘Deadly Videos’. Fair enough.
The one skinny Swedish paperback, a translation of the Hardy novel Deal Me Out, was odd. For reasons I’ve never been able to fathom, the word ‘Manhattan’ was emblazoned across the cover, which featured an image of someone who looked like Burt Reynolds. Very few kroner resulted.
The Russian translation of The Empty Beach was in a hardback volume containing Arthur Upfield’s Cake in a Tin Box and Jennifer Rowe’s Grim Pickings. Published while the USSR was still operating, it is one of the ugliest books I have seen. The roubles it generated, if any, could only be spent locally.
My appearances in Japanese and Serbian are single stories included in anthologies of translations of Australian writing.
So don’t be too impressed by ‘X has been translated into Y languages’. He or she may be rolling in it from high sales of multiple books or just have a few on the shelves with strange titles and scripts and a slight notch up in the bank balance … with luck.
* American editions of the Hardy novels translated ‘chook’ and ‘sheila’ into ‘chicken’ and ‘chick’.