Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lost and Found in Translation

Janet Gover regales us with tales of translation trials....

I grew up in the Australian Outback. Well… we did have some trees, and it rained more than once a year, so I guess technically, it was the bush, not the outback.

After a couple of years in Hong Kong (where I met an Englishman) I moved to West London, whereupon I found myself surrounded by the strangest things.

A car boot sale? I'd never heard of such a thing.

Bread sauce – was my mother-in-law crazy? You don’t make sauce out of bread!

And why wouldn't the stores sell me a doona or a refidex?

I learned to translate. I bought a duvet instead of a doona, and a road atlas instead of a Refidex. At the same time, these differences started to inspire my writing. It's amazing how interesting the commonplace can be to a stranger.

I've published two books set in Australia with Little Black Dress (the third is with my editor now). E-mails with my editor tend to go a bit like this…

Editor: What is a feral ute?
Janet : A sort of flat tray work vehicle – a bit like what the Americans call a truck, but smaller, covered with lots of stickers from B&S Balls.
Editor : And B&S Balls are..?

….. and so on. (For the answer – you'll have to read my November release The Bachelor and Spinster Ball)

It never ceases to surprise me that so many things I take for granted are apparently out of the ordinary. Don't people spray food dye out of their mouths at country dances in the UK? I guess not.

As the books sell all over the world, including Australia, the challenge for me is getting the Australian setting right – using the right language – but at the same time not confusing a reader who might have trouble picturing a person with thongs on their feet. (If you are from the UK, think of flip flops.)

I now divide my time between two places, both of which I call home. Each time I get of a plane (at either end) I see new things, however small, which delight me, and it's not long before I start thinking… what if? At that point, there's a scene in a book not too far behind.

Janet's latest book THE BACHELOR AND SPINSTER BALL is out now.


Monica Fairview said...

Yes, unexpected cultural differences between English speakers can make for some fascinating misunderstandings...

Looking forward to The Bacherlor and Spinster Ball and more on the Australian Outback -- no, um, the bush. Does the heroine wear thongs on her feet? I can just imagine a Cinderella plot when she loses her thongs, and the footmen are sent around the kingdom to find a woman who fits into the thongs...

Janet Gover said...

I chuckled. What a fabulous image!
Of course, in my mind, the Prince is wearing an Akubra hat, rather than a crown...