Joining the dots

Recently I’ve been distracted by other freelance jobs, but now I’m on the home straight: Radisson needs to be translated and sent off by December 1 and Les portes closes should hopefully be finished by mid-December.

Perhaps I’ve been playing with my four-year-old too much, but today as I go about my work I can’t help but compare literary translation, or the art of putting someone else’s words into your own, to doing a jig-saw puzzle or even to colouring in or joining the dots. None of these descriptions seems particularly flattering, which is maybe why you don’t hear them made, but when you’re in your groove, you’ve found the voice, and you know what you’re talking about, sometimes putting down my words on paper can seem like joining the dots left by the original author.

Certainly literary translation is nowhere near as demanding as sitting down in front of a blank screen and writing my own novel. The novel has already been written. The dots have already been left on the page for me. No characters, dialogue, or plot to come up with – all I have to do is join the dots.

Obviously I still have to be careful. It’s not a mindless task. I can still make mistakes. I can miss a dot or overshoot it. I can pick up a pen of a different colour to join two particular jots and create a distraction that detracts from the original author’s picture. I can go from point A to point B as quickly as possible, keeping to a straight line as much as I can. Or sometimes the line is less steady, less sure of itself. Sometimes it goes off on a bit of a tangent before it gets to where it should be.

What I can’t do is change the picture. I can’t change characters or plot or the order of the dots. But I can have fun following the pattern left for me by someone very talented, in my case Lori Saint-Martin and Martin Fournier.

This isn’t a fully developed thought (a major flaw is that it doesn’t take into account the skill level involved, no disrespect to any four-year-olds reading this), but just something that struck me today as a I worked. I’d better get back to joining up my dots.