Many of you may know Peter McCambridge from his posts here and here on Intralingo. This time, we’re pleased to present an interview between Peter, as fiction editor for the amazing publisher QC Fiction, with literary translators Madeleine Stratford and Arielle Aaronson, about their co-translation of Pierre-Luc Landry’s Listening for Jupiter.
Peter McCambridge (PM): It’s quite rare for a publisher to split a text between two different translators, except in cases of a tight deadline or one translator being unable to finish the translation themselves. What was the thinking behind QC Fiction’s decision to have you both work on Listening for Jupiter by Pierre-Luc Landry?
Madeleine Stratford (MS): In this case, I think the decision to split the contract had much more to do with the book’s structure than with a tight deadline. In a way, the novel naturally allowed for it, because it was narrated by two different characters. Arielle and I didn’t know each other before starting on the project. Peter McCambridge, however, knew each one of us separately, and he had a hunch Xavier would fit Arielle, and Hollywood would fit me. Now, here’s what made things even more interesting: in the book, Xavier and Hollywood only ever meet in their dreams; in real life, Arielle and I only ever communicated by email until we handed in a complete draft of the book. We emailed each other back and forth over several weeks, yet we did not meet or even speak to each other until we were finished revising each other’s work and ready to hand in our respective half. So, throughout the translation process, our relationship was purely “virtual,” just like that of the characters we were translating.
Arielle Aaronson (AA): When Peter originally proposed hiring two translators to work on Listening for Jupiter, I jumped at the idea. The decision is in line with QC Fiction’s mission of publishing cutting-edge literary translation: it isn’t customary to have more than one translator work on a book written by a single author. But the almost epistolary quality of this book provides a real platform for two separate voices. I was excited to be part of this literary “experiment,” to see if two translators could convey the change in tone between the characters, and of course, to work with Madeleine! I love how she’s tied our own story in with the characters’ story. I hadn’t thought about it before, but the circumstances of our relationship do mimic those of Xavier and Hollywood.
PM: Did you run into any problems working together? Any ways you think the final translation worked out differently than if just one of you had translated the book?
MS: No matter how much I try, I can’t think of any actual “problem” caused by our collaboration. I’ll say this, however: I was startled when I received Arielle’s Facebook message asking whether I’d be up for some peer revision. I was only halfway through my sections at the time and suddenly felt “naked.” Everything I’d translated looked “undone.” It was humbling to show a stranger drafts I was not nearly done with! But I felt better, elated even, as soon as we started commenting on each other’s work. Not only was I now sure we had each other’s back, but our correspondence spurred my creativity, often forcing me out of my comfort zone and inspiring me in ways I would have never thought possible. So, our “working together apart” was both challenging and incredibly stimulating. I don’t think anyone would (or could!) polish a text as much alone. It certainly made for a more accomplished, better thought-out translation.
AA: One of the challenges of collaborative translation is purely organizational: we were revising some sections before finishing others, and it became fairly easy to get lost in the drafts. Despite my best efforts at labeling and creating folder upon folder, there were moments when I felt completely overwhelmed by the revisions. I also tend to think that as we co-revised, we came up with an amalgamated voice of sorts, which may have run counter to the experiment we were attempting; that is to say, to present the narrators through two unique voices. It was a very enjoyable collaboration nonetheless, and I would not hesitate to work with Madeleine in the future!
PM: Ah, I was just about to ask. I understand the voices aren’t incredibly distinctive even in the French original. This project was part of an effort by QC Fiction to show how more than one translator can be a good fit for a French author (a project that went a step further with their next book: I Never Talk About It, a collection of 37 short stories by two authors, with each story translated by a different translator from around the world). Can you think of any ways in which your translation of Hollywood, Madeleine, would differ from what Arielle might have done with his voice?
MS: Well, I guess authors always leave their marks, at least stylistically, so in some way, all of their characters share some similarities. Xavier and Hollywood, then, are alike because they both speak through Pierre-Luc. This is why it was important for me to look at Arielle’s work before finishing my own, so I could make sure that both our parts would still sound like they were written by the same person. That said, I do think that the feel of each narrator is different. In fact, when I first read the book (before knowing I’d be asked to translate it), I immediately felt drawn to Hollywood—and to Saké, I won’t lie—whereas Xavier left me wanting, in some way. What I mean is: their personalities are radically different, they have different entry points into the story, and different ways of expressing themselves. I’m first and foremost a poetry translator, at least that’s how I started my career as a literary translator. So, one of the things that immediately spoke to me was Hollywood’s poetry. In fact, his poems were the first excerpts I translated. I like images, sounds…and music, yes. No wonder Hollywood writes poetry: for him, it’s all about emotions and sounds. Xavier’s journal entries are much more philosophical, or indeed rational at times. I like to think that the way the novel was divided between us was ideal: each of us ended up with the part she most liked and felt comfortable with. That said, I feel that in the end, we managed to blend the voices smoothly. What was fascinating to me, though, was that some reviewers specifically expressed how different the voices were in English. And I can’t help but wonder: Would they have said the same thing had they not known how the book was translated?
Thank you, Peter, Madeleine and Arielle! Readers, if you haven’t read Listening for Jupiter yet, do grab a copy. If you have, how do you hear the two voices and the blending of them by two translators to reflect the author’s?
Originally from Ireland, Peter McCambridge holds a BA in modern languages from Cambridge University, England, and has lived in Quebec City since 2003. He runs Québec Reads and now QC Fiction, a new imprint of Quebec fiction in translation that has been publishing since 2016. The first book he chose (and translated) for the collection was Life in the Royal Court of Matane (Bestiaire by Eric Dupont), the book that made him want to become a literary translator in the first place.
Madeleine Stratford is a literary translator and professor of Translation at the Université du Québec en Outaouais. In 2013, she was awarded the John Glassco Prize by the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada. She translated Marianne Apostolides at the Banff International Literary Translation Centre in 2014 and was nominated in 2016 for a Governor General’s Award for English-to-French translation.
Arielle Aaronson has a diploma in Translation Studies from Concordia University and an M.A. in Second Language Education from McGill University. Her first translation, 21 Days in October, was published by Baraka Books in 2013.
Pierre-Luc Landry is an author, editor, and publisher and has a PhD in creative writing. He is a faculty member at the Royal Military College of Canada’s French Studies department. Listening for Jupiter is Landry’s second novel and his first to appear in translation.