Journal

Monday, April 22, 2019

Fox in Socks

Back in May 2017, I agreed to read the Cheesecake Factory Menu to raise money for refugees. They had to get to $500,000. It was the idea of Sara J Benincasa, comedian, writer and activist. People started donating. We all hoped that Cheesecake Factory would come in and donate enough at the end to get us up to the total, but they didn't seem very interested. So, given that enough money had been donated to reach the intermediate goal of me reading Dr Seuss's Fox in Socks, I agreed cheerfully to read Fox in Socks.  But the question was... when?

Because almost immediately I went off to work on Good Omens. And my life was put on hold for two years.

When I came back from making Good Omens, it was top of the list of things I needed to do. Fortunately, I'd been practising for two years, or at least, reading Fox in Socks to Ash. Here you go...


Labels: , ,

Saturday, April 13, 2019

It's been a while...

I finished the process of making Good Omens into television at the end of January 2019.  It's been ten weeks since then and I'm only just just starting to feel human again. And not yet a laughing running tapdancing human, more a sort of baffled, awkward vague human who only remembers the word he was searching for about five minutes after he no longer needs it. Like Charlie on the last page of "Flowers For Algernon". I'll probably arrive back at normal humanity-with-a-brain somewhere in June.

Amanda is on tour 3 or 4 days a week, and home the other 3 or 4 days. (Here's her tour schedule: http://amandapalmer.net/shows/) I'm a home-husband, trying to remember how that writing thing I used to do went, and getting the Ash time I missed in December and January as I finished Good Omens.

Ash is keeping me amused and delighted. Mostly by talking, sometimes by singing. He fell in love with christmas songs at Christmas, and they are only just now starting to be supplanted. Which is good for those of us who feared that the reign of Frosty the Snowman and Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer would never end. Currently his favourite songs are Harry Nilsson's "Coconut" and Harry Belafonte's 'Banana Boat Song', which quite often means an unusually large voice coming out of a small boy at unexpected moments, belting out "Day-o! DAAAAAY-O! Daylight Come an' mi Want To Go Hooome!"

Me: Perhaps you could use your quiet inside voice for that, Ash?

Ash (very politely, as if explaining something to someone a bit slow): No, Dadda. I need to be very loud. Do you understand? DAAAAAAAY-O!

This is Ash today, singing (quietly) this morning:



The squawking noise in the background is guinea fowl... 

This is because we have a very small flock of guinea fowl here.  And they squawk.

They also remind me a little of a flock of small dinosaurs, and they make me smile. We had twelve last summer, and then one day we had eight, and we had eight all through the autumn and the winter.

The collective noun for guinea fowl is a confusion, and this is both apt and accurate.

Our neighbour Caroline (she's a potter, and she recently made me a Perfect TeaCupMug -- it's enormous!) does all of the looking after the guinea fowl, and I look proudly and fondly on because they spend their days wandering around eating ticks and thus, I hope, decreasing everyone's chances of getting Lyme disease here in prime Lyme disease country.

I worry about mysterious predators, so I automatically count the guinea fowl when I see them.

A couple of weeks ago the number dropped to seven. I was sad, assuming that the fowl in question had been eaten by something local with teeth or talons.

I mentioned this to Caroline. She took me a little way into the woods and she pointed out the missing guinea fowl, who believed herself to be perfectly camouflaged, sitting quietly on an awful lot of eggs.






We pretended we hadn't seen her and walked away, then immediately googled how long it takes guinea fowl eggs to hatch (about 28 days). Fingers crossed that in another two weeks we will have keets (which is what you call baby guinea fowl).

It's been years since I've blogged regularly. Let's see if I start again now. (I might. It's a good warm-up for writing and I'm looking forward to being a writer again.)


Labels: , ,

Monday, December 31, 2018

That Was The 2018 That Was

It's been a strange year. I've only blogged a couple of times, mostly because I've not had anything to write about except one thing, the hugeness of making Good Omens. We wrapped the shooting part mostly in March, and so everything we've been doing since is "post-production".

This means we (and when I say "we" in this blog it's normally Douglas Mackinnon the director and me) edited the six episodes. Sometimes this was simple, but mostly it wasn't. Good Omens is complicated.  Episode 1 in its original shape was 75 minutes long and very confusing for people. Episode 1 now is about 52 minutes long and nobody watching it gets lost at all, even during the baby swap. Episode 5 wound up too short and episode 6 wound up too long, but that was okay, because we'd long ago realised that the only way to make something of this scale was a 6 hour long movie, so so we moved bits of Episode 6 earlier. Each episode was tightened and experimented with and worked on until it gleamed. (The editors we were working with were Will Oswald for the first three episodes and Emma Oxley for the second three)

And once it was edited and "locked", then the music could be written by David Arnold and recorded, then the team at MILK could begin to work on the Visual Effects, the big obvious ones like the M25 London orbital motorway turning into a flaming ring around London, or the huge floating head of Derek Jacobi filling Aziraphale's bookshop, and the less obvious ones, like the missing details of our Soho street.

And while this was happening the Sound Wizards at Bang! listened to the sound and told us what they could use and what they needed a back-up of, and where we would need the actors to dub their voices (a process called ADR). Not to mention the technical challenges of the different voices that will be coming out of Miranda Richardson's mouth (she plays Madame Tracy, the medium): Johnny Vegas and Michael Sheen also provide voices that we will hear Miranda utter...

We have over 200 speaking parts. That's a lot of ADR.

And then there's Gareth Spensely at Molinare, who is credited as colourist, and who is a Warlock who makes it look even more beautiful than Gavin Finney did when he shot it, and sometimes makes scenes shot in the morning become scenes that happen at dusk, and does other things equally as odd. And there's Beren Croll doing the "online", working his own visual magic, and placing the astonishing visuals and the peculiarly handmade graphics that Peter Anderson Studios have made for us where they need to be...

And in all that, the last nine months have flown by. Here's the trailer we did, if you haven't seen it, or just want to see it again.


We aren't done yet. There's about a month to go before it's all wrapped up. We were hoping to have been done earlier, which is why my wife and small son and retiring nanny are off on our "Hurrah! Neil has finished Good Omens!" holiday in the Caribbean and I am rather obviously not on that holiday. I am on my way back to back to the UK (dividing my time between London's Soho, where our various post production studios are, and Cardiff, where Bang! are) and am stopping off in the friends' house where I wrote much of American Gods and Anansi Boys, and short stories like A Study In Emerald.  So many memories.

Two days ago we went to Sarasota, to visit my Cousin Helen. She will be 101 years old in a few weeks. She is as smart as she ever was. (This is a link to a recent piece about her on Brainpickings, and a letter she wrote about a story that helped:  https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/12/18/a-velocity-of-being-helen-fagin/ )

Helen is nearly 101. Ash is 3 and a 1/4. Amanda and I are somewhere in the middle.



It will be the first night in a long time that I haven't kissed my wife at midnight on New Year's Eve. The first year we won't get to celebrate our wedding anniversary together. I will miss them so very much.

My goals for 2019 are to get Good Omens finished, to send it out into the world, and then to retire from full-time showrunning and, in my retirement, to start writing again. I miss it.

If you enjoy Radio, you should check out:

With Great Pleasure: I pick some prose, poems and songs I love. Peter Capaldi, John Finnemore and Nina Sosanya read them, Mitch Benn and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain sing.

The Wild Wood -- one of the many things recorded for With Great Pleasure that didn't make it onto the air. But, as read by Mr Capaldi, too good to lose.

Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology -- a dramatisation by starring Diana Rigg and Derek Jacobi, Natalie Dormer and Colin Morgan. Lucy Catherine did the adaptation, and Allegra McIlroy directed it and made it happen.

You can listen to all of these anywhere in the world for the next 3 weeks...


If you have come here for New Year's Wishes, I don't have a new one.  But here are the ones that already exist. This is from 2014:


May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.


...I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you'll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you'll make something that didn't exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.


And for this year, my wish for each of us is small and very simple.

And it's this.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.


And here, from 2012 the last wish I posted, terrified but trying to be brave, from backstage at a concert:


It's a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world. 

So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we're faking them. 

And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it's joy we're looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation. 

So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.

...

I meant, and mean them all. I wasn't going to write a new one this year. But...

Be kind to yourself in the year ahead. 

Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It's too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand.

Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.

Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them. 



Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 29, 2018

Harlan Ellison



I was in LA two weeks ago, to record the person who is playing the actual Voice of God in Good Omens. I had hoped for a long enough trip to see old friends and catch up with the world, but the trip was immediately truncated, as I was needed in Toronto where they were having press days for the next season of American Gods. I had just enough time, between leaving the airport and getting to my hotel, to see a friend.

I went to see Harlan and Susan Ellison. Harlan's been my friend for 33 years. We met in 1985, in the Central hotel in Glasgow, where he was Guest of Honour at the Eastercon. I was there as a young journalist to do an interview with him for a magazine that went out of business between me handing in the interview and them printing it. They were closed down by the publisher after printing the black and white pages of the magazine but before they printed the colour pages (which cost more). I sold the interview to another magazine, and the editor was immediately fired and everything he had bought spiked. And then I put the article away, convinced it was a Jonah.

A couple of years later, when I had just started writing comics, Harlan phoned me up to shout at me about having Batman break the law by entering a hotel room without a warrant ("But that's why he wears a mask," I said. "So he can break the law.").  That wound up with me turning up at his house, the next time I was in LA for a signing,  bringing with french fries, the kind he liked. And after that we were friends.

A phone call from Harlan was still like a phone call from a tropical storm that's about to turn hurricane. My assistant Lorraine dreaded them.

I've written about Harlan a few times over the years. I wrote the introduction to his collection The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World.

A few quotes from it:

It has, from time to time, occurred to me that Harlan Ellison is engaged on a Gutzon Borglum–sized work of performance art—something huge and enduring. It’s called Harlan Ellison: a corpus of anecdotes and tales and adversaries and performances and friends and articles and opinions and rumors and explosions and treasures and echoes and downright lies. People talk about Harlan Ellison, and they write about Harlan, and some of them would burn him at the stake if they could do it without getting into too much trouble and some of them would probably worship at his feet if it weren’t for the fact he’d say something that would make them feel very small and very stupid. People tell stories in Harlan’s wake, and some of them are true and some of them aren’t, and some of them are to his credit and some of them aren’t . . . 
That was true until he died. (Gutzon Borglum was the man who carved the faces into Mount Rushmore.)   I also wrote in the introduction about me and Harlan. This is part of what I wrote:

I’ve had a personal relationship with Harlan Ellison for much longer than I’ve known him. Which is the scariest thing about being a writer, because you make up stories and write stuff down and that’s what you do. But people read it and it affects them or it whiles away your train journey, whatever, and they wind up moved or changed or comforted by the author, whatever the strange process is, the one-way communication from the stuff they read. And it’s not why the stories were written. But it is true and it happens.  
I was eleven when my father gave me two of the Carr-Wollheim Best SF anthologies and I read “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” and discovered Harlan. Over the next few years I bought everything of his I could find. I still have most of those books. 
When I was twenty-one I had the worst day of my life. (Up to then, anyway. There have been two pretty bad days since. But this was worse than them.) And there was nothing in the airport to read but Shatterday, which I bought. I got onto the plane, and read it crossing the Atlantic. (How bad a day was it? It was so bad I was slightly disappointed when the plane touched down gently at Heathrow without bursting into flames. That’s how bad it was.) 
And on the plane I read Shatterday, which is a collection of mostly kick-ass stories—and introductions to stories—about the relationship between writers and stories. Harlan told me about wasting time (in “Count the Clock That Tells the Time”), and I thought, fuck it, I could be a writer. And he told me that anything more than twelve minutes of personal pain was self-indulgence, which did more to jerk me out of the state of complete numbness I was in than anything else could have done. And when I got home I took all the pain and the fear and the grief, and all the conviction that maybe I was a writer, damn it, and I began to write. And I haven’t stopped yet.  
Shatterday, more or less, made me what I am today. Your fault, Ellison.

And it's true too. The urging voice in the back of my head, when I was a young writer, the one that drove me forward, that voice was Harlan's from his introductions and essays: fierce, unapologetic, self-shaped and determined. I wasn't that person, but Harlan's voice lit a fuse that kept burning. And Harlan demystified writing. The way he described it, it was something you could do. It was within your reach. And you could get better.

He was his own worst enemy, and that's even more impressive when you stop to think that he is the only person I know to have actually had an official Enemy group (for a while they actually called themselves the Enemies of Ellison). He inspired great loyalties and great enmities, and thought it a huge character failing in me that I really liked most people (including several of the Enemies of Ellison) and that most people seemed to like me.

Harlan and I stayed real friends, through ups and through downs.  The most recent down was his stroke, three years ago. He went to bed and didn't get up again. He had been a fighter, but he stopped fighting. Was not always there: lost memories, was sometimes confused, was still Harlan.

I was very aware that each time I saw him could be the last. We were painfully honest with each other. You try not to leave things unsaid, when death's in the air.

The last time I saw him he was more himself than at any time in the last few years. But a milder version of himself. He wanted me to tell him the set-up to a joke I had told him 15 years ago that, he said, was the funniest joke he'd ever heard, but he had forgotten how to tell it, and I did, and he laughed again.  I told him about the Mermaid Parade, and Amanda and Ash. (I took Amanda to meet Harlan, when we first started dating, in the way you take someone to meet the family.) He said he had learned from Susan how to be at peace with things, and that she had learned, in the 32 years they had been together, how to be angry.

Yesterday, I left the Good Omens edit, and saw that I had missed several calls. I called Susan Ellison, and she told me the news, that Harlan had died in his sleep.

I am glad he went peacefully.

I loved him. He was family, and I will miss him very much.

He left behind a lot of stories. But it seems to me, from the number of people reaching out to me and explaining that he inspired them, that they became writers from reading him or from listening to him on the radio or from seeing him talk (sometimes it feels like 90% of the people who came to see Harlan and Peter David and me talk after 911 at MIT have gone on to become writers) and that his real legacy was of writers and storytellers and people who were changed by his stories.

Labels:

Monday, April 16, 2018

Another talk with Laurie Anderson

One of the people I love talking to most in the world is Laurie Anderson.

Laurie Anderson is an experimental musician, avant-garde composer, storyteller, film director, writer and genius. I owned a copy of her album Big Science when I was a wee pup, and was very puzzled when I learned that that one of the most haunting and least commercial songs on there, “Oh Superman” had actually entered the charts. I played her music, but it never occurred to me to see her live.

Amanda finally took me to see Laurie perform in Boston when we first started dating, and I remember my utter delight in the way Laurie owned a stage, and the honesty of the art and music she made. Laurie and I met for the first time at New York's Rubin Museum and we talked about Ignorance, we talked again in 2015 on the stage at Bard College about childhood and technology and so many other things. Each conversation was magical and fascinating: we each learned things about the other, and the audience learned things about both of us, along with things about art and comics, music and film, digital and analog, emotions and truth. She's a polymath in the best sense. Now we are continuing the conversation, on stage at the 92nd St Y. I'm looking forward to it so much. 

It's tomorrow night, Tuesday the 17th. There are still tickets left.

I promise the conversation will be more than interesting.

Here's the link to buy tickets: https://www.92y.org/event/laurie-anderson




Photo by Michael Palma from the Rubin Museum talk. He has lots of other great photos at his website too.

Labels:

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Wedding thoughts: All I know about love

My friends Sxip Shirey and Coco Karol were married yesterday.  I wrote and read something for them at the wedding party.


Afterwards a few people found me and asked me what I'd read and where they could find it, and I explained I had written it for Sxip and Coco that morning, and then they asked if they could read it again.

"I have a blog," I told them. "And it is dusty there and really, I should put it up. So look on my blog." (And now I'm blogging I realise I need to do blog about the TV series we are making of Good Omens.)

This is what I read.

...

This is everything I have to tell you about love: nothing.
This is everything I've learned about marriage: nothing.

Only that the world out there is complicated,
and there are beasts in the night, and delight and pain,
and the only thing that makes it okay, sometimes,
is to reach out a hand in the darkness and find another hand to squeeze,
and not to be alone.

It's not the kisses, or never just the kisses: it's what they mean.
Somebody's got your back.
Somebody knows your worst self and somehow doesn't want to rescue you
or send for the army to rescue them.

It's not two broken halves becoming one.
It's the light from a distant lighthouse bringing you both safely home
because home is wherever you are both together.

So this is everything I have to tell you about love and marriage: nothing,
like a book without pages or a forest without trees.

Because there are things you cannot know before you experience them.
Because no study can prepare you for the joys or the trials.
Because nobody else's love, nobody else's marriage, is like yours,
and it's a road you can only learn by walking it,
a dance you cannot be taught,
a song that did not exist before you began, together, to sing.

And because in the darkness you will reach out a hand,
not knowing for certain if someone else is even there.
And your hands will meet, 
and then neither of you will ever need to be alone again.


And that's all I know about love.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, June 16, 2017

For James Vance, and his family

I read James' Vance's work before I met the man. He was a playwright who had discovered comics and  wrote a graphic novel called KINGS IN DISGUISE, set in the great depression. I loved it. Powerful, moving and smart. Years later, when I was creating a line of comics for Tekno Comics, I asked James to write "Mr Hero", because I suspected that someone who could go so deep could also do funny and light and sweet, and he could. We became friends.

James met another friend of mine, who was writing Tekno Comics: Kate Worley. They fell in love, they had two children together.




Then Kate got cancer. I posted their appeal 13 years ago. (This is a beautiful letter from Jim to this blog in 2005, asking people to stop sending money, following Kate's death. It gives you the measure of the man.)

Jim died of cancer on June the 5th, leaving a wife and three children (two Autistic, one with Chronic Fatigue  Immune Disfunction).

Here's his obituary in the Tulsa World.

Go and read all about Jim and Kate and their lives and children at https://www.gofundme.com/vance-family-home-mortgage. If you're someone who was touched by their work, or by their friendship, please donate, even if it's a few dollars.  I did.




Labels: ,

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The whole Cheesecake Menu Thing Explained, with photographs

I met Sara Benincasa eight years ago, when she interviewed me in a bathtub. (I was in the bathtub. Sara wasn't even wet.)

She's an author and comedian and the sort of person who has strange ideas and acts upon them. So when she tweeted me the other night and asked me if I would read the Cheesecake Factory Menu live, if she raised half a million dollars for the charity, I did not ask any of the obvious questions (like, why would I read the Cheesecake Factory Menu aloud? or Who would want to hear this? or even How would you ever make that much money for something so unlikely?). Instead I said I'd like the money to go to Refugees, please, and sure. ( And I added, "If you get to a million dollars, I'll also read the entirety of Fox in Socks after the Cheesecake Factory menu.")

And then Sara did something even more unlikely. She set up a page to allow people to donate at Crowdrise.com... and people started to donate. Lots of them.

It's been up a couple of days since then, and we are (as I type this) 8% of the way to the target at over $42,000. It's started to be picked up by newspapers -- here's the LA Times,  and the Boston Globe, and even the Guardian.


And I will do my own bit for it. I will put up something unique to this blog.

Probably you are thinking, will he write about his time on the Red Carpet at Cannes for HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES?



It is not that. (But here are costume designer Sandy Powell, channeling Ziggy Stardust, and star Elle Fanning eating colour-coordinated macaroons.)



Perhaps you are thinking, Will he perhaps post photographs of Gillian Anderson as Media in the next episode of American Gods incarnated as Ziggy Stardust also eating colour-coordinated macaroons?


I will not. I do not believe such photos exist. 

Instead I will put up photos of my elf-child, Ash. I will see him on Saturday, and the Cannes red carpet would have been much more fun if he had been on it.







...

Whether or not I get to read the Cheesecake Factory Menu in public (or Dr Seuss's tonguetwisting Fox in Socks) I will be doing a few more readings and talks this year. Tickets are going fast:

06 Jul 2017
Austin, TX
07 Jul 2017
Dallas, TX
09 Jul 2017
Washington, D.C.
10 Jul 2017
Hartford, CT       


Each of these should be links to the event -- all of them are solo me just reading and talking and answering your questions, except for the Hartford one, where I'll be interviewed by the NYPL's very own Paul Holdengraber.



Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Neil story (with additional footnote)

(I wrote this on Tumblr. It's since been picked up and quoted all over the place, and I'm being asked a lot if it's actually something I said, and if it's true. It is, and it is. Here's the original.)

duckswearhats asked: Hi, I read that you've dealt with with impostor syndrome in the past, and I'm really struggling with that right now. I'm in a good place and my friends are going through a lot, and I'm struggling to justify my success to myself when such amazing people are unhappy. I was wondering if you have any tips to feel less like this and maybe be kinder to myself, but without hurting anyone around me. It's a big ask, I know, but any help would make my life a lot less stressful 

The best help I can offer is to point you to Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence. She talks about Imposter Syndrome (and interviews me in it) and offers helpful insight.

The second best help might be in the form of an anecdote. Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things.  And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name*. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.

 (There’s a wonderful photograph of the Three Neils even if one of us was a Neal at http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2012/08/neil-armstrong.html)

...

*(I remember being amused and flattered that he knew who I was, not because he'd read anything by me, but because the Google algorithm of the time had me down as Neil #1. If you just typed Neil, it would take you to neilgaiman.com. Many people, including me, felt that if there was a Neil #1, it was most definitely him.)

Labels: ,

Monday, March 13, 2017

On Translations

Dear Neil,

I am teaching Translation at the University of Nottingham, and every year I am running an extra-curricular programme on cultural translation.  In one week of that programme, I have students analyse and translate the ending of the Graveyard Book, with particular emphasis on capturing the emotional development that runs through the pages.

Most of my students are quite young (21-25) and working into languages that are quite far away from English (e.g. Chinese, Slovene, Russian, Arabic), and some of them are very insecure about what liberties they can take in terms of syntax, word choice, collocation etc. when they translate literature. Especially the song that Mistress Owens sings for Bod poses a challenge, as recreating rhythm and rhyme, while sticking closely to the English words usually results in clumsy verse. Some of them opt for a recreation that entails replacing some of the original images, resulting in quite beautiful renditions that actually sound like, say, a Chinese lullaby, rhymes and all, while others choose to translate almost word for word, so as to not interefere with the original text.

I know that different authors have different opinions on the matter of what their translators should do/are allowed to do - Tolkien, was keen on retaining names, Eco was keen on retaining scenes and rhythm, but not necessarily the same items and cultural references he used; and I was wondering if you could comment on what you would tell a translator (or perhaps did tell translators) who translates your work, for instance to, as you once said in an interview, make the reader 'sniffly' at the end of the Graveyard Book.

I hope you read this, and I hope you find the time to answer, and I'd like to share that every time we do this task, there are a lot of tissues emerging from pockets and bags, as the students read through Bod's departure.

Thank you for your work, Neil. It makes a difference.

Klaus

That's such a good question, and I'm not sure that it has a single answer. I'm not sure there are hard and fast rules: more like a set of "if... then..." questions.

For Mistress Owens' song, I'd want it to feel, for the reader, like a cradle song, if the translator can manage that. If they can't, then they should probably go literal. What I want is for the reader, in whatever the reader's native language is, to get something close to the experience that a reader in of the original in English would have. The rhythms don't have to be my rhythms, nor the rhymes my rhymes, nor the words exactly my words, if it feels like a cradle song, and it means the same thing. 

(The hardest thing I've ever done as a writer  -- or at least, the thing I spent the most time on for the least amount of words -- was Princess Mononoke, writing the English language lyrics for the theme song and for the Tatara Women's song. And I'm not even sure that you can hear the words of the Tatara Women's song in the film. The challenge was taking the Japanese lyrics and then making it work as English lyrics that you could sing to the Japanese tunes.)

I figure a translator has a huge tool kit at his or her or their disposal. I've had translators decide to keep names of characters and translators change the names of books (The Graveyard Book's title in French is L'Etrange Vie de Nobody Owens -- the Strange Life of Nobody Owens); I've had translators change the names of characters while keeping the name of the book (Mr Wednesday in the French edition of American Gods -- which is called, in French, American Gods -- is called Voyageur, because Wednesday in French is Mercredi -- Mercury's Day, not Odin's).

I don't want the translators inserting themselves between the reader and the book. (There wasn early French edition of Stardust, where the translator decided that the book was an allegory based on John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, and added notes to make sure the reader understood this.) I don't want things mistranslated in ways that, in these days of Google, there is no excuse for. (That same French Stardust translator thought, and footnoted, that the Unseelie Court was a complex pun based around Un-, See and Lie, and not a division of fairies.)

I never mind when translators send me questions. Sometimes they simply don't understand something, sometimes they want to know what part of something is important for me. Sometimes they have queries which turn out to be goofs on my part which they caught because they read the text so closely.

I assume that for some languages and some translators there are things that will be easier and things that will be harder. Puns and things that are specific to the English language will always be hard -- my only advice to translators on that is to do the best you can, and know there are some things you can't do. But, if you can, get the flavour of what I was trying to do.

Does that help?

Labels: , ,