dynamism of switching between languages
Gower reflects on the growing number of Welsh authors
who operate bilingually. (September 5th, 2010)
When Fflur Dafydd was named Oxfam Emerging Artist in
2009 it marked a turning point. Here was an author who’d
adapted her own Eisteddfod prize-winning novel Atyniad
as Twenty Thousand Saints. It marked a confident
moment of bilingualism. Subsequently other authors such
as Llwyd Owen have followed suit. His 2007 Wales Book
of the Year Ffydd, Gobaith, Cariad has just
been published in the author’s own translation.
It’s little wonder that one monoglot English language
author recently complained to me that this gave people
two bites of the cherry. Often the act of translation
can be one of adaptation, a chance to revise, winnow,
her Paris flat Sian Melangell Dafydd is currently translating
Y Trydydd Peth, a novel about 90 year old George,
who swims entire rivers, which won the Prose Medal at
the Bala National Eisteddfod. She suggests that, “One
special aspect of translating a creative text from Welsh
is that my characters speak English too. In translating
to English you have to translate the words of a character
who already uses English in his life, and that bilingualism
is part of his or her makeup, something that shouldn’t
reason I started to write in Welsh in earnest was my
wife’s interest in a job in Berkeley. That made
me question whether I knew my own language sufficiently
well to take it with me to California. One way of answering
the question was to write something substantial in it.
the island known as serendipity came into view, or rather
a chain of islands, all caressed by winds of good fortune.
I was invited to join a band of writers on a British
Council tour of Argentina, which took me to Buenos Aires.
I’d been to many Latin American cities but this
one enthralled me more than most. When I returned I
couldn’t quench an incendiary need to write about
the place and the following year’s Prose Medal
competition demanded an urban setting. Marrying the
two, and writing at a lick, I composed Dala’r
Llanw, a novel set in Buenos Aires, Oakland, California
and Cardiff which mythologizes an Argentinean woman’s
journeys around the world. My work lost out to Mererid
Hopwood’s pellucidly written O Ran but
gained good reviews and enthusiastic readers so I set
about adapting it, but not before I’d studied
what the Eisteddfod judges had said about it, addressing
the weaknesses as they saw them.
started translating with an arrogance that, looking
back, astonishes me. Believing myself to have a richer
vocabulary in English than I did in Welsh I blithely
started to “translate” at a lick, like they
do at the United Nations. But even as I bashed away
I was still looking for a different musicality. It was
only when my editor Francesca Rhydderch pointed out
how how many times I’d switched tense mid passage
that I saw the domino effect of one mistranslated verb.
That punctured the balloon of arrogance, at least. But
there was a different music, too…
is now published and with a certain diffidence I sent
the first hard copy to Jan Morris, a true test of the
translation’s quality. Within a few days Jan sent
me a postcard I shall most certainly put up on the wall,
describing it as an “astonishing read” and
continuing in the same vein. One happy reader is all
it takes. If that reader is Jan Morris, then head for
the frame shop.
Tony Bianchi, who has just published his first English
novel Bumping, reminded me of the ‘imagined
community’ in which each writer lives, sharing
with his readers a bank of experiences, memories, dreams
and myths. He suggests moving from community to another
offers an opportunity to look at the familiar in a fresh
way, and challenge assumptions. Bianchi has described
writing in a language other than your own as being akin
to wearing a mask. In his forthcoming short stories
Cyffesion Geordie Oddi Cartref (Confessions
of a Geordie Away From Home) he says that the switching
from one community to another is fundamental to the
work, the masked face looking at one of flesh and blood.
languages has its own dynamism, its pleasures and pitfalls.
Taken together the bilingual talents of writers such
as Tony Bianchi and Fflur Dafydd pixillate to form a
confident face that can proudly greet the literary world.
article appears in the current issue of A470 –
What’s on in literary Wales, the magazine
of the Welsh writers’ organisation Academi.
of Jon Gower: Emyr Jenkins.