English blogs

Er is ook een Nederlandse vertaling van dit blog.

I am often told that Officier in Afghanistan is such a great read, a real page turner. That is not incidental: ‘a great read’ is hard work, but can definitely be learned. For me, two books and a course were crucial in this learning process.

The course is the famous (or better: infamous) Robert McKee seminar, the Hollywood script doctor. McKee is once or twice a year in Europe (he’ll be in London on 22-25 November 2012). In his seminar he teaches a whole life of writing experience in four days. He teaches you how to profoundly look at your texts and to analyse where you’re doing okay, where not and how to solve those problems. You can also read his book Story, but I honestly have to say that I found the book not as impressive as the seminar.

Two other writing books did impress me. Both are practical and funny, and I’ve read them so often that I know them almost by heart. Which is actually necessary, because these books are so jam-packed with good, technical information that there’s no way you will absorb it in one read. They are How Not to Write a Novel and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

Writing can definitely be taught.

More English blogs.

Colonel BlimpWhen I just started studying English, my first translations came back entirely red. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t convey the meaning of the original, or made many mistakes, the problem was that I diverted too much from the source text. I would interpret what the writer meant, and then find a nice way to say it in Dutch or English. I quickly learned that this, obviously, was not the right way to translate. Translators stay as close to the source text as possible, even if there are much nicer ways of putting something in the target language, that basically convey the same meaning.

Interpreting

With much gnashing of teeth, I incorporated these lessons into my translations to the extent that nowadays, when I don’t literally follow a source text, I get a guilty, nagging feeling about it. A guilty feeling that sometimes even plays up when I’m interpreting simultaneously; a process so complicated that not missing any sentence is already a feat, let alone trying to interpret almost literally.

Most satisfying translation

Therefore, translating some parts of my own book Officier in Afghanistan has been the most satisfying translation experience I have ever had. I don’t have to worry about what the source text literally says, because I know exactly what the writer wanted to convey. And if I find a way of expressing something in English that is much more nuanced and beautiful than the Dutch original, I can simply do it.

I don’t have to translate the Dutch chapter title ‘De Engelse kolonel’ with a boring ‘The English Colonel’, for example. Instead, I have chosen the name of a British cultural icon, not known by the Dutch, whose behavior is remarkably similar to my real English boss: cartoon character Colonel Blimp.

No gnashing of teeth, no guilty feeling: I find translating my own text the most liberating experience I have ever had as a translator.

 

Interested in reading the results? I have translated a short scene with some typical British humor from the chapter Mad Dogs and Englishmen and the chapter about my English boss: Colonel Blimp.

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