Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Transcreation = Translators + Teamwork

On the evening of 24th March, Creative Culture held an inaugural Transcreation Gathering at the Durrell Arms in Fulham. The turnout was excellent. The evening was very friendly, interactive and collaborative. The benefits of teamworking for transcreation were very apparent by the end of the evening.

Founder Mel introduced the evening. Roz and Julia then opened a debate about transcreation. They used slides, a flip chart and even a Venn diagram to help shape and capture our thoughts. What is transcreation? What comes to mind? Overlaps? When would a client choose transcreation over translation?

All translators present were invited to share their experiences of creative projects - within the confines of client confidentiality of course. Examples on the night came from French and Russian. When translating between French and English, it may be necessary to shorten sentences and use a less florid style. Limited headline space can be particularly tricky in Russian adverts. Sometimes deleting text is unavoidable. Pre-set client visuals impose considerable restrictions. Jokes can be especially tricky and sometimes have to be dropped altogether.

Transcreation is not easy to define. Born of globalisation, the term has come into use relatively recently. It is most definitely not a literal translation. Transcreation attempts to capture the style, tone of voice, phrasing of the original text. Visual elements have to be taken into account too. Balancing the client brief against the possibilities within another language and culture can be challenging.

After the break, we were split into three teams. Each team comprised a mixture of different nationalities. One of the Creative Culture team sat at each table for guidance. We were given a visual of a VW car key. We had both a verbal and detailled written brief. Each team had to create 3-4 headlines for an advertisement. I found myself “volunteered” as team leader of the Blue Team. Creative Culture is a demanding client: only 15 minutes for our creativity! 

Were our creative juices restricted as all the team had to work in English? Not at all. Many ideas had their roots in other languages. Indeed, the Blue Team’s best headline was very much a collaborative effort. It combined several suggestions from different team members.

At the end, each leader presented their team’s most creative suggestions. The difficulties in meeting all elements of the brief in a single headline were apparent. Which headlines held the most masculine appeal for the male target audience? Which words did all teams use? Which headlines were totally original? The comparisons were fascinating.

We ended the evening by voting for the best headline. We were each invited to stick a little pink heart alongside our personal favourite. Voting for your own creations was banned. On leaving, there was a nice little row of hearts against the Blue Team’s best effort. 

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Penguin Revival of Georges Simenon and Maigret

The European Commission’s Representation in the UK holds a fascinating programme of cultural events at their Europe House base in Westminster, London. On 19th March, the focus was on the successful Belgian crime author, Georges Simenon (1903 - 1989) and his renowned Inspector Maigret. The Wallonia trade team at the Belgian embassy organised the event to celebrate their famous son. Simenon’s work is currently experiencing a major revival in translation thanks to Penguin.

Semaine de la francophonie
Angeliki Petrits, Language Officer, introduced the evening in French to support the Semaine de la francophonie. The week celebrates the French language. The Simenon event was also part of crime fiction week at Europe House.

Our host for the evening was Didier Denayer from the Embassy of Belgium. The main speaker was Bill Adler, an associate lecturer in French with the Open University and expert on Simenon. The other surprise speaker was the novelist’s son, John Simenon. Penguin is currently relaunching Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels with new translations. 

Bill Alder began his presentation by quoting some of the extraordinary figures associated with Georges Simenon. He was a prolific Belgian novelist writing in French. He wrote hundreds of novels using a large number of pseudonyms. He could turn out a new novel in a couple of weeks. His work has been translated into a total of 55 languages. There have been around 90 film adaptations and 500 TV programmes.

Simenon was born in Belgium’s third largest city, Liège. The family later moved to Outremeuse. His writing owes much to the area and his early life there. Liège is often recognisable to the reader, even when the novels are set in Belgium and France.

Georges Simenon left school early without any qualifications. He was a news reporter for the Gazette de Liège. His experiences provided much inspiration for stories in which lives are turned upside town by a small incident.

As Simenon’s international popularity grew, critical acclaim still eluded him. He was unashamedly business-like in his approach to writing. Maigret is his most popular creation. His Maigret series saw immediate success and has been adapted into some 60 films.

It is easy to overlook how different Simenon’s work is to that of other crime authors at the time. Agatha Christie focused on “whodunit”. Simenon was more interested in why. He prioritised social and psychological portraiture.

Maigret died at the age of 86 in 1989. His final years were spent in Switzerland. Wallonia’s “prodigal son” donated his literary archive to the University of Liège. Today, Simenon often appears in crime 
fiction modules on university syllabuses. 

Georges Simenon’s entire corpus is being retranslated and published by Penguin this year. Previous translators have often changed the stories. John Simenon related how his father had quarrelled with his English translator, Geoffrey Sainsbury. The translator regarded himself as a co-author. The original translations have dated. The new Penguin translations are regarded as much more faithful. John Simenon commented that they have a better rhythm and spirit.

The lecture was followed by a question and answer session. John Simenon gave some fascinating insights into the character of his father. He did not shun shedding light on some of the more difficult aspects of his father’s past. John stressed the importance of understanding that that his father had grown up in occupied Liège in 1914-18. The psychological scars of an occupation take a long time to heal. The city of Liège was awarded the Légion d’Honneur for its bravery in an unequal struggle.

The audience was highly knowledgeable. It included Karen Seago of City University and organiser of Friday’s crime fiction workshop. Ros Schwartz, (one of Penguin's new translators), raised the subject of the novels' endings with John Simenon. At the end of a Maigret novel, order is restored after the chaos. And yet no one is imprisoned. There remains some social unease.

The Belgian Embassy then treated its guests to some Belgian beer. A very sociable ending to an evening of culture.