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Read an interview with Olivia Hellewell, translator of Felix After the Rain!

Buy Felix After the Rain 

We were lucky enough to get an interview with Olivia Hellewell, who translated our new book Felix After the Rain! She worked with author Dunja Jogan, as well as our publisher Delaram Ghanimifard, to translate the book from Slovene into English.

Here’s what Olivia had to say about translating this wonderful, uplifting book.

Olivia Hellewell taken by Anita Staff

How did you first get involved in translating? What drew you to translating children’s fiction?

For as long as I’ve been learning languages, I’ve always thought about translation. I remember being quite young and thinking about how languages work as different systems and how some people use one word to describe something, whereas another group use a different one altogether. Practically speaking, I first got into translation whilst studying Russian and Spanish at the University of Nottingham, and then as I went on to learn Slovene, that’s when I started being interested in the literary side of things. Children’s books are a wonderful resource when you start learning a language, and I quickly discovered that Slovenia is a wonderful place for children’s literature.

Tell us about the process of translating Felix After the Rain from Slovene to English? Were there any challenges?

Every text has its challenges, of course, and Felix was no exception. But I was lucky that any slight diversions in meaning that I needed to make from the Slovene text didn’t contradict any of the beautiful illustrations. That can be a huge challenge when translating children’s books. My process was to do a first draft that was very literal, including all the possible words that sprung to mind. Then it was a case of re-reading and refining many, many times. I read my drafts aloud again and again, and let the process of reading aloud guide my word choices, because I could really envisage this book being read aloud to young audiences. That meant that on occasion that I had to be creative to retain rhythm and alliteration, but both Delaram and I were confident in those justifications.

Why do you think translating children’s books is important?

I can’t envisage a time when children having access to a plurality of voices, stories and pictures would not be a good thing. When you work as a translator you are constantly confronted with how differently other people see and record the world around them, and I think that makes you more desperate to ensure that this is something that is represented and communicated. Books are a really good way to do that.

What was your favourite book as a child? What do you think makes a great children’s book?

It’s so hard to pick a favourite book! One of the first that springs to mind is Tigerella by Kit Wright: I can still vividly picture the illustrations, and Ella was not your typical girly-girl, and she turned into a tiger at night. When I was a bit older I devoured everything by Roald Dahl, and then everything by Jacqueline Wilson, too. I met Jacqueline Wilson once at Maltby Library and she was my hero! I think what both those authors have in common – and what makes them such great books for young people – is the spark and sense of adventure in their characters, and the way that the writing is not at all patronising. They don’t avoid challenging subjects and they don’t talk down to the audience. I see aspects of that in Dunja’s book, too: it’s a book about dealing with difficult emotions, and Dunja manages to write about this topic in a way that children will understand, using metaphor and beautiful pictures, without trivialising the subject matter at the heart of it.

Felix After the Rain uses metaphor and beautiful pictures to tackle challenging subjects

Have you noticed any trends or ideas in Slovene children’s books that are missing from books being published in English?

One of the first impressions I got when I started learning Slovene around ten years ago was that children’s books in Slovene aren’t afraid to cover material that a UK readership might consider suitable for slightly older readers. I translated a sample of a story by Nataša Konc Lorenzutti, called Nisem Smrklja (I’m Not a Brat, is one possible translation!) and one of the chapters dealt with the subject of death and grief in a way that was quite direct. Beautiful and incredibly moving, but it had me in tears! I should say though, since working on Felix After the Rain, I’ve been absorbed in a long work of adult fiction, and I’m really due a refresher course on what is currently out and exciting in the world of Slovene children’s books. I’d like to head out there and really read around to see what gems I can find. Doing reading and research is one of the best bits of being a translator, but it’s also unpaid, so it can be hard to find time to do the necessary groundwork sometimes.

What advice do you have for aspiring book translators?

Be realistic about your expectations and don’t rush things. Build up samples of texts that you love slowly, and have them in your arsenal: sometimes opportunities come up when you least expect them, and having a really polished sample ready to go can come in really handy. I’m still early on in my career as a translator too, and don’t make a living from literary translation alone. I continue to learn a lot from other literary translators who are generous with their knowledge and who share opportunities, so I’d always recommend that others get involved with events and workshops wherever time and finances allow.

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