A (translation) miracle at carnival

a (translation) miracle at carnivalTake an Italian children’s book author, a mysterious mask, a project manager, a translator and an editor, add a bit of Venetian magic to the mix and wham! – you are in the middle of one of First Edition Translation’s most intriguing projects of the past few months: localising the Italian edition of A Miracle at Carnival for English readers.

The setting for the story is enchanted Venice where Olivia, the daughter of a traditional mask-maker is tasked to deliver a mask to an enigmatic Contessa who lives on a neighbouring island. Throughout her journey, Olivia meets stranger than strange characters… Just like Olivia on her mission, we also went on a quest where we met several exciting editorial translation challenges along the way… and chatted with the team behind bringing this project to life.

We asked Chiara F. Colvero, Italian children’s book author and illustrator to tell us a bit more about how this all started.

How did you find First Edition when you decided to have Olivia’s mystical story translated into English?
“My search for a translation agency started in the most ordinary way: on Google.
That day I was looking for a translation agency based in the United Kingdom, specializing in children’s books. I went through my search results, visiting the websites of those agencies that seemed best suited to my needs. I think that a website often mirrors the way a company works. First Edition’s website is simple and goes straight to the point. There I read, among other achievements, that the agency has a history going back 40 years, which is quite remarkable!”

Your dedicated Project Manager who looked after your book was Karima. How did you find working with her, what did you think of the whole process?
“She was kind, helpful and easy to work with. All of our communication took place via e-mail and it was fast and effective. In the beginning, Karima provided me with a sample translation, which helped me understand the translator’s style and therefore make a decision. Besides, she gave me options to choose from and advice when needed. She also kept contacts between me and the translator throughout the project. The whole translation and editing process ran smoothly and to deadline. It was definitely reassuring to be informed of each step of the way. Besides, every time I had a doubt or a question for the translator, I received a prompt and exhaustive response.”

We also asked Simon, our Italian to English translator about what he thought about this project.
“I spend a lot of my time nowadays editing reports and guides for UN-system agencies, so it was nice to be asked by First Edition to translate a children’s story (or at least a story featuring a 12-year-old girl) from Italian into English.”

Robert, our editor also enjoyed working on this project and welcomed the new type of challenges that translating fiction brought with it:
“I love working on fiction – it’s not exactly a holiday (it’s definitely work!), but there is definitely a kind of pleasure, too. This was a magical tale set in a city that everyone loves, Venice – so I got to spend some time there, in the author’s imaginary world she’d created, all while helping her to build it in a language different from her own.
I often work on exhibition catalogues for First Edition Translations, where the work is very detailed, precise, very academic, of course. Working on fiction, especially translated fiction, has its own demands and, as a short-story writer and poet myself, I know how getting at least some way towards achieving what you want to express, can be very exacting. However, in other ways, it can be very freeing and more emotional, so to speak (I certainly don’t have to worry about the ins and outs of academic referencing!).”

Simon then explains about what exactly goes into localising a story that is set in a different culture:
“The translation was, on the whole, not difficult, but a number of challenges soon became evident. As always, one needs to ask: Who is the intended audience? What can they be expected to know? Venice is world-famous and has many unique features. My own inclination was therefore to retain as much local colour as possible – vaporetto (water-bus), frittelle (traditional pastries), palazzi, nebbione (a thick bank of fog) – with a short, not-too-intrusive explanation the first time each term was used.
While I thought the prospective readers would happily take on board the foreign terms, names and cultural references, I got the impression that the author would prefer to universalise the story. “

To come up with a solution that our client, Chiara, the author herself was happy with, we had several “brainstorming” sessions with Chiara, Karima, Simon and Robert and through this joint effort, the English version of the book was born.
“Translating and editing translating fiction can be an art in itself,” Robert muses. “There is often a lot of toing and froing between the ‘parties’ – author, translator and editor – but Karima made sure this all went very smoothly. She is clearly an ace diplomat, and the end result, I think, was great.”
“I am very happy with the outcome,” Chiara says “and I can definitely recommend First Edition to anyone in search of a high-quality, punctual and friendly translation service.”

What does the future hold for your book Chiara, now that the English book translation has been completed?
“My book now needs a makeover before it can finally take off. It’s a Carnival story partly set in pre-Covid Venice and aimed both at children and adults. I have devoted a lot of time and efforts to writing and illustrating this little book, which is simple in form, yet rich in meaning. In fact, it deals with issues ranging from bullying to love for animals and, last but not least, it gives hope. And I am sure that this message of hope – now translated into a global language – will soon reach the most remote corners of the world.”

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