To Oxford yesterday for an event with the Spanish faculty, a discussion of Andras Neuman's book Traveller of the Century. Both translators were there.
Neuman spent his early years in Argentina and then went to live in Grenada - 'For me, having the doubt of who I am is part of my identity...That had some consequences in my writing because I don't trust my mother tongue...' People assume, he said, 'there must be a true identity and a false identity - but I don't feel like that. Depending on when or where I am I speak with an Argentinian or a Spanish accent.'
'Conflicts are the basis of literature...the style is the result of trying to solve the conflict.' He talked of the different between what he termed 'common' and 'neutral' Spanish - his aim was to produce something common rather than bland.
'To be a writer is a failure for me because I wanted to be a football player.' But when he was 10 he broke both knees at once and had to spend a whole year without football - reading and writing. He had records of books, too - he would read the printed version while listening to the record, and both his parents are musicians: 'I maybe keep the habit of approaching words through the ear.'
'I need to write to not kill myself - I need to publish a book to get rid of it so I can start a new one.'
Of Traveller of the Century: 'It started with the fantasy of telling the stories of two characters in the Schubert songs, the Winterreise...The novel was supposed to be a short novel...telling the meeting of a young traveller and an old street musician - two points of view, two ages. I thought it would be fun to start the novel where the music ends... The world appeared around this original scene.'
He spoke of the effect of modern transport: 'For the first time we were faster than nature, and that changed your idea of time and space...All the book is an attempt to translate the nineteenth century questions into a twentieth century language.'
Nick Caistor, one of the two translators, spoke about translating the book: 'It's not a historical novel, it's today's reflections on the nineteenth century.' The conversations are deliberately punctuated in an unusual way, with brackets - 'I want the effect of zapping,' said Andres - modern speech is fast, people constantly interrupt each other.
Neuman on translating: 'You need to retranslate classics constantly because translations get old, as we do. The best translations last half a century...' He translated romantic poems for the book: 'I wish I could have stolen more (from existing translations) but I couldn't because of the register. What I could steal was the interpretation.'
'If you don't write poetry in your own language maybe it's hard to translate poetry...You don't need to be a novelist to translate a novel in a way good way.'
He loves Cynthis Ozick's movels, and Richard Ford, Flannery O'Connor - and Helen Garner's The Spare Room.
About his method of writing: 'I take notes about the characters many times before starting the novel...like a psychoanalyst in front of an empty chair, and step by step the body appears... I change my plans constantly - they start to perform their own way...I took notes for two years before starting to write the novel.'
'If you are all the time one character the other will seem stupid...I try to distribute my opinion among different characters.'
When asked whether he thought there was any great novel on sport he was slightly stumped: '...a good book about sport is (Richard Ford's) The Sportswriter....about possible metaphors for life in sport.' and Ring Lardner's stories he described as 'really brilliant'...'A good fiction about sport shouldn't talk in a straight way about sport..'
Finally - I went up to him at the end to ask whether he would sign some copies of the book for stock. He looked at me - should he write a dedication? I was slightly confused. No, a signature would do. A dedication, he thought, might be more interesting. And so he did, he wrote three dedications to the future readers of those books:
'To you, unknown citizen of this invented place. Welcome.'
'To the curious next traveller who opens this land. Welcome.'
'and to the next traveller of this uncertain land. Be very welcome'
While he was signing we discussed language - why it is that 'To the curious next traveller who open this land' is perfectly correct but could never have been written by an English person. Read the book, travellers...
Welcome to The Woodstock Bookshop
The shop opened in May 2008 and is on the main road in Woodstock, just next to the bus stop. We can supply most books to order by the next day and have several thousand books in stock: to order books ring or email the shop. We have a large selection of children's books and are happy to advise and recommend. We can also supply second-hand and out-of-print titles. We offer discounts for school orders and for book clubs and have a free local delivery service.
We were on the regional shortlist for Independent Bookshop of the Year in 2009, 2013 and 2017, and listed in the recent Independent's Top 50 UK Bookshops.
Two monthly book groups take place at the bookshop - a poetry group, initially formed to read collections submitted for the annual T S Eliot Prize and now following a slightly wider brief; and a book group focusing more on fiction. Both are open to everyone but occasionally space is limited - please contact us for details.
We hold a series of informal talks and readings throughout the year. If you buy any book at the talk the cost of the ticket will be deducted. Please ring or email to book a place - early booking advisable.
The Woodstock Literature Society also holds an excellent series of monthly talks - do visit their website for further details.