Finding a Voice: With Ros Schwartz

The day began with us bustling in, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

It was all very exciting. We had been told that Ms Ros Schwartz was coming in to speak with us.

[Ms Schwartz is an award-winning literary translator who works particularly with Francophone writers. She has translated over 60 works of fiction and non-fiction. She was Chair of the European Council of Literary Translators Associations (CEATL) from 2000–2009 and is currently Chair of English PEN’s Writers in Translation Programme. She was made a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2009.]

An extremely affable woman, who was soon firing at us a lifetime’s worth of experience—giving us much to think about and much to ask.

She spoke about all the different considerations one has to keep in mind while translating.

A translator is almost a ventriloquist—finding the author a voice in a different language and then presenting that to the reader. A very long process indeed; during this time a translator becomes inhabited by the book.

She explained that the translator controls the style and as such he/she has a responsibility to the author and to the reader to do it knowledgeably and responsibly.

This is not easy, because when translating we draw on the subconscious pools of language that have been formed through our life experience. That is what influences the text and its style. When we hijacked Ms Schwartz during the coffee break she told us about some real tongue twisters she dealt with, while translating The Little Prince, and how her real-life experiences influenced the decisions she took, to overcome these problems.

Language, she said, is also about music, especially in the case of literary fiction. While translating, say from texts on law, one has to adhere strictly to a strict word-for-word translation scheme, but when dealing with things like poetry we have to keep the rhythm, the musicality of the language and the thought, in mind. It’s the translator’s objective to let the audience understand the depth and scope of the text without losing the author’s language—this is no easy task.

Translating, it seems is an ongoing process, for if we want people to know the work, we have to translate it into a language that is presently readable.

A translator is a bridge between the source culture and the target audience.

We also discussed the problems of over-translation and faulty translation. Ms Schwartz told us that Fyodor Dostoevsky’s early translations are very different from his current ones. This is because Dostoevsky’s writing was very crude; however the early translators gave him an elevated literary voice.

So what should we do? Let the author’s voice shine through or our own? Should we transform the language so the target audience welcomes it? Or should we maintain all its original aspects? This is especially difficult to figure out if you are not working with a living author, someone who you can consult, before taking any decision that has posed a challenge.

In the second half of the session we were visited by Fredrick M. Smith, Professor of Sanskrit and Classical Indian Literature, University of Iowa. He is a scholar of Sanskrit and South Asia. Presently, Prof. Smith is translating a part of the Mahabharata for a critical edition to be published by the University of Chicago Press.

He spoke about the difficulties of translating from a dead language, where there are numerous authors and broken texts. He spoke to us about the register of language and the particular difficulties of maintaining the register when translating from ancient languages.

These talks left my brain tingling with thought; always a good sign!

Antara Guha

The Author-Translator-Publisher Relationship—A Marriage of Like Minds!

There is learning that one can get from reading texts, and learning that comes in the form of classroom lectures. And then there is the learning that comes from the sharing of actual experience—to be henceforth known as ‘The Seagull School of Publishing house-style’! Seagull brought together a lovely trio—German-language authors Dorothee Elmiger and Inka Parei, and their English translator Katy Derbyshire—for a heart to heart with the students on the afternoon of 15 January 2013. The expressed aim was to provide the Editing and Design students with a view of the author-translator-publisher relationship. It was a very interactive and open session, where the guests shared their personal journey, and their experience within the professional relationships they have developed along the way, generously interspersing their dialogue with fun anecdotes.

Katy started the session by giving us some insight into a translator’s world and her passion for the literary works of women authors. She spoke about the various ways that open up for her the possibility of translation projects—be it her connections within the publishing domain, or the writing of sample translations or through her blog. She provided a unique insight into the process of translation, noting that the critical aspect is to transfer the correct voice (the appropriate perspective) in the original text into the translation. It goes far beyond word-to-word translation, and is the greatest responsibility of the translator towards the author. Once the voice has been captured it smoothly reveals the layers of meaning in the text. Near the end of the session Katy also shared some details on her book club, where translators and literature enthusiasts interact over months to finally suggest books that deserve wider audience and should be taken up for translation.

Inka Parei shared with us some details of her creative process, and the assistance she received from a writers’ workshop at the start of her journey as an author. She most interestingly provided a juxtaposition between the deeply private process of writing a novel, and the public and media spectacle required for its promotion—its ‘presenting’! Having been translated into 13 languages, she was also able to provide insight into the range of working styles of different publishing houses, editors and translators. Inka noted that a translation should actually be considered a complete re-writing of the novel.

Dorothee Elmiger, as a young author with one novel in publication, revealed that writing for her is a very personal quest and that market forces do not come into play for her at all during writing. Inka meanwhile interjected that she definitely keeps the readership in mind, so as to ensure that her writing, while an expression of herself, doesn’t leave any leaps or inferences unexplained nor take the reader’s interest or exposure for granted. The authors willingly discussed the authors and works that have influenced them and their writing. They also highlighted the importance of trust for the author. To give up their creation into the hands of an editor or translator requires a lot of trust. The pressure to have their work finally in print may influence the author, but at the end of the day the work must remain true to its vision. When an author finds a translator, an editor or a publisher who shares and respects that vision, that is when the match feels truly made in heaven.

Aastha Khandelwal

Unlearning the Book and Learning it Again

I wasn’t sure what to expect on day one. I arrived on time and spent ten minutes walking around looking at the artworks framed so tightly around each other. I think I got overwhelmed immediately and I continue to feel so still, as I deconstruct my new surroundings everyday.

In the first two days, we introduced ourselves several times to each other in different ways. We all sat in a circle next to people we didn’t know. I found it hard to find one artwork to describe myself. There were elements of me everywhere! Each activity was designed to break our inhibition and allow ourselves to begin learning.

We truly multitasked when we were told to:

  1. Throw a ball to someone. (Example: Piu)
  2. Look at Piu while you throw the ball at her
  3. Say Piu’s name while you throw the ball at her
  4. Listen for your name to be yelled
  5. While maintaining eye contact with Piu, develop another eye contact with Antara.
  6. Receive ball in hand from Antara.
  7. Repeat process several times, till not only do you loose the ball, but forget your own name. Strangely enough, it worked, and everyone’s names are etched in my memory forever.

My most exciting process was the autobiography. I think we’ve all made mental blurbs for our autobiographies at some point or the other. That day I played the role of a publisher, an author, a crowd questioner at a book launch, and a detective with the sole purpose of finding the author of the book I held in my hand. Finally, the several ways of writing ‘six’ really summed up the introduction for me.

Books engulf all your senses. They seem to be taking a shape of their own in my life. After our visit to the printing press with Ronnie, I suddenly felt very nervous about handling the book. The printing press was big with many people enveloped in the toxic smell of ink and machinery. Coming from the perception of book making being a very manual process, I was somewhat taken aback with the big machinery that surrounded me interspersed with many people still manually putting the book together.

Books are our invention to contain knowledge or images within paper, bound tightly so that they don’t escape. And now this ‘ containing unit ’ is becoming innovative, beautiful, rich and exploratory.

QuarkXpress has made my life into a series of boxes, isolated images, textures and colours. I am beginning to rediscover my love for visual details that I had stopped seeing. Now with a 300dpi CMYK image, it’s possible to make approximately a billion designs, which, well, scares me.

To be honest, I am finding it hard to articulate this marvellous explosion of literature and design in my mind. I truly believe that we must unlearn the book to learn it again.

Finally, I’d like to ask all of you to help me with something. I am not much of a reader, but I want to be. I’d like to begin with a simple book and you can help me decide.  And, let this also be an opportunity for people to edit my blog piece. It’s a gold mine for grammar and syntax errors.


Devika Dave

The Editor’s Glasses

A persistent image:

Buried beneath a pile of books, he has an editor’s Oxford Dictionary as his armrest. And somewhere in the mess lies a pair of glasses that is redundant to him at the moment. For in my imagination, an editor of books possesses two pairs of glasses, one for reading the book he edits and the other for billboards and streams of forgettable words.

He adjusts his editor’s glasses carefully on the bridge of his nose, and gets down to the task of refashioning the book with a lot of love and care. Like pixies in fairytales, who climb out of their hiding places and pick up their favourite shoes, and then chip away the stiches only to sew back the shoes with care and precision.

And then I learned:

An editor is so much more. A week into the editing course has given me a new perspective. An editor does not possess just two pairs of glasses, rather, he has multiple pairs of glasses. His universe isn’t divided into the book and the beyond, rather, there is the book and maze-like universe of the book—the bookverse!

In fact, the moment an editor picks up a book, he becomes in certain senses, the vehicle of the book. He carries it from the writer to the publisher. Later he takes it to the designer, the printer and the distributor. And finally he brings it to the last and most important member of the bookverse—the reader.

Though it all begins with a reader:

The editor himself is the first reader. But once he has read the book he must remove the reader’s glasses and wear the editor’s glasses. Seeing past those persuasive words, the editor must learn to look at the frayed edges. He must smoothen out the text and make it readable. And not just for the reader but also for the printer. The proof marks that lie strewn in an editor’s copy make up an invisible map for the printer.

After the printer comes the designer. The editor briefs the designer and helps him understand the book. He then becomes its advocate and voice. Next, the innumerable sales representatives that stand in the spiraling staircase of distribution are persuaded and taken into the fold. And this journey isn’t easy or even. The road ahead is often foggy!

Foggy glasses:

Dealing in copyrights is one foggy business. An editor in a publishing house is responsible to the author as well as the publisher. And when it comes to the matters of copyrights, he must tread the path with care. Often the geniality of both the author and the publisher comes under duress when they discuss the copyright of a book. It is the editor’s task to facilitate the transaction. If he can accommodate the wishes of the author and convince him to invest his copyright in the house, then he has brooked the devil. And this is just one of the hurdles.

An editor has to constantly clear the road ahead, remove the hurdles, and sensitively engage with the members of the bookverse. He clears the mist on the road and also the thin film on his glasses.

Yet he is a pixie:

The journey of the editor in the bookverse is as quiet as footsteps of a pixie. He loves the book and breathes a new life into it, but when the time comes he also bids it a quiet goodbye. He claims no recognition for his effort. The joy of bringing to life a great book is his greatest and only gift. And fuelled by this sense of fulfillment he begins afresh with a new book and with new pair of glasses!


Shailza Rai

The Labor of Ideas: A Visit to the Printing Press

the labor of ideas and how actions speak—this is what I’ve been thinking about ever since our class made a visit to the printing press that amongst many, many other things, happens to manufacture: seagull’s books—books that between their bound covers and printed letters aim (as i understand it) to advance a culture of consideration and critique; to point out the theater of the absurd that so much of our day’s politics in-and-of structured violence has tragicomically become; and books that, for me, in all personal honesty, have provided an extremely valuable line to follow as i’ve tried to figure the form of my own efforts. but . . . look—and this is what i can’t help but say i saw at the factory that day—there’s a very real materiality to these ideas, a matter as a matter of fact, not merely of hearts and minds but of hands and bodies too: in particular, the ones that press the buttons on the machines and the ones that have themselves become as if machines themselves; and it left me kind of speechless in my thoughts, to be standing there, to be walking around, to come and go through such a place of modern production. and it’s not a metaphor, not a representation of a concept for discourse or dialectic, but an actual place, with actual living people, actually structured into actually specified repetitive action groups, actually working 9 am to 9 pm to earn an actual flesh-and-blood livelihood which actually provides such people as i interacted with—enjoyably—with the actual dignity of making their actual actions speak to the actual maximum leverage of their actual socioeconomic standing in order to actually provide for their actual selves and the ones they love—and that’s how it’s actually, actually, actually made; these things, those objects, our doubly-bound words which weigh far heavier than i ever realized till i saw what i saw. grateful i did

and . . . to tell what more i can, of machines and men, in best-laid plans, it looked from my limited perspective like some combination of—

locations: exposure and development room; setting and corrections room; lamination, coating, gluing, paper cutting, an first-stage binding floor; printing room; sorting, folding, and binding floor

persons: subhendu, k. dutta, suraj, yarul, mohammed, pranab; somewhere between 40 and 60 others

machines: kodak trendsetter quantum plate developer, heidelberg plate punching press, protex pc 115 guillotine, heidelberg speedmaster cmyk offset printer, horizon cross-folder afc-544akt

printed materials: biology and zoology laboratory notebooks; paintings of rabindranath tagore; ravi shankar memorial calendar; subhas chandra bose tribute box; vivel clear and fair skin poster; rajesh khanna die-cut poster

I’m still thinking about this and what it means


about how

whose actions



in what manner

in the method


of material

and immaterial









labor of ideas

Sankalpo Ghose

Many Balls in the Air: Introductory Workshop at the Seagull School of Publishing

Having been part of several introductory sessions for courses, I felt I knew what to expect when we began our ‘Getting to know each other’ workshop with Sumit Roy. I expected the tedious routine of standing up and reciting one’s name, place of origin, and profession; trying to pay attention to every other person’s introduction as they blended together, while simultaneously coming up with a witty remark, a pithy sentence that would encapsulate my personality, an attempt to make my identifying characteristic memorable. I also expected there to be some games that would force even the most sedentary (read: me) into physical activity. Since we had been given the assignment the day before, I also anticipated that some part of the morning was going to be devoted to the reading out of our ‘anonymous’ autobiography blurbs.

My expectations soon proved to be completely false, as Sumit took our understanding of the expression ‘many balls in the air’ to a new level. In preliminary games that required extensive hand–eye coordination to protect Seagull’s many works of art from destruction, but above all, the ability to listen and retain, we slowly began to learn more about each other. In the space of a few minutes I learnt that in my new band of friends I had a fellow traveller, an adventurous experimenter, a needlework enthusiast and a chocolate lover!

Our knowledge about each other was put to the test as we each went on a mission to find the author of a particular autobiography. After a period of investigation, and trial and error, we each took on both the role of author and that of publisher in our respective pairings. The enactment of fifteen book launches that followed held a dual purpose. We learnt about the relationship between publisher and author, the relevance of marketing and public relations, and most significantly the importance of announcing the title of the book at its launch! We simultaneously gained extra nuggets of information about our fellow students and their life stories so far. This expanded knowledge was put to the test with a repeat performance of the morning’s ball game. It was apparent that within an hour, we had all assimilated a substantial amount, and that the prolonged silences that occurred while we stared at someone and tried to remember something about them, was a thing of the past!

In the last part of the workshop we were split into three teams to play a very unusual game of Scrabble, which introduced not only the spirit of teamwork but also a dose of healthy competition (though when it comes to Scrabble I probably have more than my fair share!). The final lesson of the day was to have faith in what we had and not be overly concerned with the ‘outside market’, or in this case the extra Scrabble tiles, as that would probably not be beneficial in the long run, as our team proved by getting the lowest score in spite of ‘conquering the market’.

Thus the three hours that we spent on the workshop focused on the immediate objective of getting familiar with each other and comfortable with working together, trying to go beyond superficial knowledge in laying a foundation for the three months ahead of us. However, each activity had a dual role or an extra lesson, always keeping in mind the ultimate goal of making a publisher out of each of us.

Taarini Mookherjee