Friday, October 28, 2011

Even more lost in translation (Italian-English)

Capitolo / Chapter 67 – p.455

Si era persa. Davvero persa.

She was lost. Really lost.

Alzò lo sguardo e la luce del sole era scivolata oltre gli edifici, ed ora veniva tirata via anche dai tetti, come risucchiata da una marea verticale. Si stava facendo tardi e la cosa migliore ora era scendere sulla strada principale nel più breve tempo possibile. In realtà, le sue orecchie ormai abituate a quella quiete quasi fisica, riusciva a sentirlo: il ronzio del traffico su Via Roma. Continuava a camminare, ripromettendosi di prendere la prima svolta disponibile sulla sinistra.

She looked up and the sunlight had raced even further up the buildings; it was now pulling away even from the rooftops, as if sucked away by a vertical tide. It was getting late and the best thing was now to get down onto the main road as quickly as possible. In fact, her ears now accustomed to that almost corporeal stillness, she could hear it: the hum of traffic on Via Roma. She kept walking, vowing to take the first left available.

E poi la vide, là subito dopo la Vespa parcheggiata: una svolta a sinistra. Aumentò il passo: ora stava quasi correndo. Svoltò, puntando il peso di tutto il suo corpo sulla speranza di quella svolta a sinistra. Ma con la stessa forza, si arrestò.

And then she could see it, up there just after the parked Vespa: a left turn. She upped her pace; she was nearly running now. She veered, throwing the weight of her whole body against the hope of that left turn. But with the same force she came to a halt.

Riconosceva quel luogo. Riconosceva quel muro che barricava la strada.Riconosceva il cane che giaceva per terra guardando oltre il muro, con i suoi occhi vitrei, vuoti e senz'anima, come biglie. E tutto intorno a lui, quei piccioni, che tubavano come in un harem. Nel scorgerla, spiccarono improvvisamente il volo e mentre lei si chinava, sentì il respiro di quelle ali intorno a lei, sollevarle i capelli. Sentì qualcosa di cartaceo contro il sopracciglio: una piuma di qualche uccello nella sua fuga maldestra.

She knew that place. She knew that wall barricading the streets. She knew that dog who was sprawled on the ground watching over it, with his glazed-over eyes as blank and soulless as marbles. And all around him, those pigeons, cooing like a harem. On spotting her, they suddenly took flight and as she ducked she felt the breath of those wings all around her, lifting her hair. She felt something papery against her eyebrow – one of the bird’s wings as it made its clumsy escape.

Per padroneggiare ancora meglio il tuo inglese, vedi questo meraviglioso blog bilingue creato dalla talentuosa traduttrice dell’estratto qui sopra, anche nota come The Italian Girlfriend: Per leggere ancora del mio manoscritto in inglese, Lost in the Spanish Quarter, vedi i capitoli sulla colonna a destra.

To improve your mastery of Italian, check out this wonderful bilingual blog created by the talented translator of the above passage, otherwise known as The Italian Girlfriend: To read more of my manuscript in English, Lost in the Spanish Quarter, scroll down the chapters on the right-hand column.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Tom and Jerry in Naples
Epiphanies. Not always flashes of divine light, but nonetheless inspiring. I woke up the other morning after a restless night and, with no apparent trigger, with each sip of my tea it gradually dawned on me that I needed to change my attitude if I was going to ever get my manuscript published.

In particular, I realized that I had been proposing my Neapolitan memoir to potential literary agents as a work of art and proposing myself as a writer, when in actual fact a literary agent is just a business person. A business person who pitches your book to a publishing house, which is a business. And the primary objective of a business is to make money. If I had to sum up my sluggish and overdue epiphany in a “Eureka!” type of phrase, it would be: “A book proposal is a business proposal!”

The awareness that the publishing world is just a business was, like my extra strong Lapsang Souchong, surprisingly invigorating. By taking the personal out, it removed the sting from all the previous rejection letters and armed me against the future ones. It made me want to publish my bestseller that very instant and show all those fools right. It made me want to dart off all over the world on a book tour with my three-year-old and start writing my second book at the same time. It made me want to clean in behind the stove and reorganize the coat rack.

But the reality was that, despite my epiphany, I was still just an unpublished mom in her pyjamas. So I decided to put my newfound energy and enthusiasm to good use, because it might not last the morning. Immediately I did some further online research into memoir query letters and grasped that I could no longer avoid doing market research into my target audience. This is when my adolescent “Eureka” moment turned into a much older and wiser “I finally give in” moment.

I can’t wait to show you the brand-new twenty-third version of my query letter, once I’ve perfected it. In the meantime, I’ll share with you some of the interesting statistics, mostly from ENIT (the national Italian tourism agency) and Wikipedia, that I came across on my subsequent quest to discover who my market audience might be. Of course, some of the facts were useful to my research, while others weren’t. But all of them were surprising, if not a little bit inspiring:

Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world.

The first is France.

More Swiss tour Italy than any other nationality.

Eight million native English speakers travel to Italy every year.

Very few foreign nationals immigrate to Naples, making it one of Italy’s most “Italian” cities with 98.5% of its inhabitants Italian nationals.

Naples is Italy’s fourth-richest city.

Tom and Jerry visited Naples in a 1953 short called Neapolitan Mouse.

Carlo Collodi’s Le avventure di Pinocchio is one of the bestselling books of all time.

The leading bestselling (non-religious) book is A Tale of Two Cities, at an estimated 200 million copies sold.

Marlena de Blasi’s Italian memoirs (the first of which is A Thousand Days in Venice) have sold over a million copies.

The Hindu term for epiphany is bodhodaya, meaning ‘wisdom rising’.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Take me back to post-war Italy

A few recent spoils at $1.50 ea
Being a full-time mom and part-time teacher and proofreader means I have very little time to read for pleasure. This makes for one extremely picky reader who is particularly distrustful of fiction. If a novel hasn’t won the Man Booker prize or come personally recommended by my speed-reading stepmom, I’d much rather be leafing through a National Geographic article on Neanderthals or a book of interviews with British nuns as to why they took their vows. At least Neanderthals and nuns are not made up.

My snobbishness as a reader, however, stops at the English language. Because when it comes to books in Italian, my second language, I have much more vulgar tastes. My last supply of books in Italian came from a stall set up at Auckland’s latest Italian Festival fundraiser, a random assortment of second-hand books at $1.50 a pop.

Rummaging through all the dusty tomes on sedimentology and Topolino comic books for some sort of novel-like item, my only two criteria were that it 1) be a love story and 2) be set in post-war (or wartime) Italy. A nice understated cover would be a bonus, one with at least partially concealed breasts.

My uncomplicated tastes here have only partly to do with my ignorance of Italian literature and the fact that I faked my way through both my exams in letteratura italiana at university in Naples (because I couldn’t help but feel, like my fellow Italian students, that homegrown authors were not nearly as exciting as their Russian, French and, for goodness’ sake, American counterparts.) No, my preference has more to do with the post-war setting and the language generally used to describe it.

Here are a few things I love about post-war or wartime Italian novels. (This is a very personal list based on a sporadic and haphazard reading experience over the last few years, so I would strongly advise against echoing these ideas in any Italian Literature exam or on a dinner date.)

1) They tend to be set in small towns, the ones flung high up in the hills with a single piazza and fountain, at a time when Italy was definitely not considered cool.

2) Unlike today, there weren’t so many men hanging around in the piazza.

3) People were poor. The women wore thick woollen tights and shawls in the winter. They knitted and darned socks.

4) It was cold.

5) It wasn’t very clean: there were flies, soot, peeling plaster.

6) People were always building fires, with detailed descriptions of how the kindling, paper and logs were placed.

7) They ate strange meats like lark and jackrabbit.

8) There were no tourists or souvenir shops.

9) People were always drinking wine. Apparently, water wasn’t so trustworthy back then.

10) Descriptions of the setting tend to include detailed changes in the shapes of clouds at dawn, midday and sunset.

11) There were lots of interesting smells: burning wood, musty rooms, aromatic armpits, wild animals.

12) There was a lot of looking and not much touching.

13) The dialogue tends to be terse. Much goes unsaid.

14) They often have a meandering plot and a hanging – and usually unrewarding – ending. But who needs a satisfying plot when you have all this other great stuff?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

What I’ve learned about literary agents

From my sporadic querying experience over the last few years, I’ve learned a few things about literary agents that I’d like to share with you:

1. Literary agents are intimidatingly well-read.

2. They are very busy people.

3. You’re lucky to get any sort of response from them at all.

4. In order to save time, before reading your query they have to assume that what you have just sent them sucks.

5. U.S. agents want email submissions. Any letters sent will be immediately tossed.

6. U.K. agents want paper submissions. Any emails sent will be immediately deleted.

7. There are four literary agents here in New Zealand. And two of them will represent only sheep.

8. Literary agents tend to have rather boring names: Jenny Brown, Mary Evans, Greg Johnson.

9. They have excellent punctuation.

10. They generally don’t give out much information about themselves. Especially their astrological sign.

11. To find out about an agent’s literary preferences, you usually have to look at the titles they’ve helped publish.

12. Some agents have very poor taste.

13. The agents who would really be the best matches for you are now accepting submissions by referral only.

14. An agent’s ability to recognize a bestseller from a short submission is about as good as the average person’s ability to recognize from a sip of a latte that the coffee beans it’s made from are Jamaican Blue Mountain.

15. A surprising number of literary agents ask that your query letter include market research into your intended audience. To them I say, I write. What do you do?