Hello, and welcome to the final stop on the Tomorrow Pamplona blog tour. Peirene Press have been offering bloggers the chance to ask questions about the book of its author, Jan van Mersbergen, and translator, Laura Watkinson.

My question was for Laura:

How do you go about capturing the tone of a book like Tomorrow Pamplona? My main impression of the translation’s prose is one of restlessness, with scenes often ending on a ‘hanging’ detail. Is the sense of the original Dutch similar? Are there any particular challenges to translating ‘big picture’ aspects like tone and voice?

Laura replies:

Hi David,

That’s a really good question, but I’m not sure that my answer’s going to be very illuminating! When I’m translating, I have a picture of the book as a whole, but I tend to work with my head deep in the sentences and paragraphs for some time before coming up for air. If the writer has a strong and consistent voice, as Jan does, I really get into the atmosphere of the text. My aim is then to replicate that atmosphere in English and to ensure that the English translation captures the sense and the pace of the Dutch original. Jan’s text is certainly restless, so if you’ve picked up the same feeling from the translation, that’s good to hear.

If everything goes well with the translation, working on the tone and the voice isn’t a very conscious process for me. It’s only when something jars or when I become unsure of the author’s intention that I really need to pause and reflect. The ‘big picture’ comes into play more when I’m polishing the draft and I gain a better overview of the English version.


Thanks to Laura for her answer, and to Peirene for organising the tour, which I think has been very interesting and worthwhile. Links to all the other tour gigs are available on the Peirene website, and you can also read my review of Tomorrow Pamplona here.