In conversation with... Adriana Capadose

Hi Adriana! Thank you for joining me today. I have just finished reading How to Find Love in the Little Things, which you translated from the French to English, and I’d like to ask you a few questions both on this specific book and more generally on translation. So let’s begin…

How did you get started in literary translation?

A: I stumbled into it at a time when I was freelancing with various different jobs. I read a review of Geneviève Jurgensen’s La Disparition in French Elle Magazine, and that prompted me to buy the book. It’s beautifully written and very harrowing, and I immediately wanted to make it accessible to readers of English. I had no idea how to go about this but I translated a 30-page chunk and sent it off to a number of publishers I’d identified from the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. They all turned it down but six months later, when I’d pretty much given up on the project, I was contacted by Flamingo Books: The sample pages had, by a very circuitous route, landed on Philip Gwyn-Jones’s desk and he wanted to commission me to translate the whole book. That was in 1998, more commissions followed and it just went from there – I’ve now translated about 70 books.

What did you think when you were first approached to work on Virginie Grimaldi’s novel? Is this a genre you enjoy translating?

A: I always love getting those “I hope you don’t mind me contacting you out of the blue” emails, especially from a publisher I don’t know very well: it’s always good to break new ground. Virginie Grimaldi’s book was a slight departure for me in terms of content because I tend to work on more literary fiction, and I certainly enjoyed translating it. It’s a very big-hearted book, and it was fun to find myself pausing to deliberate over some daft pun rather than sitting there scratching my head, trying to unravel an exquisitely but impenetrably intricate sentence!

Can you describe the process of translating How to Find Love in the Little Things

A: My process is always the same: I start at the beginning and work my way through to the end. I’m not allowed to leave any gaps, so if I hit a wall I have to take the dogs for a walk to mull it over! In this book I had to be vigilant about how some things were worded because there’s a big twist at the end, and it had to be just about possible for the reader to guess the twist without giving the game away. There’s also quite a lot of dialogue between characters of different ages and backgrounds, and there are a couple of letters written by elderly characters, and I really wanted to get the word choices and sentence structure right for these different voices. 

Did you have any contact with the author? In general, how do you find that having access to the author impacts on the translating process?

A: I didn’t actually have any contact with the author on this book, although it would be lovely to meet her. Sadly, I rarely meet my authors, but I do like to have email exchanges with them, especially if there’s something I want to check with them.

Without giving too much away, can you please describe a scene or a play on words (there are plenty in the novel!) that you loved translating or that was particularly difficult to render in English?

A: Ooh, I love a word game! This book was a lot of fun because of the puns, and there’s one on the very first page. As is usual with puns, the original one in French was completely untranslatable, and I had to work at this because it sets the tone for Julia’s slightly daffy, self-deprecating take on things: Julia’s driving into the car park of a nursing home where she’s come for a job interview, and a couple of letters have fallen off the sign so it actually reads: OCEAN VIEW  U SING HOME. “What if this isn’t a nursing home?” Julia worries, “and I’m going to find myself in some kind of glee club.”

What are you working on at the moment? 

A: I’ve just started translating Lise Marzouk’s Si, a painful and profound account of what happens when the author’s ten-year-old son is diagnosed with a terrifyingly virulent lymphoma. The writing is wonderful (there’s quite a lot of that head-scratching over intricate sentences going on!)

What are you reading at the moment?

A: I’ve just finished reading the wonderful Sarah Hall’s Madame Zero and have three books lined up next: Claire Fuller’s Swimming Lessons, Sophie Mackintosh’s The Water Cure and Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From – how to choose which to read first? I’m spoilt for choice, plus Cary Davies’s West is high up on my list of next reads.

Is there one type of fiction that you prefer translating? Does this reflect your preference as a reader?

A: I really do love words and the different ways you can make them work, and I love a challenge so I enjoy anything that gets my grey matter working. When it’s really tough, it’s like going for a run: I’m slightly dreading it before I start and it can be gruelling but then get into it and feel great afterwards. I’ve tended to work on relatively literary fiction and yes, that does match the books I like to read so I suppose you could say I prefer that sort of book, but I love the diversity of my job. I’ve worked on everything from Anka Mulstein’s elegant non-fiction book The Pen and The Brush about the world of French nineteenth-century artists and writers to the pun-and-gag-athon that is the latest Asterix album, Asterix and the Chariot Race… and I love it all.

Many thanks for your time!

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