Nordisk Books: “Mental health is at the heart of your book […]. Do you think this subject is treated enough/well in the arts today?”
Gine Cornelia Pedersen: “I think the human psyche, and the troubles of living, are subjects that get as much exposure in literature/art as love. And also, as love, subjects that will never get old.”
– An extract from an interview with Gine Cornelia Pedersen, Nordisk Books
Zero by Norwegian writer and actress Gine Cornelia Pedersen is an impressive debut novel touching upon the theme of mental health. Winner of the prestigious Tarjei Vessas First Book Award, Zero was compared in Norway with a ‘punk rock single’.
“Uncompromising, unfiltered, disquieting.” – The translator Rosie Hedger on Zero
Founded by Lord Weidenfeld and supported by New College, The Queen’s College and St Anne’s College, Oxford, the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize is awarded to book-length literary translations into English from any living European language to recognise the art and the value of translation. The winner will be announced this weekend: the prize will be awarded on 15 June at Oxford Translation Day at St Anne’s College. Well done to everyone on the shortlist!
While waiting for Saturday, we have interviewed the translator Rosie Hedger to hear more about Zero from her perspective. With our blog, we also aim to highlight the importance of translation and to give translators a voice, to acknowledge their expertise and praise them for their hard work as mediators between cultures, languages, histories and societies, as well as literary traditions.
Rosie tells us today about her experience of becoming and being a translator and, in particular, about her experience of translating Zero – a clearly challenging text to transpose into English, as “purposefully confusing or grammatically ‘incorrect’” in its original version, as Rosie explains. Read below how she skilfully and boldly tackled what she calls “breaks in logic” and “grammatical oddities” in the Norwegian text and collaborated with the author Gine Cornelia Pedersen to convey the novel’s meanings and intention to English-speaking readers. In other words – see how she has well deserved her place on the shortlist and she definitely has what it takes to win the prize!
How would you describe Zero in a few words?
Uncompromising, unfiltered, disquieting.
Zero has been shortlisted for the 2019 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize. What is the role of translation prizes today?
Translation prizes draw attention to books that often go under the radar - an author's name might be totally unfamiliar and therefore struggle to attract the attention of readers and reviewers, or a publisher may only have a small marketing and publicity budget. In best case scenarios, literary prizes have the potential to boost the translation of literature from an entire region, or at the very least to draw attention to work that is already being published to very little fanfare, and that can be transformative.
What was your journey to becoming a translator? What languages do you translate from and how did you start translating?
I translate from Norwegian (both of the two official written forms, Bokmål and Nynorsk). I took Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh, and I was fortunate to study under Kari Dickson, an experienced translator (and all-round delight) who picked up on my interest in literature and translation and helped to point me in the right direction. I spent my third year of study living in Norway, did a summer au pairing in Denmark, and after graduating I taught English in Sweden for a while. After that, I spent a few years teaching university students in the UK, but I plugged away at shorter literary translation jobs and dabbled in commercial work during that time. For a long while, I felt that I was lacking direction and had no idea how to progress in the world of translation, but now I look back on that time as really valuable unofficial training. In 2011, I was selected as the Norwegian candidate for the BCLT mentorship programme, working with Don Bartlett for six months and meeting other emerging translators and industry professionals, and it was transformative for my practice (and, perhaps more importantly, for my confidence). I can't underestimate the role that other translators have had in helping me on the path to where I am - there are huge reserves of kindness, generosity and knowledge among colleagues of all experience levels, and connecting with other translators has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job over the past few years.
Did you face any particular difficulties translating this book? How did you overcome them?
This was one of my toughest translations to date - the fragmented nature of the writing left so much open to interpretation, and the poetic form and use of very short sentences further intensified this. Norwegian sometimes allows for a greater ambiguity expressed in very few words where the same thing in English would seem long-winded in comparison – I found that leaving time between re-reads helped me to edit more brutally, and as my familiarity with the text grew, I felt bolder about making those kinds of decisions.
The narrator's unreliability and poor mental state also had an effect on the translation process – through emotionally draining highs and lows, her grasp on language would sometimes disappear completely. Translation is often described as a very (very!) close reading of a text, and I battled with the desire to impose logic whilst processing this. When the original text is purposefully confusing or grammatically 'incorrect', working out how to accurately convey these breaks in logic or grammatical oddities can be a long and drawn-out process. I mulled over sentences like 'they not happy now' for hours, trying to decide if they adequately embodied the character’s voice whilst being only just as jarring to the reader as they came across in the Norwegian original. Gine was very open to talking things over, and I discussed these kinds of things with her during the process. She spoke of writing almost as if on autopilot - I sensed that it was difficult for her to 'unpack' certain sections or sentences in a way that might satisfy a translator's obsessive need(!) for explanation. Gine was wonderful to work with - she had a great deal of respect for the translation process and the choices I made, and was happy to offer her insight.
We thank the translator Rosie Hedger and Nordisk Books for their contribution to our blog.
Rosie Hedger was born in Scotland and completed her MA (Hons) in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Most recently she has worked on translating Helga Flatland's contemporary family saga, A Modern Family (forthcoming from Orenda Books), and her translation of Agnes Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal won an English PEN Translates Award in 2016. Ravatn’s novel was later selected for BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime, and was shortlisted for the 2017 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year. Rosie was a candidate in the British Centre for Literary Translation’s mentoring scheme for emerging translators in 2012, mentored by Don Bartlett, and has worked on a range of fiction, non-fiction and children’s literature.