‘Do you think I am flippant and shallow?’ A little tear shows in the Nymph’s right eye. I shake my head. ‘Of course not.’ ‘But I think others think that.’ ‘Who precisely?’ I enquire. She shrugs her shoulder. ‘Others. Everyone.’ She hesitates for a moment and then adds: ‘And it’s your fault. When others talk about deep thoughts, you praise pretty pictures.’
Ah! I suddenly understand where she is coming from. She is worried about the impression we gave last Friday.
We were invited to the British Centre of Literary Translation industry day. I shared a panel with commissioning editors from Harvill Secker and Granta and the publisher of Comma Press. So, four high class literary publishers on one panel.
Trainee translator pitched at us books that they wanted to translate for the UK market. We commented on their choices and their presentations.
My colleagues and I agreed on much. But there was one subtle difference in our argument. While the others emphasised the importance of innovative thought in a narrative, I insisted on strong images – pictures if you will.
I’m a busy woman and my attention span is limited. If you pitch a book at me, you have three seconds to grab my attention. It’s the same amount of time we have when we are selling a Peirene book to a new reader outside Budgens supermarket.
‘God is taking a sabbatical’ immediately caught my curiosity. On the other hand ‘This is an important book by a famous Belgian writer that feels very modern but who has been neglected over the last half a century,’ did not set my imagination on fire.
An image is full of contradictions and possibilities which reveal themselves in the story. If a book can be summed up in a powerful image, it usually means that the author has succeeded in ‘showing’ us what concerns her or him rather than ‘telling us’ or ‘talking at us’. And that for me suggests good and exciting literature.
I look at my little drama queen. ‘I thought you agree with me about images?’ I say to Peirene. ‘Yes, of course I do. And a successful literary image always implies complex thought, while it’s not necessarily true the other way round.’ ‘Good.’ I reply. ‘But I also want to be acknowledged as an amazingly intellectual and intelligent person,’ she pouts. I laugh out loud. ‘Well, that’s impossible. You’re a Nymph not a person.’ But then seeing her face cloud over I add, ‘but a very clever Nymph indeed.’
Image by karen_neoh.