Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Blog Ring of Power interview with Sue Burke Part V

Sue standing on the city walls of Buitrago de Lozoya near Madrid.
This week Writer/Translator Sue Burke has been visiting the Blog Ring of Power.  She lives in Spain, and so gets to tour castles and knows a lot about medieval times.  Here is the final part of our interview with this very interesting lady.

Here are the preceding links to the interview:

Part I About You on Terri's blog
Part II The Writing Life On Teresa's blog
Part III The Creative Process on Emily's blog

Part IV: The Technical Aspects  on  Sandra's blog 

Welcome to the Write Time Sue, I'm so excited to wrap up the interview here on my blog.  I am fascinated with translating.  I speak Spanish myself, but not good enough to try and tackle any translating of any great literary work!  
So lets start off by discussing Your Current Work

Tell us about your new book and when it is out? Where can people purchase it?

Amadis of Gaul Book I came out at the beginning of this year at Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

The novel has a long history behind it. It all started when a bard brought stories of King Arthur and Merlin to the French court of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1155, and from there the stories spread across the continent, inspiring many more of tales of chivalry. In Spain, those stories began to coalesce around the figure of Amadis, who lived before King Arthur and who was the greatest knight in the world.

These tales became a novel that continued to grow over the next two centuries. It tells how Amadis is born out of wedlock to the King of Gaul (an imaginary kingdom) and grows up not knowing who he is. He falls in love with Princess Oriana of Great Britain, but their love must remain a secret. He loves her so dearly he would do anything she asks.

Amadis rescues his father's kingdom from an attack by the King of Ireland, finds out who he is, and then goes on to have a series of exciting adventures. And although this supposedly takes place long ago and far away from medieval Spain, the setting is pure medieval Spanish: its customs, its beliefs, its geography, and its means of fighting. I must warn prospective readers about the vivid, bloody fights between knights -- but if you want to learn about real hand-to-hand combat in those days, this is the book for you.

Why did you want to translate this book?
The version of Amadis of Gaul published in 1508, after the printing press was established, became Europe's first best-seller. It was reprinted 19 times, translated into 7 languages, spawned 44 direct sequels and 100 other works, and fueled the genre of chivalry across the continent. In 1605, Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote de la Mancha to satirize these books, and Don Quixote is a lot funnier if you read Amadis first.

But there wasn't a good translation of Amadis available, even though this book is key to understanding Western literature and culture. It even made a mark on history. Jousts were revived because of Amadis, and nobles and princes would dress up and reenact scenes from the novel or one of its spinoffs. California was named after a place in a sequel about Amadis's son.

What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write/translate and why?
Chapter XXXV, in which Amadis rescues Princess Oriana from an evil sorcerer, and on the way back to London, they stop in a beautiful valley and finally consummate their love. That scene sings with joy:

"Amadis turned to his lady, and when he saw her so beautiful and in his possession, having given himself to his will, he was so struck by joy and shyness that he did not dare even to gaze at her. So it could well be said that in that green grass, on that cloak, more by the quiet grace of Oriana than the bold courage of Amadis, did the most beautiful maiden in the world become a woman."

Did you learn anything from writing/translating this book and what was it?
The Middle Ages was strange. People really thought differently. Trial by combat was accepted. A maiden combing her hair was erotic. Nobles always rode horses rather than walk, and they might ride their horses right into a throne room to deliver a message to a king.

They had a different view of the supernatural, too. This book is a fantasy, with magical weapons, giants, monsters, and enchanted places. But it's a medieval Christian magical system. Sorcerers can be God-fearing and even clerics. God often intervenes personally, or He lets the Roman goddess Fortune, who in the Middle Ages was believed to serve Him, do her will with those who had angered Him with cruel behavior.

I also don't get all the jokes. In one interlude, a knight enters a castle by being pulled up over the walls in a basket. I know it's funny because I've seen references to it as some sort of sexual joke in other medieval texts, and I know the dialogue in that scene is full of plays on words, but I don't get them. That detail of history seems to be lost.
How does the point of view affect the story, and why isn't it used anymore?
As was common in medieval times, Amadis of Gaul was read out loud to an audience. That's because books, being hand-written, were so rare that few people had learned how to read, but listening to books was popular. In fact, in the 13th century, King Alfonso X of Castile y León ordered stories of chivalry to be read to knights during meals to inspire them. You can hear this in the text, which often says something like, "As I have already told you...."

Because this book was read to an audience, it has an omniscient, authoritative narrator. But after the printing press was invented in the mid-1400s, people began to have access to books, and reading for pleasure, silently and alone, became more common.

Now authors could write directly to the reader as if to a close friend, not to a listener simultaneously trying to attract the attention of the servant with the wine jug. Storytelling became intimate, and the narrator shifted from authoritative to suggestive. Eventually the point of view could even become unreliable because readers were following the story that closely.

Technology drove that change, and now, with the Internet, technology has just changed again, and readers can interact with the text and the author. I wonder what that will do to novels.

Since writing is also a business lets talk a little about the business aspects

Tell us about your route to success. Your book is self-published - how/when did you decide to go this route? Did you query agents or publishers first? How did you handle the editing, proofreading, cover design, etc.
It was clear that no publisher was about to take on a project as odd as this one: a translation of an old, obscure, foreign work. At first I was content to let it remain on the Internet as a blog, but after I finished Book I, I remembered that some readers had asked if the work would be available in a more convenient format -- that is, as a book, because paging through blog posts is a long, slow way to read a novel.

I've worked as an editor creating and designing publications, so I knew what it would entail. I began to compile posts into a book and investigate self-publishing options. Though I have issues with Amazon, I have to admire its ability to sell things. I checked into its CreateSpace company, which turned out to be fairly easy to use, with good templates and clear instructions. Editing is hard, exacting work, but preparing the book ran smoothly since the project was relatively simple, and I had the skills to do it all myself.

If the words "trim size" and "binding margin" mean something to you, you can do it, too. That said, the first proof had lots of errors, from typos (proofread, proofread, proofread) to design and typography issues, so the process wasn't foolproof.

But once I had the final manuscript, turning it into Kindle format was a snap, provided you know how to create hyperlinks within the manuscript.

Do you belong to any writing communities or associations? If so, what role, if any, have they played in your success?
I belong to the Madrid Writer's Critique Group, which has been in existence for about 14 years. It's open to all kinds of writers who work in English and meets every Tuesday evening. They've helped me (and I hope I've helped them) with critiques and support. The group includes members from absolute beginners to accomplished pros, and some of them gave me excellent advice as I began the Amadis project.

One good piece of advice I follow: work six weeks ahead so that if you have an emergency in your life, you can continue to post on schedule.

I also belong to Broad Universe and the Asociación Española de Fantasía, Ciencia Ficción y Terror, both of which provide good contacts and support.

Amadis of Gaul Book I
Tell us about your book's cover - where did the design come from and what was the design process like?
I've been posting the translation chapter by chapter on a blog since 2009, and each entry includes a photo that relates to the content in some way. Sometimes I use art from medieval manuscripts, and sometimes I use photos of locations or artifacts. Anytime I'm around a castle or anything medieval, I start snapping photos like mad. (It's a real advantage to be living in Spain.)

When it came time to design the cover, I found I had a fine photo of a suit of armor at Segovia Castle, and with a little photoshopping, it became the cover artwork: it expressed the strength and determination of Amadis, the greatest knight in the world.

I paged through the offerings of cover styles at Amazon's CreateSpace until I found a design that went with the photo. If I still had an art department to work with, I would have done things a little differently -- used a different type face on the cover, for example. Still, I'm satisfied with the final result.
Any advice to anyone else who wishes to translate a work?
Translations are hard to sell to the English-speaking market. In the first place, editors often don't have the money to pay for them. Professional translating groups recommend 10 cents per word, but "pro" genre magazine rates start at 5 cents per word, which would have to be split between the author and translator. Few small publishers can pay $10,000 for the translation of a novel.

Second, no matter how famous a writer or work is in their native country, English-speakers probably haven't heard about it, so publishers look at that writer as a "newbie" who will be hard to sell.

However, works published in English get great respect and publicity in non-English-speaking countries; the market is not reciprocal. In 2011, translated books accounted for 22% of all the books published in Spain, and 47% of those books were translated from English. Meanwhile, world-wide, only 8% of the books published in English were translated from other languages.

Is your book in print, ebook or both?
In both paperback and Kindle.

More places you can learn more about Sue Burke and her work:


Amadis of Gaul
In medieval times, troubadours and poets recounted tales of knights-errant. They fought evildoers and magical beings, and each knight served his lady in accordance with the rules of chivalric love.

Amadis of Gaul is the most famous tale of chivalry from Spain. The novel, divided into four books, recounts the life of Amadis, the greatest knight in the world. This is Book I of the novel.

It became the Renaissance's best-selling literary phenomena. It went through 19 reprintings, was translated into 7 languages, and spawned 44 direct sequels, as well as fueling an entire genre, complete with fan fiction. Jousts were revived with theatrical pageantry, and "knights" came in the guise of their favorite characters.

This is a new translation. It leaves nothing out, will carry you back in time to enjoy this transcendent, delightful adventure.

It includes a preface, introduction, notes to chapters, and an appendix discussing the relationship between Amadis of Gaul and Don Quixote.

Amadis of Gaul is one of the pillars of European fiction. It opens a window not only to a wondrous fictional world but to the real medieval world that produced it.

About the Author

Sue Burke is a writer in Madrid, Spain.

From all of us associated with the Blog Ring of Power, and myself, thank you, Sue, for taking the time to share this fascinating story with us all.


Writing Company said...

This is a great source learning about writing and maintaining it's quality.Because experience is something which help others to learn better.

Sue Burke said...


Dean C. Rich said...

Writing Company,

Thank you for stopping by. I am so glad you find this helpful.

Dean C. Rich said...


Thanks again for taking the time to answer all those questions. This was, for me, a very fascinating project.