The Malta Independent 3 December 2021, Friday

Diary by ANTOINETTE BORG: From writing to translating, all in a day’s work

Sunday, 10 October 2021, 09:41 Last update: about 3 months ago

In 2015 ANTOINETTE BORG parked her 20-year financial career to chase her childhood dream of writing a book. Six years on, she has published several books for children, teens and adults, including three original novels. She has received four literary awards for her work, including the National Book Council’s Best Emerging Author award for 2018. She did not allow the pandemic and a housefull of family to stop her from working.

"When COVID struck, I could not travel and I could not write. So I translated instead. Our yearly holiday abroad has always been the highlight of my family's life. Before COVID, our "next holiday" was always in the background, furnishing family discussions, dreams and plans, motivating us through our daily grind. Then COVID landed, and our holiday boundary limits were drawn around the 316 sq km that is our tiny island country.

At the same time, whilst it brought along isolation for many, COVID did the opposite for me: I was never "isolated" any more. Before COVID, my house was my writing sanctuary for a good part of the day. Most days I was by myself for a solid stretch of silence, solitude and freedom that allowed my imagination to roam and frolic. There were rarely any interruptions, and no part of the house was out of bounds. COVID put an end to that. Suddenly our house had to make way for two classrooms and an office. My writing world shrank to my small study, while the rest of the house buzzed with Zoom and Teams, lessons and meetings, along with complaints about wi-fi signals, lost connections, and ... hunger - in other words, constant interruptions and demands for my attention. Along with general pandemic-induced anxiety, this background was not ideal for creative inspiration to flow.


Meanwhile it seemed that everyone and his mother had started to write. Social media was being flooded by pandemic-themed poems, diaries and stories. Apparently, inspiration had suddenly dawned on everyone, except me. I just froze. I'd type a sentence, read it, grimace, and press my little finger on the backspace button until the page stared blankly at me again. Virginia Woolf was right: a woman must have a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

The new additions Rumanzini series

Happily, our species is one of the most resourceful, capable and resilient that has ever lived on earth. Things change: we adapt. Can't write anything new: translate what's already written. To be clear, translations are far from easy, but they don't require you to carry the weight of the entire plot and its workings in your head, nor do they need you strategising on how the story will pan out and what to include and what to leave out. You can work on translations bit by bit, paragraph by paragraph, bird by bird (as Anne Lamott would put it), so they are a better fit when you are forced to work in shorter bursts. Literary translations not only meant that I could still be creative and productive, but they also allowed me to travel, through words.

Thanks to Merlin Publishers, along with my brilliant writer friend Loranne Vella, I had the opportunity of working on the new additions to the exquisite Rumanzini series. Originally written in French, these are delightful children's stories spanning across various genres and themes, and they come in three categories graded by reading ability.

At the L-Ewwel Pass level, I found myself in France, following the adventures of sweet Amelia, with her newly-discovered magical powers, and her two bubbly friends - together nicknamed Il-Klabb tal-Paċpaċa. After that, I was off to a strange fictional kingdom ruled by two voracious royals, Prince Ġan-Perlinu and Princess Marija-Ġelatina, who are literally toppled from their throne by wayward pirates Sinnasafra and Siequlasta, and their disgusting sidekick Bażina.

Book: La Forma dell'Acqua’ by Andrea Camilleri

The more challenging Pass ta' Ġgant books launched me on a journey through time - first to Ancient Egypt, where I helped Princess Tya investigate the strange disappearance of her pharaoh father, and then to Ancient Imperial China, accompanying Princess Lin-Yao as she bravely unravelled a terrible plot against her family. Once these mysteries were solved, I zoomed to outer space, where I joined three teens, inexplicably awakened from their programmed hibernation to discover they were completely cut off from humanity while a strange phenomenon was unfolding before their eyes.

Safely back on this planet, the end of the pandemic was still nowhere in sight, so I thought I'd try to extend my literary translation stint. The opportunity came along in the form of the 2020 Malta Book Fund call by the National Book Council. Supported by Merlin Publishers, I successfully applied to translate into Maltese La Forma dell'Acqua, the first novel in the Inspector Montalbano series penned by the great Andrea Camilleri. As a keen fan, I had read some of these novels in English translation, and noticed that, while they were technically brilliant, they inevitably lost a great deal of the Sicilian/Mediterranean flavour which, I thought, could be preserved much better in a Maltese version, given our geographical, cultural and linguistic proximity.

So I spent most of the rest of the pandemic in Sicily, rubbing shoulders with the cranky Inspector Montalbano as he probed the mysterious death of a prominent politician. It was a breathtaking challenge, much more difficult than I thought it would be, and the professional support of my editor, Chris Gruppetta, and the rest of the Merlin team, was priceless. It won't be long now: after the Rumanzini (just published), my latest pandemic book-baby, Il-Forma tal-Ilma, will hit the shelves very soon. I can't wait."

This series is conceived and edited by Marie Benoît who contributes her own Diary occasionally. [email protected]





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