TRANSLATION Maïca Sanconie

This month, Words & Pics regular series on translation of books for young people brings you an interview with Maïca Sanconie, French translator of our own SCBWI-British Isles' Teri Terry, and herself a writer. Maïca talks about how she got started translating, and what it was like translating Teri's book Slated, the first of a dystopian trilogy.

UK and French covers of Slated
How did you become interested in English?

I had a very strong conflict with an English teacher in junior high school (I was ten) and she said I would never do well in English. I felt cursed … This was my first encounter with this language, and it probably explains why I became so interested in it – as the most foreign and forbidden language ever! 

How did your English become so good? 

Through literature. I am a writer myself, and reading novels in English was a solar [brilliant] experience. Faulkner, Virginia Woolf … It blew my mind, undid the curse. I studied literature written in English rather than the language itself – or so I thought …

How did you become a translator?

By chance. As a writer, it seemed natural to me. It is a form of writing. A play with words, with verbal images. When a friend suggested I should translate a book, I had a try, for fun, and it worked. But I never planned to be a translator; it just happened and I felt comfortable being one.

What made you want to translate for children/young adults?

There is an emotional dimension in children’s literature. I wanted to experience the magic I felt when I was a young reader and weave my own words within the fantastic elements of tales. Sharing that with other young readers in my own language implies remaining constantly alert to their possible interpretations. I like the feeling of translating for this specific audience.

How did this translation of Slated ‘find’ you?

An editor I work with proposed it to me. Then I translated the three books of the series and the prequel. I felt a strange expectation all along, as if I were searching for a familiar voice, for the companionship created both through the characters and through the narrative itself.

How long did the translation take you? 

The usual: a couple of months.

Do you use translation software? 

No and I do not think I ever will. Not because I am not interested: I recently followed a training course in Trados, to explore the possibilities of that software and see by myself what I could or could not use in it. But literary translation is a constant creation, and translation software is essentially based on repetition.

Do you think English is easier to translate into French than say, Japanese would be, because the language and culture are closer? Or is is it harder, because so many more French-speakers understand English?

Actually, English is not that close to me as a French person … Italian, yes, because it is a Romance language. English grammar is a totally different system, very foreign to my French mind. But English culture is more familiar, obviously. The fact that many French-speakers understand English does not make any difference to me, as a translation has to be a coherent piece of work in French. Its foreign elements are part of the essence of the text. We translate authors rather than languages, really.  

‘Never forget who you are!’ he shouts, grips my shoulders and shakes me, hard.

A blanket of terror obliterates the sea. The sand. His words, the bruises on my arms and pain in my chest and legs.

It’s here.

—Excerpt, Slated, by Teri Terry

‘N’oublie jamais qui tu es!’ crie-t-il en me secouant très fort.

Une nappe de terreur s’étend sur la mer, sur le sable, engloutit ses paroles, mes bras et mes jambes meurtries.

C’est fini.

—The same excerpt in French, Effacée, translated by Maïca Sanconie

What were the hardest parts to translate? Did you find any untranslatable ‘anglophone’ nuances, cultural references, jokes, or language play that you had to leave out? Was there anything you wanted to ask the author? Any funny stories?

In Teri Terry’s novels, starting with Slated, the main difficulty was the rhythm – to keep the suspense. And Teri Terry chooses polysemic [ambiguous] words, which can create powerful echoes through the whole book, and even the whole series. It is a real challenge to create the same echoes [in French]. 

Cultural references can be tricky, but in children’s literature or books for young adults we can adapt a few things, such as the school system.  

What kind of sources do you use when you don't understand what something means? 

The Internet, all sorts of paper dictionaries … When desperate, I ask a native speaker.

Have you ever translated a book you didn't like?

I have not. Even if I do not feel attracted to a book, I love the challenge of translating it.

Have you received any letters from readers about the book?

No. I would love to communicate with our readers, but to my knowledge readers, specially young readers, seldom write to translators. We are invisible to them.

[Editor's note: We hope to help change that with this series!]

What do you hope to translate next, if anything?

I have a stack of books that I would love to translate, starting with picture books by the American painter and author, Faith Ringgold, a beautiful novel by Gillian Cross, and other works in general literature.

What other translators do you admire?

I discovered translation through Maurice Coindreau’s translations of Faulkner’s novels into French. I really admire his choices and his creative freedom. Today I am fascinated by Danièle Robert, who recently translated Dante’s The Divine Comedy while respecting Dante’s complex versification. Or Antonio Prete, who translated Les fleurs du mal, from Baudelaire, into Italian; or Sophie Benech, a translator of Russian poets ... They inspire me.

Do you have an ideal project?

Yes! Creating my own collection of children’s books for a publishing company. Some day …?


Maïca Sanconie, PhD, is a writer, a poet and a literary translator from English and Italian into French. An Associate Professor at the University of Avignon, where she co-directs the Master in Literary Translation, she is also a member of the academic research group Cultural Identity, Texts and Theatricality (Avignon); of the Editorial Board of TransLittérature, Journal of the Association of Literary Translators in France; and of the Scientific Committee of the Journal Atelier de traduction, Ştefan cel Mare University, Suceava (Romania).

Her articles on translation can be found in Meta: Translators' Journal (Presses de l’Université de Montréal), Palimpsestes (Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle) and La Main de Thôt (Université de Toulouse Le Mirail). Her fiction has been mostly published by Quidam Éditeur

Maïca's Facebook page.

Questions on Effacée, Teri Terry, 2013, La Martinière Jeunesse.

Cover photo, Slated: Nirrimi for Orchard Books.

Cover photo, Effacée: Guido Mieth/Getty Images.

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