It’s such an incredible pleasure to find myself hosting a stop on the blog tour for Whiteout by Ragnar Jonasson today! I am absolutely delighted to welcome translator Quentin Bates to the blog but first, here’s what Whiteout is all about.
Author : Ragnar Jónasson
Title : Whiteout
Series : Dark Iceland #5
Pages : 276
Publisher : Orenda Books
Publication date : November 1, 2017
Two days before Christmas, a young woman is found dead beneath the cliffs of the deserted village of Kálfshamarvík. Did she jump, or did something more sinister take place beneath the lighthouse and the abandoned old house on the remote rocky outcrop?
With winter closing in and the snow falling relentlessly, Ari Thór Arason discovers that the victim’s mother and young sister also lost their lives in this same spot, twenty-five years earlier.
As the dark history and its secrets of the village are unveiled, and the death toll begins to rise, the Siglufjordur detectives must race against the clock to find the killer, before another tragedy takes place.
Me and Ari Thór
The very first Iceland Noir, a one-day event organised on a wing and a prayer, and afterwards a bunch of us plotting to get Ragnar Jónasson published in English. Fast forward to Bloody Scotland, where Ragnar met Karen Sullivan of the fledgling Orenda Books on the football pitch. Add to that the guy who liked the challenge of translating someone else’s words – and we were all ready to roll.
It seemed only a few months later that Snowblind was published with a fanfare of the kind only the mighty Karen can rustle up, complete with those now legendary cupcakes. Then Snowblind briefly knocked the Girl on the Train off the top of the kindle chart. I know, because the normally imperturbable Ragnar called me at 2AM to let me know it had hit number 1.
It hasn’t always been an easy ride. Translation isn’t an exact science – or is it an art? Or something in between the two? What you see on the page isn’t a literal translation of Ragnar’s original. A word-for-word translation would be unreadable; there’s inevitably a level of interpretation in there.
A translation has to be flexible and occasionally the elastic needs to be stretched a long way, especially when dealing with the untranslatable idioms and plays-on-words that every language has. A joke is often the toughest translation challenge*, with the choice of a literal (and unfunny) translation or finding some elusive alternative that may well leave the original far behind but which remains faithful to the book by being amusing – which was the author’s intention to start with.
The translator has to come up with something that renders the book into a readable version of the original, while it’s the editor’s role to go at the text with a hammer and chisel before putting it all back together. Karen and West Camel have applied a great deal of rigour to the editing process, demanding signposts and discreet additional information where needed, shifting some of the furniture, pruning foliage and shaking things up to reshape the book to be the best it can be for a non-Icelandic readership unfamiliar with customs, mores, landscape, geography and everything else that an Icelandic reader can take for granted.
Since Snowblind there have been four more tales of Ari Thór’s adventures in and around Siglufjörður.
That’s five books, something over a quarter of a million words and a lot of hours over a laptop at the kitchen table during the couple of years we’ve lived in each other’s pockets. And now I’ve waved him off as he disappears into the distance.
I’ve heard it said that not even your spouse will get to know you as intimately as your translator. Only the most dedicated student will pore as minutely over a writer’s words as a translator does. After those three-hundred-and-something thousand words, I ought to know Ragnar fairly well. But I’m not certain that I do. He’s not a writer who strides across his own pages. He’s there, in the background somewhere, letting his characters have the limelight while his own presence is normally only felt if you know what to look out for.
So I feel I’ve got to know Ari Thór much better than I have his creator. It hasn’t always been a happy relationship. Would we have got on if we had met? Probably not.
There have been occasions when I’ve wanted shake him, yell at him to stop acting like a petulant child. There have been times when I’d have gladly punched him. I’ve also mentally cheered him on and willed him to notice what’s right in front of his eyes. More than once I’ve sadly shaken my head when he’s screwed things up with his girlfriend yet again.
So good-bye and good luck, Ari Thór. It’s been an interesting couple of years.
*Fortunately, Ragnar isn’t big on jokes. There’s only one in the Ari Thór series, and it took weeks to figure out a suitable alternative.
Massive thanks to Quentin Bates for taking the time to write this fabulous and insightful piece and to Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater for the opportunity to join the Whiteout blog tour!
Whiteout was published on November 1st.
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Ragnar Jónasson is author of the international bestselling Dark Iceland series. His debut Snowblind went to number one in the kindle charts shortly after publication, and Nightblind, Blackout and Rupture soon followed suit, hitting the number one spot in five countries, and the series being sold in 18 countries and for TV.
Ragnar was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he continues to work as a lawyer. From the age of 17, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic. He has appeared on festival panels worldwide, and lives in Reykjavik with his wife and young daughters.
About Quentin Bates :
Quentin Bates made his escape from suburbia at the end of the seventies as a gap year turned into a gap decade spent in the north of Iceland. He worked ashore and at sea before returning to England and, once finally ashore for good, drifted by accident into journalism.
Finally the lure of fiction became too strong to resist. Sergeant Gunnhildur and the series of novels she features in have their origins in a deep affection for Iceland and its people, and an intimate knowledge of Icelandic society and its language, customs and quirks.
Today he divides his time between the north of Iceland and the south of England, translating books from Icelandic in addition to working on his own fiction.