Talking translation with Annet Schaap and Laura Watkinson
Posted 5th March 2020
Your choice is… Lampie by Annet Schaap (translated by Laura Watkinson)!
Every evening Lampie the lighthouse keeper’s daughter must light a lantern to warn ships away from the rocks. But one stormy night disaster strikes. The lantern goes out, a ship is wrecked and an adventure begins.
In disgrace, Lampie is sent to work as a maid at the Admiral’s Black House, where rumour has it that a monster lurks in the tower. But what she finds there is stranger and more beautiful than any monster. Soon Lampie is drawn into a fairytale adventure in a world of mermaids and pirates, where she must fight with all her might for friendship, freedom and the right to be different.
For World Book Day, we spoke to author and illustrator Annet Schaap, and her translator, Laura Watkinson, about their experiences working on Annet’s charming adventure story, Lampie.
Pushkin: Hi Annet and Laura! First of all, congratulations on the longlisting for the Carnegie Award this year. How does it feel to be the first EVER book in translation on this list?
Annet: Thank you! I was already excited when I heard that Lampie was on the list, but double when I found out it was the first translated book ever! Being Dutch I didn’t know much before about this medal, but I understand it is the equivalent of the Dutch ‘Gouden Griffel’, and that prize does mean a lot to me.
In my recent new life as an author everything that Lampie has brought is quite overwhelming and wonderful. I never expected any of it to happen. This nomination is the cherry on top of a big stack of cakes… I’m amazed by it!
Laura: I grew up in the UK, so the Carnegie Award is a part of my DNA as a bookworm. When you consider all the amazing books that have been considered for the Carnegie Award, this year and in the past such as C.S. Lewis, Philippa Pearce, Lucy M. Boston, and what might just be my favourite book ever, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, it really hits you just what an honour it is to have a book longlisted.
How does it feel for a book I translated to be on the longlist? Massive wow! And finding out that Lampie was the first translation ever to be longlisted was a real double-wow moment. Lampie is a such a wonderful, warm book, and it was a joy to translate. To have it appear on the longlist for the Carnegie Award is a delight and, as Annet says, a very nice cherry indeed!
Pushkin: Lampie is beloved by many, including fellow authors Hilary McKay and Lucy Strange, for being a ‘classic’ piece of storytelling. When you wrote the book, did you purposefully structure it like a classic fairy-tale, or did it happen naturally?
Annet: As an illustrator I have worked for years making illustrations for children’s books. Most of them were books about contemporary children doing contemporary things. But when I remembered the books I loved so much when I was a child, they were more classic and fairy-tale-like. As an author I have tried to write a book like that, for the child I was. Set in a different country in a different time. The mermaids sneaked in, somehow…
Pushkin: Laura, were you conscious of maintaining this tone when translating the book? Do you think this kind of storytelling is universal or are there differences between cultures and languages?
Laura: It certainly helps that Lampie feels a lot like the kind of classic children’s book that I enjoyed reading as a child, so the tone and atmosphere are familiar. There’s also a very nice and subtle streak of humour in the book, which was fun to work with. I think stories of this kind can have a very wide appeal as the experiences and emotions (oh, the indignation at the way Lampie is treated!) are something that we can share.
Pushkin: We love a feisty female lead. Lampie is certainly that, but she has a tough start to the story. How did you create her character? Her voice is very distinctive so did her character come first, or did the plot?
Annet: I’m not really sure. I never thought much about how Lampie was, about her character, while I was writing about her. I’ve spent way more time thinking about Edward, Fish. How he was and what his story was and what he sounded like. Lampie was just there one day, and I followed her.
Laura: I have a suspicion that quite a lot of Annet went into Lampie. She’s such a believable character and, as a reader, you really feel for her and with her. I feel like I know her very well indeed. Hurrah for feisty females!
Pushkin: The book is richly and complexly narrated, with passages in present and past tense, as well as flitting between a narrator’s voice and Lampie’s personal tone. How did you find it to translate these shifting voices and tenses?
Laura: Annet has a strong voice, and I followed her lead. I think that’s it. First and foremost, I became immersed in the story, and I’m relieved to say that I loved it just as much on the final editing pass as I did the first time I read it, when I was drawn along by the exciting story. Even when I knew the story and the characters really, really well, they still intrigued and even surprised me at times.
Annet: I think you did a wonderful job, Laura. I am married to a Canadian and I tried to translate parts of the book to my husband, but a lot of times I read your translation and thought: yes, this is how I meant it. The translation is very true to the book.
Pushkin: Characters like the mermaids, pirates and the monsters are all very recognisable fairy-tale creatures. Were you inspired by other stories that you grew up reading?
Annet: Absolutely. By lots of stories and books, Dutch ones and international ones. Some of them I remembered while writing the story (Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden), some of them I remembered long after the book was written. I’m not always conscious of what I am doing as a writer.
About the little mermaid: I was already half way with the story (Lampie, black house, monster-boy) when that suddenly clicked in my head: Oh, that is what happened, that is where he comes from! I really didn’t know earlier. That is how stories and inspiration works, sometimes…
Pushkin: Your background is in illustration, and the pictures in the book are truly beautiful. How did you find the process of writing and illustrating together? Did one come before the other?
Annet: Yes, I found out that I couldn’t be a writer and an illustrator at the same time. So as a writer I saw lots of images in my head, but I couldn’t draw them, I couldn’t make the illustrations after I finished writing the story. Then I took it on as a commission and started to think about what the book should look like.
Pushkin: Laura, did you reference Annet’s illustrations at all while you were working on the book? What do you think they add to the story?
Laura: Well, I was aware of Annet as an illustrator first, so it was a lovely surprise to encounter her work as an author – and with such a great book. The illustrations certainly added to the atmosphere, and it was helpful to see how Annet pictured things in her mind and to see how that compared to my own mental image. As with every book though, I think we all end up picturing subtly different imaginary worlds and characters even though we’ve read the same story.
Pushkin: And finally, a question for both of you. Sharing stories is one of the best ways to connect with people, especially across cultures. What is it about Lampie that you think resonates so well with so many people, and what effect do you think these stories can have on us as a culture?
Annet: I know I purposely wrote the book from several perspectives because I think it’s a good thing that people, that children can see there are more ways to look at a situation. Everyone has his or her thoughts and motives.
It is still a surprise to me that so many people liked the story, because it is about many sad and difficult things.
But it may be just that: stories that really tell something about life and death, suffering, being alone, being brave etc. can be told to children, and adults can read them as if they were children. Because they all were, once.
Laura: I second that, Annet. I’d just like to add my thanks to Annet for creating this book and these characters. And thanks to Pushkin for allowing me to share in Lampie’s story and for bringing it to new readers.