Lloyd Jones: translating THE LIFE OF REBECCA JONES
Lloyd Jones tells us about rural feuding, good sponge cake and the experience of translating The Life of Rebecca Jones.
"Sadly I’ve not spoken to Angharad since that fateful day when the book was published. Rural Wales is quite like rural Sicily – if you tread on someone’s toes in the morning everyone around you will be limping by nightfall. Bitter feuds can spring up as suddenly as summer storms, and in our case all hell was let loose when one of her many relatives noticed that I’d forgotten to mutate a voiceless alveolar lateral fricative early on in Chapter 3. So far the morgue has claimed three of her family and four of mine. I can see no end to the bloodshed.
But I jest, of course. We provincials must have our little jokes. The purpose of that opening was to illustrate that Angharad and I both come from the same neck of the woods – hidden Wales. Not the country which tourists see from their cars, but a dreamlike, shape-shifting world involving childhood memories, mythology, history, literary associations, personal identity and much more. I think that this mutuality made a difference when she agreed to the translation. To be honest she had to be persuaded, since she’s delightfully modest. As a pensioner my own English is rather old-fashioned now, and that probably suited the mood of the book.
We still meet occasionally for a meal and a chat; I can report that she has a taste for good sponge cake and can also be quite unruly, if not downright skittish at times, with a gift for mimicry. Chatting with her, you would never guess that she’s a professor with seven languages at her disposal. No airs and graces. She’s still a country girl, despite all her learning.
There are some people who are timeless and ageless. I hope she won’t mind me saying this, but if you dressed Angharad in 17th-century costume and transported her back to that time she would slot in seamlessly. No-one would notice. And when she sits opposite me in the Blue Sky Café I notice that she is more than herself on those occasions: she is an emissary from the valley she wrote about so simply yet movingly in The Life of Rebecca Jones; she also carries the honour and good name of those long-gone people, with their quiet dignity and their biblical patience in the face of continuous adversity. In the courts of the world, she is their representative.
I am also aware that she has achieved something which few provincial authors have done in modern times; she has become known further afield without having to leave her roots. In order to get noticed many of Wales’s best-known authors have had to move to the capitals – Cardiff, London or even Paris. But Angharad is still here, among the people she writes about. I have grown to admire her tremendously, and I hope the book lives on for ever, in many more languages."
Lloyd Jones is a translator and writer whose novel Mr Cassini was the winner of the Welsh Arts Council Book of the Year in 2007.