Chris Killen
MISSING: ONE PIECE OF PAPER
20-11-2008

Two days into the festival, and already disaster has struck.
I can’t believe it.
The unimaginable has happened: I’ve just discovered that I’ve lost one of the pages of my ‘notebook’.
My ‘notebook’ is made out of three little pads of Hotel Mercure loose-leaf note paper. It has no front or back cover, and to the untrained eye might look very much like some ratty old shop receipts or a bit of toilet paper stuck to a shoe. But it’s now Thursday, and this is the first ‘official column’ I’m supposed to write since arriving on Tuesday, and pages 5-6 of my important notebook are missing. What am I supposed to do?
It currently jumps from:
‘Got the internet working in my hotel room – looked at Facebook and wondered if I should find and ‘friend’ the people that I’ve just met in real life.
‘Also realised that my shirt smelled funny …’ [p.4]
to:
‘… a bit like a ‘smoker’s club’ – have begun to worry that all the ‘best’ conversations are happening without me in Dutch.’ [p.7]
So I’ve decided to offer a reward for pages 5-6 which probably contain all kinds of illuminating notes on the things I’ve done since I arrived at Crossing Border: impressions of the little acoustic gig we went to in the Border Kitchen on Tuesday night, the film premiere (Diary of a Times Square Thief) we saw on Wednesday, and of the other writers and translators I’ve met.
Yep. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise that pages 5-6 must contain all the good stuff; the scandalous, career-destroying revelations about the other writers and translators, and the answers to such interesting questions as ‘Is a novel still your work once it’s been translated?’
Oh dear. All I’m left with is the other, more pedestrian stuff: my awkward, silent hour-long taxi ride from the airport, my worry about ‘tipping or not tipping’, the plugging in of my laptop and looking at Facebook in my hotel room, and general confusion about how I somehow managed to pack a whole suitcase of unwashed clothes.
I’m so sorry.
So if anyone finds a small tangled piece of paper with an official red ‘M’ in the right-hand corner and some spidery black handwriting on it – maybe you will see an old man blowing his nose into it during a break between performances, or maybe a child is halfway through folding it into a paper aeroplane – I will happily offer you … um … a couple of official Hotel Mercure sweets (lemon flavour), a mostly-drunk can of sparkling ‘Sourcy’ brand mineral water, three bottles of ‘Tonus’ hair and body gel (one half-used), and a sign that you can hang from your door handle which says ‘Please make up the room’ in four different languages.
I’m in room 301, by the way.
(If you don’t fancy the reward, just stick it under the door.)

Alle verhalen van Chris Killen
EPILOGUE: ON HAVING BEEN TRANSLATED
01-12-08

I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon, about two hours after I flew home to my quiet, slightly empty flat, bleary-eyed and with my head still buzzing from the sound of Dutch voices.
It was strange getting into a taxi and speaking to a man from Manchester.
I know I was only speaking English at the festival (well, except for last night, when I read out Saturday’s column in the Book N’ Bar and stuttered my way through the ‘bad Dutch’ translation part), but it felt like a different kind of English somehow; English spoken to not-native-English speakers, if that makes any sense. Does it? I don’t know. My head is still a bit of a mess.
It’s odd. I need to write an ‘epilogue’ for the Chronicles project at some point, and I know I can take a bit longer on it that the other daily columns I’ve had to produce, but I feel like I should do it right now. This is probably because for the last three days, the way we’ve been working is to write frantically in the afternoons – usually during the first spell of ‘free time’ we’ve had, from about 2pm-ish – and then to meet back in the hotel lobby at 5 with the column saved on a memory stick, ready to upload on the website and hand over to the translator.
So, even though I’m back in Manchester now, part of me is thinking that I need to get this last thing finished by 5pm today and then somehow meet up with Helen, the Chronicles organiser, to hand it over.
It’s been such a good experience.
I have a newfound respect for translators. I know a lot more about how they work than I did six days ago. I know now that translation throws up all sorts of little problems and questions and that by the time a translator has been working on a novel for a few months – with it sitting in their head all day and night – it begins to feel just as much their work as the original author’s. At Crossing Border, I think the translators had the harder task. While we were expected to hand in our columns by 5pm each day (which left us the evenings free to wander round and drink and watch bands), the translators were holed up in their rooms working overnight, ready to hand in at 9am the following morning. So hats off to them.
It’s good to think that An and the others will finally be able to get some sleep now.
Right, it’s almost 5pm.
I feel compelled to stop writing and hand this in somewhere.
So I think I think my plan is to save it on a memory stick and walk down the stairs of my flat and go into the Lloyds pub across the road and just give it to a stranger at the bar.

[Note: In the end I gave the memory stick to an old man with a big ginger beard, reading a newspaper standing up. He just said, ‘Thanks very much,’ and put it in the pocket of his tweed blazer as if it was ‘the most natural thing in the world’.]

OH WELL
22-11-08

I put the reward for my returned notebook pages in a Tesco’s bag last night and left it to be collected outside the door of Stage 1, as planned. I was about to walk off and watch some bands – Emmy the Great, followed maybe by the Fleet Foxes – but then I got curious and decided to hang around by the entrance and stake out the carrier bag instead.
So I bought two beers and stood there pretending to wait for someone to come back from the toilet. Occasionally I did a realistic ‘disgruntled’ face and checked the clock on my phone and rolled my eyes and sighed. But don’t worry; the Tesco’s bag was in the corner of my eye at all times.
At about quarter to nine an old gentleman came and stood near it and nudged it around with his shoe. He looked over his shoulder and then very slowly bent down and opened the bag and peered inside.
‘That’s him!’ I thought, and I was about to go up and slap him on the back and shake his hand really hard when he stood up and shuffled off into the crowd.
Soon after, a tiny androgynous child came up to the bag and stuck its whole head inside until its mum noticed what it was doing and yanked it up and smacked it on the wrist. I think maybe the tiny androgynous child went away with one of the bottles of shower gel sticking out of its mouth, but I don’t reckon it was my anonymous benefactor, anyway.
By now my beers were both finished and I needed the toilet myself. I was gone for maybe two minutes, three at the most, and when I returned the bag was gone.
‘Fine,’ I thought, ‘be like that,’ and wandered off to watch the Fleet Foxes with a feeling of anticlimax.
Tonight I’m going to be on the same stage – the big one – to read a chapter of my not-yet-published-anywhere novel. I have a ten minute slot just before Liam Finn, and am fully aware that no one knows who the fuck I am. At the moment the worst I can imagine is either a kind of painful, bored silence with occasional groaning, or the whole crowd simultaneously throwing glass bottles of urine at me.
I found out this morning that An, my translator, is off to an important family occasion somewhere else in Holland, and I feel bad that she’ll be have to leave the festivities tonight to work on this crappy column, so I’ve decided to make things a bit easier for her and translate the rest of it myself, using one of those automatic translation websites:
Hallo An, was werkelijk goed om u en het werk met u te ontmoeten. Dank aan alle dingen die wij en besprekingen die wij op het Overschrijden van Grens hebben gezien bijwoonden, ik heb een veel betere inzicht in en een eerbied nu voor de rol van de vertaler – het werkelijk klink als heel wat hard werk – en ik wens u alle beste in de toekomst.
(If you don’t understand the above, maybe you could turn it back in to English using babelfish.yahoo.com – the site I used. Or maybe An will translate it into English herself in the Dutch version …)

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU
21-11-08

First of all, I’d like to extend a generous ‘thank you’ and a clap on the back or an awkward kiss on the cheek to whoever it was who returned pages 5-6 of my homemade notebook. I can’t believe anyone would actually bother to look for it, but just as I was about to go to sleep last night I heard shuffling in the hotel corridor and the sound of a bit of paper being stuffed under my door. So I jumped out of bed and scurried into the corridor, but whoever it was was gone.
Well, thank you, anyway, whoever you are.
And if you’d still like to claim your reward, I’m planning to leave it outside the door to Stage 1 of the festival at around 8pm. It will be inside the Tesco’s carrier bag I’ve been using to keep my dirty socks and boxer shorts in.
Enjoy it. You deserve it.
Unfortunately, though, I’m still no clearer to finding out exactly what ‘amazing’ things I wrote on pages 5-6 as it turns out the writing is indecipherable. At first – standing there at 3am, blinking and rubbing my eyes – I thought I was just a bit too tired and drunk to read it properly. But in the cold light of day, I see now that the paper has been soaked through and my writing has become a big black smudge. (I’m assuming that whatever was written caused my anonymous do-gooder to cry all over it.)
Fair enough.
Secondly, could I please apologise for the misplaced apostrophe in yesterday’s column. This catastrophic error somehow happened during the phrase ‘smokers’ club’ (which I mistakenly wrote as ‘smoker’s club’ and which An de Greef, my translator, kindly pointed out to me this morning). It’s possibly been fixed by now, but I’m really, really sorry about it, anyway.
This morning we attended a talk with a translator called Steven Something-or-Other at the International Court of Justice, and the question was asked: ‘What do you do if the original source text is written badly? Do you just replicate the bad writing in your translation, or do you, you know, write a more elegant version?’
Which made me wonder what An did about my misplaced apostrophe.
Did she leave it in?
Or is part of her job to make me look a better writer than I am?
Also, I wonder what she’d would do if, you know, I wrote, grammatically bad sentences all the time? Its’ an interesting question maybe.
(Sorry An. I feel like I just gave you a small headache.)
Anyway, I’m having a nice time at the Crossing Border festival so far. I spotted Louis Theroux walking around yesterday and made a strange accidental face at him. I saw Cass McCombs play a really good set. I watched people become slightly bored of Death Cab for Cutie. And I talked to a couple of my Dutch equivalents who are part of the ‘Den Haag Verhalen’ project.
Right, now I need to go and put some things from my hotel room in the Tesco’s bag. Maybe I’ll leave one of my socks in, too, as a ‘bonus prize’.

MISSING: ONE PIECE OF PAPER
20-11-08

Two days into the festival, and already disaster has struck.
I can’t believe it.
The unimaginable has happened: I’ve just discovered that I’ve lost one of the pages of my ‘notebook’.
My ‘notebook’ is made out of three little pads of Hotel Mercure loose-leaf note paper. It has no front or back cover, and to the untrained eye might look very much like some ratty old shop receipts or a bit of toilet paper stuck to a shoe. But it’s now Thursday, and this is the first ‘official column’ I’m supposed to write since arriving on Tuesday, and pages 5-6 of my important notebook are missing. What am I supposed to do?
It currently jumps from:
‘Got the internet working in my hotel room – looked at Facebook and wondered if I should find and ‘friend’ the people that I’ve just met in real life.
‘Also realised that my shirt smelled funny …’ [p.4]
to:
‘… a bit like a ‘smoker’s club’ – have begun to worry that all the ‘best’ conversations are happening without me in Dutch.’ [p.7]
So I’ve decided to offer a reward for pages 5-6 which probably contain all kinds of illuminating notes on the things I’ve done since I arrived at Crossing Border: impressions of the little acoustic gig we went to in the Border Kitchen on Tuesday night, the film premiere (Diary of a Times Square Thief) we saw on Wednesday, and of the other writers and translators I’ve met.
Yep. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise that pages 5-6 must contain all the good stuff; the scandalous, career-destroying revelations about the other writers and translators, and the answers to such interesting questions as ‘Is a novel still your work once it’s been translated?’
Oh dear. All I’m left with is the other, more pedestrian stuff: my awkward, silent hour-long taxi ride from the airport, my worry about ‘tipping or not tipping’, the plugging in of my laptop and looking at Facebook in my hotel room, and general confusion about how I somehow managed to pack a whole suitcase of unwashed clothes.
I’m so sorry.
So if anyone finds a small tangled piece of paper with an official red ‘M’ in the right-hand corner and some spidery black handwriting on it – maybe you will see an old man blowing his nose into it during a break between performances, or maybe a child is halfway through folding it into a paper aeroplane – I will happily offer you … um … a couple of official Hotel Mercure sweets (lemon flavour), a mostly-drunk can of sparkling ‘Sourcy’ brand mineral water, three bottles of ‘Tonus’ hair and body gel (one half-used), and a sign that you can hang from your door handle which says ‘Please make up the room’ in four different languages.
I’m in room 301, by the way.
(If you don’t fancy the reward, just stick it under the door.)

ON BEING TRANSLATED
13-11-08

Working in a bookshop, I’d occasionally meet a customer who was against the idea of reading things in translation. ‘Surely all the subtleties will be lost?’ they’d argue. To some extent, I can see their point. If you read fiction – as I often do – for the pleasure of how something is being said, then surely you should only read things in your own language?

I like looking at sentences – at how they’re constructed. Sometimes I even get excited by punctuation, by the intriguing placing of a comma, for instance. Thinking about the pleasure I get from reading someone like James Salter – the kind of writer whose work is all about miniscule detail, crystalline sentences, nothing put in the wrong place – I find it hard to imagine how that would work in translation.

I’ve no way of knowing, either, considering I only speak, read and write in English. (I’m rubbish at learning languages. I’ve tried and failed a number of times.)

Now I’m going to contradict myself by saying my favourite writer ever is Knut Hamsun, someone I’ve only ever read in translation. When I read Hamsun, something happens to me that doesn’t really happen with any other writer: I get affected physically. I actually laugh out loud when the protagonist laughs, I have to stand up and walk around the room for a bit and then sit down again, I have to slap my knee and bite on my lip.

There seems to be a kind of ‘spirit’ in his work which transcends the language it was written in. I’ve now read three different translations ofHunger , for instance, and while one might feel ‘better’ than another, (i.e., it reads easier), I still felt the same emotions; in other words, the same kind of anarchic spirit came across.

My novel is to be translated next year into French, German, Italian, and Dutch. So far, I’ve had absolutely no contact with the people working on these translations. I have to take it on trust that they’re doing a good job. In fact, the whole thing feels like a trust exercise – even when the editions are finished and printed and I’m holding one in my hand, I’ll have to just feel proud, and nod at it, and hope that these mysterious translators have done a good job.

Which is part of the reason I’m looking forward to the Crossing Border festival: for once I will actually meet my translator. I am full of contradictions. Although I just wrote that the ‘spirit’ of Hamsun seemed apparent, even in translations (that were made by people who’d never met him), I also secretly kind of feel like my writing might be translated better if I actually meet my translator and she gets a sense of ‘what I’m about’.

I’m a bit scared, too. It’s like another trust exercise. I will meet An De Greef and she will be able to speak English and I won’t be able to speak Dutch, and once she’s translated this and all my other articles I will just have to look at them and feel proud of them and hope she’s done a good job. Also: what if I do something to piss her off at the festival, accidentally, and she takes it out in the translation of my articles, making me sound awful, making me say things I didn’t say?

I will never know.

I will just have to nod proudly and hope, whatever happens.