FEATURES:The Farrera Job

The Farrera Job
The Catalan version
Several of Tapani Bagge's books were translated from Finnish into Czech as a result of his meeting with Iva Procházková in Farrera
Five languages, one children's book, and twenty-nine Catalan haiku in a Pyrenean village

Chantal Wright

At the beginning of April 2003, five writers and one illustrator from various parts of Europe participated in a unique writers' retreat in the small village of Farrera in the Spanish Pyrenees. Over a period of ten days, working from the old schoolhouse which is home to the Farrera Centre d'Art i Natura, the group workshopped a novel for children which had, up until that point, been conceived and written virtually, across many "e-miles". The result, a fantasy adventure yarn about Anna and Niko, a brother and sister who travel across the world with the help of a magical talisman, has since been published in Czech, Catalan and Irish, with Finnish and Welsh language versions in the pipeline.

This unusual project had been conceived some months earlier as a joint effort between the UK-based network of literary exchange Literature Across Frontiers, the Institució de les Lletres Catalanes which hosted the workship in Catalonia, FILI, Welsh Literature Abroad and Wales Arts International, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic and Ireland Literature Exchange. Alexandra Büchler, director of Literature Across Frontiers, describes the project as a response to the paucity of translated fiction for young readers across Europe: "Even in countries where the percentage of translated fiction is high, this does not apply to literature for children and teenagers, yet this is where future readers of literature in translation begin to develop their long-term interest and views on other cultures."

Anna and Niko, as the book was provisionally entitled in English, drew on the principles of renga - Japanese shared writing or collaborative poetry. The basic parameters of the story were agreed in advance, and each author was to contribute two, non-consecutive chapters to the novel, and to include both a few words of their own language and some culturally specific references. The five writers who worked together on the project are all well-established and respected in their own languages and countries: Gabriel Rosenstock from Ireland, Iva Procházková from the Czech Republic, Menna Elfyn from Wales, who was 2002 Bardd Plant Cymru (Welsh Children's Poet), Miquel Desclot from Catalonia and Tapani Bagge from Finland, from where the illustrator, Markus Majaluoma, also hails. The book was initially written in the group's lingua franca, English. Then, following the Farrera workshop, it was re-written by each of the writers in their respective languages, so that the resulting texts are versions, rather than translations, of the raw English Anna and Niko.

The five writers are overwhelmingly positive about their Pyrenean experience, even if the group dynamic at first seemed contrary to the usual solitary working day of the writer. Miquel Desclot, who describes himself as an individualist poet, is keen to repeat the experience of working with writer colleagues from different worlds. And Iva Procházková points out that each writer was ultimately still given the space and freedom to write his or her own version of the book in his or her own language. There were other pleasures and benefits to be derived from the "Farrera job", as Tapani Bagge refers to it. As a consequence of his meeting with Iva Procházková, several of Bagge's books found a Czech translator and publisher, and he hopes to be able to return the favour in the future. Gabriel Rosenstock and Miquel Desclot discovered a shared fondness for classical Japanese poetry, and produced 29 haiku in Catalan during their stay in the mountains, which were later published in Artilletres magazine.

Desclot argues that the outcome of the project, which combined five different narrative styles and five different imaginations, calls for a certain open-mindedness on the part of the literary critic. "I don't think any sensible critic would tackle our book as he would a conventional novel: it is a very special book, to be read with a very special mind." Rosenstock feels that similar projects in the future might benefit from playing down the elements of cultural distinctiveness, and concentrating on knitting together the narrative and on the development of the characters. Despite these reservations, the response from readers and critics in the Czech Republic, where the book appeared in 2006, was extremely positive.

The organisers too have learned from the Farrera experience. The failure to involve potential publishers from the very beginning slowed down the publication process, with the Finnish and Welsh editions still seeking a home. Alexandra Büchler also notes that publishers who considered Anna and Niko for their list were worried about the viability of a book written collectively. Moving on from Farrera, there are plans to develop an exchange project with a network of international publishers who would undertake to publish an agreed number of titles each year from participating publishers' lists. The campaign to bring more translated literature to Europe's children has only just begun.



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