Friday, March 16, 2012

Blog Ring of Power: Interview with Sue Burke

Sue Burke joins me to discuss the creative process of translating Amadis into English.  Thanks for joining us.

For the BRoP previous interviews about Sue and her writing process check out Terri Bruce and T. W. Fendly's blogs.

For the next section on the technical aspects check out Sandra's blog. To finish it up Dean Rich will be hosting Sue on his blog. Hope you stop by and see just what goes into translating Amadis into English.

This photo of Sue on the city walls of Buitrago de Lozoya near Madrid. 

Sue Burke lives and writes in Madrid. Originally from Milwaukee, Wis., much of her career was spent as a reporter and editor, covering everything from dog shows to politics to crime. She began writing fiction twenty years ago and has published short stories in various magazines and anthologies, as well as poetry and non-fiction. Her current project is a translation of the medieval fantasy story, Amadis of Gaul. 

The Creative Process

BRoP: How is translating a story different from writing? How is it similar?

SB: The goal of a translator is to tell the story the way the author would have told it if it had originally been written in the second language -- a goal that faces many small obstacles. For one thing, the Spanish original is fixed, but second language changes over time. The English translation of Amadis of Gaul from 1596 is almost incomprehensible because English has changed so much. And if I were translating Amadis in 2100, I would write it differently from today because English would have changed.

Another problem is locutions. Often, when someone is fatally injured in a joust or battle, the text says no ovo menester maestro, "there was no need for a master" -- that is, a master surgeon. The original audience understood that refrain, and I usually translate it as "a doctor could not have saved him."

A translator has to start by considering the overall tone of the work, in this case an elevated, literate tone. The author's intent has to be respected down to the sentence and word level. The text uses "vos" and "tú" for "you," the formal and familiar forms. (Modern Spanish uses "usted" and "tú".) I've translated that as "ye" and "thou." I think it's important to preserve the different forms of address because they show important aspects of the story. When King Abies addresses Amadis as "thou" during a battle, it's a sign of disrespect.

And when the narrator in this novel addresses the audience, it's always "vos." This book was popular with kings and nobles, and they merited proper treatment.

BRoP: Do you go for the meaning or are you looking at literal translation?

SB: Literal translations may be good for some academic purposes where the original language is important, but in this case medieval Spanish is too distant from modern English to always be comprehensible if translated literally, especially in word order and sentence structure. I have tried to stay as close to the original as I could to maintain the customs of the time, odd though they sometimes were. For example, at the end of the meal, "the tablecloths were lifted," instead of "the tables were cleared." Table linens mattered more those days.

BRoP: How long did it take to do the translation?

SB: The novel is divided into four books, and it took me two and a half years to translate the first book, that is, from January 2009 to May 2011. I'm translating a chapter at a time, or sometimes part of a long chapter, and posting it every other week on a website, I'm now translating Book II, which is shorter than Book I, and at this rate, I should finish it by the end of this year. The whole novel should be done by the end of 2016.

Normally, a full-time literary translator does about 3000 to 5000 words in a day, finishing a book in about one or two months. I'm doing about 1000 words a week, and this is a very big book -- I have a day job and other writing projects, so I work at a comfortable rate for my situation.

BRoP: Do you use critique partners or beta readers as a translator? If so, how is this process similar or different to the critique/editing process for writers?

SB: It's hard to find people who know medieval Spanish and are fluent in English, so I don't have a critique partner. And if I did, all they could do is check my accuracy. The text, plot, and characters are a given, so the translation can't be critiqued or edited beyond mere copyediting. Translation is a humble job, translators are secondary to the original author.

Instead of having a partner, I proofread my work. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Again, aloud. And again.

BRoP: If your book was made into a movie, who do you see playing the main characters?

SB: This movie calls for new, young actors. Amadis becomes a knight in his late teens, and his beloved Oriana is two years younger than he is. For Amadis, we need someone of medium height, strongly built, with curly blond hair, who is the handsomest young man in all Hollywood. Oriana must be the most beautiful young woman in the world, as the book says.

Please let us know where can your readers stalk you:


Facebook page:


My personal website:

Is your book in print, ebook or both?

In both paperback and Kindle.

Thanks so much for taking the time with us Sue!  See you on Sandra's blog for the next installment. 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for letting us interview you, and for the link. :D