Love comes in all shapes, sizes… and levels of messiness. In Daughters, Lucy Fricke explores the relationships between Betty and Martha and their uniquely dysfunctional fathers, whilst celebrating female friendship in the weirdest and most darkly funny road-trip novel you will ever read. Here at NB HQ, we loved Daughters so much we selected it as one of our recommended reads for the Autumn love issue. Alice B was delighted to speak to Lucy and Sinead about translating humour, Greek islands and love stories.
- Congratulations on the huge success of Töchter in Germany – and your upcoming success as the novel is released in English! Why do you think Töchter has resonated with so many readers?
Thank you! I was a bit surprised by the success, to be honest. A lot of women told me they see themselves in the novel, identify with the two protagonists Martha and Betty, with their language and thoughts. I just wanted to write very honestly about two women in the middle of their lives, two women I’d like to be friends with. Perhaps I managed it and perhaps I’m not the only person who wishes they had friends like them.
2. I read that Daughters is your first novel to be translated. Did you have any involvement with the translation process, and if so, what was it like?
The first translation came out a few months ago: Czech. The English translation is being published now, followed by six other languages over the next few months. I’ve been in contact with almost all the translators, partly because they were the people who pushed for translations in their own countries and found publishers. I can’t thank them enough for that. I was especially surprised by how precisely the translators work – they never miss a mistake or an inaccuracy in the text. By now I’m starting to think we ought to get a novel translated first and only publish it in the original after that. I’m learning such an incredible amount about my own writing through the process. We’ve often talked about specific words, about colloquial expressions and how to carry over cultural allusions that everyone in Germany understands. I don’t get too involved, though; I really have a whole lot of trust in the translators’ work. I’m just available if they have questions.
3. What drew you towards examining the complex relationships Martha and Betty have with their uniquely dysfunctional fathers, and the shifting power balances over time? What was the initial inspiration for the novel?
To begin with, I mainly wanted to write about women around the age of forty. I wanted to let them talk the whole time, about subjects that are important at that age, or starting to be. There are so many ‘women’s novels’ or ‘women’s films’ that are only about men, about sex, bodies and looks and about finding Mister Right, love saving the day. That’s not my experience at all – the subject just isn’t as important any more for me or the women I know. There are other things on our mind, and that includes our parents, who are getting to an age when they need our help. The parent-child relationship is reversed, and time starts running out to have certain conversations with our parents, to get close to them again. Fathers occupy a particular role, I think, because it used to be normal for them to be absent. It’s only now that fathers and mothers are more often sharing childcare responsibilities equally that we’re noticed we’ve accepted these absent fathers for centuries. That’s what makes the relationship so special; often enough, the first man in our lives didn’t have time or attention to spare for us, and there are plenty of daughters still begging for that attention as grown women. The father-daughter relationship is often shaped by longing.
4. The subject matter of the book is – when you look at the facts alone – very dark, as terminally-ill Kurt is driven by his Betty and Martha to Switzerland for assisted suicide (at least, that was the intention). Despite the tough subject matter, the book is one of the funniest I have read. Do you find it easy to weave humour into this (fundamentally sad) story? Does this come naturally?
I can’t look at life and the world without humour, I probably couldn’t stand it at all. In my writing, humour allows me a certain distance, a freedom to address things with sometimes brutal honesty. Apart from that, it’s just that writing is a lonely business, and I like to have a laugh and surprise myself every now and then. I try to be good company for myself while I’m working.
5. There are some particularly entertaining scenes within Daughters; being carried by a donkey across a Greek Island, getting into tangles with the Mafia, etc. As I was reading, I felt this would make a funny film, and have later learnt that the filming process is already underway! Have you been involved in this process of transforming your book for the big screen? And how does it feel to have your novel adapted?
I’ve been unbelievably lucky with the film adaptation. Even before the German publication date, my friend, the director Nana Neul, read the manuscript and immediately said she wanted to film it. At the time I laughed, but then there were suddenly loads of production companies interested in it. The dream came true with producer Bettina Brokemper from Heimatfilm and Warner Bros. as co-producers: Nana and I wrote the screenplay together and they’re currently shooting in Greece and Italy, a big European co-production. I still can’t believe it, actually. I’m even happier now that I’ve seen the first couple of scenes. The film’s developing a language all of its own; it’s going to be even weirder than the book.
6. Did you visit Italy and Greece (and some of the less charming parts of Germany in between) whilst writing the novel?
I went to all the locations, drove the route to Italy myself. I had a three-month writer’s residency in Italy, and I actually just wanted to take a bit of a holiday on the Greek island but I ended up staying almost two months, and started writing there. I didn’t come up with the whole story, the plot until after I got back, though. It often goes that way – I travel, I make notes, I soak it all up like a sponge and then I squeeze myself out at my desk in Berlin.
7. Are you working on anything new at the moment?
Yes, I’m right in the middle of something. I’m writing and researching at the moment in Istanbul, where a large part of my new novel is set, a diplomat story. It’s going to be a much more political book than my previous ones.
8. Each issue of NB Magazine has a theme – this issue has the theme of Love – in your opinion, what is the greatest love story of all time?
I’m currently in Istanbul, so it has to be Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. An obsessive, wonderfully pathos-laden and terribly unhappy love story. And also the only novel that has its own museum.
INTERVIEW WITH SINEAD CROWE, TRANSLATOR
- How did you get into translating? And what is the thing you love most about working as a translator?
I got into translating just a few years ago. Before that, I did a PhD in German literature and taught at universities in the UK and Ireland, but I became tired of the lack of job security in academia. I decided to try and establish a career in translating as I thought this would enable me to apply my love of language and literature in a way that would pay the bills! I started off working for a translation agency, where I learned a lot, before going freelance and building up a literary translation profile. I enjoy so many things about my work, but I suppose what excites me most is helping to bring a book I love to a whole new readership.
- When did you come across Daughters for the first time? How did you come on board as translator?
I first came across Daughters in February 2018 when Lucy read from it at HAM.LIT, a very cool literary festival in Hamburg, where I now live. The passage she read was just so funny – the audience was falling about laughing, which isn’t something you see that often at German literary events – that I bought the book and devoured it. I put feelers out for potential publishers, and then Katy Derbyshire from V&Q Books got in touch to say that they had secured the rights and would like me to translate. I was thrilled.
Why do you think Töchter has resonated with so many readers in Germany?
There’s the dark humour, of course. But I find the novel very moving, too. I have read it several times now and I always cry at the end! And then the dialogue is just fantastic; the best friends at the heart of the story, Martha and Betty, speak the way friends of mine – and not just German friends – actually speak. There’s something universal about the struggles they face – aging, loss, infertility, stalled careers, romantic disappointments, difficult parents – and so I am confident the novel will resonate with readers beyond Germany too.
- Can you describe how you approached the translation process, and how the process varied from your previous translation work (including your non-fiction experience)?
When translating this novel, I felt I had quite a bit more creative freedom compared to the non-fiction book I translated a few years ago (Ronen Steinke’s Fritz Bauer: The Jewish Prosecutor Who Brought Eichmann and Auschwitz to Trial). Of course, all translation work requires some degree of research, but with Steinke’s book, which was a biography about a major historical figure, I had to make sure I got every historical term right. It also entailed a lot of research about the German legal system. When translating Lucy’s novel, I relied more on gut instinct. It was more important to get the humour across, to replicate the rhythms of the language as best I could, and to render the characters as vividly in English as they are in German.
- How closely did you work with Lucy Fricke? Did you mainly work alone, or was there a lot of discussion involved?
Lucy was hugely supportive without interfering, which is exactly what a translator wants in an author. I’ve heard chilling stories about authors who question every word of a translation, but thankfully Lucy trusted me to get on with the job. I tend not to ask authors questions until I’ve prepared the entire first draft, as some questions resolve themselves as you work your way through the novel. As well as emailing her questions, I spent a lovely afternoon with Lucy in the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin along with her Spanish and French translators, María Tellechea and Isabelle Liber, where we went through our questions. It was fascinating to find out about translation challenges that emerged in other languages that weren’t necessarily a problem for me, and vice versa. You can find out more about these in the next issue of the translation journal Toledo, which should be online by the end of October 2020 (https://www.toledo-programm.de/journale).
- What were the greatest challenges in translating Daughters? (In your translators note at the end of the novel you speak about being concerned over translating humour- I found the book extremely funny if that is any consolation!) Were there certain cultural references which couldn’t be carried across?
I am so pleased the humour came through! That was really my main concern – maybe because I’m worried that, unlike Lucy, I’m not a natural wit myself! The novel certainly has plenty of cultural references that might not be familiar to the average English-speaking reader. You have a few options in those situations: either leave the reference as it is to preserve a sense of “Germanness”, substitute a cultural reference familiar to English-speaking readers or provide some kind of explanation. I didn’t want to erase the sense of Germanness altogether, but at the same time, I needed to make sure that readers “get” the humour, so it was a balancing act.
- Daughters includes an eclectic array of characters. I particularly enjoyed Kurts ranting (‘Emancipation. Self-actualisation. What a load of bollocks!) and Betty’s musings (‘I live the kind of life that generations of women before us fought for. You can’t call that a mess. I am the embodiment of maximum freedom.’) Who was your favourite character to translate? Which passage of the novel was the most fun to work on?
I have to say I’m fond of Kurt too. He’s such an unreconstructed chauvinist, yet you can’t help loving him! I really enjoyed translating the dialogue in the book, because as I mentioned earlier, it feels authentic. I think my favourite of all was the banter between Kurt, Betty and Martha. The three of them are in this macabre situation, cooped up in Kurt’s battered old Golf on their way to a euthanasia clinic, and they squabble about everything from money to feminism to the perils of dating men with tattoos.
- Each issue of NB Magazine has a theme – this issue has the theme of Love – in your opinion, what is the greatest love story of all time?
Maybe not the greatest love story of all time, but certainly one of the most thought-provoking meditations on romantic love I’ve read: Catherine Lacey’s The Answers. It’s about a young woman who takes part in a “Girlfriend Experiment,” which aims to uncover the science behind falling in love. It is weird and funny and totally unpredictable. Lacey is sickeningly talented.
Daughters was one of the first three novels to be published on 15th September by new imprint, V&Q books.
ISBN-13 : 978-3863912567