Friday, 1 February 2013

Dead Man Talking # 17 - Arne Keller

Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Arne Keller

When I first published a novel called 1-2-3-4 on Kindle, one irate reader sent me back a complete manuscript with all the typos highlighted and corrected (including all the obscure Glasgow swear words) which was seriously impressive especially as the reader was Danish. However this was no ordinary Dane. Step forward Arne Keller, book translator extraordinaire at Danish publishing house KLIM. Strachan McQuade was just itching to have a chin-wag with this talented, beady-eyed, multi-instrumentalist, erm…. actually come to think of it Strachan itches most of the time on account of his festering skin-rash. Hopefully he didn’t leave too much flaky flesh behind after his jaunt to Denmark.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.
Arne Keller


McQuade: For today’s interview I’ve travelled all the way to Langelinje Pier in Copanhagen where the famous statue of the Little Mermaid sits on a rock brazenly flaunting her naked charms to all and sundry. Despite being almost 100 years old she’s still very firm and shapely and has never once subjected herself to the indignity of Botox injections. Take note Joan Collins. With me today is book translator Arne Keller. Hoi, stop eating pastries and pay attention, Keller. Now, obviously translating novels from English to Danish must be a painstaking task. (Editor – Especially if you don’t speak Danish…….. or English for that matter) So, out of curiosity how many books do you translate in a year?

Keller: Hello, Strachan, how nice not to see you. (Thanks to the wonder of the internet). As for the Mermaid, Strachan, you are in luck: No one has sawed off her head recently.  – Book translations have averaged two volumes a year since 2006; other than that, I have produced countless translations of cartoon movie and teenage-show dialogues for dubbing-purposes – that is, for Danish actors to read from. “Curious George” was one of the series. Another was a weird Australian one about girls turning into Mermaids when brushing their teeth or otherwise getting into contact with water.    

Martin Luther
McQuade: Book translation caused a pretty big uproar in religious circles during the Reformation period when Protestants claimed it was unfair for the Bible to be published in Latin mainly because they couldn’t understand a word of it. Martin Luther, I understand was a particularly poor student of the Roman language and consistently had F minus scrawled across his test papers which led to him nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg in 1517. As a young student attending Theological college I was much influenced by Luther and wanted to emulate his brilliant publicity stunt. Alas, I didn’t have 95 Theses to hand and made do with a copy of the Sunday Post. Unfortunately I also hammered the nail through the sleeve of my jacket and was stuck to the church door for seven hours before a janitor freed me with a claw hammer. Sorry, losing the thread here. I’m sure there was a question lurking in amongst this rambling. Ah, yes – have you ever been tempted to translate the Bible into Danish and change all the disciple’s names to things like Dagmar, Jens, Lisbet, Magnus, Ingeborg and Anker? Perhaps even rename it as The Killing IV.

Keller: I have indeed. Very sorely tempted. But as you probably don’t know, McQuade, the thing to do about temptations is to resist them. So, grudgingly I shelved the project. Would have been far too easy, anyway.

McQuade: My research team (Editor – That’s me) has discovered you are a versatile musician playing amongst other things, banjo, violin, and crumhorn, but not usually all at the same time. What other instruments do you play?

Keller: Other instruments: Highland bagpipes, lute and cornet. Sometimes at the same event (we have some odd events over here, believe you me!) Don’t tell me you didn’t know we were playing the pipes in Denmark? Go google – that should enlighten you.

McQuade: Did you ever dream of forming a band with my musical idol, Kenneth McKellar? As that would have resulted in the very catchy moniker of Keller and McKellar which does tickle my spleen somewhat.

Keller: No; but I once played in a duo with one John Kelly. That sounded kind of ticklish, too.

McQuade: Staying on the subject of music, please tell us who or what Gallywampus is. I saw it noted on your CV and thought it must be a Danish typo.

Keller: Gallywampus is a mythical creature, supposed to occur in the American Midwest. Could be extinct by now, though. The band borrowing the name certainly is. 

McQuade: I’m already aware that you have translated books for crime writer, Phil Rickman. What other writers have you translated for? And if you sometimes get stuck at certain words with local colouring do you just make some stuff up? Who would know anyway?

Carolyn Frusciante

Keller: Jeffrey Archer, George Soros, Mervyn Peake, Michael Chrichton, J. E.  Lovelock, Craig Russell, Rebecca Skloot.
Yes, of course I get stuck in cases of some local gobbledygook; then the trick is to think of some equivalent gobbledygook in Danish to replace it with. It has to be done with great taste, though. Who would know anyway? I’ll tell you who would know: Carolyn Frusciante would know. She understands Danish perfectly; she is the Deputy High Priestess of the Phil Rickman Appreciation Society, and she happens to live on the same island as me. So if I were to screw up, she’d be kicking my door in, pretty pronto, no doubt about that!   

McQuade: By Jove! I’ve had previous dealings with that Frusciante woman and I quite understand your reluctance to cause offence. Last time we met she kicked me on the shin and made fun of my favourite tweed jacket. I think she’d been drinking. Now then Keller - famous Danes include - Hans Christian Anderson, Viggo Mortenson, Brigitte Neilsen, Brian Laudrup, and Mr Lurpack who invented Danish butter. If you were to become a famous Dane what would you wish to be famous for? Please note, playing the crumhorn doesn’t count regardless of which nationality you subscribe to.

Viggo Mortenson
Keller: There is also H. C. Oersted, who discovered electromagnetism. And Valdemar Poulsen, who invented the tape-recorder! And Niels Bohr, who helped invent the atomic bomb … well, then there are some infamous Danes too, of course.
I think I would like to be famous for being a perfect gentleman. You see, in Denmark the definition of a gentleman is someone who is capable of playing the Highland Bagpipes – but desists.

McQuade: Were there any particular translators that inspired you to gravitate towards your  trade? And I won’t be accepting Babel Fish as an answer.

Keller: No. Not unless you consider the clowns writing tv-subtitles. I often thought: I can do better. So you don't exactly "gravitate" towards this calling: You soar. It's a hubris, presuming that you can do better than the next guy. But sometimes it works.

It was an author who inspired me: Mervyn Peake.

McQuade: Lastly, if you were stuck on a desert island with only one book to translate - which one would you choose?

Keller: Definitely Philip Gosse's: "The Pirate's Who's Who". It probably pays off to be prepared in this sort of situation.

McQuade: Thank you so much, Keller for a smashing interview. Please accept this pork chop which I discovered in a waste bin on the boat over here. With a bit of apple sauce it should do as a tasty treat for your tea tonight. By the way - you know that Gallywampus creature we were talking about earlier on? Does it have a big hairy body, with a dozen poisonous tentacles and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth? I'm only asking because there's one right behind you. No, honestly there is. I'd move pretty quickly if I were you...... Ah well, at least it left the pork chop behind. Waste not want not, I suppose.

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