By Liora Salt
Writing a novel is a lonely business…Especially if English is not your first language.
My friends ask me very often: “Why do you want to write in English?” “Why do you try to make a hard job even harder?” “Where did this idea come from?”
I tell you what – I never know where all my creative ideas come from, but I do know that the idea for my first novel written in English -“The Ways We Follow”- came into my head in English.
It was spring 2014…
The beginning of the year was full of political changes and social disturbances in Russia and neighbouring Ukraine. As a person who had lived in both countries for quite a long time, I couldn’t stay indifferent. I had friends and relatives on both sides, although the truth laid somewhere in the middle. The “carcass” of the novel appeared in my head and one by one the characters started to “talk” to me. To talk in English…
I had been living in the UK for about one year by that time. So as you can imagine, these “voices” had strong Russian accents and very little understanding of English stylistic and other fine points of the language. But they were determined enough to persuade me not to leave the process.
I found Sheffield Novelist group accidentally by looking on the internet for opportunities to improve my writing and get feedback. First, I was a bit concerned about sharing my ideas with strangers as I had never done it before. I wasn’t even sure that my writing was readable at all or interesting to anybody.
But I’ve done it – for the first time in my life, I’ve opened my ideas to the public and never regretted it at all.
The members of the group, with their constructive feedback and patience about my mistakes has empowered me to continue.
Every chapter has been re-written, God knows how many times (and I’m sure they are still not perfect), but the support and inspiration I have received from the Sheffield Novelists group keeps me going.
People ask me if I write in Russian and then translate into English. I can tell you straight – no way! In fact, trying to translate it is the worst thing to do with a manuscript (unless you’re a professional translator and you do it for a living). My advice to any non-English-speaking writer is: never try to translate your ideas from your language into English. It simply doesn’t work. Translation will never show the depth of the original ideas.
My novel was born in English, for an English-speaking audience, but the ideas and problems which have been described, the questions which have been asked, the values that have been reflected are absolutely universal for every city, every country, every language and as a result, for everybody.
The plot is set in the near future, and reflects all the issues and weak points of modern Russian society. The big city of St. Petersburg seduces the reader with its cold and elegant beauty and then, like a giant creature, swallows dreams, hopes and sometimes even the lives of the main characters, drawing them into its rivers and canals.
Despite the many challenges I have faced with the English language, it has become a better tool for “the needs” of my novel. However bizarre that sounds…
It has cost me lots of hours of my free time, as well as a lot of nerve, to make my writing readable and more understandable for an English-speaking reader.
I hope the result will be worth it and, who knows, maybe one day the English-speaking world will find my novel on the shelves of book shops. Maybe the readers will discover another Russia – not always cold and dull, like the way the mass media likes to describe it. Another Russia they have never seen before….