marcel barang

Birth pains (1)

In English on 07/10/2009 at 10:11 pm


I don’t know how the others do it, but coming up with a decent website has taken us more than eight months, assuming that the damn thing will come online in the very next few days. And please don’t tell me that if it were a baby, such a birth would be premature! I’ve been suffering birth pains ever since early February, and yes, at times, I’ve felt like puking and at other times had odd cravings for spicy titbits such as logos and fancy fonts. new formula will present 47 volumes – almost all of my translator’s activities of the past fifteen years –, of which 37 will be on sale as e-books. The original idea of also selling paperbacks had at some point to be dropped as impractical.

Eighteen of these 37 volumes are novels from the 1994 Thai Modern Classics series that undertook to translate the 20 best novels of Thailand according to yours truly. (I’m working on item 19; one hour ago I was deciphering p878 of the 1262 pages of See Phaendin (Four Reigns).) The others are more recent novels and collections of short stories, some of them in French as well.

One thing that has pleased me very much is that when, in February 2009, thinking that the website would be reborn in a matter of weeks, I did the rounds of the sixteen copyright holders involved, in most cases it took only a telephone conversation or an email to get their agreement and encouragement.

But out of the sixteen, I have had problems with three – not authors, but their heirs. I still have a problem with one, for a book that should be the 38th of the list.

The first wwomancovas with the son and daughter of Kor Surangkhanang, the author of Ying Khon Chua (The fallen woman in my translation; The Prostitute in a previous translation by David Smyth).

Some of it was of my own making: the daughter, whose English is fluent, objected to my translation, finding it too rough in parts. She made very good corrections and observations, I was grateful for them and I adjusted the text accordingly.

The real fun began with the brother, who owns the novel’s copyright. Arguing that he wanted to protect his mother’s rights but didn’t want to be really formal about it, he enjoined me to write a contract in Thai which he’d countersign and deposit with some law court. I mobilised my Thai-typing legal-eagle daughter to that effect, only to have him scrap the document and write his own, to which I agreed, providing as well the bona fide documentation he demanded (such fancy stuff as the list of shareholders in the mother-company and the like), which took me four days to assemble through the mobilisation of half a dozen people including three bigwigs in our publishing group, whereupon I was granted the right to exploit … my own work starting 15 April 2009 for two years – there are roughly fifteen months left, sir, and nothing to show for it yet. The only thing I can say in his favour is that he had the grace to turn down the payment of copyrights, which I will keep for him nonetheless or give to charity, since all copyright holders are entitled to 20 percent of the selling price minus taxes.

The second and third cases, funnily enough, have got to do with titled sister writers of yore and the wonders of Thai bureaucracy.

I’m talking of Phoo Dee (Noblesse oblige) by Dorkmai Sot (ML Buppha Nimmanhaemin) and Thutiyawiseit by her younger half-sister Bunluea (ML Bunluea Theipphayasuwan).


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