marcel barang

A new birth and its pangs

In English, Reading matters on 13/12/2012 at 8:43 pm

12ssIt took some time, but I finally managed to get in touch with all twelve authors [Correction: all but one; read on.] and to overcome a last computer hassle so that, as of this morning, 12 Thai short stories – 2012 is up for sale on thaifiction.com as a PDF e-book for 200 baht – or 4.99 euros when it comes on sale at immatériel.fr as well.

(A friend says PDFs can be downloaded and read without fuss on Kindle Fire tablets. If this is true, no need for e-pubs, which are a calamity to produce individually.)

This latest book is the fourth in a series of collections of short stories I translate during a given year (quite apart from the two dozen published each year on the bilingual blog). Occasionally, I get asked how long I intend to get the series going. The tongue-in-cheek answer is I might have a problem gathering as many as fifty in the year 2050 – by which time I hope I’ll long be dead.

The reality, though, is that it might be much, much earlier than that: I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find good fiction to translate. I’m down to scouring the back issues of Chor Karrakeit, which used to offer forty to fifty stories a year of various quality or interest. I’m more than half way through existing issues and may yet find two dozen stories worth translating. A few anthologies, put together by the Thai Ministry of Culture and other literary circles, also provide good ‘fodder’. When, every three years, the SEA Write Award deals with short stories, their short list is useful to go through the top of the crop and take my pick. I may buy the odd collection of short stories (or the odd novel) on a whim and a few writers send me their works either as books or as digital files, which I prefer, but it would take subscriptions to dozens of newspapers and magazines to keep abreast of current publication of short fiction and the end result wouldn’t justify the outlay.

Regarding those stories I find in Chor Karrakeit, I’m now faced with a further, vexing problem, which is contacting their authors: most of them are country writers that happen to have written a story that caught my eye and I wish to get known through translation – I have no idea who they are and wouldn’t disturb them if courtesy and the law didn’t oblige me to do so: in the case of a mere translation, to ask them for permission to ‘translate’, always post facto; in the case of the bilingual blog, to ask them for permission to not only translate but republish their Thai story.

Whenever I have managed to contact authors, all of them, with no exception, have been delighted to get translated and republished, something that warms the cockles of my heart, especially as I can offer them nothing in exchange except the pride of seeing their work in print in farang lingo.

Last year, during the floods, I asked a friend of mine helping Suchart Sawatsi, the erstwhile editor of Chor Karrakeit, to help me contact about half a dozen of the review’s contributors. This was done in no time. This year, I asked the same friend to help me contact three Chor Karrakeit writers, one for the short story collection, the other two for the pieces I’m planning to publish on the bilingual blog tonight and two weeks from now. Somehow, Suchart now claims all admin records were lost in last year’s floods.

Since then, I’ve found out that Thongchai Phandee, featured in the yearly collection, is the author of a crime novel published sixteen years ago. Two Facebook messages have remained unacknowledged. Too bad: in a case like this, silence is consent.

But what of Chomphookhanit Patthamadilok and Samut Nuamsetthee? The first is unknown on the net, except for that one story I chose and a few books in Thai that lead nowhere. No picture of her either, nor of the second, who is a rare beast: a successful TV movie director with no footprint on the net other than the couple of TV soaps he’s made recently, one of which actually got an award. I’ve alerted his work unit, left a message with the award-bestowing outfit, disturbed staffers in two Thai newspapers, all to no avail. All of this on top of my current predicament with WordPress (see previous postings) and health concerns.

I have no choice: the next three pieces in the pipeline also need legwork to get in touch with their authors. So I’ll go ahead and publish these two and keep my fingers crossed some contact can eventually be established and I can be pardoned for those shotgun weddings.

It’s either that or giving up and doing something else, which would be a shame.

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