Maria Turtschaninoff is a fantasy fiction novelist from Finland and I am her English translator. I studied her book ‘Arra’ for my Masters dissertation and, consequently, worked on her most recent title ‘Maresi’, which is going down a storm in the English-speaking market. When she visited London to promote its release, I got to meet her for the first time.
I was waiting for her in the café at Foyles, wracked with nerves for some reason, practising what I was going to say to impress her. What questions would I ask? The main thing I wanted to know was how to pronounce all the names of the people and places that she had invented, but that seemed so flippant.
I didn’t know Maria, but I knew Maresi. I’ve inhabited Maresi’s mind and voice – I have spoken for her, like an actor playing a role. I had to get under the character’s skin. I didn’t know Maria, but I knew her creations: Maresi, Jai, Arra, Anaché… Some say that every character is a reflection of its creator – that each is the personification of a part of their own identity. Every mind is a village, filled with different characters and archetypes: the way we used to be; the way we dream we could be; or fear we are. All these fractions of self are brought out into the light and fleshed out.
So though I may not have known Maria the writer, Maria the mother or the 21st century woman, my intimacy with her leading ladies means I am very well acquainted with Maria the fighter, the dreamer, the leader, creator, magician, feminist. I know that she, like her protagonists, has a thirst for knowledge, and a profound connection with nature and the magic hidden in plain view. I know that she stands up for what is right, that she breaks moulds, brings the extraordinary into the everyday, and vice versa.
Her stories tell of girls on the brink of womanhood who, finding oppression from the harsh, patriarchal world around them, find their own voice and strength. In Maria’s world, each individual girl’s journey is supported by a sisterhood that extends beyond the realms of time and place. No matter how grown up we may seem on the outside, sometimes we all feel like a child inside, unsure of our power and our place – and perhaps this is especially the case for women. Maria’s books speak to me just as I believe she intended: as proof of the meta-network of support extending from woman to woman, across the generations and across the seas. Passing down truth through story.
So knowing all this, perhaps it is surprising that I was so nervous to meet her. I already knew her. I had occupied her world and her mind and essentially found them to be the same as my own. But meeting her, I felt like that insecure adolescent again, pretending to be competent in the very grown-up world of literary translation.
The result? We gossiped and giggled like school girls. It was as if we had known each other for years. I left feeling incredibly inspired – as a translator, a writer and a feminist. Inspired to be bold, to follow my feet and keep the stories alive.
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