Originally posted 10.4.2010
People have asked me how and why did I write Tulagi Hotel in English instead of Finnish, my native language. Some have even asked how could I do it. I think the answer is threefold; first, I have the Finnish comprehensive school’s language training, second, I studied at the University of Jyväskylä where the English department is very vibrant, and third, I have almost twenty-five years of translation experience.
Finland elected to invest in languages early on, since our own is not really a world language. When I was exposed to English in third grade, I had a very nice young lady as my teacher. Along with the other boys in class, I promptly fell for her, and decided to shine in English. I did my homework every time and sure enough, I had good marks. In upper comprehensive I was lucky to have a teacher who spotted the modicum of talent I have for languages, and he challenged me to develop outside the curriculum.
Then I entered the U of Jyväskylä, majoring in English. The Department was full of good teachers who strived to make us see language as a means, not as an end. There is much one can do in another language, if there’s a drive to understand the deep fundamentals of communication that lie under the presentation layer of language. This was central to the curriculum at the University, and it left a lasting impression.
My first commercial translation effort was helping a friend translate the manual for a database package called Paradox. This was during my early years at the University. Then I was hired by a local high-tech company to provide all English-language material they needed. At Microsoft I localized the Excel 3.0 macro language, and when I returned to Finland I carried on with MS projects, most of them over a million words of quality prose. Talk about practice.
All translators dream of writing a book. I could just as well have placed the story in Finland, especially since the aviation war here was very special in its nature and would have provided a good setting for the story (I definitely wanted air combat as the backdrop). That would have meant writing in Finnish, and then getting it published here. We have the same slush pile problem as everyone everywhere.
Instead, I opted for writing in English and trusted my luck in finding editors who would groom the book and spot the looney bits. Jason Horger did just that; he pointed out the parts that jarred in the eye of a native English speaker, and David Chudoba did the same for another round, fixing not only technical issues, but also stylistic ones. Editing services have to be applied to any book – no writer is good enough or impartial enough to produce a book on his own. Not me, at least.
One more feature I can’t emphasize enough is the need to read and learn in English all the time. I’m a hopeless Monty Python fanatic, as well as a Tolkien buff, and out of a hundred books I read, 97 are in English. There’s always something to learn out there, and I will never stop that process.
So, in a nutshell, I quote George Mallory before he climbed Mount Everest the last time in 1924: “Because it’s there”. I felt I could do it, and the end result is now out there for all to see whether I was right.