AFCC 2014 (Part 1): A Japanese-English Translator in Singapore

Paul Quirk, Ena City, Gifu Prefecture

AFCC logoEarly this month I attended the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) at Singapore’s National Library. As a translator of children’s literature, I found much to interest me.

I’ve broken up my report into three parts. The first is a general overview of the festival and the relevance of an event like this for translators of Japanese literature (from my personal point of view). The second is a summary of Cathy Hirano’s presentation on translating children’s literature. The third is my report from presentations by Bill Belew, a professor in social media marketing, who had some useful tips on how to get more people to come and visit your website.

Smiles at AFCC 2014

Smiles at AFCC 2014. From left: translator Cathy Hirano, translator Paul Quirk, Yuuki Hasegawa, author and SCBWI Japan Assistant Regional Advisor Mariko Nagai, SCBWI Japan Regional Illustrator Coordinator Naomi Kojima, author Evelyn Wong

1. Overview of AFCC 2014

The Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) is an annual event held in Singapore. It’s a place where authors, illustrators, translators, publishers, agents and others find out what is happening in the publishing world, share ideas, and find partners for their new projects. There are also events for librarians, teachers and parents, and so consumers and advocates of content for children can talk directly with the people creating content, giving them feedback as well as ideas for their next projects.

But to be totally honest, during the first day at the festival I was wondering whether it was such a good idea to be there. There were a lot of great authors and illustrators about, it was true, but I found myself asking, “As a translator, what can I get out of this?”

SCBWI Singapore books on display

I began translating children’s stories from two classic Japanese authors—Kenji Miyazawa and Nankichi Niimi—over two years ago, and publishing them online under the name of Little J Books. It’s still early days, but it’s something I really enjoy doing. My motivation is to create a way of introducing the kinds of stories that I like to other people who might be interested in Japanese literature. In future it would be great if I could get more translators involved, translating different authors, and get the books (with illustrations) into shops as well as online. But how do you go about doing that?

Well, I didn’t find the answer to this problem at AFCC 2014, but I did hear a lot of good ideas that could put me on the right track. I also got a lot better at explaining what I was trying to do. I realized that meeting people at an event like this is a great way to test out your ideas on people who share a lot of the same interests. It is also a great way to find out about all of the different authors and illustrators from around Asia, and listen to how their experience working with children’s books has changed their lives, as well as the children who’ve read their stories.

One more thing that I realized from attending the AFCC was that translators are well positioned to be promoters of content. Because we are bilingual, we can introduce (in the case of Japanese translators) our favorite Japanese authors and illustrators to the rest of the world, while at the same time introduce the rest of the world to Japan. Could anyone be better qualified to do that?

I had a terrific time at AFCC 2014, and in the end I got a lot out of it. A lot of ideas, a lot of contacts, and a lot of new friends. I hope I can make it back there again soon.

Hardworking volunteers at the SCBWI desk

Hardworking volunteers at the SCBWI desk

Here is a sampling of some of the presenters that spoke this year.

Sally Gardner, an award winning English author who has sold over two million books, spoke about how important it was to write from the heart. Don’t think about what kind of story sells, but ask yourself what kind of story you want to tell, and then write that story.

Fazeila Isa, a lecturer in early childhood and special education at the Sultan Idris Education University in Malaysia, used the example of the picture book Arabella by Wendy Orr and illustrated by Kim Gamble to demonstrate how a child with a disability can be incorporated into the story without the focus being on the disability.

There is a strong need for more books that incorporate people with handicaps into the story, or have them as the protagonists. Writers (and translators who choose to translate such stories) can help to empower disabled children through storytelling.

Mahtab Narsimhan (children’s author) and Cristy Burne (children’s author) gave a talk on how to create spine-tingling scary stories. One tool that both of these authors use to create tension is folklore. Mahtab uses fearsome characters from Indian folklore such as the Goddess Kali and Lord Shiva, and Cristy uses zany characters from Japanese folklore, such as an umbrella that comes to life and runs around on one ‘leg.’

Scary stories are an important tool for enabling children to overcome their fears.

Mariko Nagai, a poet, prose writer and author of Dust of Eden—and the Assistant Regional Advisor of SCBWI Japan—spoke about the topics of improving literacy and promoting cross-cultural understanding. She also pointed out something that is easy to forget, which is that poetry is an integral part of a child’s early education. Children may not understand the meaning of the poetry, but they love the rhythm and rhyme, and are quick to commit poetry to memory.

Mariko launched Dust of Eden during the AFCC. Dust of Eden is an important story that has been written with great sensitivity, about how a thirteen-year-old Japanese American girl and her family are placed in an internment camp during World War II. With so many children spending years inside refugee ‘institutions’ in countries such as Australia, it is a story that still has great relevance today.

Watch this blog for two more posts (Parts 2 and 3) about my favorite speakers at AFCC.

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