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Interview with longlisted author Fernanda Melchor and translator Sophie Hughes

Interview with longlisted author Fernanda Melchor and translator Sophie Hughes

We speak to longlisted author Fernanda Melchor and translator Sophie Hughes about the inspiration behind Hurricane Seasonthe dangerous reasons why it became the novel it is today and their working relationship.

Fernanda Melchor

What has it been like to be longlisted?

It's a huge honor that comes as a total surprise for me. I mean, I immensely respect Sophie Hughes' work as a translator, I was sure she would do wonders to transmit all the rage and the intensity of my novel into the English version. But at the same time it just never crossed my mind that a book as awkward and violent as mine would end up being chosen to be part of this renowned longlist. As an emerging Latin American author, publishing for the first time with an independent publishing house, this is an outstanding opportunity to make my work known to Anglophone readers, which is something wonderful and totally scary at the same time.

Can you give us a taste of your longlisted book Hurricane Season?

Hurricane Season is a novel about the murder of a witch in the small Mexican town of La Matosa, a modern-day poverty-stricken community affected by the voracity of the petrol industry and organized crime. The Witch, as the villagers called her, was both feared and admired in La Matosa because of her alleged magical powers; she helped the women have abortions and bewitched men with her dubious charm. Playing with the rules of traditional crime literature and written in a language that often emulates the crudest colloquialism, each chapter of the novel is devoted to a different villager's subjectivity (Yesenia, Munra, Norma and Brando), to their personal demons and struggles, and the reasons they had to participate (or not) in The Witch's murder.

Did you always plan Hurricane Season as a novel?

The inspiration of this book comes from a real criminal case, the real murder of a "real" witch that occurred in rural Veracruz in 2012, and that I read about in a local newspaper. Initially, since I majored in Journalism and already had published a book of non-fiction, I wanted to write a true crime novel in the line of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, going into this small town surrounded by sugar cane fields and interviewing all those involved. I got discouraged very quickly because of the dangers of rural Veracruz at that time: most towns surrounding the port of Veracruz (and the port itself) were filled with Zetas and other rival cartel members and I became afraid of running into the wrong kind of people and ending up in a mass grave if I went there and started asking intrusive questions without any journalistic credentials or institutional backup, so I decided to write a novel instead, imagining the characters and the whole town of La Matosa from what I knew about the life in Veracruz at that time.

Hurricane Season includes long sentences and paragraphs, with one paragraph reportedly being 64 pages long, why did you choose to write in this style?

I never imagined I could write a novel like this. I like to think that this particular style was born out of necessity: an intense novel, full of spiraling anger and obsession, needed a style capable of holding the momentum, a narrative voice capable of entering the mind of the characters without losing a sort of skeptical cynicism, and to come and go through different timelines and stories. At the beginning of the writing process I wrote hundreds of pages from the perspective of the different inhabitants of La Matosa, especially the women; it was sort of a medium-like activity, listening to these jaded gossiping women telling me about the Witch and her killers in hushed voices, at times contradicting themselves, so even though most of this material didn't make it to the final version because I didn't like the idea of this novel being a pure recollection of first-person testimonies, some of that popular speech fluency end up shaping the final form. At some point I learned a lot from the strategies used by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in The Autumn of the Patriarch, or from Thomas Bernhard's Woodcutters, which are authors I admire.

 

Sophie Hughes

What has it been like to be longlisted?

You can imagine the joy! I’m thrilled for Fernanda, thrilled for the book, and it’s hugely gratifying to be commended alongside colleagues you admire for a job you love.

What did you most like about translating Hurricane Season?

The novel stands out to me as an investigation into the origins of violence and the unseen motives – like love and vulnerability – behind some acts of hate. There’s a kind of warped beauty to both Fernanda’s language and her eye for detail. I relished having a ringside view of the latter and really enjoyed trying to match the musicality of the gross vernacular and the clash of registers in the original by making strange brews of English words that might have the same effect that the Spanish had on me, which was to jolt me out of complacency.

How did you find the translating process for this novel?

Emotionally draining and creatively exhilarating with brilliant editorial input.

Do you like to work closely with the author or do they leave you to translate on your own?

I was lucky to be able to consult Fernanda, a translator herself from English into Spanish and a very sensitive reader. Our exchanges couldn’t have been more helpful, especially when it came to the conundrum of translating a distinctive Veracruz vernacular into English without inadvertently transposing the setting to any one part of the Anglosphere. I went with my gut and my ear, perhaps over convention, and looted all kinds of Englishes.