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The Simple Things

It may have taken me nearly three weeks to get hold of a copy (thank you for letting me temporarily steal yours Amanda), but the current issue of The Simple Things magazine has a lovely few pages with some illustrations from Speaking in Tongues.

Essentially exactly the same book as The Illustrated Book of Sayings, but Speaking in Tongues is the UK version with a different title and cover. It's both bizarre and wonderful to see your work printed in these places, and I always feel very gleeful about it all.

Book Based

Two years ago (two years? heck!) I was invited to speak at a literary festival in the tiny French town of Parisot, Festilitt, and last year I missed them terribly; I accepted the task of creating an illustration based on one of the books being spoken about that year, and this year I'm creating two (I feel this is an increasingly slippery slope). One of them is for Claire Fuller's new book 'Swimming Lessons' (her previous novel 'Our Endless Numbered Days' was spectacular), and the other is for the busy-sounding Adam Thorpe, and his book 'Missing Fay'. Both of these people have won awards for their writing/loveliness, so I was honoured to be asked to make these designs.

The illustrations get printed onto small notecards, which are sold at the festival, and the original artwork gets sent off to Parisot, where it joins others in an exhibition.

Below is the beginning of the illustration based on 'Missing Fay', which I must hurry up and complete, because I'm meant to have them both to their destination by June 30th—yikes!

This Is A Public Service Announcement

In case you didn't know about it already, I have a Pinterest account. And while their constant redesigns frustrate me, I find it an incredibly valuable place for curating constrained pockets of inspiration, and images that I want to remember I've seen.

I have categories such as 'Words That Bind' and 'Illufrustration', 'Muted' and 'Dolce Far Niente' (the beauty of doing nothing). Strangely, or perhaps not strangely, I'm really proud of it. I feel like it's possibly the best way for a stranger to get to know me, because it's how I've evolved creatively over the last 4 years or so.

Moving Me

I'm moving house this weekend, and at some point during the packing-up-everything process, I realised that a new bath mat was probably overdue. An odd thing to be sharing with you, I know, but Society6 have recently added bath mats to their terrifyingly long and impressive list of available products, and so I was able to order this delight. 

My new bathroom (again, not sure why I'm telling you this/perhaps this is what blogs are for/and maybe you need a new bath mat too) has sage green tiles and so I figure I'll just turn the space into a forest. Reasonable? I think so. I like the idea of falling out of the bathtub directly into a woodland.

Love & Untranslatability

The full version of this post was published today on Memrise, but here is most of it. If you haven't already heard of Memrise, then you will be pleased to discover that it is probably the most fabulous language learning app out there.

There has never been more of a need to translate things accurately, to translate things truthfully, and this has to coexist with the fact that languages are growing, changing, and dying all the time—shaped by humanity as it races forwards. It can be difficult to keep up with something that is always moving, but it is important to at least try. Translation at its best gives people the opportunity to acutely understand, to experience how another human being far removed from their daily life feels about something. It means we can empathise with problems we would have otherwise never known existed, and begin to comprehend the emotions of the cultures and nations which lie across oceans.

Even with the aforementioned best intentions, it can still be nigh on impossible to convey the specifically vague yet deeply-rooted emotions or thoughts of a culture or language, and therein lies the ‘untranslatable’ word. It is perhaps easiest and also most futile to try and begin to demonstrate this with love, as even within the boundaries our native tongues, we still struggle to articulate the inexhaustible facets of this word and what it ultimately means. Part of the reason for this is that love is excruciatingly subjective—we cannot study it effectively from neatly laid-out textbooks, and it is never experienced in the same way by two people. With this in mind, I’m sharing with you some examples of translated love from my two books, Lost in Translation and Speaking in Tongues.

First up is the Norwegian word forelsket, which for them pinpoints the euphoria we feel when we first begin to fall in love. The idea behind ‘untranslatable’ words is that we don’t have a direct, word-for-word translation for them, and have to grapple a little—try and explain using sentences, paragraphs, and in my case, illustrations.

Idioms are peculiar expressions that cannot be understood from the individual meanings of the words that comprise them—they are more than the sum of their parts. This, combined with the cultural differences afforded when discussing love, means that there are some extraordinary examples, like this Farsi expression. Actually a term of endearment for native speakers, jeegaretō bokhoram is a way of expressing deep affection and love and would usually be used only when speaking to close loved ones, like family members or dear friends. Its meaning is along the lines of ‘I would do anything for you’, ‘You are my heart’, or ‘I love you so much, I could just eat you up’.

To me, the fact that these words and sayings exist (whether love-related or not) is a great comfort, and I’m definitely not alone in feeling reassured by their effectiveness as a tangible reminder of our rich cultural and emotional variations. While we all have very different ideas of precisely what love is, and hold close the power to decide how it may or may not directly affect us, I think that to have a chance of leaving this place with even a little understanding of it, we need to not only get better at recognising love in all its everyday , but also learn about its untranslatability.

Although we are restricted to some extent by the words we know, in the languages we speak, it feels astonishing to learn or stumble across the right turn of phrase in a foreign tongue. We can feel better understood, more able to love, less likely to assume. 
There are certain languages that are assumed to be the ‘romantic’ ones, but I don’t think that can possibly be true—we should feel lucky that we have the option of looking into other cultures to better understand ourselves, our relationships. There is no one language of love, because there will never be exactly the right way to say it; what is said between our hearts and our heads really is untranslatable.