The DON BARTLETT interview: part one

Posted: September 8, 2011 in Norway, Scandinavia

The 12 September will mark the fifth anniversary of my debut blogging about crime fiction. I wanted a really special feature to celebrate this, and the relaunch of my old blog as Crime Scraps Review.

Don Bartlett, the brilliant translator of Norwegian crime writers Jo Nesbo and K.O.Dahl, was kind enough to agree to answer a few questions.  Don is responsible for many many hours of pleasurable reading for fans of translated crime fiction, and it is a privilege to have a contribution from him on the blog.

1] Don, what books did you read as a child, and did any of the authors have an influence on your later reading?

During the last year at primary school we had to read 40 classics from all over the world. Writers like Mark Twain, Alexander Dumas, Jules Verne, R L Stevenson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Anna Sewell, Susan Coolidge, Walter Scott, Kipling etc. I remember liking the majority, and maybe they gave me a sense of the outside world. Other names, worlds, come to mind: Biggles, Arthur Ransome, Hornblower! Not much of that left in primary schools now, but thanks to them I started reading.

2] What inspired your interest in languages?

Not sure what came first, but I was always interested in words. Later, the French and German assistants marked a change for me. They were very lively, supportive, dressed in different ways from the other teachers and expressed new opinions. They brought a bit of life and humour into the classroom and made me realize that languages connected directly with real life. For a while I thought it was just conjugations on the page. After that, I became more and more inquisitive.

3] After university did you always want to translate?

I have never had any sense of direction as regards a ‘career’. I taught abroad first and discovered I loved it. Loved living abroad, learning all the time, learning about teaching and being in direct contact with language and people. Translation had been a constant fascination, but I never seriously considered translation as a job until much later. And again it was only because I tried it professionally and discovered a taste for it.

4] When you have the time do you read crime fiction for relaxation, and if so which authors?

Like perhaps most translators, I don’t have a lot of time to read for myself. When I do I am guided by some of your recommendations, I browse in book shops, listen to what friends say about their reading. Of course, I try to keep up-to-date with other Scandinavian authors as well. In the last year, though, I have fallen behind with everything. Think the last English crime book I read was a Wingfield ‘Frost’. And very amusing it was too.

5] Do you prefer Jo Nesbø style thrillers or more traditional detective stories as written by K.O.Dahl and others?

What I prefer is crime books with lively characterisation, wit, pace and social comment. So, I admire parts rather than whole books. I like Jo Nesbø’s dialogues, comments about Norwegian society and his main character, Harry Hole. In K.O.Dahl’s books I like the way the author makes fun of both detectives, Gunnarstranda and Frølich, while building a credible plot and moving towards a satisfying ending. And I admire the light, ironic style of Gunnar Staalesen’s writing with the huge sense of place. Not forgetting the very decent private investigator, Varg Veum. All three writers have something that appeals to me. I probably lean more to the traditional detective novel.

[to be continued] 

  1. Maxine says:

    Lovely interview with the marvellous Don Bartlett, such a sympathetic, intelligent and naturalistic translator. I will have a go at reading anything he’s translated! I like his response to the last question in this post – I have read all three authors he mentions in this paragraph and do enjoy K O Dahl’s and Gunnar Staalesen’s detective novels – I like Nesbo too in the main, but he’s a bit different from the other two.

    I have Headhunters and Lethal Investments on my shelf waiting to be read – very soon 😉 (Reading Arne Dahl’s (Swe) Misterioso at the moment – enjoying it – different again).

    I wonder if Don has read J Lier Horst? His sixth, Dregs, has just been translated into English and I think it’s great, one could really say a Norwegian Wallander (but even better maybe?) Of course Don will have been able to read books 1-5, unlike me. (the publisher may translate the back list, hope so.)

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – This is just such a terrific interview! It’s very interesting to learn more about such a skilled translator and fellow language-lover. He really does such a good job with quite different kinds of authors; that takes talent. I can relate to his lifelong interest in words and how they work; that’s always been a passion of mine, too. I look forward to the rest of your interview, and to many more years of Crime Scraps Review 🙂

  3. kathy d. says:

    Great job at translating Nesbo’s books. This post pushed me to push Dahl and Staalesen closer to the top of my TBR list. I’d like someone to invent a 36-hour day, or invent a device where one could listen to one book while reading another, or to clone readers so we can read two books at once!

  4. Norman says:

    Kathy, I have a huge pile of books to read over the winter. I blame excellent translators like Don, Tiina Nunnally, Marlaine Delargy, Steven Murray,and others.
    But there is just not enough time, and I keep finding other books in the pile I want to read. Luckily the Devon climate is not often like the photos I posted last week of the coast, most of the time it is wet reading weather.

  5. kathy d. says:

    Three cheers for wet reading weather! (I’m sure all my friends with young children with puppy energy won’t appreciate them being cooped up, but is a better excuse for curling up with books, tea and cookies–chocolate for me–and hiding our. Nothing better than that, except maybe the grandchildren visiting for a short time.)

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