The Secret to Translating Books

Can any book be translated?

 To answer the above question, I am going to say  – gulp – YES.

I am basing my declaration on personal experience.

Firstly, a brief history about my novel Echoes from the Lost Ones – part of The Song of Forgetfulness series:

echoes b

In the summer of 2013, the first of my YA dystopian/Sci-fi  novels was published by an independent publisher. I was thrilled. On two levels. You see, I had written a book that used somewhat experimental language. I knew I was taking a chance and that I would probably be turning off a lot of readers because of my choice of language. However, I knew in my gut and heart that the distinctive narrative style worked perfectly for my imagined futuristic world.

I wrote about the use of distinctive language in literature in an earlier blog post:

https://nicolajmcdonagh.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/creative-use-of-language-in-novels-2/

I sent Echoes off to a few agents and was turned down. I had a lot of positive feedback about the story and characters, but all said the same thing, ‘We aren’t sure about the language you use as we feel it may disengage potential readers.’ They also went on to suggest that it could never be translated because of the unusual language, therefore, the revenues from oversea sales would be lost.

Despite that reaction, I did not waver. So decided to approach independent publishers. I had quite a few acceptances and decided to go with the one I believed would do justice to my work. Long story short – they closed down.

So I self-published.

Can of worms!!

However, I’m glad I did. Now I have three books and a novella in the series.

Then I began to wonder if I should try to attract readers in foreign lands. How would a translator be able to turn my English/Scottish slang-based narrative into believable colloquialisms in a different language?

How the heck should I know!

I decided to not even think about it.

Until…

Enter Mattia D’Agostino – the translator!

20140123_161203

Out of the blue, I received an email from a B.A. student of Cultural Mediation  from the Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy – wanting to use Echoes as the subject of his thesis on the difficulty of translating made-up languages. I readily agreed. At last, I could put an end to the critics and sceptics who said that my novels were untranslatable.

This is what he said when I asked him to translate all of the titles in The Song of Forgetfulness. “About the titles, I would suggest La Canzone della Dimenticanza as a translation for The Song of Forgetfulness. It’s very literal and it sounds non-standard enough: “dimenticanza” is not a word I would use in my everyday speech. A more standard alternative would be La Canzone dell’Oblio, with “oblio” as a direct translation of “oblivion”, which you did not put in your title.

A literal translation for Echoes from the Lost Ones would be Echi dai Perduti.

EchoesIT1crop

A Silence Heard would be Un Silenzio Udito, where “udito” is a literary synonym for the normal translation of “hear”, which would sound ambiguous in this context.

silenceIT1crop

Whisper Gatherers has to be expanded with a preposition, since in Italian a noun cannot usually describe another noun. The most literal translation is Raccoglitori di Sussurri.

whispIT1crop

Thanks to Mattia’s rather brilliant thesis I now believe that any book can be translated into almost any language. It all depends on the skill of the translator.

Below are answers to some questions I put to Mattia about the difficulties in translating books that use obscure/artificially created languages.

 Why did you choose Echoes for the subject of your thesis?

When my thesis was just a foggy concept, I wanted it to be about conlangs – that is languages that are artificially created from start to finish – for artistic purposes. Something like Elvish in The Lord of the Rings, or Dothraki and Valyrian in the show Game of Thrones.  But there’s only so much you can do translation-wise in such cases. Those languages are not created in order to be translated, they sort of exist precisely to stay untranslated, to convey a feeling of otherness.

So, if I wanted my thesis to be about translation, I had to look into something a bit different. Which led me to 1984 and A Clockwork Orange and the peculiar languages in which they are written. The problem with those novels is that they had already been translated into Italian. This is when I somewhat virtually stumbled upon your article “Creative use of language in novels”.

After reading it I decided I had to read Echoes from the Lost Ones (which I believe at the time was the only novel of the series to having been already released) if only for my own enjoyment. After reading it, I was completely sold. Echoes met all the requirements for my thesis. Besides, it was a novel that I really enjoyed and I wouldn’t mind reading multiple times from cover to cover (which I ended up doing).

What was the greatest difficulty in trying to translate Echoes?

The greatest difficulty was finding out that some things that I thought were made up were actually real words in the English language. Made up words are generally easy to translate, they have few constraints. While real words have a lot of constraints.
While translating, I had a specific aim: to make the reader of the translation feel as if they were reading the original. Which means that every shade that a word may have had in the original, had to be transposed into the translation.

When I thought I was pretty much done with the thesis, I found out that in some cases the suffix –like was a substitute for the suffix –ly. What I thought up to that point, to be an approximation was actually a grammatical feature with a clear archaic shade, reminiscing of traditional English ballads and folk songs. In the end, I managed to find a solution that brought both the adverbial meaning and the archaic connotation into Italian.

Do you think that any book can be translated?

Absolutely. I’ll go so far as to say that any text can be translated into any language or dialect.  Not everybody knows that the difference between a dialect and a language is merely political and/or historical. From a structural point of view, there is no difference between the two. Any language (or dialect) can describe anything.

For example, very remote mountain dialects usually only have words that describe everyday life, because that’s what people who live in remote locations are usually concerned with. However, it would not be impossible to speak of, say, medieval philology in those dialects. It would take longer than in standard English, because you would have to explain every concept with  periphrases, or you would have to make up some words as you go.

But it would not be impossible, as every language has embedded in itself the tools to create new words that quickly describe a fragment of reality. Suffixes are one of these tools. An extremely productive suffix in English is the suffix –er. So if you know what paint is, and you want to describe «someone who paints for a living», you only need to add the suffix –er. This is much more effective than using the periphrases someone who paints.

Basically, everything can be translated into any language. The problem with literature is that any given author has his or her peculiar style, so it takes a good translator to convey that particular style into the translation.

Do you think authors should approach translators in order to publish in other countries?

I think it would be beneficial for translators to have at least a bit of correspondence with the authors. However, if an author wanted someone in particular to translate their work, it should be the author’s right to approach that translator.

Correspondence between author and translator would leave less space for random guessing and, therefore, errors. For example, the translation of Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series is completely wrong in Italian. The Italian translation was based on the dumb part of the name, which gives Silente (silent). Dumbledore is actually an ancient name for bumblebee.

The character was called that because the author imagined him as constantly humming, which is quite different from being Silent(e).
I feel that such plain errors could be avoided with a bit of correspondence with the author.

Does genre matter when translating?

Absolutely. Genres have specific rules, which may be different from one language to another. For example, English cooking recipes instructions are given in the imperative mood, while Italian and German cooking recipes use the infinitive. As a translator, besides translating meaning and words, you also have to keep the rules of the genre in mind.

The same goes for literary genres, which usually follow specific formulae. This is true for every aspect of them, from their language to their covers. If you were to translate the Italian infarto into English, the translation would be different when dealing with medical fiction (infarction) as opposed to almost any other genre (heart attack).

I was so impressed by Mattia’s paper that I think it only right and proper to give him a separate blog post.

Stay tuned for Mattia D’Agostino – The art of the Translator. Plus –  cats!

You can learn more about The Song of Forgetfulness here:

www.thesongofoforgetfulness.com

author banner for FB event

 

Advertisements

New Release – Changeling Fog – A Novelette from The Song of Forgetfulness series.

I have a new release. Changeling Fog – the novelette.

Fog_novelette_crop1

It was just a short story. A free download when someone bought Changeling Fog, book 1 in The Song of Forgetfulness Dystopian/Sci-fi/Fantasy adventure series.

It is an introduction to the post-apocalyptic world of Adara and her troubled life in Cityplace. We learn more about the plight of this future world, meet some the mysterious inhabitants and get a glimpse of the supernatural in the eerie, scary Carnieval show that reveals just how devious and cruel the Agros really are.

Then I began to tinker with it, you know introduce some new aspect of the heroine’s character via action scenes. Before I knew it, the short story became a novelette. That’s when I realised it could be used as part of my overall marketing strategy to gather a list of reader subscribers.

So, I am offering a pretty good deal.

If you buy Changeling Fog at only $0.99 and £0.99 you can get a copy of Whisper Gatherers absolutely FREE!!!

WhisperS8front cover only

Is that a good marketing ploy?

I hope so. Anyway, it’s worth a try, I guess.

Here it is then – Changeling Fog.

Fog_novelette_crop1

The Carnieval horror show hits town.

Cannibal renegades – Carnies – have entered the quiet confines of Cityplace. With them comes a clinging fog that turns the gentle occupants into savage beasts.

In the future the world is ravaged by famine and disease, almost all animal life is extinct, people are starving and living in fear of the cruel Agros that rule NotSoGreatBritAlbion. Yet there is a haven amongst the desperate, scattered population – Cityplace – a closed community of peaceful folk, living a germ-free, worry-free existence.

Within this sanitised metropolis, lives a seventeen-year-old girl who is different – a girl with a special power. She is Adara – Catcher of birds.

Available to purchase from the following distributors:

Amazon:                     http://bookShow.me/B017Z4WOVG

Banes and Noble:     http://bit.ly/1Yi4Y8l

ITunes/apple:            http://apple.co/1PPmP3w

Kobo:                            http://bit.ly/1O58Qa6

Scribd:                          http://bit.ly/1QvXb5G

The problems with Prequels and short story writing

I have taken a break from novel writing. I wrote a prequel to my YA Dystopian/Sci-fi/Action Adventure series – The Song of Forgetfulness – a few months ago, and to be honest, it was more difficult than writing the first two.

author banner for FB event

Why?

Well, because I needed to explain some of the backstory whilst avoiding having my heroine, Adara, know more than she does in the prequel than in the following books. It was quite gruelling. I changed it so many times that I became confused as to what version was the correct one.

Then I did a silly thing.

I uploaded the un-edited version onto Createspace and KDP. It wasn’t until I got the Proof paperback copy that I realised my mistake. Thankfully, I hadn’t started promoting it and only sold a few copies.

Note to self – don’t do this again!

Anyway, as I said, I decided to go back to short story writing and began working on Crow Bones, the title story in my next anthology. To my surprise, it was even more difficult to write than the prequel Whisper Gatherers, which is over 60,000 words. This story is a mere 9,000.

WhisperS8front cover only

Sylvia Plath once said that a writer needs to be, ‘An expert packer of suitcases.’ She was right. Choosing the right words to tell a story, especially a short one, is crucial and difficult. I’d been allowing myself the luxury of going with the story and letting it wander this way and that. A bit like I tend to do when writing a novel where I allow myself to be generous with words in the first few drafts.

I admit I was struggling with Crow Bones because I didn’t really know what it was about. I was putting words down and making interesting descriptions, blah, blah, blah, but saying nothing. So I looked at my story and asked myself, ‘What is it about?’ When I answered the question, the words changed. The story changed. The genre changed. It is now Sci-fi. I got rid of unnecessary characters, over complicated plot twists, and concentrated on my theme – guilt and grief – and the new story came alive, as did the dialogue and characterisation. Finally, after months of struggling with it (It took only six weeks to write the novel) I have arrived at a version I am happy with. I think.

Here is the beginning of Crow Bones:

crowboneskitesml

The window is dirty. Blotches of grey obscure the decaying houses and unmended pathways before me. I’ll not clean it. I prefer not to watch as bit-by-bit my community perishes. I turn my eyes upwards, away from the sad scene outside.

Squinting, I observe the pale yellow sun hanging alone in the cloudless sky. Poor thing, its fire has weakened so. Causing our once lush land to succumb to frost and stone-hard earth. Now we drape thick coats around ourselves, even in summer.

The spots of grime on the pane look like tiny birds halted in mid air, by what? The knowledge that their existence is almost up, like the rest of us. Not yet, though. Stargazers say we have many more years before that fading star expires. So why do I feel as if that time has already come?

Because we are dwindling and can no longer repair our lodgings or roads. We have lost the spark to continue and thrive. The barley blight was tough on our community. My mumum and dadad, and many other of the older generation succumbed to the lung clogging disease. We became weakened by it, dying out like most of the other creatures in this shrivelling planet. Yet we adhere to the one-child rule. That was our shame, our guilt, and our crime, to allow two to germinate inside my womb.

I listen to my babe softly breathing and watch a piece of wall from my parent’s house opposite, crumble and fall, leaving a small hole like a puncture wound.

I hope you enjoyed reading the extract.

If you would like to know more about The Song of Forgetfulness, or my short stories, here are some links:

Book series site: http://www.thesongofforgetfulness.com/

Author Website: http://www.nicolamcdonagh.com/

National Short Story Week on Kindle – Amazon

It is National Short Story Week on Amazon Kindle. So, to celebrate this wonderful event, I have reduced my anthology of short stories to $0.99 and £0.77 (or the equivalent in other Amazon territories)

 Glimmer_Cover_for_Kindle

Glimmer and other stories is a collection of seven compelling and darkly humorous stories that deal with obsession, loss, redemption and hope.

In these tales of mysterious liaisons, supernatural intrigue, deathly hauntings and disturbing fixations, characters reveal hidden secrets, forbidden urges, untold yearnings and skills in necromancy.

Also, I thought you might like to read the beginning of one of my  unpublished stories that will be included in a second anthology – all based on paintings from Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Edvard Munch.

The Shivering Oak was inspired by Chagall’s painting called Autumn in the Village

 marc-chagall-autumn-in-the-village

 

Coward.

To hide up a tree like a rat.

I am not concealed.

I am here for all to see. Lounging larger than the roof I recline upon. Or so it seems to me from my high vantage point.

Weakling.

You are not invisible. I know where you are, and I can wait.

I shall not grow tired or hungry. I am nourished by the warm May winds that tickle my flesh and brush against my lips, which are red. I painted them the colour of blood. But, now that I glance at my reflection in the darkened window of the house opposite, I think they resemble the hue of the roses on my dress. Or perhaps they are nearer the shade of the berries on the holly bush that grows below your dangling feet.

Perhaps I should let Genghis off his leash?

No, I will wait and watch you struggle to maintain your position whilst gripping onto your fiddle. The same violin you used to seduce me at last years Christmas concert, even before we officially met.

The village hall was crammed. I was forced to stand at the back and peer over the shoulders of the tall men. I didn’t mind though. It was good to be in the hub of things after so many years cooped up with Dad. The lights came up and I saw you standing stage right next to the accordion player. You were staring at the ceiling, instrument tucked under your arm. When it was your turn to play, you seemed to be switched on by an invisible flick. How you came to life. I may have drooled when your fingers slid right to the top of the neck of the violin. The shrill, and lilting notes you played made my backbone dance involuntarily and I almost fell.

I wonder when you will fall. Because, fall you will.

The tree is shaking. You are loosing your footing. I hear the crack of branches snapping. This young oak cannot hold your weight. Not that you are heavy. You are not. I should know, I picked you up as though you where a cloud that time Genghis ran into your backside. The crunch your bone nose made when it met the pavement outside the village bakery resounded all the way to the church. Father Laurence made a rare visit to the outside world to see what the commotion was all about. Laura, your sister, Howard, the police constable, and several other members of the village parish council, made a ring around your fallen self and all, except for me, tutted and shook their heads. Father Laurence mumbled, “Ah, Peter, Peter, drunk again and so early in the morning?”

You gargled a bit then tried to stand, but fell again emitting another squelching sound, this time of gristle. I, all heroine-like, fluttered down to your level and offered my clean handkerchief. You took it in your left hand and held out your right for me to take. I did and felt the softness of your palm, a stark contrast to the thick-skinned roughness of your fingertips. I pulled you up as though you had no weight. You blinked and stared into my eyes and gave a little smile. I flushed at such an intense stare, then you snotted out some blood and my mood changed somewhat.

“Yeah, thanks. I don’t know what happened. I felt a thud and there I was flat out sniffing up dirt,” you said and tried to push the soiled kerchief back into my hand.

“No, no, you keep it.”

 “Sure?”

“Positively.”

“Well, thanks again.”

“Come on Peter, you are making a fool of yourself,” Laura said.

“How? I fell over, so what?” you said, your voice becoming shrill.

The gathered people began to murmur and look at each other as if to say, “He is always getting into trouble. Typical musician, they’re all bad.” I gave them a nasty look, and when Genghis tugged on his lead they shuffled away; remembering the devastation he caused the last time he broke free.

To get your copy of Glimmer and other stories, please go to these Links:

http://www.amazon.com/Glimmer-Nicola-McDonagh-ebook/dp/B00H89AN1M/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1408436081&sr=1-2&keywords=glimmer+and+other+stories

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Glimmer-Nicola-McDonagh-ebook/dp/B00H89AN1M/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?

Using a foreign language in children’s novels

In the book I’ve just finished – Marauders of the Missing Mummies – I have a section that takes place in a bazaar located somewhere in Egypt. Now, in order to add some credibility and interest to the dialogue, I decided that one of the stall holders, pertinent to the plot, would converse in French as it seems it is the language spoken by many Egyptians today. I’m not fluent in French. In fact, the last time I was in France and conversed in the lingo, I just about managed to make myself understood by the locals. That was nearly twenty years ago. So you can imagine how rusty my grasp of French grammar is.  I have posted the section here to ask those of you who do speak French, if what I have written makes sense. So, please, if anyone out there reads this, could you set me straight and let me know how I can improve. Thanks! new cover for marauders Here is the extract:

“Don’t go over to her. Wait, no. Erica,” Hannah said and ran after Van Clutch as she marched to where the old woman sat. “You can’t even speak Egyptian.” She tugged on Van Clutch’s sleeve. Erica pulled her arm away and gave Hannah a raised eyebrow look.

“No, but I do speak French. And I suspect, that she does to. It is by far the most commonly used language in these parts.” Erica flared her nostrils and turned to the seated woman. “Bonjour, Madam. Je m’appelle Erica Van Clutch.”

The gnarled-faced female licked her yellow chipped front teeth and spat something green onto the floor beside Erica’s feet. “Je m’appelle Ramia.”

“Prophetess. How fitting,” Van Clutch said and Ramia grinned. “I’m going to question her about the Dalby child. Dites-moi ce que vous savez de la petite fille.”

“Je ne te dirai rien. Sorcière.”

“What did she say?”

“What I expected. She won’t spill. Oh and she thinks I am a witch. Do not snicker. See, now you’ve loosened your sinuses again. Wipe your nose before the mucus forms another bubble.”

Kush ran the back of her hand across her face and sniffed. Erica spoke to Ramia. She stared into the brown eyes of the old woman and said, “Si vous ne me dites pas au sujet de la fille, je jetterai un charme sur vous.”

“What?”

“Sshhhh, Kush I’m trying to intimidate her by utilising her fear of me. I’m suggesting that I will cast a spell on her if she doesn’t reveal all. Now hush and let me do my thing.” Van Clutch closed her eyes, pressed her hands together in a prayer-like pose and tilted her head to the heavens. She partly opened her lips and began to whisper meaningless words in a growly whisper. “Unmanondium. Cliventinium. Postargrindum. Dractilvarus. Plantricula. Verbotivis.’ She snapped open her eyes and glared at Ramia.

“Wow, Erica, I didn’t know you knew Latin. What have you done? What terrible spell have you cast upon that poor old lady?”

“Dammit, Kush, keep quiet. I’m trying to intimidate with made up Latin words. Now I’ve lost the flow and can’t think of any more. And cease using my first name. I need to maintain credibility here.”

“Oh, right, sorry.”

“Shhhh!” Van Clutch gasped and thrust her clenched fingers to the sky. “Revoltinum. Bletherinus. Mumbojumbis!” She clapped seven times, lowered her arms and pointed at Ramia. “Je vous maudis avec des ébullitions et le mal de tête.”

“She doesn’t look very scared. What spell did you cast?”

“I cursed her with boils and headaches.”

“Oh, poor thing. That’s terrible.”

“You do realise that I can’t actually put a spell on her. I am not a witch.”

“That’s what Sadika calls you behind your back.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Oh, nothing. Look, Van Clutch, the old woman, she’s getting up. She looks really angry.”

“Les dieux vous dévoreront,” Ramia said and stood. She waved her hands in front of Erica’s face. “Les dieux vous dévoreront.”

A strong breeze skipped and swirled through the dusty street. Cigarette butts, bits of paper and half eaten sandwiches danced and fluttered around Erica’s knees and thighs. She brushed the debris away and titled her head towards the sky. Black clouds rumbled overhead and the sun escaped behind them causing darkness to fall. The busy thoroughfare hushed and people stood still. Ramia snarled and lifted her arms high. A flash of lightning and an ear-splitting bang of thunder echoed around the wide avenue. Erica stood tall and unflinching when raindrops as big as fists splashed down causing shoppers and trades folk to scuttle for shelter. Kush put her fingers in her ears and hid behind Van Clutch. Ramia glared at Erica and said in a husky growl, “Les dieux vous dévoreront.” A savage wind whipped against the shins of Kush and Van Clutch. “Les dieux vous dévoreront.”

“Oh do stop saying that the gods will eat me, Ramia. They will not.”

“Les dieux vous dévoreront.”

“Les dieux ne me dévoreront pas. Oh this is just ridiculous. Kush, do you have any money?” she said to a trembling Hanna. “Kush!” Erica turned and took hold of Hanna’s forearms. She pulled them down from where they were pressed against her face and said, “Pull yourself together. Good. Now, do you have any money?”

Kush blinked and swallowed. “A bit.”

“How much?”

“Thirty quid.”

“Hand it over. I’ve had enough of Ramia and her rants.” Erica held out her hand and Kush rummaged around in her trouser pocket. She pulled out a bundle of notes and handed them to Van Clutch. Another thunderclap and flash of lightening burst above their heads and Erica shook hers as she watched Kush crouch on the ground and tremble with fear. She tutted, turned to Ramia, who was standing with her arms open to the heavens and said, “Ce qui vous savent la fille?” Then she waved the money in front of the woman’s wild eyes. “Ah, now I have your attention. The girl, what do you know?”

Ramia snatched the money and thrust it down the front of her blouse. The clouds rumbled away and the wind dropped. Erica folded her arms. “Ce qui vous savent?”

Ramia snorted and picked up a small woollen ibis. She turned it over and revealed a zip that ran from the toy’s bottom right up to its neck. She nodded an all-knowing nod, adding a wink and pushed it against Erica’s chest. “A l’intérieur,” she said and mimed looking into an invisible bag.

“Oh, it’s inside this. Excellent,” Erica said, took the bird and opened the zip. She pulled out a rolled up piece of paper and unravelled it. “Mentioned by name too. Well, well, it says here that the Dalby girl is the host. Marvelous.” She threw the knitted animal over her shoulder and stood over Kush. “Get up, you whimpering fool. Time to go.”

Kush rose slowly and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Are we safe?”

“We are, Kush my dear. However, the young Dalby is not.” Erica grinned, screwed up the paper, shoved it into her mouth and swallowed. “There now, all done.”

“Why did you do that?”

“That raving old woman called upon the gods to devour me, well, I have eaten them instead. This missive scrawled in the words of the gods and written in blood, gave away a secret about the Dalby brat. These words are powerful. They could have destroyed me if I had read on, but I did not. I have turned the tables. Now I possess their power,” Van Clutch said and raised her head to the cloudless sky.

Happy Halloween – to celebrate a snippet from ‘Marauders of the Missing Mummies’

I have just finished writing my children’s book Marauders of the Missing Mummies. Phew! It still needs tweaking and the like, but it is done. So I thought I’d post the first few paragraphs as a taster. If anyone wants to give any feedback, that would be so very helpful. What do you think about the cover? It needs work, but is it in the right direction?

Hope you enjoy it and Happy Halloween.

new cover for marauders

Chapter 1: We Are Not Alone

Darkness pushed against Cleo Dalby’s arms and legs as she struggled to make her way through the narrow chamber. Hands outstretched before her, she slid her feet forward, straining to hear something, anything. But every sound, even the skid-slap of her sandals on the stone floor, became lost in the gloom. On Cleo walked slow and tentative. Deeper into the world of corpses.

A sigh, long and weary-filled drifted towards her. A sound so sad that Cleo had to cover her ears with her hands. But it was no use. The moans and low murmurs continued, floating around her like tired moths. She tried to struggle on, but the wails tugged at her legs and she stopped. Intrigued by the muffled chatter, she dropped her hands and listened. Voices low and raspy swirled and scuttled inside her head.

“We, the dead, abide here. Quietly resting, hands on chest, faces tilted up to catch a ray of sunlight.”

“A futile gesture. For this far below the ground, there is only blackness and the weight of stone.”

“We, the dead, lie still, poised in readiness for our resurrection.”

“ Ah, what a wait we’ve had; so many years spent lying in a state of half remembered promises and expectations, grown dull with the passing of each century.”

“We, the dead, no longer know who we are. Memories fade and melt into our hollow skulls.”

“We, the dead, sometimes whisper to each other.”

“Husks of words from dried up lips that stick to the cold walls, waiting for the living to listen.”

Cleo touched the limestone with her fingertips, and thought she heard a murmuring of souls.

“We, the dead, can feel a presence.”

A breath of ancient brushed past her cheek. She shivered and rubbed her naked arms. The chill slapped onto her legs and spread upwards leaving pimples of stiff-hair unease on her sunburnt flesh. She gulped and said into the blackness, “Hello? Is anyone there? My name is Cleo.”

“Found out!”

“Not Yet.”

“No.”

The voices ceased.

She called again, but no answer came. There was a smell of rot so strong that Cleo nearly vomited, but it disappeared and she felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She stood tall, shrugged, and said, “The dark is just an absence of light.” She shook the torch that was gripped in her hand. “Stupid, froggin’ thing. Work.” She patted it against her palm. “Work.” Something touched her shoulder and Cleo jumped.

“I thought I’d lost you.”

“Mother, don’t creep up on me like that.”

“I can’t very well do anything else, can I? It’s darker than a black hole in here.”

“I know. I can’t see a froggin’ thing.”

“What do you expect? We are half way down a pyramid. And don’t say ‘froggin’’ I know what it really means.”

Cleo mouthed the word again, and then once more, just because she could. A small sound like the noise from an un-tuned radio station buzzed through her ears. She put her fingers into her lugholes and wiggled them until the static din ceased. “Are you sure we are the only ones in here?”

“Apart from the mummies? Yes. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, nothing, I thought that…”

“What?”

“You didn’t just walk past me and say something, did you?”

“No, I crept up behind you, remember?”

“Weird. I thought I heard someone say something.”

There was a long pause and Cleo reached behind her. She felt her mother’s hand and grabbed onto it. Her palms were sweaty and hot and she felt a tightening in her chest. A gasp, not form her own throat, swept across her forehead and down her neck. She squeezed her mother’s fingers and felt her mother squeeze back.

“What was that?”

“I don’t know Cleo, but it wasn’t a breeze from a window. Okay, we need light and quick.”

“Sorry.”

“Now is not the time.”

“But it’s my fault the torch won’t work. I didn’t change the batteries, sorry. Of course, if you’d brought wind-up torches instead of battery operated ones, then we wouldn’t be in this mess, would we, mum?”

“Oh, so now it’s my fault?”

A throaty groan billowed past their open mouths. Cleo swivelled round, buried her head into her mother’s chest and waited for the horrible noise to go away. It did not. She felt familiar arms wrap around her and press her close. But despite the comforting warmth from her mother’s body, the gurgling, growling continued. Growing louder until her ears almost hurt. “Why won’t it stop?”

“It has.”

“No it hasn’t. Can’t you hear it?”

“That’s my stomach.”

“What? Your stomach?”

“Yes. Because you slept in, again, we missed breakfast.”

“Oh, right, sorry.”

“Don’t sniffle. Come on, we can’t let some stale air that we’ve disturbed frighten us away. That’s what they want.”

“That’s what who want?” Cleo said and pulled away from her mother’s tight grip.

“The architects who built the pyramids. They were clever. They used all sorts of booby traps to scare looters away. All this noise and freezing wind, it’s a just a ploy to put us of the scent. Come on, let’s carry on.”

“Okay, but can you light a match at least? I really can’t see where I’m going.”

“Actually, there aren’t many left. We should save them. We’re going to need all the light we can when we find the hidden chamber and get inside the room. So, for now, you’ll just have to feel your way like me.”

Cleo ran her fingers over the wall and felt the uneven stone. It was dry and cool and smooth to the touch. Almost like skin. “Do you think anyone else knows about this hidden corridor?”

“I hope not. It took me almost a year to find out it existed.”

“So, there’s no one going to miss us and come looking?”

“Don’t worry, the guide didn’t notice us latch on to his tour, and I’m pretty certain that he didn’t notice us slip away.”

“Oh. And that’s a good thing?”

“Of course it is. Less chatter my girl and more moving. I don’t know about you, but I find this place somewhat scary.”

“I’m pretty creeped out.”

“Do you want to go back? You can if you want to?”

“No. I’m no quitter.”

“Well said.”

Cleo skimmed her feet along the rubble-strewn floor and continued to make her way forward. A wriggly thing landed on her bare forearm. She yelped and stumbled over something large and hard. “Ouch!”

“What’s the matter? Are you okay? Answer me!”

“I’ve bashed my froggin’ foot on something. It really hurts.” Cleo bent down and rubbed her big toe.

“You scared me when you called out. I thought…”

“What? That something dead had come to get me? A zombie mummy angry and mean because we dared to enter its domain,” Cleo said in a boomy voice, and then even louder, “Moohaha!” She expected a response, but when none came she coughed. “Stupid froggin’ pyramid. Should have some kind of lighting. They always do in the films.”

“Well, this isn’t a film and you should be more careful where you walk. I told you that there would be all sorts of things lying on the floor. And, I told you to wear walking boots, not those pink sandals. And stop saying ‘froggin’.”

Cleo screwed up her eyes and sucked air between her teeth. Her big toe throbbed and she struggled to keep back tears. But the pain was nothing compared to the agony of admitting that her mother was right. “I think it might be broken.”

“Can you move it?”

Cleo clenched her toes. “Ow! Yes, I can move it, but it hurts.”

“Well, it’s not broken, probably just a bit bruised. You’ll be fine. So, are you so terribly injured that you can’t go on? Because, if you can’t, you’ll have to stay here or go back up until I find the hidden chamber, all by myself. So, getting all the credit.”

Cleo shook her head. Then, realising that such a gesture in pitch darkness would be a waste of time, replied in haste, “No, I can walk.”

“ Are you sure? I don’t want you lagging behind and getting lost.”

“I won’t.”

“I don’t know. I shouldn’t have let you talk me into allowing you to come.”

“But, you said we were a team. You know, like you and dad used to be.”

Cleo felt the silence cover her like a blanket. Then the touch of her mothers hand on her arm. “Well, if you can walk, let’s carry on.”

“I think I need a plaster.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll strike a match,” Mrs Dalby did and the place exploded in a tiny glow from the burning stick of wood. “You’re not crying are you?”

Cleo wiped her nose. “No, I’m just sniffing.”

The smell of sulphur tickled her nose and in the flickering light, Cleo saw her mother crouch on the floor and rummage around in a rucksack. She pulled out a candle and lit it. Cleo smiled and her mother did too. “I’m sorry. I get carried away when I’m on an expedition and I’m not used to having a child…I mean, I’m used to being with your father. I wanted this to be a proper holiday, but after the phone call. Well, it felt like old times and you said that I should get back on the saddle.”

“I didn’t. I said that you should find the missing mummies because dad would have wanted you to. Plus, they are giving us a shed load of money.”

“You are your father’s daughter all right. Come here, let me have a look at that toe of yours.”

Cleo stuck her foot out and Mrs Dalby held the candle close to it. As her mother probed her flesh for signs of bruising or cuts, Cleo tried to see what it was that had tripped her in the gloom. “There is a cut under your toenail, so you’d best have a plaster to avoid infection. Who knows what kind of bacteria lurks amongst this ancient dust and sand. Now keep still while I put one on. Cleo, I said keep still. Stop wriggling.”

“There it is!” Cleo shouted.

“What?”

“The thing I tripped on.”

For more information about me and my stuff, go to:

http://www.nicolamcdonagh.com/

Life Imitating Art

I have just read an article in the Guardian newspaper entitled – Have we lost half the world’s animals?: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-29458930

sarcophage-4

This interested me because of the YA dystopian novels I have published. In this futuristic scenario, animals and fish and amphibians are just a memory, or an entry in a history book. Gone due to mankind’s abuse of the planet earth. When I wrote the books, I researched the possibility of mass extinction on a global level and was seriously shocked by some of the data I discovered. When I did my initial research a couple of years ago, I came across statistics saying that over 30% of animal life, including amphibians, reptiles and birds had declined. At the time I thought it was awful but now a new survey carried out by the WWF and highlighted by the Living Planet Report, suggests that the percentage is more like 52% and has been since 1970. You can read the full report here:

http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/all_publications/living_planet_report/

I remember during a reading of my book one person suggested that my somewhat depressing idea that only insects and a handful of birds and wild dogs exist in the future, was nonsense. If only I’d had this report to hand. I would have quoted this extract from it, ‘Put another way, in less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half. These are the living forms that constitute the fabric of the ecosystems, which sustain life on Earth – and the barometer of what we are doing to our own planet, our only home. We ignore their decline at our peril.’

pony  IMG_4829  IMG_4325

Instead I said that I had done research, and figures suggest that my bleak outlook on the future of animal life on this planet is based on factual reports that I have intentionally exaggerated for the purpose of my narrative. In the light of this report, it would seem that my vision of the future might be right after all.

rasky eye

I urge everyone to take note of this appalling figure and do whatever you can to stop my vision of a world without animals coming true, by supporting the WWF and spreading the word. We must learn to realize that human and animal life must live in harmony if we are all to continue to exist on this beautiful planet.

Nature conservation and sustainable development go hand-in-hand. They are not only about preserving biodiversity and wild places, but just as much about safeguarding the future of humanity – our well-being, economy, food security and social stability – indeed, our very survival.’ (Quote from the Living Planet Report 2014)

hawk   crocus   boris on grass

For further information on WWF please go to this link: http://wwf.panda.org/

If you are interested in reading by books, here are the links:

http://www.amazon.com/Echoes-Lost-Ones-Song-Forgetfulness-ebook/dp/B00CXSZIGS/ref=sr_1_1_title_0_main?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1408436005&sr=1-1&keywords=echoes+from+the+lost+ones

http://www.amazon.com/Silence-Heard-Song-Forgetfulness-Book-ebook/dp/B00JMPWRX2/ref=pd_sim_b_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=16567ZZQKBJ2G2VWY2J8