Continuing our celebration of the host of incredible indie publishers and small businesses all around us today we're delighted to have an interview with Han Yujoo, author of Tilted Axis Press's most recent publication, The Impossible Fairytale, and Janet Hong, its' translator.
At the end of this post we'll be unveiling another amazing raffle prize and if you want to see what's going to be in the first of three bundles you could win when you buy a raffle ticket head over to Instagram and check it out!
Tilted Axis Press was set up in 2015 and aims to shake up contemporary literature by tilting it from the centre to the margins. They publish books that otherwise might not make it into English and all of their books are numbered with beautiful red spines, having the added bonus of making them very collectible!
The Impossible Fairytale is Han Yujoo's first novel to be translated into English and tells the story of 'lucky', spoiled Mia and her classmate, known simply as 'the Child'. The novel tends towards the darkest edges of childhood and is beautifully written and incredibly absorbing. We were excited to have the opportunity to ask Han Yujoo and translator Janet Hong some questions about the experience of writing and translating the book. Here are their answers.
author photo courtesy of Tilted Axis Press.
What inspired you to choose this subject to write about?
I'd always wanted to write a story about characters seeking out their author. Once I'd got that essential structure fixed, I decided that the main characters ought to be young children. Time looks like it flows differently for children than for adults. In The Impossible Fairytale, while the character is visiting the author, time in the novel also gets disturbed. ('The Child' in the first part is a girl just younger than teenage, living in the mid 90s. Part 2 is set in the 2000s. The child is still the same age, but looks to have aged around 10 years more). Rather than the past interfering with the present, a past that tries to substitute for the present, a present that tries to write the past again; it seems I wanted to write about an author and character who encounter each other at the place where those attempts fail – who come against a brick wall, literally.
What were the most difficult or challenging things about writing the novel? The characters, who are mostly children, come across very believably on the page. Did you find it hard to write about the darker, more troubling aspects of childhood?
Especially in South Korea there are times when the process of a child becoming an adult is considered a miracle. South Korean children spend a very tough and severe youth. I myself am the child of the baby boomer generation, who were born after the Korean War. School meant studying for 12 hours straight in a class of 50-60, and always having to be in fierce competition. And adults had to get by in a cold, merciless society. South Korea is a country which has accomplished various kinds of technological development. That's how it is on the surface, but many things fester within. Children are the sacrifice of this development. Watching the children around me, I came to discover many dark aspects, and I wanted to smash the fantasy that children are always and necessarily naive, innocent, so I ended up writing this novel. I hope that those who read it will get a bit of a deeper insight into what children can really be like.
Do you think there is a difference between the way your book is read and/or the response to it in English and the way that it's read in the original?
In the US and UK, the brutality of the violence which is inflicted on children, and which children inflict on each other, seems more shocking than it does in South Korea, and there is a lot of interest in the metafictional elements too.
How does being a publisher yourself affect you as a writer? And what was it that made you decide to become a micro publisher in the first place?
In Korea it's incredibly difficult for a poet to bring out a novel or story collection. And it's difficult for fiction writers to publish poetry. If it's not the form they started out writing in, it's difficult to get any recognition, either in the market or from critics. But there must be wonderful novels written by poets, and vice versa, right? In this way, I wanted to publish books that might be able to shake the existing order of our literary establishment, even if only a little. And I thought that it would be able to manage putting out a couple of books every 1-2 years. It doesn't seem like publishing has much influence on my life as a writer, but maybe it makes me able to look at my work just a bit more objectively.
(For Janet Hong) Was it a conscious choice to translate books by women or did things just work out that way?
I never consciously set out to translate books by women, but all of the authors I’m currently translating happen to be women. This seems a weird coincidence, since they’re not at all alike. For example, Han Yujoo and Ha Seong-nan (a writer I’ve been translating for over fifteen years) probably sit on opposite ends of a spectrum, in terms of their style and tone. I’ve learned to only take on projects that I absolutely love. It’s important that I’m a fan first, since my own devotion to the work is what sustains me during its translation. How else could I, for hours on end, examine the intent and significance of each word in the original or agonize over my every word choice? All this to say, I don’t consider the author’s gender when evaluating a potential project. I look for great literature. I see if there’s a deep kinship with the work and then take a sober look at my skills and limits, to determine whether I’m able to pull off the translation.
Thank you so much for answering our questions, it's been so interesting to read your answers! If you haven't read The Impossible Fairytale yet I really urge you too - it's a really unique book. Or you could enter our raffle....
Announcing another raffle prize! Tilted Axis Press have very kindly donated a 3 book bundle to our raffle. This bundle will be included in the first prize pack and contains Panty by Sangetta Bandyopadhyay, One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun and The Impossible Fairytale by Han Yujoo.
As well as this bundle from Tilted Axis Press, prize pack #1 will contain 15 other books donated by independent publishers, along with bookish jewellery, artwork, tea, candles and stationery. We also have two other prize packs the contents of which is yet to be revealed! Each prize pack is worth £70 - £120 and raffle tickets cost just £2 each with all money raised going to our wonderful charitable partners, Give a Book.
Check back tomorrow for another amazing feature & prize reveal.
Catch up with the event so far here.