Episode 112B – Thorsten – German to English writing

Overview

Thorsten speaks German but now writes in English. We discuss writing in two different languages and getting your work translated.

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Transcript

[00:00:46] Stephen: All right, so let’s talk some author stuff, and this will be a great conversation. I’m looking forward to it. But before we talk about our topic, what are some things. And this may be completely unique because of going from language one [00:01:00] language to another. What are some things you’ve learned about writing that you’re doing different than you did when you first started?

[00:01:08] Thorsten: Okay. Yeah. So in the beginning there was in my school years, there was no creative writing class. There was just German language arts in the way traditionally told URI classics. Now I can tell you, but from the fifth grade on, until my end of my high school, I just had a D in German. So I was not like, obviously, oh, that’s gonna be the writer.

I struggled. I wrote essays like 16 essays in a row over two years were D and I felt like my name was the D oh, force, the D I could write whatever I wanted. So I didn’t learn a lot about that. I didn’t read a. But I didn’t analyze it. Okay. And then when I was in Victoria, that was like 1990, no, 2000, 2000 around I came [00:02:00] across like the, literally like the first time about the Odyssey, like in the way of the structure way of the hero.

Oh, are you still there? Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And so that was something. That I then followed up with and then read books a different way as well. Uh, and that’s why I say this is something I learned in Canada. I learned that in the English language, unfortunately I wasn’t exposed to that in Germany, for whatever reason.

I, I wasn’t repelled to do secondary language literature. I even bought myself secondary literature, like what the students read in, in high in university. But I don’t know. I, it was too academic. It was to academic and yeah. Although I went to university, I studied something else and I didn’t finish. So yeah.

I got sidetracked with journalism, a few into words and culture and okay. And then life took a different path. So that is something I learned like that structural.

[00:02:59] Stephen: That’s [00:03:00] the thing with English, German language classes that like you said, oh, that’s a student. That’s gonna be the right. It’s not always the.

A plus English kid, that it’s one thing to learn the stuff to take a test, and one thing to read the books and that it’s a whole nother thing to write a story and they say it so often. Grammar, typos commas, that stuff can all be fixed and learned and put in there. But you have to have a, a soul for writing a story.

And if you don’t have a good story, the other stuff doesn’t matter. Nobody’s gonna read a book and say, wow, the, the grammar was perfect and all the commas were in the right place. The story kind of sucked. You should read this, but they don’t do that. Yeah, it it’s good to learn that. Plus now we have so many tools to help catch all the little errors.

So. Yes. I’m telling all the kids learn your language, German, English, whatever, learn it. Do good in the classes, [00:04:00] but don’t feel like, oh, I could never write because I didn’t do well. Yeah, no,

[00:04:04] Thorsten: absolutely. That, and I think nowadays it’s also in Germany, more common that you can show what you read privately at home.

And that was something nobody ever asks me. What are, are you reading? What are you reading? I read the godfather with 15 of the years and then you’re not . Yeah. So,

[00:04:25] Stephen: and I find that a lot too authors, I’ve talked to a few authors that say, oh, I don’t like to read. I just wanna write. You have, and you said it, you have to read.

Most authors that seem to stick with it. They’re not reading at their grade or age level. They’re always reading, oh, I was nine years old and I read it or something like that. So all the time Thorston, when you’re writing, what software and services do you use?

[00:04:55] Thorsten: So I’m really, it was funny. And my, I started on a [00:05:00] type typewriter, right?

Like I’m a little old, but then I moved to, to the computer and then I. I think for a few months, I, I started my first book on, in word, but then a friend of mine said that he worked already with homepage and stuff back then in the early nineties. And he said, go open office. And then I first I resisted and then I did it because yeah, every it didn’t crash and I could convert to PDF right away.

So I generally as with the book that I just wrote, I used open office as a writing tool. In in German. I also had a professional writing software that integrates the, that was called. No, I have to think dragon, right? No, dragon is a speech recognition, right? Yeah. I use speech recognition too, by the. It doesn’t make it faster for me.

It, I just can lie down. I can stand, I can walk around. [00:06:00] It just makes it me more mobile, but I don’t write a novel faster. So I do speech recognition. And with as English software, what is more interest is I use writing aid after a couple of researchers, I was like, yeah, like with my grammar, sometimes I’m off with something and I felt.

That helped me a good way. I could some structural stuff. And also what I do, I, I, because I don’t wanna say I’m insecure about my I’m just careful with my English language. When I write, I don’t wanna fall in the trap of the usual repetitions that exist in German as well. Like you can fall to the same traps and, or different traps.

So. I what I did in the beginning five years ago, I was writing eight, actually. And I did this 30 years ago in German as well, or 25 years ago in German as well. I took my 10 [00:07:00] favorite books and I spoke 20 pages into the program and analyzed and those analysis I keep, and then I compare them to mine. And then I.

If there’s something totally off of something that I like. So it was a lot of editing or a lot of tweaking, and sometimes you’re surprised, Hey, I’m pretty much dead on there. What sentence length and those things. Right. Nice. It’s a, it’s a guidance, right? Depending what point of view and narration voice of course is a dialogue line or not.

But in general, I find it.

[00:07:38] Stephen: I agree. I’ve got pro writing aid. I use it all the time and I think some people miss the point. Some people are like, oh, I won’t rely on that to fix my grammar and blah, blah, blah. And I’m like, what? It teaches me a lot. If I go through, I don’t just say fix it all. And I’m done, you go through and you read it and why did they say it was wrong?

Why [00:08:00] should you change this? And you start learning and your writing improves naturally. Yes, it’s a great learning tool.

[00:08:06] Thorsten: Yeah, exactly. And last but not least, it’s always our decision. Do I take it or is that the synchronicity of a, of a character to speak that way or whatever.

[00:08:16] Stephen: Yeah. And I I’ve done that with my editor also a couple times.

Oh, you should change this and rearrange it. And I’m like, yeah, that sounds very proper way to say it, but that’s not what I want my character to say. Yeah. You know? Exactly. And that’s what mostly is, is what characters are saying there. Quite often. And I also like that you use open office. I think you’re the first other author that has used that.

I don’t use it all the time, but I’ve told people about it. They’re like, oh, I don’t know what I can’t afford word. Let try open office. It’s you free. Yeah.

[00:08:47] Thorsten: Yeah. And, uh, from, from when I talk to my colleagues, it, I know now tried to think when it crashed on me recently, we have a different printer and with the wifi printing, there seems to be a hiccup, but [00:09:00] it’s not the open office.

I, I always like that. Yeah. And it was for free all the time and yeah, they had the PDF button in their way before word. I think word has it now too.

[00:09:12] Stephen: Yeah, they do have it, but that’s one of the reasons I got open office, cuz I could write in word, import it in the open office and make it a PDF and I didn’t have to buy the ever extra.

Okay, so, well, let’s talk a little bit about writing in German and English. And you said you don’t write in, you don’t write in German too much anymore, but did, did you find when you were writing in German, everybody has certain things that are difficult for ’em or certain problems. Did you find that you had the same things that you were doing in English or is it completely different things that you ended uping quite often or doing different.

[00:09:54] Thorsten: I think the greatest hindrance for me as a storyteller is that I don’t [00:10:00] have the pool of cultural references in the second language. Okay. So you grew up with different or the same shows, but the characters are named different. Uh, when you make a crack, a joke with your buddy, then he understands it. Cause it’s a reference.

I don’t have that. And I think I don’t have a possibility to catch up with that because that’s just like 10 years or 15 years of your childhood, for example. So I just have to accept that is not possible. But, or to say I would not pretend necessarily creating a character that is, let’s say. Professor of English language arts.

I think I can pull that off. I can pull off a futuristic novel because I could speak in any way almost right. the language evolves. I definitely trust myself in writing young adult fiction in English as well. Cause [00:11:00] I have kids, I grew up here. I hear them talk and all that. And that is what the book was blessing.

Moza my Zimbabwe colleague. And in German, I must say like what the other question that goes there, what is with writer’s block? And for me, it’s almost, if you give me time and the shelter and like some food, I don’t have a writer’s block then , it’s like I’m to ride and place to ride. And the sky was a limit in German.

If there was, let’s say a job, let’s say the one is a broker, right? I’m I am not a broker, but then I do research for half a year. I did even online broken with money to just see how it feels and, and to know the concept and de lingo. And I can on, I could incorporate that in my German base. And like I say, certain things I wouldn’t attempt in, in English.

I just wouldn’t maybe with a help then that I. I hire an editor that [00:12:00] has that. Could you get that lingo there, but that is all to, to, there are so many ideas out there. I don’t have to write from the point of view of a English professor. . Okay.

[00:12:11] Stephen: So when you first started writing in English, did you find yourself having to, okay.

Lemme back. Did it take you longer to write in English when you first started than it does now. And did you find yourself writing, I guess in a more German manner with the language and then fixing it? Or how did that process go?

[00:12:32] Thorsten: Yeah, that, that would be, I think, a danger if I would be thrown in the cold water, but we, it is not.

So I speak with my wife English, um, And we do this since 22 years, we are married. So, so since quite a while. And so I think over 15 years, if you use it as a daily language and we watch the movies together, whatever happens in the household being [00:13:00] when we were living in Germany or in Canada, was in English.

So I had quite a run up and I almost compare that to, I started out where I was in German. In my language when I was 18, 19, and it got interested and I came, I come from a household, there was no academics, so it was blue color German. And I just found out that I, whenever I heard somebody talk a little bit with a twist, like a comedian or whatever, or some teachers had that.

And I was like, I like that. Why do I like. And I like reading books and I was just curious, drawn to the language. And I said here already. Okay. If I’m now in my English language where I was, when I was 18, let’s say, then give me another five years of, of a study of personal study. And I, and this one year, the last year I could, I don’t even know how to count that I could.

Lean [00:14:00] back and work with the English language. And, uh, that was a boost that I think every immigrant should get, honestly, like thinking about. If English is your second language and you have to move or in any other country, they should just give you a thousand bucks and lean back, read books, listen to radio, write something, and you will be in one year, speak that language, whatever that Spanish or whatever that is.

I think, yeah, that happened now to me, that’s also how I just put that in the final report. That it’s a great thing beyond creating.

[00:14:33] Stephen: Okay. Yeah. And can, does your wife just speak English or does she come from the area that speaks French also?

[00:14:41] Thorsten: She, no, she’s here from Alberta, from Calgary originally. And she, uh, she moved to Quebec, that area in Canada, the province, and worked there, I think for half a year, she also worked in the Northern states as well.

And then she moved to France for a year. So she speaks [00:15:00] French some, and then she learned the German. Tomasia my wife. She learned the German with the kids. They go to school, they come home and they, or even in the first, when you toddler, right? Like you bubble a couple of words that they pick up from me, from the grandparents, from the neighbors.

So Marcy and my wife, she learned that way German. Right. It just bubbled. Nice.

[00:15:24] Stephen: Wow. Yeah. So you have multilingual like multiple langu and your kids probably pick up a little from all of that. That’s pretty cool.

[00:15:31] Thorsten: Yeah, that was quite wild. So our oldest was born in Canada and he is bilingual. The second one is also bilingual.

Although he’s stuck. We moved here when he was 12. So he even says, my German is a German of a 12 year old and he’s not off with that. And the, the youngest, he was six. When we moved here, he just spoke German to Marcia. And to me, to everybody, he never spoke English. He could understand everything, but he never [00:16:00] responded in.

We moved here. And I was, I had a paid writer’s residency in the black forest area in Germany, and I had to stay there four months. That was all was a little jumbo mumble. So I let had to leave the family here in Canada. And I was there. I came back after four months. He didn’t respond in Germany to me anymore.

Wow. Yeah. Exactly. I just owe him, like, that’s

[00:16:24] Stephen: it. Yeah. I, I think that would be cool to, you know, hear the different languages. I, my grandparents were from Hungary and they spoke German quite a bit. And especially when they get mad and argue

[00:16:38] Thorsten: I do that too. That’s a German that the little guy knows

[00:16:43] Stephen: so Thorton, you said you don’t translate your own books.

Have you tried. Translating your own books or writing the same story in different the two languages.

[00:16:54] Thorsten: Yeah. Yeah. It’s funny. It just, I think I stopped after the one page it’s then you [00:17:00] start translating then it’s then that is different translating than the other way around. I translated a book from English to German.

That was the peace novel prize winner, Bishop Desmond Tutu’s book. OK. So I’m the translator. I translated that and was published in Germany, but I translated into my first. Total different story. And, and once I attempted the reverse, because I thought, oh, okay. Or English’s not so bad, but it’s no, it’s like, it just, it is definitely not the same.

And I started my first of course. Okay. I grew up, I love music. You mentioned like songwriting is Mohabi right. So I listened to music. I love lyrics. So I read the lyrics of albums and. And then it happened. So my English was somewhere. And then my first holiday that I, as a young lad, 18 year old did was I grab my backpack.

I want to go to Ireland, love Irish music. I love the pokes. I love the Guinness. I wanted to go there. So I went there and they do have that [00:18:00] pop culture where people go up and. Make music and join and jam. And sometimes somebody has a poem and I was sitting there in a pub and I wrote something down in English and the guy saw it and basically pushed me to the stage and I was like, oh, I’m actually just.

And it was well received. Nice people. There were probably tons of mistakes in there, but they had a blast and the night is legendary, but I kept writing short things in English, like songs. I wrote songs for the last 25 years about in English. And then the first novel was with a native speaker. And now the second one is just me.

So it’s kind, it’s gradually, it’s very slow.

[00:18:46] Stephen: Okay. And your books that have been translated, have you read them afterwards? And did you find, oh my gosh, that’s not how I would’ve translated it, or I don’t agree with that are

[00:18:55] Thorsten: problems. Yeah. Being a translator myself into German. [00:19:00] The first thing that I told the people that were interested in translating it, please, you have all the freedom, do it, you know, let yourself.

Definitely don’t cling to try to translate something, uh, a Metha that doesn’t work in English. There are certain, I also have cultural references that are not translatable. You have to use something else, then you know how people translate lyric. I have no idea by the way, when it’s experimental lyric, how you translate it from one language to another.

I have no idea. Yeah. And then I not only read. In the, with my three audible books, I also listened to them again. And that was, uh, just a cherry on top, basically. That was like, oh, this, it sounds authentic. It doesn’t sound like translated. It’s really like, they did a good job. The one. Yeah. So at different translators.

[00:19:57] Stephen: So, and how long did the whole process take [00:20:00] to start writing from German and then into English? Or is it still ongoing?

[00:20:06] Thorsten: yeah, I wanna say it’s always, it’s always morphing. Otherwise, if it’s not a challenge anymore, I think I would get bored also. That is I wanna challenge myself and, uh, since it’s a long time coming, so we are talking from the early nineties where it’s I started on.

Trip to Ireland. I also read my first English novel in the original, which happened to be on the road by Jack Carac okay. Yeah. So that was linguistically a little bit outdated. I didn’t even know that was how they talked in the sixties. Like jape and yeah, I remember that word. I used it in Ireland.

They’re like, what are you talking about? I’m like, it’s in the novel. I’m like it’s from 60 something they always had to. And so it’s, like I said, I think if it would be [00:21:00] difficult, if I would just move, let’s say to Canada, I’m in after high school. And then I wanna write a novel two years later that is different than coming this long way.

Being married, being involved in language and living now in Canada for more than 10 years in total 11 or 12 years, um, that I think helps. If people now say he is not always talking on my vocabulary while talking is not quite where it could be. Yes, my German was higher maybe, but especially in the beginning, I always say riding is the right speed for my expression.

Otherwise I would be on stage and doing Ted talks so I.

[00:21:49] Stephen: I know English language is like a whole big mishmash and it is like one rule doesn’t apply here. Blah, blah. Did you find anything very [00:22:00] specific that drove you crazy with the English language? Cuz it was so messed up compared to what you were

[00:22:05] Thorsten: used to just because I wasn’ the garden and I do.

Home improvement and stuff. I don’t know. I, it, the two by four is not a two by four it’s, one and a half. And I thought the guy joked at me, I was like, yeah, I know I’m not from here. I wanna have a two by four. You anyway, but that’s like a practical one. The other thing is it that, of course first I think first I thought English is English, but English is like, In Germany, for example, different areas have different dialects.

And if there would be no high German. Northern German would not understand the Southern German. For example, if there would be no high German, there would be toast. That’s how different they are. So I learned my speaking English actually in Ireland, after being there. Once I went there three, four times, right before I went anywhere else in, [00:23:00] in a English country.

When I came to Canada, I was using jumper and he’s a good crack. And the guys in Vancouver, you don’t say crack here, you don’t, you just don’t. These things are the ones where it’s like, oh, please. I learn a new word and I’m like, yay. I know a new word or also nice. I like to read newspaper. The globe mail is a big newspaper here in Canada and they have a section called even Zeit guys.

I’m like, ah, German word. I can use it everywhere. So I go to a pub in the prairies. I’m like, so yeah, Zeit guys, like what. So the classic sentence from Marsy, my wife is like, yeah, you don’t, nobody knows that you’re in the Prairie. So just skip that word. I’m like, oh, ,

[00:23:41] Stephen: that’s hilarious that I just picture your life from German to Canada, with the kids and the languages.

And that I picture that as a comedy show on TV, I can see the situation. Stop picking on your life. I’m just saying there’s so much room for [00:24:00] that situational comedy to, to be humorous to watch. I think you should try and write that based on real events.

[00:24:09] Thorsten: maybe I should. Let’s a plan B. Yeah, there you, I always say that.

Yeah, it wasn’t boring. Let’s put it this way. It was boring.

[00:24:16] Stephen: I, I can’t imagine trying to learn a whole new language now. It just my brain doesn’t I don’t know. It doesn’t work like that. I’ve had such a hard time when I was in school, so I just never really tried after that. So I can’t even imagine doing that.

[00:24:32] Thorsten: Yeah, no, and I, myself, I wasn’t encouraged by my school career. It was the genuine interest in the Irish culture, for example, and then being reinforced being there. Having a time of my life. And then of course you go back there and then you meet, I met a friend in cologne, actually cologne, Germany. He was working there and then we stayed at his place in Dublin over Christmas.

And, um, yeah, and then reading the first [00:25:00] novels and especially, and that was a major point, especially being in a pub for example, and you can hold up a conversation and the people don’t phase out or whatever, and they’re like, no, man, second language. That’s awesome. Tell more. And you feel encouraged. That’s nice that this being very nice.

And, um, I, and this was the one where it propelled me to, oh, maybe I can do better. I remember exactly now that we’re talking about it, there was a German vocabulary book and the smart one was, they said it was pretty thin. It was like, let’s say 80 pages. And they said, if you know all the words on these 80 pages, That is 75% of all conversations.

And that was a great concept for me instead of having you the Tica. And so that’s English, I’m like, okay, then you give up. But knowing 75 of percent of conversations, I had a goal and they were right with this book. I, I wish I would know actually the book, uh, this should [00:26:00] exist for every language where it’s like here, that’s all you can hold up a conversation in the baker.

And then you can take it from

[00:26:07] Stephen: there. Nice. Yeah. And I agree with that. They’re always being editors and stuff. Don’t use the big flowery language if you don’t have to and make it all work. And I know I just recently discovered Lee child as an author that I enjoy. He writes the, uh, Reacher books and I’m not a big thriller reader.

It’s not just not my genre. I liked the Amazon TV show. So I said, okay, I’m gonna read the book. And I started reading. I’m like, his style is so different. It’s most of his sentences are seven words or less. There’s no word, like more than four or five letters. And it’s just very straightforward and simple, but kept me engaged.

So yeah, that’s how people are. You’re right.

[00:26:56] Thorsten: It’s funny that you mentioned that in a book. I, I remember my first year in [00:27:00] Canada in Calgary, so I wasn’t allowed to work. So I, I had little savings with Maia. I went to work, my wife, but we weren’t married at the time. So she went to work and I was like, yeah, I wanna start getting better with English.

I read stuff. And then I found the TV show, really famous friends. And I watched that a couple of times. The art in France. And I really say that is like having a very small vocabulary telling complex stories where people follow and that many people liked it. But I think it was also the accessibility for people as a second language to have, see people having convers daily conversations versus, and I did this with the British TV shows and their vocabulary was way higher and.

Admire that ability, like basically what you just said. And I think, especially in American culture or [00:28:00] north American culture, where there is a lot of integration. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:28:05] Stephen: All right. Thorson, it’s been a great conversation. I love talking to you all about German and the language. I thank you very much before we go, though, do you have any last minute advice for new authors

[00:28:17] Thorsten: for new authors?

So. I made a conscious decision at one point in my early twenties where I said, okay, I wanna work. I want a job to buy myself, time to write, and then I can write what I want. I probably never will be able to live of it and to make a living, but I can write what I need to write and what I want to write.

And I think that is the best. That was one of my best decisions, because like for 10 years it happened. And now it doesn’t, but I still can write what I need and what I want. And I’m not a hired gun.

[00:28:56] Stephen: Nice. Okay. Great Thorson. Thank you for [00:29:00] taking some time and chatting today. Uh, it’s been great having you on enjoy your nice weather finally.

[00:29:07] Thorsten: I, I will. I will. great.

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