At the beginning of Seven Demons (newly translated into French) there’s a quote from Sergio Leone (who was obviously not French, but stick with me):
“When I was young, I believed in three things - marxism, the redemptive power of cinema, and dynamite. Nowadays I believe only in dynamite.”
My kids are learning French at school, and it may not come entirely as a surprise if I tell you that the adventures of M and Mme Duvalier at the school picnic are not entirely attention-grabbing to kids raised on a diet of Percy Jackson and Amari Peters. So when my copies of the French edition arrived I realised I had an opportunity to do something a little bit fun, and I’ve been reading to them from the first chapter. Now, strictly speaking Seven Demons is NOT suitable for 9-12 y.o. kids. That is to say that it is violent, obscene, nihilistic and comedic, so it’s totally suitable for kids but a very long way from what is generally considered healthy and appropriate for kids. And truthfully it’s too bleak and too scary and too bloody for mine if they were actually being exposed to it in full, which they’re not because OF COURSE I’m picking and choosing my sections. What they’re actually getting is fragments of anarchy and fun without horror.
So now instead of M Duvalier’s struggles with the flat tyre, we’re doing:
“Il m’a poignardé à la jambe.”
Pronoun: me, apostrophised to m’
Verb: a (from avoir) poignardé (who can tell me what a poignard is in English? REALLY? I thought you were educated in civilised weaponry. I’m shocked. Anyway, that’s a past participle.)
Preposition: à (this one surprised me, not actually in this context but in the next one: “Ne touchez pas au couteau.” I would have said “le” and revealed the sogginess of my erudition. If you are ever in the position of telling someone not to touch something that is sticking out of their leg in French, please remember it’s “toucher à qqch”.)
“He stabbed me in the leg.”
Indeed! And how did this happen? Well, it appears he emerged “en courrant” from a pastry shop, which is how we translate “he ran out of a pastry shop” in this context for felicity of style...
And they’re happily learning how the past tense works, while gathering interesting vocabulary and we get to talk about word choice.
The other favourite is the Sergio Leone quote, inevitably:
Quand j’étais jeune, je croyais à trois choses: le marxisme, le pouvoir rédempteur du cinéma et la dynamite. Désormais, je crois juste à la dynamite.
Neither of them learns particularly well from the conventional tables of six persons (I, you, he/she/it blah blah) so I’m in the curious position of finding them phrase examples to play with and memorise so that they can pass tests on the tabulated forms which they are being taught so that ultimately they can play with phrases (i.e. speak the language). Ah, Britain and its relationship with foreign languages…
I don’t know yet how their respective French teachers will respond to this input. There’s generally an acclimatisation period with any institution or person I work with when they discover that they’ve taken on a blathering loon and while it’s all very exciting it’s also exhausting, and I in turn learn the limits of their flexibility, because everyone is a little bit different in the levels and areas of oddness they actually enjoy versus what turns things into hard work. Gnomon, for example, pushed everyone’s levels of weirdness and some people enjoyed that and others did not. Titanium Noir (US May 16th / UK May 18th) is much more contained in that regard: the environment is familiar yet new, and the fundamental change to things - the Titans - is both a radical departure from the real and a straightforward mirror of our lived reality. So my hope is that some people will feel comfortable with the story as story rather than bouncing off my effervescent desire to freak everyone out, and then gradually realise that they’ve come to a very odd place which isn’t where they’d usually spend time but now they’re too interested to leave before the end, while others more familiar with my brand of crazy will experience the book as a mysterious and starlit night of strangeness where more will be revealed over time (this is, after all, intended to be a series) rather than the full-on heat of weird midday.
I’ve just realised, though, that the French teachers are definitely getting Ghost Shark Mode. Well, life is nothing without the occasional challenge.
The Seven Demons translation, (not) incidentally, is by Fabrice Pointeau, who also did The Price You Pay and therefore by now has some kind of blackbelt in translating things which broadly cannot be translated and indeed can be head-spinning in English. Sample exchange:
“Hey Fabrice it’s Nick/Aidan here are we okay using poignardé when it’s an oyster knife or is that like mixed knife messages?”
“Yes, it’s fine. Can we talk about literally every other insane thing you have done here?”
Great honour is due.
Anyway anyway: the UK jacket for Titanium Noir is on Amazon and the Little Brown site, so I’m sharing it here too. As I said on Twitter the other day, the algorithmic atemporality of new flavour Twitter means I can do that and then have a cover reveal in a couple of weeks and a whole lot of people will still go OH WOW SO NEW AND SHINY.
Which is weird.
So here we go:
The Fragmentary Substack. Stuff that comes out of my brain but is not biological in nature and (probably) will not eat anyone. Who could resist such an offer?
I wish I'd had Ghost Shark mode in the 80s to deploy on/at/against (inherited French 'à' confusion?) my language teachers. Very tempted to reserve 'blathering loon' for future (fairly exempted) use. The new cover's hypodermic needle is piercing a pituitary with unerring precision. Not a coincidence, I suspect.