And Then There Were Two (Languages)

So it came to pass that on a Saturday, not so long ago, I spent a few hours in the morning writing the final few scenes of Girls in Black, the sequel to my NaNo 2019 novel, and an hour in the afternoon writing a piece of a battle scene in the Third Werewolf Novel. It was a good day, fictionwise.

But the fun part begins when we take a look at the fact that the first one is written in English, and the second one—same as all my (publishable) werewolf stuff so far—in my native Croatian. Thus, the Saturday in question marks a weird little personal ‘first’ for me, going down in history as the first day I can remember in which I’ve actually written fiction in both the languages I’m familiar with. And I didn’t even blink.

Nope, not even when I needed to place the dialogue comma—which is inside the quotation marks in English (which I personally prefer anyway) and outside of them in Croatian. It took me a while to get used to the differences.

I’ve started writing long fiction in English two years ago. I had this urge to write and publish a werewolf novella (with new characters, who ended up populating the later novels in Croatian, too) in it. I ended up with 29k of words, give or take a k, of boring interior monologue. (Apart from the sex scenes. Those I still like.) I’ve been playing along with the idea of redrafting the novella—you know, that’s the one where you scrub your copy clean and write it all from the start if your poor little heart can bear it—but it seemed like too much work. It’s much easier to just let it… rot.

Writing in my second language wouldn’t have been possible, at all, were it not for the final installments of the Harry Potter books, which made me try reading in English for the first time in general. I can’t handle spoilers related to fiction I love, so I couldn’t wait for the translations, even though they used to get published pretty swiftly back in the day for major books. I never dared to read my favourite two writers in English when I was younger—GG Kay and LM Bujold*—because I was too afraid I might misunderstand or miss out on the flavour and the general feel of their fiction. (I did finally cave in for Ethan of Athos, but I own a later Croatian copy, too. It worked out alright.)

I’ve actually first started writing in English (apart from the inevitable mid 2000s international forums) on a larger scale at this very blog. It took quite a while before I felt comfortable enough in it to consider taking it to a next level. The reason for trying it out for Johnny’s Girls, finally, a full novel, was twofold. Simply, the number of people who read Croatian genre fiction (apart from crime and a bit of romance) in Croatian in infinitesimal. And the number of people who read queer Croatian fiction—no matter the genre—is even smaller. (Also, I don’t have the funds at the moment to have my fiction translated into English, even though I must note I’ve had a more than generous offer from one of the most prolific speculative fiction translators currently working in Croatia (that I know of), one which I’m still grateful for.)

So… I wrote a novel in my second language. And I’m currently writing the second one. And I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. Sure, it feels weird. Both my partner and I seem to remember certain phrases in the other language while we’re writing—NaNoWriMois fun!—so Google Translate is a close personal friend. Also, there is still such a vast number of words I’ve never even heard in English—reading historicals and craft masters like KJ Charles is always a blast—and a lot of the phrases which are not currently in use in popular TV are still out of my reach.

Still, it’s possible. Reading extensively in the second language helps. (So does starting to learn the language in question when you’re three years old.)

The best example of a person I actually know about who successfully publishes in their second language is Aliette de Bodard, but there must be a lot of them out there I’ve probably never even heard of. Another example of how much you can accomplish when you venture out of your comfort zone, one familiar to the cosplayer colleagues out there, is Svetlana of Kamui Cosplay, who does her business in her third language. (What can I say? People who dare are a constant source of inspiration.)

It’s probably a good idea to note, right here, at the bottom of the post, that I haven’t published anything longer than a story or two (right here, too!) in English so far. And that there will always be things I cannot fathom in this weird looking (and even weirder sounding) language.

But, hey—coming back to the Saturday which started it all—the fact remains that I did write in both languages during the same day, and with a similar result and feeling of satisfaction, and I didn’t even blink.

The only reason I’m even writing in Croatian anymore is because I’ve already had a few readers who liked Izazov krvi, and an awesome publisher, and a great team, and hey, the subject of the series is so local that, fuck it, I think us Croats deserve a werewolf series of our very own.

What we don’t deserve, in the current cultural and political climate, is a dieselpunk lesbian mystery series. We just don’t.

Oh, but did I mention a lot of readers in Croatia—especially those of us fond of the various facets of speculative fiction and certain genre niches—already read a lot in English, too? Can’t stop the fun from spreading after all… no matter the language it speaks.

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*I was lucky enough that a rather huge amount of UK Leguin’s longer fiction had already been translated into a related language I could read in as a kid. Most of it before I was born, which made it doubly fun because my dad had already bought almost all of them, so they were waiting for me on our home’s shelves when the time was right. I can’t ever stress enough how lucky I still feel because of that.

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Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.