Sian and Julia discuss The Equestrienne

 

Book summary:

As a coming-of-age novel, The Equestrienne addresses the difficulties of friendships, families and desire that adolescence brings. Karolina’s love of riding is a reminder of the discoveries and passions that come with growing up, which renders it easily accessible to both those approaching this trialling period in life, and those who have surpassed it. However, Kovalyk’s choice of setting, placing Karolina’s story at the end of the communist rule in what was Czechoslovakia in 1984, allows the readers to engage with a unique experience of childhood.

The Equestrienne is an empowering novella, an encouragement for young girls to pursue their dreams and ambitions. Karolina, whose family gave up attempting to raise her as an athlete, finds the strength to persist, and is eventually successful in her riding. Kovalyk does not convey success as simple, but instead demonstrates how a young girl’s determination to succeed overrides all obstacles placed in her way.

 

Julia: The Equestrienne is a coming of age story, did you find that as a young person the story had any personal resonances for you?

Sian: I think that any young person would be able to find personal resonances in a story like this. Karolina’s persistence with her riding certainly reflected my experiences with working towards all of my goals; a prevalent example for me would be preparing for my GSCE exams, because maintaining the motivation to continue studying throughout the months leading towards these exams is difficult and unpleasant for all teenagers. However, the sense of achievement and success you experience after coming through this time truly makes the effort feel worthwhile, and it is extremely rewarding in the end. Karolina’s story is not one of a girl who is given success without working for it – she fails multiple times, is doubted by those closest to her and comes close to giving up on occasions, but with her perseverance and determination she is able to reach her goal. I think that is the message that Kovalyk is attempts to convey with The Equestrienne, and this would be extremely inspiring and motivating for young people.

 

Julia: The story is set at an interesting moment in history – the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia – how does this impact upon and interweave with the use of the coming-of-age genre?

Sian: The period that the novella is set in seems to reflect Karolina herself – the end of the communist rule in Czechoslovakia marks a new age of hope and liberation for this society, similarly to Karolina flourishing from a sense of hopelessness to discover her passion for riding, allowing her to experience freedom. The position of Czechoslovakia in 1984 doesn’t necessarily interfere with the story, although it is not ignored; having the context of this dark, bleak period as the basis of a story that seems to promote empowerment and ambition is very interesting for a coming-of-age story, and presents something quite unique to a reader like myself, who lives in what can feel like an entirely different world to Karolina. It is fascinating how, despite Karolina living in such a different society to mine, I am still able to recognise some of my own traits and qualities within her. Kovalyk presents characters whose experience we cannot necessarily empathise with, but there are undeniable connections between the experiences of The Equestrienne’s characters and young people in the contemporary world.

 

Julia: What did you think of the use of the novella form, as opposed to a longer novel? Did things seem rushed?

Sian: As a book that discusses growing up and approaching adolescence, I think that the novella form is actually a very effective way of mirroring this. To me, it represents how adolescence is a time where new things must be learned and processed very quickly, and it is a time where we are exposed to so many circumstances that are unfamiliar to us, with very little time to reflect or dwell on these situations. The book introduces us to new characters, themes and scenarios very abruptly, some of which we may not fully understand. Therefore, as a reflection of the experiences of a teenager I think it accurately depicts what life can be like. Further than this, I think that the length of a novella allows a smaller number of themes and ideas to be fully explored, rather than beginning to discuss a broader range of concepts to be addressed but left unfinished. The way in which Kovalyk balances depth and detail with a rapidly advancing plot allows the reader to be constantly engaged with Karolina’s story, and accurately reflects the world of an adolescent which is always evolving and presenting new challenges.

 

Julia: Riding is obviously of vital importance in The Equestrienne, but why do you think Kovalyk chose to focus on this sport in particular? What did it add to the novella?

Sian: There is a sense of disapproval surrounding Karolina’s interest in riding, as opposed to a more conventional sport. She is encouraged to take up swimming and gymnastics as a young child, but despite these influences by her family and within her school, she chooses riding. It seems that riding is viewed as an elite sport, which is interesting for a story based in a communist society, and Karolina is not deemed as belonging to this “class” of people. It is that sense of disapproval, and overcoming the doubts of others, that I feel emphasises Kovalyk’s message of pursuing dreams and ambitions regardless of how others perceive them. That may have been why she chose to focus on riding, as it seems to convey that a child’s dreams should not be invalidated and that, regardless of how unachievable a goal may seem, it is accessible with courage and determination. In terms of what riding contributes to the novel, I think that it is something that many people understand. Reading this novella about a young girl who does not give in to the disapproval of others, and instead is persistent, seems to contribute to the sense of achievement when Karolina finally succeeds.

 

Julia: The story mainly focuses upon two teenage characters – Karolina and Romana – were they believable? Relatable?

Sian: Kovalyk definitely portrayed Karolina and Romana as human, rather than being overly-generalised or caricatures of teenage girls. There were many aspects of their personalities with which I could connect, and they were therefore relatable in many ways. For example, the friendship between Karolina and Romana consisted of many elements that many other teenage girls also experience, and this allowed me to engage with the characters and feel a deeper understanding for their emotions and actions. However, I feel that Kovalyk did not write generic characters, they were authentic and unique, while possessing qualities in which many teenagers would be able to find themselves.

 

Julia: Have you read any other books that have been translated into English from another language? After reading this, are you interested in reading more works in translation?

Sian: The Equestrienne is the first work in translation that I have read, and it has given me an excellent impression of translated literature. While reading this novella, I was reminded of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief; while this book was originally written in English, the narration and dialogue contains many phrases in German, reflecting the story’s setting in Molching (a fictional town located on the outskirts of Munich). In The Equestrienne, some phrases that have remained in Slovak following the book’s translation into English, which enables the reader to become immersed in the society in which these characters live, and maintains Kovalyk’s natural style of writing within the English translation. Seeing the success of The Equestrienne through its nomination for the 2017 First Book Award demonstrates the importance and relevance of works in translation, a genre I now realise is under-represented and underappreciated. Before reading this novella, I had not fully recognised how writing styles across the world could be so distinctive and vary so significantly, and I am very interested in reading more works in translation after being so inspired by The Equestrienne.

Internship Experiences at Parthian – Eva and Owen

[Originally published on the Parthian website, June 13, 2017.]

Former Parthian interns Eva Queguiner and Owen Locke write about their experiences at Parthian; the jobs they were given and how they found the placements.

Eva Queguiner

I am currently in my final year at the Université de Bretagne Occidentale (UBO) in France, where I studied languages (English, Spanish) and international commerce. As part of my course, I needed to find an internship in a company abroad. During three months at Parthian Books, I learned a lot about the publishing industry as well asabout my personal skills. Parthian looks to find each intern’s individual abilities and therefore it distributes work according to each person.

Over the three months, I had the opportunity to undertake a diverse range of assignments and tasks that suited me well, such as reading manuscripts and writing reader reports to help editors ascertain the quality of each manuscript and whether to move forward with publication. I also helped to promote events by updating the Parthian website and their various social media pages.  However, one of the duties that I enjoyed most is the creation of graphic presentations with page layout software applications such as InDesign. The first page layout project on which I worked is the book launch of Cheval 10, a collection of poetry and short stories from the entrants of the Terry Hetherington Young Writers Award 2017. To promote this event, I was responsible for the creation of an electronic poster advertising the book, which was displayed throughout the university on the interactive screens.

I also participated in diverse literary events such as the London Book Fair, the Hay Festival and a book sale in the picturesque village of Llandeilo. It was a great opportunity to travel throughout Wales and the UK and discover a culture different from my own. Indeed, it was the first time I travelled in a foreign country and Swansea was a warm and welcoming place to live.

Overall, this internship at Parthian was an enjoyable experience, personally and professionally, that give me the opportunity to understand how a small independent publisher works and to discover the culture of Wales. I am grateful to Parthian for this great experience.

 

Owen Locke

I’ve spent an amazing few weeks with Parthian, and it’s tough knowing that soon it will cometo an end. It will be strange not coming into the office every morning, setting up my computer and waiting for another day to just fly by. It will be so weird not having a dozen tabs open to a dozen social media feeds at one time. And it will be hard not having whole days of bookish activity and conversation ahead of me, to be indulged in with people who, after only a short amount of time, have come to be my friends. But, despite my sadness at the thought of leaving, I’m coming away with so much excellent experience and so many happy memories from my time at Parthian, and that’s what I’m here to tell you about.

The Parthian Marketing and Editing Office is situated at the centre of Swansea University’s Singleton campus, and as I am a Swansea University student looking at a career in publishing, this was the perfect chance to gain some experience in the industry. The Employability Office here at Swansea is always e-mailing us with opportunities to enhance our CV’s, and this was an opportunity that really caught my eye. I applied without delay, and before I knew it, I was being sent a task to complete: a blog post to write and ways in which to market the post online. It was an excellent way to get a flavour of what we would be asked to do on the placement; I finished and submitted the piece faster than anything I’ve done before, and from there, all I could do was keep my fingers crossed! I was invited to interview and, meeting the wonderful people working at Parthian and seeing their lively office, I knew this was the perfect place to gain some publishing experience.

My application was successful and suddenly I was sat in the Parthian office, amazed to be there. My supervisors were fantastic: they gave clear instructions, offered help whenever it was needed and maintained a constant stream of tea and coffee. They were also incredibly flexible when it came to my timetable: the placement fell on the eve of my final exams and they were more than happy to accommodate my study and exam schedules to ensure I achieved good results, as well as a first-class experience in the office.

Assigned a range of tasks in different areas of marketing and editing, I began to get a feel for what I did and didn’t like in the publishing game. I’ll never be a designer, as I learned when making a poster for an upcoming event, but my passion will always be writing, and so I was set to work managing the company’s social media accounts, updating their blog and submitting reader’s reports of the manuscripts that crowded the desks and the mailbox! My supervisor made sure I was always doing something I enjoyed and that each job played a true role in the day’s work. There was no mindless photocopying or throwaway tasks for the interns: everything I worked on influenced the company. A particularly proud moment for me was when an idea of mine – a social media campaign centred on International Coffee Day – was given the go-ahead. Having that sort of true effect on the work Parthian does only drove me to work harder.

Another facet of working for Parthian were the events they hold to showcase their authors andtheir work. Getting to attend book signings and literary festivals which featured Parthian authors was a privilege I never envisaged when applying. These events stretched from Swansea to Llansteffan, Hay-on-Wye to Fishguard; I couldn’t attend them all, but those I missed felt like missed opportunities. Parthian was always offering me new skills and ways to be a part of the publishing industry, and being able to be a part of and to attend these events, was an amazing experience.

All good things must come to an end, or so the cliché goes, but I wish my placement at Parthian would keep going and going. I’ll never forget the skills, experiences and contacts I was introduced to during my time there, no more than I will forget that cosy and chaotic office and the amazing friends I made there. If you get the chance of a placement at Parthian: take it. I promise you: you will not regret it.

An Intern’s Experience of the Llandeilo Book Festival

[Originally published on the Parthian website, May 08, 2017.]

Former Parthian intern Emily Wood writes about her internship experience with us, and about attending the Llandeilo Book Festival.

As a Parthian intern, I recently had the opportunity to attend the Llandeilo Book Festival on 29 April. Being the first literary event I’ve attended during my time with Parthian, it was not only a great chance to learn more about Parthian’s publications but also provided me with the possibility of meeting other publishers, both from other publishing houses as well as self-publishing authors.

If you were at the book fair, you may have seen me on the Parthian/Library of Wales stall in the Civic Hall with other Parthian colleagues, promoting our collections and selling a wide range of literary delights from the Parthian catalogue!

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The book fair provided an excellent opportunity to see the wide variety of literature being created and published in Wales. There was something for everyone; from historical fiction to thrillers, from fantasy to children’s books and poetry. It was brilliant to be able to talk to authors who were so passionate about their work and who were so eager to encourage reading and the discovery of new literature amongst readers of all ages!

Being a linguist and current Welsh learner, a particular highlight for me was being able to purchase literature published in the Welsh language and practice conversing with Welsh speakers.

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Llandeilo book fair is organised by Carmarthenshire author, Christoph Fischer who has said that the idea of the fair is to showcase the writing talents of the Welsh writing community and provide authors with an opportunity to reach a wider audience.

If you didn’t have the chance to go this year, then it’s definitely an event you will want to put in your calendar for next year!

 

Emily is an intern with Parthian’s Marketing and Editing office in Swansea. She obtained a BA in European Studies with French and Spanish and an MA in Interpreting and Translating from the University of Bath. After deciding on a career change, Emily is now studying for an MA in International Journalism at Swansea University. In her spare time she likes reading, practicing yoga and still works as a freelance translator and copywriter. She is passionate about European literature and film and hopes that these interests will feature in her future career.

Jantine’s Internship Experience

[Originally published on the Parthian website, November 21, 2016.]

Former Parthian intern Jantine Broak writes about her four months spent in Wales, and the opportunities and tasks that she experienced with us.

My time at Parthian Books has been brilliant. As soon as I got the green light for my internship, they were concerned with giving me a thoroughly enjoyable working experience, picking out duties that suited me and engaging me with projects via e-mail before I arrived. The moment I stepped into the office on a predictably rainy morning, I was steeped in Welsh hospitality and given cakes, tea, and a pile of Welsh literature to take home to read. Over the next three months, I had some very diverse duties: writing press releases and assisting with the marketing campaign for Stand Up and Sock It to Them Sister, meeting with authors, blogging for the website and writing newsletters, creating promotional flyers and booklets, and writing reader reports for manuscripts that arrived on our doorstep. A bit of everything, really, and as my master’s was in editing, I was happily given plenty of opportunities to proofread, correct and oversee the various stages of the production of manuscripts. They were happy to hand over the reins, giving me plenty of responsibilities and learning opportunities. Communication (and the coffee machine) were sometimes erratic, but it was all part of the spontaneous and slightly chaotic environment of a small publishing house.

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In the meantime, I travelled to literary festivals all over the country that featured Parthian’s books, including Gwyll Aral in north Wales, Penfro in the west, the National Eisteddfod and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. It was a wonderful opportunity to see as much of the UK, and mainly of Wales, as I could. My coworkers and friends gave me the full Welsh treatment, taking me out for drinks at the ubiquitous pubs, making sure I ate enough cawl and cheddar, and introducing me to the Welsh literary canon. If you’re not familiar with the works of Dylan Thomas when you arrive in Swansea, you will be soon enough. On weekends I took the bus to the gorgeous Gower peninsula, just an hour away from Swansea, to enjoy the unspoiled Welsh beaches, forests, cliffs, and castle ruins, walking sections of the Wales Coast Path and on my way back stopping in Mumbles for one of their famous ice creams. I visited vibrant Cardiff a number of times, which is only an hour away by bus or train, and on hot summer days (of which there were at least five!) I was happy to dip my toes into the ocean in Swansea Bay, which practically reached to the doorstep of the office on the university campus.

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Overall, Parthian have been a huge help in giving me necessary experience in publishing, introducing me to many interesting people in the field, and making sure I got to taste everything on the menu—not just editing, but also marketing and administrative tasks. It has been an absolute pleasure to contribute to their catalogue and do my bit to raise the profile of Welsh literature.  Furthermore, it was great to dive into the Welsh literary canon and learn more about the history of Wales, which, undeservingly, is little discussed outside of Wales itself. I’m very grateful for the warm welcome and the equally warm goodbye party they gave me, and hope to continue to keep in touch with them in the future.

I’ve written more about the things I got up to during my internship on my blog, jantinebroek.wordpress.com. For more info about the work I did for Parthian and my services as an editor, copywriter and translator, visit my website, fabulatextservices.wordpress.com.