Interview by SCIC News
Meow! Meet Cleo, the multilingual cat
SCICnews (Strategic Communication and Outreach)
A children’s book written by Spanish booth’s Francisco del Pino Romero
There really are people who wrote a book during the Covid-19 pandemic! One of them is Spanish booth’s Francisco del Pino Romero. The book had been a long time in the making as he was in the habit of taking notes on what his cat was up to. SCICnews sat down with Francisco to find out more.
SCICnews: Francisco, could you first tell us a bit about your professional background?
Francisco del Pino Romero: How did I become an interpreter? I came from Spain to study in Brussels because I wanted to study French and Dutch and I thought it was the best place to do so. I studied at the ISTI (Institut Supérieur de Traducteurs et Interprètes) and graduated as a conference interpreter in 1995. I immediately started working for the European Parliament as a freelancer and for other international organisations in France and the Netherlands. Then between 1998 and 2014, I worked in Vienna, first for United Nations and then for the OSCE (the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe).
However, I am not only a conference interpreter but also a translator and I obtained a PhD in translation at the Spanish University in 2013. In 2015, I returned to Brussels and started working for the SCIC and later for the European Parliament. That is what I do now.
During all this time, I published articles on conference interpreting in specialised journals. In 2001, I published a little book in Spanish, Guía Práctica del estudiante de interpretación, a practical guide for interpretation students; it was the beginning. But at the end of 2019, I published a novel called Una serpiente de Verano, I think it can be translated into English as “the silly season”, that time in summer when nothing happens, but in this book, it is the opposite. Everything happens in summer; it is a novel about espionage and organised crime in which the protagonist is a Spanish conference Interpreter who is mistaken for a Russian spy by Western secret services. It is very interesting, especially for colleagues from other booths, thanks to its rich Spanish vocabulary. Those who have read it say that there are a lot of expressions, a lot of slang, but also many military and judicial terms. You can find it at Punto y Coma, the Spanish bookshop at rue Stevin. I recommend it
CLEO was published this year at the end of February. Cleo speaks Spanish and understands French, Dutch, Russian and the dog language. As you know, CLEO narrates the life and adventures of Cleo the cat, everything that happens to her: domestic issues, human relations, travels, encounters with dogs, mice and other cats, visits to the vet, adventures on the street, and her participation in the Cat Beauty Contest 2021 in Antwerp.
SCICnews: What inspired you to write Cleo?
FdPR: From the very first moment she began to live with me, something happened to her every day and her adventures inspired me. What I did was take notes on everything that happened to her from the very beginning eight years ago. As interpreters, when we are doing consecutive, we just write a few words. That is what I did in order not to forget. I understood from the beginning that it was an interesting story for everyone, particularly for children between six and twelve, as well as their parents and cat lovers. And I must say that I had previously read a book called The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by E.T.A Hoffmann. It is a story of a cat that speaks, which was one source of inspiration.
SCICnews: What was the writing process like?
FdPR: That was the easiest part because, as I told you, I took notes for eight years. When I decided to start writing the book, I did it very quickly because I only had to develop my notes. I think I did it in two months, in the summer of 2020. After finishing it, I gave it to a children's teacher and a psychologist to get feedback. They read it, gave me positive advice but suggested some changes so I erased some sentences and changed a few others. After that, I gave it to a Spanish proofreader and everything was done.
SCICnews: Now let’s talk about the book’s illustrations and multilingual aspect.
FdPR: I had to look for translators and an illustrator. I set up a Belgian law company and a small publishing house; I had to do what any publisher does. I had to find a designer for the layout, a translator, an illustrator, deliver a layout for printing and pay everyone after obtaining a bank loan. The first print run was 4000 copies. For the moment, I have given 1000 copies to a Dutch distributor for distribution in the Netherlands and Belgium. You can get the book in any bookshop. I also have a website with information about Cleo and sell CLEO through my website: www.fiscalcelestial.org.
The search for the illustrator was not easy. First, I looked in the countries I know, in Belgium where I live and in Spain. I found many good-quality illustrators but they were not what I was looking for. Then I searched Russian sites and found a website where every illustrator could publish their work. There were lots of them. I found an illustrator who was different from the others and felt that she was what I was looking for. We talked about prices and I sent her a list of the illustrations I wanted. I sent her photographs and she did what I had asked. Only the front cover and the back cover was her choice. But I had to wait a long time because an illustrator at that level had a waiting list. I had to wait nine months, like when having a child. Once she had finished her other assignments, she started to make the illustrations for Cleo, which took six months. The collaboration was great and I am very happy. Her work is a work of art.
So why did I decide to make the book multilingual? I was thinking about my own children who have a Dutch-speaking mother and Spanish-speaking father. They have studied in international schools in English. I thought of other children in that situation and I think most of my colleagues in every booth have children like that.
It is important to keep a balance between their languages, otherwise the language of study of the school will always predominate and I thought the father could read a book like Cleo in his language and the mother in hers. The child will assimilate everything perfectly.
There are several versions of Cleo: Spanish-French, Spanish-Dutch, Spanish-English and Spanish-Russian. I have been thinking that if this is successful, I could continue with German and Italian and then maybe Arabic and Chinese. Cleo is not only a useful book for children but also appeals to adults and is a very handy book for language learning. You can always compare the original with the translation as the original is always on the left-hand page and the translation on the right-hand one. It is a helpful book for colleagues who want to add Spanish to their language combination and in general, for any student of those languages.
SCICnews: How did you find the translators?
FdPR: I am also a translator, so I knew where to look, but it was not easy. However, the end result was very interesting and positive. For instance, the Dutch translator is a professor of translation and interpreting at KU Leuven and a corresponding member of the Royal Spanish Academy. So you can imagine her level. When I defended my doctoral thesis, she was a member of the examining board, so I asked her. The French translator is Deputy Head of Department of the Brussels’ ISTI (the Institut Supérieur de Traducteurs et Interprètes). She is a teacher of conference interpreting and a literary translator. So all the translators are at a very high level.
This is interesting; the Dutch translator, Lieve Behiels, wanted to dedicate her fees to donating copies of Cleo to children in hospitals. That is what we have done; we have donated the books in each language to sick children in hospitals in Brussels and Spain and will continue to do so.
I began with the Russian translation because the illustrator is Russian and does not understand Spanish. She had to understand the story to be able to create the illustrations, so I gave it to a Russian translator first.
SCICnews: Could you tell us about the publishing and marketing side of things?
FdPR: Yes, many people believe that the writer simply writes the book and sends it to be printed. However, that is not the case. As I said, I set up a company in Belgium and had to find people to do the layout, the illustrator, the translators and so on. When all that was taken care of, I sent the PDF of the layout to a printer here in Belgium. I ordered 4000 copies. Once I had them, I started marketing. I printed the publicity sheets with the summary of the plot and some technical data, the number of pages, the weight and I sent them to certain schools and bookshops.
Then I contacted some people I knew. For instance, an article was published in some magazines. I was also interviewed for the Belgian Translators and Interpreters Association magazine. An article was also published by the Hispagenda magazine, which is a digital magazine for Spanish speakers in Belgium.
Then, there were two articles published by two other digital magazines: one in Spanish called “Holanda Noticias” and another in Dutch called “Spanje vandaag”. Another print version of the Dutch magazine “Espanje” also published an article about CLEO.
I also did some publicity on Facebook and we had a presentation at the end of May at the Catholic University of Leuven, the Antwerp campus.
I am thankful to all the colleagues who have helped; Pascal, the librarian; Pablo, José Luis and Marta, colleagues in the Spanish booth, and you, Satu.
SCICnews: What plans do you have for the future?
FdPR: In October, there will be book presentations in Spain in some language schools and universities and CLEO will be on sale in Spain. For the moment, it is only available in Belgium and the Netherlands. In October, I will also attend the Seville Book Fair to sell and sign copies of CLEO. And that is also thanks to a colleague in the Spanish booth who owns a bookshop.
I also want to continue writing a second book about Cleo’s adventures, the second part of Una serpiente de Verano.
At the end of October/beginning of November, there will be a presentation of the book CLEO at ISTI in Brussels. I have already invited all my colleagues to attend. On the CLEO website (www.fiscalcelestial.org), you will be able to find all the details when the time comes.