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Two Languages, One Heart

By Sinem Erenturk

‘“When I listen to you, your language sounds so authentic. Some phrases we wouldn’t use in English - are they translations of Turkish?” asks one fellow Table 52 Writer in our cosy pub, in the heart of Richmond, overlooking the bus stops and chic shops of George Street.

We’re at our regular weekly meeting, where we read our stories aloud to each other and discuss the feedback. Today is my turn. The question comes after I finish reading my story, enjoying the two or three seconds of silence at the end - where magical particles from our stories still hang in the air, just like the silence after a piece in a concert before audience clap - and receiving encouraging initial feedback.

The cute pub landlord arrives at the second floor where our usual table is in the corner. I wait for him to serve our second round of teas and coffees. It is partly because we like undisturbed conversations, critiques, and feedback on our stories, within full focus. They are all valuable and important. I also use the time to think on the question my fellow writer posed. It’s similar to others I get asked. "Isn’t it hard to write stories in English?”, “Do you write in Turkish first and then translate to English – on paper or on your mind?”, “Why do you write in English?

My answers are usually brief and practical. “It’s not hard but my English improves as well, as I write.”, “No, I think in English. If I write and think in Turkish and then translate it, the story develops different and in English goes elsewhere" and lastly, "Creative writing entered my life in London so I want to write in English.”

However, this question of my friend needs a little more thought.

It seems I’m not the only one making use of this small break. Another fellow writer clears her throat and reminds us to eat the croissants she buys from Ole and Steen. ‘“Help yourselves please.” We all know she’s sharing the guilt of eating carbs as well as the croissants with us. We knowingly and happily take our parts in crime.

Everybody gets matched with the right coffee or tea of their selection. It seems I am ready to answer now. "Actually and interestingly no - they are not translations from Turkish and I honestly have no idea where this use come from…”

To me, born and raised in Turkey, and now raising my sons in London, that is how I start thinking my writing language I use in my stories is in itself a character. It lives, breathes, changes as I write, like my characters. I worked as a journalist for a short time after university in an English newspaper in Turkey. But rather than facts, as creative writing is highly related with emotions, ideas, tastes, smells, sounds, sights and so on, all my cumulative experience from my native language, and my life here in the UK blend together in the thought process of my stories and this has a reflection on the language itself. This is something not possible with direct translation of a story from one language to the other. It may not be perfect but as long as it is understandable, don't the gains outweigh a perfect translation of what would most probably be a different story?

I don’t pretend writing as if I’m an English person, born and raised here. I’m also not a person who writes and thinks in one language - so why not chance my dual languages and see what happens?

Then I get to think with contentment as if I’ve found another untouched, unbroken seashell out of the sand on the beach. Isn’t it just another tiny proof of this fact?

- When we don’t see things black or white and let the greys show themselves, the world is a fun, joyful and a rich place. –

I enjoy the very short thinking journey starting from my friend’s question ending up here on my mind. Following my answer, we keep on discussing on characters, the plot, resolution, moment of truths, twists and many more. I am happy.

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