Wednesday 26 September 2018

Author and Translator Profile and Interview with Helena Scott

Helena Scott Author and Translator Profile and Interview 

Helena Scott is an author, and a translator. He has co-written 8 booklets for the Catholic Truth Society with Ethel Tolansky. She has translated dozens of books for CTS and for Scepter. She would balk at the title author, but her and Tolansky's writing is so well done I tracked down all 8 of their booklets even though most are out of print, once I discovered them I wanted to read them all. She is a researcher, a teacher, and a translator. She took some time from the many hats she wears to answer 20 Questions for the readers here at Book Reviews and more. So now in her own words, at time loquacious and at times brief, here is Helena Scott.

1. If you had not become a writer what do you think you would be doing for a living?

As a matter of fact I'm not a professional writer, I'm a translator.

2. Who were some of your biggest supporters and contributors to your early success?

N/A - I just wish I had some "early success" to talk about!

3. What advice do you wish a writer had passed on to you early in your career, which you only learned through experience?

Start at the end, or rather, in Stephen Covey's words, "Begin with the end in mind". I tended to plunge into writing and see where it led me, and only learnt from experience to make a road-map and perhaps even write the ending first. Having said that, it does sometimes happen that I start writing and find things taking shape as I go along, much better than I could have consciously intended.

4. What authors influenced your writing style and format?

I think what influenced my writing style and format as much as anything was studying Latin and classical Greek at university, then training to teach English to foreign students and actually teaching it for a longish period. All of that gave me a thorough grasp of the structure of language, and a habit of looking critically at a piece of writing to see if it conveys what the writer intended to say effectively. I would like to think that everything I've ever read has influenced me too!

5. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?

N/A - but see question 13 below.

6. Do you use a playlist when writing? Are certain books written while predominantly listing to the same music?

I find if I listen to music, I don't want to do something else at the same time. Music would be a huge distraction from writing.

7.  From my research you have co-written 8 biographies, and translated 5 books by Father Jacques Philippe. Have you ever tried your hand at fiction?

I've translated several other books that have been published, and also written one or two poems but never tried publishing them. I haven't written any fiction.

8. Your biography of Alvaro Del Portillo is available in both English and Spanish. Are there plans to release it in other languages? Or for translations of any other of your works?

Alvaro del Portillo: the Power of Humility has also been translated into Croatian and Chinese, and Josemaria Escriva has been translated into Spanish, Lithuanian and Chinese. Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan has been translated into Vietnamese. That's as far as I know, but there may have been other translations that I haven't heard about.

9. It has been a few years since you have published a new book. Are there any current projects that you are working on or that are in the back burner in some stage of development?

No - I'm working virtually full time on translation and editing work.

10. The biographies that you have written span a wide range of subjects. How did you determine which biographies to write?

Ethel Tolansky and I decided to write the first one, Johann Gruber and Jacques Bunel: Victims of the Nazis, because we liked the CTS "Martyrs of the 20th Century" series and we knew about Dr Gruber and Fr Bunel through teaching and researching French literature. There was very little available about either of them in English, and we thought English-speaking Catholics could be inspired by knowing about their lives too. 

As we're both in Opus Dei, we then offered to write a biography of the founder of Opus Dei, St Josemaria, for the CTS Biographies series, and the CTS were delighted; they brought out another booklet about Opus Dei as such at the same time, and held a book-launch, or rather a booklet-launch, for the two booklets together, which was great fun. Then in the lead-up to Blessed Alvaro del Portillo's beatification we realized that a booklet-sized biography of him would help make him known in the English-speaking sphere. Both of us had met Blessed Alvaro, and so writing about him was a wonderful way of passing on what he meant to us. 

I gave a seminar at the University of Westminster on Pope Pius XII as part of a series on war and culture in the 20th century, and afterwards we worked the seminar presentation up into a booklet, because we and the CTS felt that it was vital for people to hear the truth about this much-attacked and widely misrepresented Pope. 

The other booklets we wrote were actually at the suggestion of the CTS and it was a real joy to do them, because it involved researching and learning more about some really holy people who have given so much to the Church; and about Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans, who, although they were not Catholics, were deeply committed Christians who owed a lot to Blessed John Henry Newman.

11. Were there any biographies you really wanted to write that just never came to fruition? 

Yes - of my parents! I still have that in mind as obviously I think they were wonderful, and very special people. I doubt if there'd be any realistic chance of finding a publisher, so if I do write it I would probably have to self-publish it.

Ethel has done a lot of research on Jane Austen, and on Hugh Dormer, who was killed in World War II, and I very much hope that one or both of these projects may lead to a publication.

12. Which of your booklets was the hardest to write and why?

The hardest one was Pius XII, because of the mass of material available that had to be checked and re-checked and reduced to seminar-size and then booklet-size, and also because we had to make sure we gave a truthful, balanced and convincing picture of him that people could refer to when his memory was attacked, as it regularly is. 

I think the second hardest was Benedict XVI, because the CTS contacted us about it as soon as he was elected and obviously it had to be brought out at top speed, at a time when there wasn't a huge amount about him that was readily available.

13. All your published booklets were co-written with Ethel Tolansky. What was it like collaborating on so many booklets together? 

Funnily enough, the process for each of our booklets was different. Having said that, we started out each time by deciding together on what specific aspects we thought we most needed to focus on, because in a booklet you can't hope to give a complete picture of every aspect of a person's whole life. For some of them, we then had regular collaborative meetings hammering out what to say and how to say it. For others, we each wrote separate sections and then spliced them together, so to speak. I was the main author of Pius XII, since, as I said, it arose from a seminar I gave, and Ethel was the main author of Sophie Scholl, as she already knew a considerable amount about the White Rose group.

14. Have you written any books or booklets on your own, that have yet to be published?


15. While researching your booklets and trying to track down all the ones you wrote or translated, I was surprised that you have almost no online footprint. A few blog articles for CTS, a minimal Facebook profile and I believe LinkedIn. Is that intentional?

Yes. As I'm not a professional writer I'm not in the business of marketing myself as an author, and as well as that, I don't have the time to work up an online presence.

16. What were some of your favorite authors in your teen years who helped shape you?

Too many to list! C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Frank Sheed, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Dorothy L. Sayers … all the classics, I suppose.

17. What are some of your favorite contemporary religious authors to read?

Peter Kreeft, for his clarity and faithfulness to the Church. Josemaria Escriva, whom I'd recommend for everyone who wants to develop their relationship with Christ in their daily lives. John Paul II, because he shows how powerful philosophy is in leading to a knowledge of God's love. Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger, who is a born teacher. Jacques Philippe, always inspiring. Romano Guardini, who has such tremendous insights and makes you feel insightful yourself! Those are just some of them.

18. What are some of your favorite books and authors now?

I love reading, and whatever book I'm reading right now is often my favourite. But if I had to make a list, it would include - as well as all the above - The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker; The Unintended Reformation by Brad Gregory; A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson - books that aim to give a big picture. A Good Man in Evil Times by José-Alain Fralon, about Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux in 1940 who disobeyed his government in order to save the lives of literally thousands of Jews by giving them visas, and whose own life was ruined as a result. The Price to Pay by Joseph Fadelle, about an Iraqi Muslim who was converted to Catholicism and what happened next… Being Mortal by Atul Gawande: it's about the human aspects of dying and end-of-life care, from the point of view of the medical profession. The Stripping of the Altars by Eamon Duffy gives a much-needed and very complete picture of Catholicism in England on the eve of the Reformation. On my shelf right now are The True History of the Elephant Man by Michael Howell and Peter Ford; Communism and Man by Frank Sheed; Fools, Frauds and Firebrands by Roger Scruton; and Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel.

I was part of a book club for several years, and we posted a good many of our reads on a blog, at:

19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?

Like all good castaways, I would put Shakespeare and the Bible at the top of my list; my edition of the Bible would have a sound, thorough commentary. The Lord of the Rings. T. H. White's The Once and Future King as long as it included The Sword in the Stone. The complete Harry Potter, if conveniently available in one volume. Milton's Paradise Lost. Dante's Divine Comedy. The poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The Oxford Book of Comic Verse. The Oxford Book of Mediaeval Latin Poetry. The Metaphysical Poets - that's number 11, in case the one-volume Harry Potter isn't available… 

20. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists particularly those looking to have their art reflect their faith?

Go back in time and get to know about iconography especially, and meet the artists and religious writers of the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries! Your spiritual life will be hugely enriched by educating yourself in that direction, and you'll find inspiration for your own work in all sorts of places, on seeing how they expressed their faith in their writing and art. Don't limit yourself to Western Europe but broaden out to other artistic and literary traditions.

Thank you, Helena, for taking the time to answer a few questions. I love reading the booklets you wrote and have read about half of the books you translated. Thank you for sharing about your faith, your work, and your life. It was wonderful getting to know a bit more about you.

Books by Scott and Tolansky:
Pius XII
Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan
Benedict XVI

Josemaria Escriva
Alvaro Del Portillo

A Pope of Surprises: The First Five Years of Pope Benedict XVI's Papacy
Sophie Scholl and The White Rose: Resistance to the Nazis
Johann Gruber and Jacques Bunel: Victims of the Nazis

In Spanish:
Álvaro del Portillo: el Poder de la Humildad
Josemaría Escrivá

In Croatian:
Alvaro del Portillo: Snaga Poniznosti

In Chinese:
Josemaria Escriva
Alvaro del Portillo: The Power of Humility

In Vietnamese:
Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan

Books by Fr Jacques Philippe translated by Helena Scott:
Time For God
Interior Freedom
In the School of the Holy Spirit
The Way of Trust and Love: A Retreat Guided by St. Therese of Lisieux
Thirsting for Prayer

Other books and booklets translated by Helena Scott:
The Way of Humility: Corruption and Sin; On Self-Accusation - Jorge Bergoglio
It Is Worth While - Jose Maria Casciaro
The Prodigal Son - Georges Chevrot
In the Footprints of our Faith: A Journey Through the Holy Land - Jesus Gil and Eduardo Gil 
When the Moon Comes Out Africa Dances - Jose Luis Olaizola
Light in Architecture: The Intangible Material - Elisa Valer
The Man of Villa Tevere - Pilar Urbano

Author profile and interview with Helena Scott.

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