Thursday, July 16, 2020

Dreams Come True: Truth About the Universe, Bilingual Writing and Independent Artists

On a mild northwestern day, one just like today, exactly three years ago, Justin and I were taking a walk by the sea, and guess what happened... He found this adorable little seal, painted on a rock (sweet local tradition). It both amused and amazed me because it was absolutely perfect for the moment! Do you know why? Because at the time, my brother Andrei and I were working on our new children's book, named SUPERSEAL ("Супертюлень"). As many creatives know, a creative life isn't just all fun and faith. It's also full of darkness and doubts. Am I good enough? Are my ideas and work good enough? Will people understand it? Will they appreciate it? And, of course, the underlying question of all: IS THE UNIVERSE OKAY? 

So you can imagine that when Justin handled me this little painted treasure, clouds disappeared from my horizon, moved by the bright, strong, undoubting rays of sunshine. In that moment, I knew: THE UNIVERSE IS OK, AND ALL IS WELL. Later that year, as we dreamed and almost as planned, we published our second story and our fourth children's book. The idea came to me a few years earlier, when on a mild northwestern day, one just like today, I was sitting by the sea listening to seals swimming around, playing and calling each other. I wrote down some notes on a piece of paper that I could find, and when I came home, the story was born. I wrote it in Russian, named my story IT'S GOOD TO BE A SEAL ("Хорошо быть тюленем"), and it was a story of two brothers, Ivan and Pyotr, one curious and playful, another quiet and wise. I still love that story and want to publish it one day. But when I started working on a book which meant to be bilingual and addressed to Russian speaking children living in English speaking countries, or English speakers learning Russian language, I realized that a simple translation of my story won't do. I think the first story was written to myself - to the child within me. That story and my future book had different audiences, with different mentalities, different needs. So I decided to let go of my first story and write a new one, in English! Yes, I rewrote the story in the English language. I realized that language dictates what and how I write. I know that when I write in Russian my thoughts that I started thinking in English - they don't flow as easy, and they don't have the same response with my Russian speaking readers as they get with my English speaking audience, when I write them in English. Before I write, I have to switch and start thinking in the language of my audience. It does not mean that I can't write about certain topics in either language. It only means that the language will dictate me what and how to write on this particular subject. So when I started thinking and writing in English, Superseal was born. He was very similar to my little Russian seal named Pyotr, but he had a father instead of a brother, and he had different dreams... I won't retell my book here, of course. But it's a sweet story, written with heart and humor, and illustrated beautifully by my brother, Andrei Lialin, a wonderful artist from Siberia (I couldn't wish for a better illustrator to work with!). We were told by boys and girls from different countries and continents that they loved our book! It touches my heart every single time... I am also amazed by the geography of our readers - we have readers in Russia, USA, England, and even in Asia and Africa. Unbelievable! 


Superseal is a bilingual book - there are parallel texts in Russian and English. Yes, I wrote it in English and then had to translate to Russian. My English is far from perfect, so Justin helped with the English version of the text. I love working with him! He is extremely attentive to details in general, and thoughtful about nuances of the language, so we try to find the linguistic means that translate not just the words, but the atmosphere, the spirit of the story. Justin also is the one who learns and takes care of all the publishing matters (and believe me, there's lots!) - there simply would be no books without him. Needless to say, I adore my talented, golden boys as I like to call them. We really make an exceptional team! I think sometimes people underestimate independent artists and self-publish authors because they see work that isn't as professional or maybe half-finished. They also forget that whenever we look at a commercially produced book (or a movie, or any type of product really) we witness the efforts of hundreds and thousands of people who work on them, each having their own specific, narrow area of professional focus and responsibility, who are being paid for their time and efforts, no matter how good the end result is. When we look at a work of an independent artist, we witness the efforts, talents, responsibilities, time and financial investment of this particular artist or a small group of collaborators, as in our case.  Andrei, Justin and I literally invest all we have in our work, and there are no halfhearted attempts here! I guarantee that you will be touched by our books - you just won't be able to help yourself. They are true little treasures, our children's books. I'm not saying it because I'm full of myself (look up the beginning of this post to remind yourself about the dark side of the artist's cycle). I'm saying it because I'm proud of our work. Because I know exactly how much time creating, thinking, dreaming, learning new skills went to each single book. I know exactly how many sleepless nights went in each of them and how many changes, corrections and improvements were made. And above all, just how much courage, heart and soul are in our work. I'm sure if you knew as much as I know, you would have great respect for independent artist's work and maybe learn more about ways to support them.

But regardless of whether you personally care for our books, I love them! Yes, it's work, but it's INSPIRED work, and it makes all the difference. Hours of creativity, exploration, fun, laughter, and all with people I love and have a huge respect for - I consider myself incredibly lucky, even if no one ever reads our books. But stories are told to be heard, and I am thankful to each and every readers, listener, follower and supporter we have! Thank you, guys! You are the best audience, and I can't wait to share more stories with you! When? On one of those mild northwestern days, one just like three years ago, and just like today...


  1. You are right to be proud of your works and books, they are wonderful and come from the heart! What you wrote about writing in different languages really resonates with me. I write differently in different languages, my style is completely different. Not that I think that literature cannot be translated well but when one writes with a specific audience in mind, one writes differently.

    1. Thank you, Ivana! Translating is a separate gift, for sure, and translating literature is one very special gift and skill. Some translations can be better than originals - can add unexpected depth or charm to the original. It's a commonly known fact that Astrid Lindgren (my favorite children's author) did not especially like her Karlsson. Neither did her readers in Swedish or English languages. But Russian translation is so wonderful - it is one of our most beloved characters of all times! Karlsson in Russia is even more popular than Pippi! That's all thanks to the talent of Larisa Lungina, the Russian translator, and of course the popular cartoon based on her translation.