It’s with a great pleasure that I introduce to you our first interviewee nominated by our very first lovely interviewee, Marta Stelmaszak: Lucy Brooks. Who guessed right? Well, I certainly didn’t!
You know what I’m loving about this series? I get to know other determined, inspiring and sophisticated women I didn’t know (or at least not that well). I get to find out other wonderful influencers who are worth following and also learn more about them on the process. It is a pleasure to research about the person in order to find more about their personal and professional backgrounds to ask relevant questions. I’m loving it, and I hope you are too.
Now let’s hear from our second Greatest Woman in Translation.
1. Why don’t you start telling us more about your background and what caused you to create the eCPD Webinars?
Before I start, I’d like to thank you for inviting me here, and Marta Stelmaszak for nominating me – though I am sure I don’t deserve it. I’m just an ordinary person who has adapted as life has happened – and I made quite a few mistakes along the way.
I started my working life as a bilingual secretary, having trained at a commercial college in London. I studied German and French to a pretty high level – I would say it was degree level but without the literature – and also learned law, commerce, and shorthand and typing (that was a very good skill to have). After college I had many jobs: in law firms, in a London news bureau, in advertising, tourism, a secretarial bureau. All of them gave me valuable experience. In 1991 I decided to become a freelance translator and worked hard at developing this new turn in my career. During that time I was a volunteer for my professional body (CIOL) and was involved in organizing seminars and workshops for fellow translators. They were all based in London and we used to receive complaints from members that we were too London-centric. It was hard for us volunteers to arrange events outside London, so I investigated the idea of holding webinars – a new idea at the time. And that, briefly, is how eCPD Webinars was born.
2. Speaking of which, I saw you have presented two webinars for eCPD and you also have contact with a wide variety of presenters there. I know all of them are great and the topics useful, but is there one webinar/course/video in particular you highly recommend?
As you say I have personally presented two webinars for eCPD, and hosted several other events. I have also moderated over a hundred of our presentations and courses that are tailored especially to translators or interpreters. I actually recommend them all – well, I would, wouldn’t I? – but the thing I am proudest of at eCPD is our expansion into more in-depth courses. We started in 2013 with Marta Stelmaszak’s Business School for translators, but since then have offered many other courses such as creating corpora, using Excel, writing clear English, IntelliWebSearch, and even a course for Italian translators about translating tourism texts. Trainers on the courses can take the time to delve a little more deeply into a subject and I am proud that we started this trend in professional development. Our current courses are available at this link.
3. You have more than 30 years of experience – practically my entire existence! Back then things were totally different from what they are today. What mistakes (big or small) have you made over these 30 years that you suggest other women small translation business owners avoid? Or, if you prefer, what lessons have you learned?
My entry into the freelance life came about because I was hating having to commute a long distance to work, leaving my small son in the care of someone else. I started a secretarial business from my home, and shortly after I began, was invited to look after the affairs of a local Council, which I could also do at home. This was the time that computers were really coming on the scene and I was already trained in the use of the word processors of the day. A part of my business soon developed into training people on the new-fangled technology. I found myself literally taking newly purchased computers out of the box, plugging them together, and setting up their owners’ office systems on them. I got quite good at it!
As you say, after about seven years of this I launched into translation – something I had always wanted to do but never had the confidence or the contacts to try.
The main thing to remember when you become a freelance translator is that you are an entrepreneur. You are the boss, you set your rates, you decide the direction in which you wish to develop your business. For my first client I did the worst thing you can ever do and ask them (an agency) how much they pay. Of course they will try to trick you into the lowest rate they can get away with.
It’s really hard when you are starting out, but you have to ditch the low payers as fast as you can and gradually move up the scale until you are earning what you are worth.
I believe you should say “no” to a job if you think it’s going to be outside your comfort zone, or is going to be mind-numbingly boring. Boring jobs pay the rent, but if you are trying to develop a niche for yourself, probably best avoided. Mind you, having said that, one person’s boring job may be another’s idea of heaven. I like translating terms and conditions of business and other business contracts! But I am often a pushover and even today, sometimes find myself translating something I am hating.
4. Only after 7 years you decided to start your own small translation business. What was the most intimidating difficulty you encountered?
At the time (1991 or thereabouts) there was no Internet to speak of. There were no networks of fellow translators to help you get started. The two main professional bodies in the UK were finding their feet with helping their members to run their businesses. I was pretty much alone. I used to consult my own library of reference books and often visited the library because Internet research was not an option. I think some of my early translations were less than perfect. But gradually I gained confidence, knowledge and expertise. When CAT tools came along, my working life changed for the better. CAT tools and the Internet. I don’t really know how I managed before they came along.
5. You work from three languages (German, French and Spanish) into British English. Most people I know work with an average of two, so that is a differential. How did you end up learning them? And do you (want to) learn any others?
I learned French and German to A-level (that’s school-leaving standard at 18 years of age) – continuing them both to a much higher level at college. But I also did a course of Spanish at school, taking that to O-level (a slightly lower school-leaving standard). After I left college and had worked for a few years in London, I decided to go to Spain to live and work. It was logical really, because I was given the job on the basis of my German, French and English. Of course I had a good start with my O-level Spanish and quickly became fluent in my new language.
In recent years I have tended to buy a teach-yourself book before visiting a country where I don’t speak the language. So I attempted Russian before a visit to St. Petersburg, but I am afraid I dropped it after our holiday there was over. More recently I decided to learn Greek. But languages really need to be learned when young. My brain no longer absorbs vocabulary like it once did. Still – at least I can now decipher words in Russian and Greek, now that I have almost mastered the alphabets.
6. Freelance translators tend to either fiercely compete or generously collaborate with one another. What is your approach?
I am a bit of a loner and don’t often ask advice. I am happy to give it if I can though.
7. Now it’s your turn to nominate an amazing woman in translation who you think should be interviewed next.
There’s a lady I used to work with at eCPD. Before we worked together I had been following her on social media and already admired her from afar (she’s in Australia). Working with her made me admire her even more. She was an inspiration to me during our time together. Her name is Sarah Dillon.
Thank you, Lucy, for promptly accepting Marta’s nomination and my invitation, and kindly taking the time to answer the interview questions. It was lovely to get to know a bit more about you and your great experience.
Sarah Dillon has also kindly accepted Lucy’s nomination and my invitation, so she will be our third interviewee in early September. Stay tuned.
You can already access Sarah Dillon’s interview here.