Greatest Women in Translation: Nicky Smalley

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Welcome back to our amazing Greatest Women in Translation interview series, dear readers!

We’re already half-way through the year, huh? Hope everyone’s doing fine so far.

Please welcome this month’s interviewee, Swedish and Norwegian translator Nicky Smalley, nominated by Jen Calleja.

 

Nicky Smalley (1)

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1. Being Brazilian myself, I cannot help it but start by asking about your English translation of Jogo Bonito, by Henrik Brandão Jönsson, a Swedish book about Brazilian football. What an interesting combination! Could you tell us a bit about your experience?

Ha! It was great! I’m not much of a football buff, but I spent some time living in Brazil a few years ago, and one of my best experiences while living in Rio was seeing Botafogo play Flamengo at the Maracanã. I speak some (very imperfect) Portuguese, so it felt like combining two of my interests – Sweden and Brazil – while learning a lot about football and its role in Brazilian society. Unfortunately, I have to admit to a terrible crime: the murder (or perhaps manslaughter, since there was no intention!) of a former Brazilian president – I mistakenly translated ‘avgå’ (to leave one’s job) as ‘to pass away’ (in Swedish ‘avlida’). I had some accomplices though – neither the author, editor, copy-editor nor the proofreader caught my mistake, so it ended up in the printed book, and only got discovered by a Brazilian journalist who was reviewing the book…

2. You currently live in London, but have previously lived in Berlin, Stockholm and Rio. How long did you live in Rio? How was your experience as a Swedish and Norwegian translator into English? Have you ever translated from Brazilian Portuguese?

I only lived in Rio for a few months – this was at the very beginning of my translation career, when I was working freelance, translating finance texts (oh how I hope I never have to translate another annual report!) for a big multinational. It seemed like the perfect excuse to go and hang out in a tropical country, to dance, to explore, and to drink amazing fruit juice every day! I was also studying Portuguese, which was amazing – I love the language, and it’s a dream to one day speak it really well, maybe even to the extent I could translate it, as there’s so much great writing in Portuguese.

3. Are you translating any book at the moment?

Ahhhhhh… there’s the rub! I should be dedicating all my free time to translating an incredible Swedish book called Eländet (working title ‘Wretchedness’) by Andrzej Tichý, one of my absolute favourite writers. I’ve done half of it, but I’m also expecting my first child, and so my priorities and energy levels are a little all over the place. You could say the human baby I’m nurturing has made it tough to make time for the word baby I’m nurturing!

4. Besides being a translator, you are Publicity, Marketing and Sales Manager for And Other Stories. What exactly does it entail?

Lots and lots of emails and building relationships, be that with authors, translators, journalists, sales reps, booksellers, other publishers, and most importantly, readers! It’s my responsibility to ensure that And Other Stories’ books get talked about in the wider world – in the media, in bookshops, online, in book groups, in homes! I love the books we publish, which makes my job easier, and it’s a really fun challenge to excite people about books that are outside of the mainstream. But my job is so hugely varied – there are certain yearly cycles, but every single day is completely different. I might be writing copy in the morning, pitching authors for interview by lunch, checking sales mid-afternoon, and administering our subscription scheme before home-time. I also work remotely (And Other Stories is based in Sheffield), so there’s lots of self-reliance, which is a skill I developed as a translator.

5. I loved this article you wrote on the reasons why we should read more women in translation! Since you love Swedish and Norwegian literature, what books from those languages, translated (preferably by women, why not?) or not, do you recommend?

Ooh, such a tricky question! My knowledge of Norwegian literature is not as extensive as I’d like (I’m only just starting to get into translating Norwegian (my first Norwegian book – An Unreliable Man, by Jostein Gaarder – is out this autumn with Weidenfeld & Nicholson). One recommendation I can most wholeheartedly give is for people to seek out Gunnhild Øyehaug. A collection of her short stories called Knots was published by FSG last year, and it’s truly excellent. The excellent Kari Dickson translated it, and you can be sure she did an excellent job.

As far as Swedish writers go, I lovelovelove Lina Wolff (coincidentally, she’s a writer we publish at And Other Stories). Working on her novel Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs (translated by Frank Perry) has been one of the highlights of my time in publishing – she’s really funny, as well as being razor-sharp and uncompromising in her criticism of the male canon we’ve all been brought up reading. I’m really looking forward to her next novel, The Polyglot Lovers, coming out next year in the wonderful Saskia Vogel’s translation – I’m expecting big things for it! When I first read it, I was laughing so much on the train that the man next to me stopped me reading and asked ‘Is it really that funny?’ I think he was jealous he couldn’t read it himself. Other Swedish loves of mine include Agnes Lidbeck, who’s written two novels, neither of which has been translated into English, despite my best efforts (she’s very much about the invisible and not-so-invisible tensions underlying relationships, something English-language publishers are often wary of, as they don’t see it as being that marketable in an English-language context).

I’m also a big fan of Mirja Unge’s short story collection It Was Just, Yesterday, which was published by Comma Press a few years back (another Kari Dickson delight!). I used to run a book club for contemporary Swedish fiction, and that was one of my favourites of the books we read. One of my all-time favourite books in Swedish is Kerstin Ekman’s Blackwater (translated by the great Joan Tate), which is a super-smart thriller set in rural northern Sweden – it’s creepy as hell, but also really gets under the skin of a very different way of life. Speaking of northern Sweden, another author I’d absolutely love to see translated into English (but who might well be untranslatable), is Stina Stoor, whose debut collection Bli som folk (literally ‘Be respectable’ or ‘Be like everyone else’ or something – the titles in itself is untranslatable!) transfixed me, but is such an astonishingly rich portrait, both linguistically and socially, of the kind of isolated community in Sweden’s far north where Stoor lives, that no one would go near it. It would just be too hard to effectively render its extraordinary dialectal voices, and without them, so much of the magic would be lost. Still, I think it’s nice sometimes, that a language gets to keep its writers to itself, because they’re just too special to be shared (at least I tell myself that – though if someone was brave enough to publish it, I’d leap at the chance to be the enabler of that project).

6. For your PhD in Scandinavian Studies at UCL, you wrote a thesis titled “Contemporary Urban Vernaculars in Rap, Literature and Translation, in Sweden and the UK.” Could you tell us more about it, since it sounds rather interesting?

Do I have to? Only (half-)joking.

I was researching the way in which the everyday language of contemporary cities (in particular London and Stockholm) is influenced by the multilingualism that characterizes them, and the way in which young people in particular use that multilingualism creatively – both in innovating the everyday language they speak to one another, and in codifying that informal language in creative forms like rap. In turn, I looked at the way contemporary writers take inspiration from that informal language, and the rapping that’s born out of it, to create literary representations of life in today’s cities. I also looked at how translators go about taking that writing into other languages – and found a lot of people trying really hard to create their own innovations in order to capture the innovative writing they were working with. It was fun, and the topic is fascinating, but I’m not a natural academic, so let’s just say my scholarly days are behind me!

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I nominate Ginny Tapley Takemori, a translator from Japanese, based outside Tokyo.

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Greatest Women in Translation: Jen Calleja

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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

This month’s interviewee is Jen Calleja, British writer and literary translator, nominated by Rosalind Harvey.

Welcome, Jen!

Jen Calleja

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1. You’re about to conclude your residency at the British Library (you are their first Translator in Residence). How was the experience?

I feel really happy with what I managed to do at the BL one day a week for a year during the residency – it actually took a year to believe and appreciate that I had got this residency.

I held open forums with staff about the languages they used at work, wrote poetry based on the poet-translator Michael Hamburger’s archive, created and led a weekend creative masterclass for writers and translators, and organized and chaired three panel discussions, and some other things.

Coming from a DIY music and grassroots activism background has informed my compulsion to demystify translation and empower people to try translating who may not have thought it was – as a thing or as a practice – ‘for them’. I tried to always envision an audience comprised of the generally interested but monolingual person, multilingual people who have never explored translation and/or haven’t seen multilingualism celebrated and nourished in the UK setting, and those interested in literature but who didn’t necessarily have any knowledge of translation.

I am indeed in a phase of concluding – and a new resident is starting this month – but my residency has actually been extended to match the new resident’s day-and-a-half-a-week allowance, enabled by the Institute for Modern Languages Research joining the BL and the Arts and Humanities Research Council as a third partner for the residency going forward. I’ll use the time to mentor the new resident, write some more Hamburger poems and complete a video project. Oh, and create a movement performance. And maybe something else.

2. What’s your story with the German language?

Well, I often get asked if there’s any family collection, but I just always liked the way German was put together and sounded, and the way it expressed things. My dad’s Maltese but my brother and I weren’t brought up with Maltese or Italian, only English, but it’s probably why I ended up going into languages.

I studied it at GCSE and A-Level – along with French – and actually ended up being the only student doing any language at my school post-GCSE, which was a bit of a lonely and disheartening experience. They actually wanted to cancel languages that year but there weren’t any other local colleges that could take me. My teachers were overworked and they tried their best, but a mixture of our lack of motivation ended up with me passing with a B in German and C in French at A-level.

A former student at my school who had gone on to study modern languages and had then moved to Munich came to visit teachers and we were introduced and she casually said that if I ever wanted to spend some time in Germany I could come and live with her. Literally two months after finishing my A-levels I moved to Munich. I lived with her for two weeks, a morose and clueless 18 year old, then was a terrible au pair, then got a nice office job as an editor and typist working predominantly in English. When I got there I realized that a B-grade A-level in German was useless, my German was awful. I ended up living there for eighteen months, got my own place, got a social life – I started going to gigs three or four times a week – started seeing a guy there, and my German obviously got better.

I then moved to London to take up a place studying Media and Modern Literature with Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, but in my second year I missed the German language so decided to read German literature in my spare time (I’d read only English literature in Munich). The first book was Bernhard Schlink’s Der Vorleser (The Reader) and it took me about a year to get through it. By the time I finished my degree I knew I wanted to specialize in German so did a Masters in German Language, Culture and History at UCL taking courses in German art and literature, and also took a life-changing course in Translation Theory and Practice, which I ended up specializing in for my dissertation.
I graduated in 2012 and got my first book translation job – a YA book – while finishing my MA because a friend remembered me saying I wanted to translate German literature and told a friend of a friend who needed someone to translate a book.

I would say I’ve learned how to translate literature on the job, literally by doing it. I’m now on books 11 and 12.

3. You are such a diverse professional: writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry; literary translator; columnist for literature in translation; editor; co-director and trainer; and last by not least musician! I’m curious, just like Rosalind, who nominated you, how do you juggle everything “with such aplomb,” according to her words?

Ha, it’s nice of her to say, and it’s a question I get asked quite often. I suppose I started by doing everything I wanted to do (writing, reading German lit, starting a band) when I was about nineteen to see what I liked the most – but then I didn’t want to compromise so ended up doing everything, and each thing is important to me. I like always having one foot in and one foot out of things – different ‘scenes’ and expertise such as poetry, music, translation – because it helps me keep perspective and view things from the outside. I just have a compulsion to do it all, and I know other people who have similar lives. Each thing also informs the other thing. Not an average day, but a day I’ve actually had was when I had to be at the BBC at 8 in the morning to speak on live TV about the anti-harassment campaign I help coordinate, then go to the British Library to send some residency emails and finish a sample translation, and then I got picked up to go on tour for a couple of days. I would say it’s getting harder to deal with the lack of balance and the stress though – something’s going to have to give this year I think.

4. Do you think that being a writer helps as a translator? If so, how?

I started as a writer – I’ve been writing stories and poems since I was about 17 – and I approach translating as a storyteller passing on someone’s story the best way I can. To me the processes are extremely similar. As a writer you’re used to trying out different words and sentences to see what works best, and you do the same thing when translating. Every sentence starts with ‘how would I say this if I had to say it immediately’ and then you go from there to make it fit in the context, make it fit the voice and the tone, while making sure the intention and vital information behind that line or word isn’t lost. There’s really just one additional starting layer – the original text! I’m also aware of what’s happening in writing and poetry and can see connections and threads leading from German literature into English literature and vice versa. Being a big reader in the language you’re translating into is so vital – after all, you’re creating something that has to fit within the English literature context.

5. You voluntarily coordinate the Good Night Out campaign, an organization that tackles harassment in the night-time economy. That seems quite interesting and fitting for this series (being it focused on women). Could you tell us a bit more about it?

Good Night Out was founded by someone I knew from the DIY music scene called Bryony Beynon and then two years ago she brought on a few people to help run it. We’re now a community interest company and are all Directors. We train staff in pubs, student unions, clubs (bar staff, managers, door staff, cloakroom staff and glass collectors, everyone!) how to handle disclosures of harassment – predominantly sexual harassment, but importantly how this also intersects with racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism etc. We know that anyone can be harassed on a night out, but statistically it will be women and those who identify as LGBTQ+ who are harassed the most. Staff aren’t usually trained in how to react or handle this kind of situation, so we want them to feel comfortable to handle it professionally and calmly and that someone who has been harassed isn’t left feeling even worse after reporting it. Belief is the biggest issue, and not taking it seriously enough – a lot of the time people try to brush it off because they don’t know what to say or do, and because we don’t take it seriously as a society.

Harassment is everyone’s problem.

I give training and train new trainers, plus act as a spokeswoman and coordinate a couple of our partnerships. I’d like to work on getting literary venues and event spaces involved.

6. According to your website, you are “keen to mentor emerging writers and translators from less privileged backgrounds, those who haven’t attended university, or are the first in their family to attend university.” That is very kind and thoughtful of you! How does your translator mentoring work?

As soon as I felt like I had knowledge to pass on I wanted to mentor, and wanted to try and do it as part of the BL residency but didn’t have time. Then I was offered to be a mentor for the British Council’s Translation Fellowship, and also received a translation mentee via Goldsmiths Alumni services after I signed up to be a mentor. We know from the great research and data gathering people in the literary scene and publishing sector have been doing that. The literary world we inhabit is disproportionately white and middle-class, and I’d like to help more people basically like me – I was the first person in my family to go to university, I’m from a working-class background with Maltese and Anglo-Irish parents – and from various and non-traditional walks of life help getting into literary translation and writing. I tend to give around five hours of my time so the mentee can pick my brains, see some of my reader reports, learn some do’s and don’ts, and so we can discuss one of their sample translations and edit it together if they like. I’d like to do more in the future.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I’d like to nominate Nicky Smalley, translator from (mainly) Swedish and publicist for publisher And Other Stories. She is not only a translator but someone who works tirelessly to promote literature in translation and has been super involved in AoS’s Year of Publishing Women – which has for them been a big year of publishing women in translation. She also mentored for the British Council and I’m always happy to see her at events and out and about.

Greatest Women in Translation: Rosalind Harvey

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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

Our last interviewee, Anna Holmwood, nominated Rosalind Harvey.

Welcome, Rosalind!

RosalindHarvey

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1. You translate from Spanish into English and have translated literature from different Hispanic countries. How are they different among each other, including in terms of translation?

The various Spanishes around the world are pretty different from each other, and between Latin American countries the difference can be even greater than between Latin American and Iberian Spanish. Not only in terms of pronunciation, which varies wildly, but also vocabulary and grammar. I fell head over heels with Spanish as an undergraduate student on my year abroad in Peru, and the Spanish spoken there is usually described as one of the clearest and easiest for beginners (luckily for me!); while I was there I spoke very little English, even began dreaming in Spanish, and I’ve also spent time in Ecuador, Argentina and Colombia so, for me, the rhythms and cadences of Latin American Spanish are still the ones I respond most strongly to. In terms of translation, I always feel more drawn to Latin American writers because I feel closer to the culture and way of speaking, although I have translated two Spanish authors so far. In the end though, as long as I respond personally to a text and am able to have access to the author when translating (this is why I haven’t to date worked on any dead authors!), it doesn’t really matter to me where the text is from.

2. You created, along with theater group Coney, a real-world translation game called Wordkeys. Can you tell us about it?

In 2011 I was the first translator in residence at the Free Word Centre in London, and my remit was to demystify literary translation by developing a programme of public events around the practice. I programmed a few talks and more conventional activities, but I knew from the start that I wanted to do something that would take people out into the street and talking to strangers, because this is where real-world translation happens, and it is something that all of us engage in every day, very often without realizing it. I approached Coney because they had done work for an organization my then-boyfriend was involved with, Guerilla Science, which puts on fun, wacky events about science for the general public. Coney’s members all have theatre backgrounds and they’ve developed what you might call ‘real-world’ games for adults, people who have forgotten to or no longer have the chance to play in their lives, and playfulness is such an important aspect of literary translation, as well as performance, so it was a perfect fit. The game works like this: there are two teams who uncover clues hidden around an outside space, clues written in a foreign language which they have to translate, and then at the end there’s a shared activity the teams have to perform together. It’s easier to explain by watching a video!

3. In this interview you gave to Free Word, you said that “[a]s translators, we can stand up for ourselves more,” and gave a few examples of what we can do, such as “try and demand the recommended rates.” What recommended rates do you refer to? In Brazil, our union, Sintra, has a table of recommended rates for different translation services, but I’m not aware of any other.

‘Recommended’ is actually not quite the right word. In the UK we are lucky to have the Translators Association, a subgroup of the Society of Authors, and every year its committee meets to discuss what (due to legal reasons) we have to call the ‘observed rate’. Currently this is £95 per thousand words for prose, and £1.10 per line of poetry with a minimum of £35 per poem. A different approach is often taken with illustrated children’s books or graphic novels, but the general gist is that this is roughly the amount that certain UK publishers have been observed to pay to translators. This doesn’t mean that it’s the recommended rate, nor that it is an amount that all publishers will pay (unfortunately!), but is meant to be a minimum, and indeed English PEN will only fund books in translation where the publisher has agreed that they will pay the translator this minimum. We also need to take into account that this rate, aside from being a per-word figure, will often include any time taken to look over edits, any time taken to promote the book. Ultimately, I think it’s important that we recognize that our work is work, that it takes time and effort, and that, unless you are a student (in which case, working for free can be a useful way to gain experience), you should be properly remunerated for it.

4. You teach Modern Spanish Language; Language, Text and Identity; and Translation: Methods and Practice at University of Warwick. What are some important advice you give to your students who are about to enter the translation market?

Read voraciously, figure out what you like to read and who in the UK is publishing that kind of work, put yourself in situations where you will be around other translators to share knowledge, follow closely what is happening in the literary arena in the country whose language you will be working from (ie keeping abreast of literary prizes and finding out who your favourite authors’ favourite authors are), try to gain at least a basic understanding of how the publishing industry works… and don’t give up the day job!

5. You are chair and co-founder of the Emerging Translators Network, an email-based peer-to-peer support group for early-career literary translators working into English (primarily). Could you tell us more about it?

The ETN was founded by myself, Anna Holmwood (your previous interviewee) and Jamie Lee Searle, who translates from German, in 2011, when we half-jokingly described ourselves as ‘the forgotten child stars of literary translation’ – we had all had one book out, which had received a nice amount of attention, and we weren’t sure what to do next to ride the momentum. The world of an early-career literary translator still felt a little disjointed back then: people with one less book than us under their belt were unable to join the Translators Association (you can only join once you have a contract) and so to connect themselves to other working translators; we would all occasionally bump into each other by chance at a a book fair or a launch, but it wasn’t very organized or formal. We wanted to create a friendly space for people at that stage of their career to come together and share experience, advice and good practice, and so we set up a Google Group and started adding members. It quickly grew into this brilliant online community of practitioners talking about a whole range of issues: really practical, nuts-and-bolts things as well as esoteric discussions of semi-colon use. We held a sell-out conference in 2014, and now have over 1,000 members, and I think it’s safe to say that it has changed the landscape of literary translation in that it’s made it easier for what has traditionally been a very disparate group of shy professionals into a group with far more visibility, a louder voice, and an idea of what our shared goals are. I’m very proud of what we achieved, and I’d like to say thank you to all of our members for making the community as wonderful as it is!

6. How do you juggle translation work with teaching?

The short answer is, I don’t! (weeps gently). No, but seriously: it’s not easy, but without the day job I wouldn’t be able to survive, and I think it’s really important to talk about that, about the money side of things. Before I got into teaching I worked for around 10 years as a freelance translator alongside various other things (bookselling, being a university receptionist, private Spanish tutoring, and working in a Chinese furniture shop), and for most of that time I struggled financially. I was building up my career, but I was cash poor and time poor! Now I’m cash-comfortable but time-destitute, and my goal for the near future is to develop a balance so that I can translate one book a year in the holidays, when teaching stops and I have time to focus, and I think that will keep me satisfied – along with shoehorning as much literature into my translation classes as I can get away with. What’s also nice now is that I can use my own translations in lessons, something the students often find valuable as a book is such a tangible thing compare to an obscure academic paper, and it means they’re able to see the link between what they’re studying and a way they might use their skills in the future. It’s always fun to get them to critique my own translations to start a discussion about how no translation (or original!) is ever perfect and it’s such a subjective process, which is particularly valuable in an age when education can be far too focused on right or wrong answers and ease of measurability and results.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I’d like to nominate Jen Calleja, who is a translator from the German, editor, poet, current translator in residence at the British Library, a member of the band Sauna Youth, and an ambassador for the Good night out …. – partly because I admire the way she brings feminism/activism into her work, but mainly, if I’m honest, it’s because I want to know how the hell she finds time to do all the creative things she does with such aplomb!

Greatest Women in Translation: Anna Holmwood

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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

Our interviewee today is Anna Holmwood, Chinese and Swedish literary translator.

Anna Holmwood

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1. According to The Guardian, Jin Yong is the world’s biggest kung fu fantasy writer, enjoying huge popularity in the Chinese-speaking world and being among the 10 bestselling authors. However, his name is barely known to the rest of the world “due to the complexity of the world he has created and the puzzle that has posed for translators.” As the translator of one of his books, what is this complexity and the puzzle about?

There are many reasons why Jin Yong’s work has not been published by a trade publisher in English before (and barely in any other language either, for that matter). Jin Yong first stories were published in his Hong Kong newspaper in serial form in the 1950s, but due to the political upheavals of the time, he only became a household name in China and Taiwan in the 1980s and 1990s. Contact between the Chinese-speaking world and the west only really started to pick up in intensity in the 1990s, and in terms of deeper understanding, I think we are really only at the beginning of what will turn out to be a big shift in world culture as we start to understand Asia better and they take their place at the centre of the world stage. Jin Yong’s stories are grounded in a particularly Chinese genre that dates back several hundred years, but he was also someone who modernised martial arts fiction and made it relevant again. His significance to contemporary writers of kung fu novels cannot be understated. As no martial arts fiction has been translated by a trade publisher in English, editors are understandably a bit unsure – will it sell? Will readers connect? But it makes sense to start with the master, if anyone can make martial arts fiction popular in the west, surely it has to be Jin Yong?

2. In this same article mentioned in question 1, you say that you don’t explain everything in the book because you believe “readers like a bit of a challenge.” That’s a tough decision to make – whether to provide more contextual and cultural information to the reader or not through footnotes or any other sort of side note to the original. How did you come to this decision?

Reading is no fun if it’s too easy! But indeed, you have to maintain a balance between provoking a reader’s interest and losing them completely due to incomprehensibility. In the case of Jin Yong, the broad sweep of the story, the emotional worlds of the characters, the moral framework behind their actions: all these things translate very easily in my opinion. The parts that are more difficult are mostly in the detail, the elements of Chinese medicine or historical references that are perfectly obvious to a Chinese reader. And yet, it is my opinion that an English reader doesn’t need to understand everything on the same level as his/her Chinese counterpart. I would rather that a translation inspires a reader to explore something further than sacrifices the energy and flow in order to make every detail plain.

3. The first volume of Jin Yong’s most popular trilogy, A Hero Born, was translated by yourself (taking you five years). The other two volumes are being translated by different translators. How was this experience of sharing a series of books with other translators?

Actually, I am working with one other translator only, Gigi Chang. I will work on the odd numbers, she’s doing the even numbers. It’s been great to have her on board – she started working on book two just after I finished and handed in book 1 to our editors. We’ve been able to bounce around ideas and she was someone for me to bounce ideas around with during the editing process, so I can’t imagine not having her with me on this journey now. We are in daily contact, despite living on opposite sides of the world. It’s been very important for us to find a way to work together that gives each translator the freedom to work in their own way, but to come together to create a joint voice for Jin Yong in English. This is no small task! But I feel very lucky to have found someone with whom I work so well together.

4. You have been recently appointed Foreign Rights Manager at DKW Agency. What exactly does this role entail?

I am in charge of selling translation rights for our authors, which means, selling into all territories apart from English-speaking ones. This means meeting and talking with editors from all around the world and finding out what books are popular in their markets, what kinds of stories they think resonate with their readers and what excites them personally. It’s a brilliant counterpoint to doing all the detailed work of translating, it’s the best way to get a “bigger picture” of what happens when a book travels across languages.

5. Besides translating from Chinese, you also translate from Swedish. And I must say this article on your translation The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled From India to Europe for Love, by Per J. Andersson, captivated me. It must have been a real joy to translate it. Could you tell us a bit more about it?

I loved translating this. PK’s story is incredibly inspiring, and I know from having had contact with him during the translation process, he is as humble and committed to living a life founded on love and acceptance as he comes across in Per’s book. It made for a nice change to Chinese martial arts. It’s that balance between different projects and languages that makes my job fun.

6. What are the differences between translating from Chinese and from Swedish in terms of difficulties or even joys?

I learned Swedish as a child because my mother is Swedish. As such, the ways I came to speak Mandarin and Swedish could not be different – one was from immersion only, I have barely any formal education in Swedish. The other I studied as an adult, alongside courses in the history, economy, politics and of course literature of China. When I first started out, the difference was perhaps more pronounced. I found dialogue in Swedish came very naturally, I understood things by tone and instinct in a way that I didn’t in Mandarin. I have since married and had a child “in Chinese” however, so the intellectual/emotional distinction no longer feels so strong. Now that I live and work in Sweden, I can feel the two languages converge.

There is, of course, a huge difference in terms of literary culture. Swedish fiction has greater and deeper connections to English writing, the underlying grammar and values are far more similar, so translating between these two is like crossing a stream, where Chinese to English translation requires a long-distance ferry-ride across a wide ocean. I think we underestimate how culturally specific our notions of “good writing” really are, and as such, translating between European languages rarely challenges readers at the level of what is fiction, how do we structure a story. There are many cases of Chinese genres that do not have simple equivalents. Crime writing, poetry, essays: these look very different in Chinese. This presents translators and editors with a far bigger challenge than I think the industry is prepared to recognise. And similarly, many types of writing that are popular in the west don’t work in China, for example.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I’d like to nominate Rosalind Harvey for the next interview!

Greatest Women in Translation: Nicky Harman

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Welcome back to our interview series!

This month, I had the pleasure of e-meeting and getting to know a bit more about our first Chinese translator, Nicky Harman, nominated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

Nicky Harman

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1. Your latest translated book is Happy Dreams, by Jia Pingwa, one of China’s most celebrated writers. What is it about?

It’s about a pair of migrant workers from a remote village outside Xi’an in China, who come to the big city to make their fortune. Happy Liu and his fellow-villager Wufu find a semi-derelict building to live in and settle into life as trash collectors. We follow them through a series of tragi-comic adventures, but when Happy falls in love, things get more serious: the woman, a prostitute in one of Xi’an’s ‘hair and beauty salons’, is arrested by the Vice Squad and sent to a rehabilitation centre; Happy and Wufu get work on a building site to earn the money to bail her out; Wufu dies and Happy tries to take his corpse back to their village, because the folk belief is that when the body is not returned for burial in his or her home village, the soul will never rest in peace. (This is not a plot-spoiler, the scene actually opens the novel.) Despite the grimness (being a trash-collector in China really is getting down and dirty), this novel is a joy to read. What makes it for me is the character of the eponymous Happy, an unlikely hero who is, by turns, pretentious (he is always ready with an aphorism or a homily), engaging, obnoxious, honest, devious, foul-mouthed and tender (to his best friend and to his lover). Think Charlie Chaplin, Chinese-style. I’m grateful to Amazon Crossing for taking a punt on this novel because, although Jia Pingwa is one of China’s most important living writers, his novels are hard to translate (full of dialect), so have not made much impact in the West. His writing is wonderful but many of his novels are set in the remote countryside where Jia himself grew up, and are long and complex, which is a combination hard to sell to publishers who can’t read the original.

2. I guess the differences between American and British English can be compared to the differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese. I only translate into my native language, Brazilian Portuguese, and don’t dare venturing into the European one. How about you? Being British, do you translate into American English? If so, do you find it difficult?

You’ve absolutely put your finger on a key issue for me as a translator. I write British English, especially if it’s slang dialogue. That’s another reason why I’m grateful to Amazon Crossing – for having faith in me, and for giving me an editor who was sensitive enough to make useful suggestions when I had no idea how to make my British-sounding slang acceptable to American readers. That said, I feel a little sad that Happy Liu could never be ‘chuffed’, but always had to be ‘delighted’, or ‘satisfied’ or something similar. I think the characters’ voices come from deep inside me, as the translator, in fact, I imagine them as coming from my belly, and it’s difficult to restrain the tendency to use certain words when they seem to fit so perfectly the ‘voice’ as one hears it. But every translation is a process of negotiation and compromise, and my feeling, from readers’ reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, is that our combined efforts paid off.

3. Your next translation, due out in May 2018 is Our Story: A Memoir of Love and Life in China, by Rao Pingru. What was special about its translation?

I signed the contract, opened my working document to start the translation…and my heart sank! This author is extremely well-educated and the book is sprinkled with quotes from classical Chinese poetry, as well as references to history, to his Confucian-style upbringing (he’s now in his 90s), and to folk customs and local food. To say nothing of his war-time career, which required me to get a grip on military terminology. But within a few pages, I was entranced – Rao Pingru has the rare gift of telling his life story as if you and he were sitting in his living room and you were the only listener there. This is the only book I’ve ever done (and I’ve translated some pretty gut-wrenching stuff) where every time I arrived at the final pages as I went through first draft, successive drafts, and edits, I got a lump in my throat. He wrote it in grief after his beloved wife died, but it is full of affection and humour. The book is gorgeous to look at too, because Rao is a painter and there are colour illustrations on every page.

4. And you have another novel translation out in May, The Chilli Bean Paste Clan, by Yan Ge?

Yes, that’s a record for me, two book-length translations out in the same month! I actually finished translating The Chilli Bean Paste Clan three years ago, but the route to publication was somewhat tortuous. (Hats off to Roh-Suan Tung, of Balestier Press, who took it on, and has given it a gorgeous cover too.) It’s completely unlike any other novel I’ve translated: a family drama that manages to be both warm and funny, barbed and irreverent, and highly profane. The novel is set in a (fictional) small Sichuan town in twenty-first century China, where Gran’s impending eightieth birthday celebrations are the trigger for growing tensions between the family’s middle-aged siblings. Events take an unexpected turn on the day itself, when secrets from everyone’s past are revealed, including that of the matriarch herself. Yan Ge started writing young adult fiction in her teens and is a well-established and prize-winning author. The Chilli Bean Paste Clan [《我们家》, My Family, in Chinese] was her first excursion into adult fiction, and it is an extraordinarily clever one. The challenges here for me were to express the family bonds and animosities with sufficient subtlety, and the dialect (again!), which Yan Ge herself says is highly local to the small town in which she grew up. In both these areas, she was extremely helpful in explaining things to me. I hope the book does well, because it’s hugely enjoyable. A sort of very wicked Chinese Jane Austen-style story.

5. I think you are our first Chinese translator interviewee! 😊 Why did you choose Chinese as your working language?

There was no contest, really. I do read and speak various European languages, but so do many other excellent translators, much better than me. My degree was in modern Chinese but for many years I let it drop and did other work and lived a completely different life. Then in the late 1980s, I came back to it and re-learnt it. A Chilean translator friend of mine suggested I should try translating because, he maintained, ‘There must be lots of work out there.’ That proved a little over-optimistic and my career as a translator started slowly. But I was instantly hooked on literary translation and I still am.

6. What are the challenges of translating from Chinese into English?

One huge challenge is that you are recreating in idiomatic English a text which in grammar and syntax is just about as far from English as it could possibly be. So the operative term here is ‘recreate’. But at the same time, you have to reproduce exactly what the author is saying as well as being sensitive to how s/he is saying it and the effect s/he is trying to achieve, all the usual considerations of literary translation from any language. So your English has to be extremely good. There’s no way you can follow the source language sentence word for word, you have to make something new, but it has to be an accurate and faithful representation of the original. Of course this applies to translation from any East Asian language, like Japanese, Korean and so on, because they’re all so different from English.

Then, of course, China is a big country and there’s a lot to learn with every book you translate. I think everything I’ve mentioned above just about sums it up: dialogue must sound natural, many writers use dialect, which you have to understand and find a way to express in English, and there are cultural and historical references which are instantly recognisable to the Chinese reader, but which are opaque to many western readers without some sort of a gloss. (Do not mention the word ‘footnote’! These are anathema to most editors nowadays.) Not that I’m complaining at all. I absolutely love this work.

7. What are you most proud of having achieved in your translating career?

My work on Paper-Republic.org is one thing. After all, the work doesn’t end when the translation is finished. I’m passionate about getting readers interested in Chinese fiction and luckily, among Chinese-to-English translators, I’m not alone in that: for the last ten years, I have been part of a core of volunteers on Paper Republic, which works to facilitate both literary and publishing connections between China and the rest of the world. We run online and offline events and publications aimed at raising the profile of Chinese literature among readers, students, editors and journalists. For readers, we provide complete short stories (in our ‘Read Paper Republic’ project) and novel excerpts, as well as public events with opportunities for reading and discussion. For students, translators, and educators, we provide translation-focused educational materials, and facilitate translation-related events and training. The Paper Republic website is also home to an extensive database of Chinese literature and its translation, helping visitors gain an overview of Chinese literature, and its various translations into English. In short, in many ways we have become an effective bridge between Chinese writers and their writing on the one hand, and English-language readers on the other.

With regard to my own translations, I often get involved in promotional work, especially when the author doesn’t speak English. I write blogs, do book launches, and talk at literary festivals. I absolutely love this aspect of translating too, I mean, who would want to sit in front of the computer all day every day, going boggle-eyed over even the best-written book? Not me, I need to get out and about too.

I also feel hugely privileged that I have been able to introduce such a wide variety of Chinese authors in English, and some have become personal friends, which is an added bonus. One area that we all need to work on, however, is a greater focus on Chinese women writers. I tallied up the gender balance in my translations, and it’s about even. But in our annual rollcall of translations from Chinese on Paper Republic, there is a preponderance of male authors, reflecting, one has to assume, men’s greater visibility in the literary world both east and west. Out of the 110 winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, only 13 have been women. Only a fifth of winners of China’s prestigious Mao Dun Prize have been women, which is a bit dismal because there are so many good female writers in China.

8. What’s the best way of learning more about Chinese fiction, for people who don’t know where to start?

Well, we run the Read Paper Republic project I mentioned above specifically for readers wanting to dip a toe in the waters of Chinese fiction. We began by publishing a complete short story (or essay or poem) every Thursday for a year. We have since added a couple more series of short stories and will continue to do so on an occasional basis. They are all still online – just click on the Read Paper Republic heading or logo on our home page. Of course, we’re not the only people posting Chinese short fiction online: Asymptote Journal and Words Without Borders post excellent work from Chinese, as well as other languages. If you want something longer and meatier, well, a visit to your local bookstore should produce a good novel. Or try googling for helpful lists such as the one produced by TimeOut Beijing, TheCultureTrip and The Wall Street Journal. I recently made up a list myself, for London’s China Exchange festival.  Interestingly, some of the same books and authors turn up on all four lists, which I think indicates growing recognition and appreciation of Chinese literature among English-language readers worldwide. And of course, those lists are only the tip of the iceberg. There is much, much more out there. For instance, if you like scifi, then you are in for a treat, it’s one genre where Chinese writers have made a big impact. For instance, Liu Cixin, winner of the Galaxy Award and the Hugo Award, has half-a-dozen books in translation; and a number of Hao Jingfang’s short stories and novellas are available online in English. And martial arts, a great Chinese genre which hitherto has hardly been translated, has a gem just out in English, A Hero Born, by the inimitable and much-loved Jin Yong, (MacLehose Press, translated by Anna Holmwood). Dig in and enjoy!

9. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

Anna Holmwood.

Greatest Women in Translation: Antonia Lloyd-Jones

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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series, dear readers! Our interviewee today is Antonia Lloyd-Jones, award-winning literary translator from Polish into English.

Welcome, Antonia!

Antonia Lloyd-Jones

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1. Your wide list of published translations from Polish into English include fiction, reportage, biographies, poetry, children’s books, film scripts, short stories, academic essays, among others. In such a diverse portfolio, what do you like translating the most?

I don’t have a favourite genre, but I enjoy varying my diet. When I’m translating an entire book, it inevitably gets into my blood stream – to sense fully what the author is aiming to achieve, I have to let it get inside me, let it touch my soul, before I can find a voice for it in English. It can be a painful experience if the emotions expressed in the book are difficult (and Polish literature has more than its fair share of tragedy), so I need variety to alter the mood.

One of the features of Polish literature is that it has very strong literary non-fiction, with just as much to offer the translator as fiction. The genre that has come to be known as reportage is largely a Polish invention, started off by Ryszard Kapuściński in the 1950s and developed by Hanna Krall, and in the next generation by writers including Mariusz Szczygieł and Wojciech Jagielski. They write books that are about true events, people and places, but it is neither news reporting or travel writing; instead they portray whole societies or nations from the bottom up, through the lives of ordinary people. In terms of style these are some of the most challenging books I have translated, and among the most fascinating.

I love translating children’s books, probably because I have never fully grown up myself, but also because they offer specific translation puzzles that are fun to unscramble.

For instance, in Krystyna Boglar’s novel Clementine Loves Red, which I co-translated with Zosia Krasodomska-Jones, there’s a little girl with the weird name ‘Jarzynka’, which means literally ‘little vegetable’. When they meet her, the other children are amazed, but later it turns out her father is called Mr Jarzyna, an unsurprising Polish surname, and the child’s nickname is a diminutive based on it. After much head-scratching, in English we called her Macadamia, and her father was Mr MacAdam.

My translations due to appear this year illustrate the huge range on offer in Polish literature, and I really can’t say which is my favourite. This month there’s Posts, a witty poetry collection by Tadeusz Dąbrowski, including evocative poems inspired by the trips to New York that resulted from a previous joint publication. Next month there’s Dancing Bears, reportage by Witold Szabłowski, who uses the fate of performing bears rescued from Bulgarian Gypsies and rehomed in a special shelter as an allegory for people in countries that have emerged from totalitarianism, but who don’t understand freedom. In May there’s Priceless, a high-energy thriller by Zygmunt Miłoszewski, about a team of Poles commissioned on behalf of the nation to steal a Renaissance painting that was looted during the war, but when they try, they realize someone’s trying to kill them. In June there’s Lala by Jacek Dehnel, an exquisitely written novel, closely based on reality, about the colourful life and adventures of the author’s grandmother. And finally in September, there’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, an eco-crime novel by Olga Tokarczuk, in which the female narrator lives deep in the Polish countryside, where she insists that avenging animals are responsible for a series of strange deaths of local male bigwigs who hunt.

2. You have led workshops for Translation Nation project in UK primary schools working with children aged 10-11 to produce translations of stories from their own native cultures. How was this experience in introducing translation to kids?

I’m not sure what the children would say about my competence as a teacher. I came away from this experience with undying admiration for all primary school teachers, as they do one of the most difficult jobs imaginable, especially teaching classes with children from twenty or more cultures. And I’m also in awe of Sarah Ardizzone, who devised and runs the whole project (now as Translators in Schools). Even with my lack of ability to organize boisterous 10-year-olds, I found it tremendously rewarding.

The project involved encouraging children from various cultures to bring stories from home, for their classmates to translate and then read to each other in performance. At the first school, the story that made the greatest impression came from a shy Polish boy who told it to me between sessions in the corridor; it was about his granny’s appalling experiences as a deportee in Siberia during the war. The other children were moved and shocked by the real-life story of their friend’s relative. It was the only moment in three whole days when they sat riveted, in silence. Afterwards the headmaster thanked me for bringing so much out of this shy boy, and had a local paper report on it. But it wasn’t me, it was the excellent project that gave him a chance to explain something about his culture to his school friends.

Another child said he was half-Greek, and brought in the Odyssey! That was a bit ambitious as a translation project, but we chose the story of the Cyclops, which went down well too. At the second school, an Egyptian boy who had only been living in Britain for a few months made up his own wonderful story, about a man living in Cairo with a giant pet tortoise that destroyed the neighbour’s garden but made up for it by giving him a daily ride to work on its back. And there was a Latvian girl who at first wanted nothing to do with the project, but ended up as our most enthusiastic participant. I felt sad to say goodbye to her and hope she’s flourishing.

Children from abroad who’ve settled in the UK with their parents learn English very fast and often speak it better than the adults, so they act as ambassadors for the older generation. And among them there are sure to be some future literary translators, so it’s brilliant to start nourishing their talents early.

3. You promote Polish books to English-language (UK and US) publishers and readers. Apart from having two past winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, namely Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska, in your opinion, what’s special about the Polish literature? What’s your pitch to publishers and readers?

Polish literature has several special features. Its fiction tends to differ from English-language novels, for instance, by being based more often on style and less often on linear plots or straightforward story-telling. That quality can make it not just hard to translate, but hard to sell to publishers, who view it as experimental and possibly unappealing to British and American readers, whose expectations tend to be fairly conventional. But it is actually an asset for ambitious, high-quality literature.

For instance, last year two Polish novels were very well received in English, though neither has a conventional structure and both are characterized by superb style. They’re Swallowing Mercury, Wioletta Greg’s evocation of childhood in a Polish village, translated by Eliza Marciniak, and Flights, Olga Tokarczuk’s unusual take on the broadly understood concept of travel, translated by Jennifer Croft. I’m thrilled to see what excellent reviews these books have had, as both are gems of contemporary Polish fiction.

As I have said above, Polish reportage is in a special category of its own, so I often find myself explaining its particular qualities to publishers. In the past I have put a lot of effort into finding publishers for my own generation of reportage authors, and now I’m very pleased that my colleague Sean Bye has made headway with bringing more of them to English-language audiences. His translation of Filip Springer’s History of a Disappearance, about the fate of a mining town that ceased to exist, brings a superb new voice to a wider audience. And we both have plans for more Polish reportage in translation.

I suspect that translators from some of the more mainstream languages, such as French, Spanish or German, are more likely to be commissioned than translators of ‘minor’ languages such as Polish. Instead, translators from Polish have to work alongside Polish publishers and agents to convince foreign publishers to buy the rights to Polish books. On average, only about 10 to 15 literary works in English translation from Polish are published each year. But I don’t see anything wrong with that as an annual ‘score’ – what counts is quality, and the competition that Polish books have to go through to appear in English to some extent guarantees that it’s the best books that get through, or at least the ones with the best chance of success on English-language markets.

Of course Polish poetry is well-represented in English, but there are some dynamic younger poets yet to be translated. Although I rarely translate poetry I’m hoping to find a publisher for a collection by Krystyna Dąbrowska, a personal favourite of mine. How would I pitch her work? It’s vivid, evocative, haunting, sometimes deeply personal and emotional, sometimes keenly observing other people’s lives, often inspired by travel to faraway places. But the best way will be to show it to them.

Another Polish speciality is children’s illustrated books. There is a fabulous new generation of illustrators and graphic artists at work now, many of them inspired by their predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s. After a rather Disneyesque phase, the best tradition is back and booming. So far Daniel & Aleksandra Mizielińska have blazed a trail abroad with their worldwide best-selling Maps, H.O.U.S.E., and Under Earth, Under Water. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg — Polish illustrated children’s books represent an unexploited gold mine, represented by artists such as Katarzyna Bogucka, Agata Dudek, Paweł Pawlak, and many others. Their work speaks for itself, and I’m hoping more English-language publishers will soon see the light.

4. According to your own words, you find it enriching to mentor emerging translators. Why?

Mentoring is one of the best parts of my job. I’m now working with my sixth mentee, Zosia Krasodomska-Jones, who for the mentorship is focusing on children’s books, especially YA and younger children’s novels. What a great excuse for me to find out more about them too. We have just spent a week in Poland talking to people who are well-placed to advise us on the latest publications. There’s a wealth of good books to choose from, and the hardest thing is to decide which ones are likely to work on English-language markets. We came away with lots of ideas, and a big task ahead to sift out the ones we want to pitch at the Bologna book fair in March.

I don’t have time to work on all the books I would like to promote or translate, so helping younger translators to develop their careers allows me to pass on ideas or projects that deserve attention. Sometimes I pass on work to them that I haven’t time for, but I don’t want to treat my mentees like a dumping ground – mainly I try to help each one to identify and then realize translation projects that they feel passionate about. I think mentoring is the best way to increase the number of Polish books being published in English while also guaranteeing quality. Over the years I’ve built up useful contacts and experience that I can pass on to emerging translators, which gives them an instant leg-up in the profession. I’m very proud of their achievements so far and look forward to watching them change the future face of Polish literature in translation.

But I also learn a lot from my mentees. Translation can be an isolated profession, so to see how other people approach a piece of text, which works attract younger translators and what they’re interested in translating broadens my vision and keeps me open to new ideas.

5. In your interview for Authors & Translators, you said, “It’s disheartening that some people would never contemplate watching a film with subtitles or reading a book in translation – saddest of all for them, as they’re missing out on a feast of entertainment and knowledge. And the world loses, for lack of mutual understanding.” Apart from Polish literature, what translated books have you enjoyed reading and suggest to us? 

Where do I start? I’ll tell you about three authors I have recently read in translation. I can’t stop thinking about The Gurugu Pledge by the Equatorial Guinean writer Juan Tomás Ávilar Laurel, translated from Spanish by Jethro Soutar (published by And Other Stories). It’s a shocking account of the desperation that drives people to leave their homes in African countries and try to get into Europe, but end up trapped in a horrible encampment in Morocco, where the women in particular suffer appallingly. I think every world leader should be made to read it.

Another book I’d recommend is Eve Out of Her Ruins, by Ananda Devi, translated from French by Jeffery Zuckerman (published by Les Fugitives/CB Editions). Set in Mauritus, it’s about four teenagers grappling with their own identities and with the adversities life has forced on them already. I’m pleased to see that Jeffery Zuckerman has been shortlisted for the inaugural TA First Translation Prize for his beautiful translation.

And finally please read Jón Gnarr’s trilogy, translated from Icelandic by Lytton Smith (published by Deep Vellum). Gnarr was a stand-up comedian who became a rather unlikely but apparently successful Mayor of Reykjavik. Based on his childhood and adolescence, the first in the trilogy is The Indian, which despite being about a child’s struggle with his own intellectual limitations and the lack of understanding of the world around him, is riotously funny. The second is The Pirate, about his determined teenage efforts to be a punk rocker, when there was only one other punk in all of Iceland. The third is The Outlaw, when things turn dark as our hero discovers sex and drugs. Moving, comical, disturbing, brave, highly recommended.

6. You have translated different books by the same authors, such as Zygmunt Miłoszewski, Olga Tokarczuk and Paweł Huelle. Do you get more familiar with the author’s style after the first book or is every book unique?

It depends on the author. Paweł Huelle does more or less write in the same style, and of course practice has made me more familiar with it. He has favourite words (whether he knows it or not) that he understands in a particular way. But he sometimes surprises me totally – not long ago he wrote a story that could have been by Gogol, or Dostoevsky in his satirical mood, featuring an insane dream largely set in Saint Petersburg. Apart from that, two of his novels are deliberately stylized in homage to great European authors: Mercedes-Benz is a tribute to Bohumil Hrabal, and Castorp is a prequel to The Magic Mountain and owes a great deal to Mann. In both cases I read translations of these authors into English to help me to attune to the style.

Zygmunt Miłoszewski is best known in English for his crime trilogy featuring Prosecutor Szacki (Entanglement, A Grain of Truth and Rage), and they do have a homogeneous style, but his thriller Priceless reads more like similar books written in English – at times I felt I was translating a translation. And his latest book in Polish, As Ever, is a totally new departure, not a crime novel but a romantic book with a historical twist; in 2014 an old couple are celebrating 50 years of married life, then they mysteriously wake up back in 1964 with the chance to live all over again, but this time Poland is not under Soviet, but French control. In every way it is new and different from his earlier books, and I’m looking forward to translating it.

Olga Tokarczuk is extremely versatile and every book is distinctly different. She loves to play with form and voice, so it’s hard to say that I grow more familiar with her style from one book to the next. The three I have translated are House of Day, House of Night, which is one of her ‘constellation’ novels, consisting of a loosely connected set of stories, ideas and images; Primeval and Other Times, the twentieth-century history of a village told through its residents, which owes a lot stylistically to myths and legends; and Drive Your Plow… in which the narrator’s sometimes unsettling voice is influenced partly by William Blake, partly by Leonora Carrington, and wholly by Olga Tokarczuk. Luckily I share her work with Jennifer Croft, an excellent translator, who is now working on The Books of Jacob, a sweeping historical epic about the mystical leader of an eighteenth-century religious sect.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I nominate Nicky Harman, who translates from Chinese.

Greatest Women in Translation: Charlotte Collins

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Image credit: Erick Tonin

Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series! It’s been a long time since our last interview due to my vacation. We are now back with our last interviewee of the year, Charlotte Collins, nominated by Marta Dziurosz.

Welcome, Charlotte!

Charlotte Collins

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1. You only started as a literary translator in 2012. Before that, you were mainly a journalistic translator. However, with the very first book you translated, A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, you won the 2017 Helen & Kurt Wolff Translation Prize. Do you think that having had a connection with the book beforehand made a difference to the way you translated it? I’m referring to the fact that you were asked to write a reader’s report on the book for Picador, were very enthusiastic about it, and the publisher was convinced to buy the rights.

It’s not unusual for a translator to come to a book in this way, after writing a reader’s report for the publisher. What I didn’t realize at the time, because I was just starting out, was that you’re seldom asked to read something this good! It’s a rare delight for me to feel such an intense personal and emotional connection with the work.

I’m not sure to what extent that influenced the translation process, though. I try to be meticulous with everything I translate. Literary translation isn’t just about communicating content; you’re trying to reproduce, as closely as possible, the atmosphere and feel of the original. But this is such a delicate thing to do. It’s necessarily subjective; the text is being filtered through your own mind and sensibility, so what you’re reproducing for others to read – and interpret – is your impression of it. Another translator will inevitably reproduce it differently. So however ‘invisible’ a translator tries to be, they can’t help but be an integral part of the text.

Because of this, I feel a duty to try and stay as close to the original as I can – without, of course, sounding clunky. I pay very close attention to what I believe to be the author’s intention (though here again my interpretation can only be subjective), and feel I have a responsibility not to betray it. So, for example, I might be weighing up translation choices and find myself thinking, “But if s/he had wanted to say that, s/he would have chosen this word instead.” In which case I’ll stick with whichever’s closer, providing it works.

I felt it was especially important to do this with A Whole Life. It was clear to me that the author had chosen each word with great care, for a reason, and it was vital that I do the same. With other texts I might allow myself a bit more freedom. The one I’m translating now, for example – Mark und Bein (Homeland) by Walter Kempowski – requires a much looser approach: he has a very distinctive style, and that needs to come across, but it runs the risk of sounding awkward in English. I’ll be discussing with the editor how free it can be. It’s a challenge.

2. You think the literary translation community is “tremendously supportive.” How do you think this benefits new translators entering the market?

I think this is a wonderful time for emerging literary translators – in the anglophone world, at least; I can’t speak for other regions. Translated fiction is enjoying something of a ‘moment’ – sales are up, the readership is expanding, and new and reconstituted prizes like the Man Booker International, the Dublin International, the new Translators Association prize for emerging translators and the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation are making a fantastic contribution to promoting translated literature, as well as increasing the visibility of the translators themselves and an appreciation of what it is we do.

One of the most valuable resources out there is the Emerging Translators Network. It was set up by three of my colleagues in 2011, and is aimed at translators who are just embarking on their literary career. It now has hundreds of members all around the world. The ETN provides practical peer support and advice via an online forum, and it’s also a great social network. As is the case for any writer, there’s the potential for translation to be quite an isolated profession. I was lucky enough to move into literary translation shortly after the ETN was founded. There are so many translation-related events happening, and if you look or post on the forum you can usually find colleagues who are going. Some colleagues I met just a few years ago are now close friends.

Once you’ve published something, or have a contract to publish, you’re eligible to join the Translators Association of the (UK) Society of Authors. It’s really worth doing, not only for the networking and in order to keep abreast of developments in the profession, but also because, once you’re a member, you can send contracts to the SoA’s legal team. They’ll check them for you with a fine-toothed comb, and advise you on what you could and should be asking for. That alone is worth far more than the membership fee!

3. I previously watched and shared on my social media channels the speech you gave on accepting the prize mentioned in question 1. I’ve just watched it again to write these questions and was equally impressed and inspired by it. One of the most beautiful things you said was that you “feel passionately that the learning of languages is tremendously important for breaking through […] walls, for crossing […] borders, for making […] connections, for understanding other cultures.” You made a connection between this growing spirit of isolation, especially among political leaders, of not wanting to communicate, to reach out to other people and cultures, and the drop in the learning of languages by English speakers. Could you elaborate a bit on the connection between learning new languages and the spirit of openness and understanding?

In order to learn to speak another language well, you need to understand how that language works within the culture. Language isn’t just words. Everyone knows – translators especially – that words exist within a context, and that context is all. So learning another language means you’re opening yourself up to that other culture, learning about different ways of thinking and doing things; you gain a sense of a different history and environment, a different way of life. It can’t help but broaden the mind. Our world today is globalised: we’re not living, and cannot live, in isolation, be it social, cultural, economic or political. But we’ll never all be the same. We can and should celebrate our differences and diversity – including linguistic diversity – while at the same time seeking to bridge those differences and facilitate better understanding between peoples. The better we’re able to communicate with someone in their own language – the more of their language and culture we understand – the better we’re able to understand them and their way of thinking. And that of course puts us in a better position to build bridges, cement ties, do business, negotiate peace, do whatever it is we want or need to do.

Even learning a language to a very basic level will take you some of the way. It’s not just about being able to speak fluently: you’ll experience and understand how different languages actually force you to think and communicate differently. I’ve learned to appreciate, for example, that my bad habit of interrupting people is even more unacceptable in German. How can I possibly know what someone’s trying to say when they haven’t even got to the verb! And when speaking in German you need to have a very clear idea of what you want to say, otherwise you may have to go back and start the sentence again. It’s much easier to waffle in English.

4. In your opinion, not only learning languages but also reading translated fiction is important for the exploration of new cultures. You say that, when we read, we enter into the character’s head; we become that person, we are drawn into their world. How is that particularly special when reading translated fiction?

For all the reasons given above. It’s essential that we broaden our understanding of others, of how people outside our own little bubble of experience live and think, and why. It’s important that we learn to have empathy, and realise how our actions impact on those around us. What better way to do this than through fiction? Fiction takes you inside someone else’s head; you’re directly experiencing things from their point of view, thinking their thoughts, living their life, hearing their voice inside your mind as if it were your own, being transported to places you’ve never seen, that may not even exist. If you look at it this way, reading is a kind of magic. And if you’re reading literature in translation, the starting point is already a culture other than your own, so the book will inevitably transport you to places and points of view outside your immediate realm of experience.

5. In your speech, you said: “It is important, especially now, that we read well, that we read wisely, and that we read translations.” How do you think we – translators – can play our part in increasing awareness of this?

First, we need to promote ourselves more. Translators are not, on the whole, natural Rampensäue (limelight-hoggers). In our profession we spend the majority of our time working at home, on our own, in silence, with just a book for company, in close communion with the mind of someone who may or may not be dead, and is almost certainly unaware of our devoted attention. This is what we’ve chosen to do, and there are probably reasons for that. I think many of us find it difficult to promote ourselves and our work, beyond telling a few friends and colleagues when we’ve got a book out, either because we’re a bit shy, or because we’re afraid of coming across as arrogant or pushy. To me, each individual translator is a representative of and an advocate for the profession. This is why I support the #namethetranslator initiative, which aims to ensure that translators are always credited alongside authors on websites, in reviews, broadcasts and so on. We want readers to be aware of the work we do, to be conscious that they’ve just read and enjoyed a translation, because it might make them want to read others. In my experience, once people really start thinking about what translation involves, they’re intrigued and want to find out more. At literary festivals, translators are becoming a bit of a draw in themselves – talking about a specific book, examining their craft, discussing with the author, or representing him/her if s/he is unavailable (or dead). Once we can command that interest, we acquire a platform to speak about our work, about the books we love, and about wider contemporary issues, and be heard.

6. “Life is just one moment after another. They might be big moments or small moments, but every one is precious.” This was another of your touching lines, referring to the depth of the book A Whole Life and the author’s attention to detail. I reckon one of your big moments in life was receiving the prize. How about one of your small, but special, moments? I would love to learn what it was.

Small, special moments… well, there are so many. They’re all around us, all the time. You just have to focus on them. As soon as anyone talks about it like this they immediately sound like a New Ager, but it’s true. I’d say that, like Andreas Egger in A Whole Life, I often find them in nature. I have lots of memories of moments spent looking at a beautiful view. For example: sitting outside a mountain hut early one morning and looking down on the mist clearing from the Kaisertal as the sun came up, all those little fluffy clouds drifting off like sheep in search of the exit. Or… aged 18, reading T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets for the first time, under the sloping ceiling of an attic room. It was breathtaking – I felt as if I were being swept up and away in a whirlwind, and when I finished I more or less fell off the bed.

And all shall be well and 
All manner of thing shall be well
 
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
 
Into the crowned knot of fire
 
And the fire and the rose are one.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I’d like to nominate Antonia Lloyd-Jones, who has just stepped down after three years as co-chair of the Translators Association. As well as being a multiple-award-winning translator in her own right and one of the leading practitioners in her field, Antonia’s also a dedicated mentor and an inspiration to a great many of her colleagues, particularly emerging translators from the Polish. She has long been a vocal and active champion of translators and translated fiction.

Greatest Women in Translation: Marta Dziurosz

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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

Women in Translation month is over this year, way buzzier than the previous years, but we can keep doing our job here, interviewing and recognizing the great women we have in translation.

Please welcome Marta Dziurosz, nominated by Canan Marasligil.

Marta Dziurosz

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1. The first literary translation job you found on your own was at a book fair in Poland: you say you introduced yourself “at the stall of every publisher, left them some hand-made materials […] and one of them bit.” If you had to do it again, would you do anything differently? What advice would you give to those who are starting out and would like to do the same thing you did?

That was a surprisingly successful strategy for a completely different time and place – I wanted to start translating from English into Polish, and it was perhaps ten years ago. The market of translated literature in Poland is massive, which has all the predictable problems, but it also means it was comparatively easy to start working this way. My relationship with that one publishing house lasted for seven years and I was very happy to be working with them. The thing is I am now doing it again, but the other way round – translating from Polish into English, which is a completely different kettle of fish. The market is tiny and because the resources for publishing translations are so much more stretched, you need to be more canny when introducing yourself if you want to be successful. I won’t lie – it does help to be in London and meet people personally, but exciting things in translation-focused publishing are also happening in the North, with the Northern Fiction Alliance and the focus on translation during the Edinburgh festival. Edinburgh, just like the London Book Fair, the Literary Translation and Creative Writing Summer School in Norwich, Translate at City and International Translation Day, are great focal points of the year when you get a massive shot of industry knowledge, so it’s great to try and be there. People on ETN (the Emerging Translators’ Network) usually have good tips on where to stay. In general, preparation is key – before you pitch or introduce yourself, know what you want to do and who you want to talk to. On the other hand, though, chance encounters and conversations are also great and potentially fruitful. Finally, read widely in your language to see what you like, and read as many books as you can translated into English from your language, see how they do it and ask yourself why.

2. Being a non-native translator of English yourself, you talk a lot about this controversial subject (here, for example). You say you are “increasingly confused about who a native speaker really is” (link above). Why is that?

I want to help make it less controversial. The reason why I am confused about this term is that you’d have to be wilfully ignorant not to see that people arrive at languages at various stages of their lives and through various circumstances.

Language competence, cultural sensitivity, suppleness of phrase, a sly sense of humour, an ear for nuance – these are not exclusive to “native” speakers.

The division between “native” and “non-native” defines the latter negatively, as if through some sort of lack, and “non-native” is frequently used as a shorthand for “in need of linguistic instruction”. I wrote an article about this for The Linguist and a good few people emailed me saying they’ve been holding themselves back in their careers because they felt it wasn’t the done thing to translate into a language you’d come into later in life. Isn’t that a shame?

3. You work at Pan Macmillan, drafting and negotiating most of their translators’ contracts. As you say, it “is an interesting peek behind the scenes” and gives you “the chance to mediate between the two sides of the deal” (link in Q1). What have you learned, as a translator, with this experience? And what advice would you give to translators regarding contracts based on this experience?

As a translator, remember that the person you’re negotiating your contract with (sometimes it will be a dedicated contracts person, sometimes not) is a human being, and not your enemy. Both sides want the deal to happen (preferably on good terms and with the minimum of hassle). Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to negotiate for your preferred terms, but pick your battles and know when to gracefully accept a compromise. Remember that the terms of your contract will to some extent depend on the terms of the “head” contract – that is, the contract your publisher signs to buy rights in the book with the original rights holder (for example, the publisher of the original Spanish book you’re translating into English). If you’re a member of the Translators’ Association, you can use their free contract vetting service, or you can listen to a podcast of an event about this I chaired at Free Word, to cover the basics.

4. You have recently presented a keynote on scents in literature. “The purpose of the talk was to reflect on the many ways in which scent is used in literature to evoke emotions and tell stories,” as you point out in the event’s blog, where you also provide a reading list related to the topic. Could you explain in more details what translating scent is all about?

We had a whole panel discussion about it at Free Word. I am very interested in the transmission of ideas; in this case between words and scents and vice versa. The perfumer Thomas Fontaine recently said in an interview: “Perfume is a story; we get a story from a, for example, fashion brand, and we translate that into fragrances”. At the Free Word event, it was fascinating to discuss the embodiment of a brief into a fragrance, and the translation of scent into literature, as well as translating a book about scents from French into English. When making a transition between languages, or between scent and text, what gets carried across? You can dig pretty deep in that topic, and Ricarda Vidal, one of the participants of the discussion, did just that in her Translation Games project.

5. You are an Associate of London’s Free Word Centre, and were their 2015-2016 Translator in Residence. As a TiR, last year, as part of Free Word’s celebrations around International Women’s Day, you chaired a panel discussion on women in translation, a topic that has everything to do with this series. How can we tackle this gender imbalance in international literature and make a difference? Do you think initiatives such as Women in Translation help somehow?

Of course I am incensed that we still need to discuss this, but we do still need to discuss this. A few recent lists of recommendations for books in translation included barely any women authors, and in terms of review space (dramatically scarce as it is), percentages of books in translation published and event/panel appearances the field is still far from level. The initiative you mention, the new Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, And Other Stories’ idea of publishing only women in 2018 – looking at the history of publishing and the endless years when focusing exclusively on men didn’t even warrant a comment or a moment of reflection, I’d personally say they are very necessary. They make us reflect a bit more about what we read, where we find our recommendations, who we support with our money, attention and time, whose perspective we find worthwhile.

6. As an advocate of Polish literature, what book, in particular, do you recommend for someone who would like to start exploring it? As you already recommended a few that have not been translated yet in your interview to Jen Calleja (link in Q1), it can be one that has been already translated.

The most beautiful Polish book I’ve recently read in translation was Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft and published by Fitzcarraldo. I reviewed it for the Glasgow Review of Books – it’s a beautiful, tender look at people in transit, a personal encyclopedia of travel, movement, migration.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I’d like to nominate the eminent German translator Charlotte Collins, whose work I admire – this is for very selfish reasons, I’d just like to know more about her practice!

Greatest Women in Translation: Canan Marasligil

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Created by Erick Tonin

Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series, dear readers!

Today, let’s welcome Canan Marasligil.

Canan Marasligil

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1. I have to start by mentioning I absolutely loved your website! How creative to add a video to the landing page! Do you think your video attracts more people (especially potential clients) to your website and somehow make them navigate through it to learn more about yourself?

I don’t necessarily think about attracting more people to my website, I think that if they are already there, it means they found me in some way (probably via social media). I like playing with the web – I make my own websites (I have to thank Squarespace for offering such fantastic tools to play with) – and I am interested in how people interact online. So, to me, it is a matter of expressing my own creativity and offering as much interesting content as possible throughout the online spaces I inhabit.

2. On your website, you mention you “have started working with video to explore the links between literature and images.” How does that work?

Although I mostly work with words – as a writer, as a literary translator, as an editor – I am passionate about visual media, and am especially interested in the interaction between writing and images. That’s why I’m into comics, into screenwriting, and that is also why I started to create my own visual language through video. You don’t need much material nowadays to capture high quality images, so it is all about your eye: what do you see, what stories do you want to tell. I was inspired to start my YouTube videos thanks to French writer François Bon who has been creating a wide range of videos on his YouTube channel to talk about literature – he does readings (he is an amazing performer), hosts writing workshops, has a regular “service de presse” where he shares other writer’s work and much more – so I have joined this online community of literature makers he has created on YouTube (I know he probably won’t like me saying he created it, but he did). I have to admit, it is motivating to have an audience ready to watch what you are doing (even if very small, also, it depends how you look at it: I don’t think I could easily fill a room with 100 people which I am doing with a video and I think is amazing). I’ve been told I have an artistic approach to translation, so I think my video-making is also part of that urge to create. I see the world in a certain manner, I am inspired, visually, by the world that surrounds me, so I try to capture how I feel about it, and then edit it into short videos. It isn’t so different than writing actually, it’s all about stories you want to tell. I’m just using a different medium to do so.

3. You also mention “Translation off the page” is one of your favorite topics. Could you elaborate, and tell us why you like it so much?

I have to admit I do more translation work “off the page” than “on the page”. To start, I am not earning all my income from translation – if I would do that, I’d need to translate a few more books per year, which I don’t. This is a personal and deliberate choice, and I have many reasons for it. I am a hyperactive person (people who know me reading this will probably laugh now nodding) and I get bored very quickly when I translate, not because of the work – 90% of the time, I select what I want to work on so I usually love what I translate – but I am a slow translator, I usually don’t work on more than four pages in a day, and I am drained after, not just intellectually but emotionally. You see, I pour all my heart into a translation project, it is not just a job to me. This is why I am also picky with the projects I choose to work on. I recently accepted to translate work I have not chosen myself, and I regretted it.

To me, translating someone’s work means that I believe not only in their literary merits, but in their voice, as a person, as an artist, what they stand for.

I don’t separate the work from the artist. I am not talking about character here, I don’t care how nice or (un)friendly a writer is, I am talking about sincerity and values someone stands for. So, if at any point I feel my values are not aligned with an author’s, I cannot translate them. You have to remember that out of all the languages I could have translated from (I was trained to work in English, Spanish, French), I chose to focus on Turkish (the language my parents spoke to me in) and contemporary literatures from Turkey, and in the current political context, there is no way I can be apolitical about my choices. I guess this kind of “off the page” work is close to what one could call activism. Other types of “off the page” work I do is through workshops, and the idea behind these activities is to give tools to people – children, young people, adults – to play with languages and be creative using their own existing linguistic skills. I always start my workshops by asking participants about the languages in their lives – not how many languages they speak, read or write, but which languages surround them daily – by framing the question in this way, I already tell them: see, multilingualism is all around us, and we are all experiencing it, in one way or the other.

4. Could you tell us a bit about your project City in Translation, and pinpoint one or two fascinating aspects about it that you have come across during your exploration?

City in Translation is part of my work taking translation off the page. It started from my own urban explorations – I am what you can call a “flâneuse” – I like walking across cities. I do this a lot, and I don’t mean just walking from one place to another, it is a practice I am very attached to. Wherever I go, I always set aside some time to do these city walks by myself, camera in hand, without any specific purpose. I am interested in interacting with everything that surrounds me in cities, especially through translation. This means that I look at written words mostly (I could work on sound, but I haven’t focused on that yet), I search for the traces we are leaving across urban spaces, usually in many different languages. Sometimes I understand the languages, sometimes I don’t. It is one way to observe the world we live in. Through this process, I also learn so much about the different cities I walk in. Languages can tell you about the history of a neighbourhood, about its demographics, about the political context, and much more… So, I use this personal and artistic practice to develop content, like I did with the Yearning for Turkish exhibition I created and which was shown in St Andrews and in Norwich, and the various workshops I do with City in Translation. With Yearning for Turkish, I realised that this constant search for languages across cities was also one way for me to find “home” – my understanding of home being in movement, even if I keep seeing one of my main languages – Turkish – everywhere I go.

5. As a social media lover myself, I am also widely present on different social channels, and I am frequently asked how I find time to juggle them and manage to work at the same time. Well, I cannot help it but ask you the same question, since you have an even wider social presence than me, I think. What is your secret? (By the way, you may have noticed I have already started following you everywhere! )

I love social media because I love interacting with people. I met so many interesting people on social media. I am personally active on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and all my profiles are public. I usually share things I am interested in, and bits of my own life without revealing intimate or private moments. So, if I post a selfie, there will usually be a story behind. Sometimes it can just be about showing people I’m happy and I love myself, and if it can help other women (even just one) loving themselves unapologetically, it makes me happy. I also post a lot about social justice issues, about freedom of expression, about women’s rights. I think social media can be a useful tool for creating one’s voice and empowering oneself and each other, to create solidarity, and to show the world that you (and people like you) exist, but not necessarily in a self-centred and narcissistic manner (while we can argue posting a selfie can be a narcissistic act, I am not interested in doing couch psychology and judging people). Also, people follow you on social media only if they want to. I don’t really care about being unfollowed, I am at peace with how I use social media. One thing that’s true though, it can eat your time up, and sometimes I do have the feeling that I am wasting a lot of time on social media, time I could use to write for example. But I think we’re all still learning how to use it the best way we can.

6. You have participated (and still do) in a few residencies for translators, in different countries. Could you tell us a bit about the experiences you have had and the benefits of being a Translator in Residence, in your opinion?

I love residencies. I have done a few, and I am currently doing one with La Contre Allée, a wonderful indie publisher in Lille, France. My first residency was with the Free Word Centre in London in 2013, and that truly changed my life. So many good friendships have started with this residency, and I am still working with many people I met during my time at Free Word. I am interested in residencies where you interact with local communities, not with residencies where you are given a room and space to write. I already have that in my home – life in Amsterdam is good and I am very privileged in that sense. If I travel to spend days, weeks or sometimes months somewhere else, I want to meet people, I want to learn from locals, from the different communities – with Free Word, it was about meeting all the wonderful organisations working around freedom of expression, but also with schools and more, in Senegal, I have learned from local artists, writers and musicians, but also from villagers on the impact of climate change, in Copenhagen I have interacted with academics and researchers working on topics about cities and culture, and in Lille, I am working with libraries, the city council, publishers… I learn from each one of them and I bring my own expertise too, it is a true exchange of ideas, knowledge and lots of fun too.

7. Although I could go on with the questions, let’s wrap up and find out who you pick to be our next Great Woman in Translation.

I want to nominate Marta Dziurosz, who was a translator in residence at Free Word Centre a couple of years after me. She is working in Polish and English. I especially love that she debunks the “native language” myth, which I’m sure she can tell you more about.

Greatest Women in Translation: Sarah Ardizzone

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Welcome back to our Geatest Women in Translation interview series!

This month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Ardizzone (nominated by Sophie Lewis), French to English literary translator.

Sarah Ardizzone

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1. One of your translations worth noting here is the graphic novel Alpha, the story of a migrant desperately searching for his family (by Bessora, illustrated by Barroux). In this interview you gave to Authors Live, you say that in your career as a translator, this is the one book you were adamant had to be published, so you were very proactive in going to publishers to publish it. Why is that?

Because it tells the most pressing story of our times: that of human migration. Equally, a graphic diary penned by a fictional migrant, who embarks on a cruel odyssey from Ivory Coast to France, and aimed at everyone, from YA (young adult) readers to the grown-up literary market to Amnesty supporters, wasn’t the easiest sell: so I had to work hard to find the right publisher. Barrington Stoke proved just that publisher. They fell in love with Alpha when we ran a Spectacular Translation Machine event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 2015. Which brings me to your next question…

2. Another of your translations worth noting is another graphic novel, Line of Fire. The original book in French originated “a groundbreaking new translation event” called the Spectacular Translation Machine. What was the event about and how was you experience with it?

Together with co-curator Daniel Hahn, and with the support of the British Centre for Literary Translation, we created the Spectacular Translation Machine at the Southbank Centre for the London Literature Festival 2013. The idea was simple: invite the general public to translate an entire book, as a collaborative and creative endeavour, across a couple of weekends. What better way of re-discovering and celebrating what it is that we think we do when we translate? Around the room, as if at an art gallery, we hung the images from Line of Fire (a graphic diary created by Barroux, who discovered in a skip the real handwritten diary of an unknown First World War French soldier). The public was invited to choose a picture to translate, before receiving the text that accompanied it – together with expert help on hand should they need support or want to talk ideas through. One picture alone received 17 translations… Most of all, people took the time to sit and weigh words with each other, to talk about why they made the subtle and nuanced choices they did, to solicit each other on how they could express a voice more ‘authentically’ or push a turn of phrase further or produce something fresh while avoiding infelicities or anachronisms…

3. What are the challenges and what is so fascinating about translating graphic novels, in your opinion?

Translating graphic novels can be very liberating, because the text tends to be stripped right down to the essentials. It can also mark a shift from more verbose and sometimes ‘fanciful’ literary translation to what you might call ‘urgent quality translation’. There are all sorts of other issues that come into play too, because I’m obeying two masters (pictures as well as words) whose creators in the case of Alpha both have one-name monikers beginning with B! Alpha is a fictional character but it’s an Everyman story, and as a translator that puts the wind in my sail.

4. Your real translation journey began with the translation of Daniel Pennac’s The Rights of the Reader. Can you describe your experience to us?

Well, Daniel Pennac is a master storyteller and thinker – so that’s a challenge in itself, in terms of conveying his originality into the English language. The way he expresses his ideas is so unique and so characterfully voiced that it’s as if he’s pushing the French language beyond its limits – there should be an adjective for it: Pennacian. With The Rights of the Reader he goes to the heart of why we are naturally beguiled by stories, when we are first told them, and why the education system risks making us fall out of love with them as readers. Trying to communicate Pennac’s ideas in English led to some of the most memorable editorial sessions I’ve ever experienced at my publishers, Walker Books.

5. You co-founded Translators in Schools, “a professional development programme to widen the pool of translators and teachers with the skills to run creative translation workshops in schools.” Could you tell us briefly how it works, your current role in it and your experience so far?

I co-curate the programmes we run, in partnership with the Stephen Spender Trust. Recently, we held The Big Translate which was due to take place at the Southbank Centre but, due to recent tragic events in London, took place instead at Heathbrook Primary School – this was supported by King’s Cultural Institute. We are also running a Creative Translation in the Classroom programme, supported by the Rothschild Foundation; following a CPD day, four translators and teachers have now been paired to collaborate on piloting original approaches to translation in the classroom.

6. You are a judge and translation advisor of the In Other Words initiative, by BookTrust, “a new project to promote the translation and UK publication of outstanding children’s literature from around the world.” How are books shortlisted for the initiative, i.e. on what basis are they chosen to be translated?

We’re looking for exceptional children’s fiction for children aged 6 to 12 that has not yet been published in the English language. This year, we’re open to untranslated classics still within copyright as well as recent titles, and we welcome books written by authors of all backgrounds. The deadline for entries is 16th August – so please help spread the word. How do we choose which titles get shortlisted and have 10,000-word extracts translated? That’s the eye-opening bit, as well as the hard-graft. We work through 400 odd submissions, and consider which compelling stories, excellent writing and original, timeless or previously unheard voices stand out.

7. Now it is your turn. Who do you nominate to be our next interviewee?

I nominate Canan Marasligil, writer, translator, editor and curator extraordinaire. Canan brings her translator’s eye to everything she does, including the way she walks around new cities.