Thank you for reading!
I have now launched a new website, dedicated specifically to blogging about books, translation and other literary things! Please visit me at www.fromcovertocover.co.uk.
Thank you for reading!
Last week, I went to an event at the Southbank Centre called ‘Dangerous Desires’, featuring Norwegian writer Hanne Ørstavik and Finnish writers Kati Hiekkapelto and Jussi Valtonen. Part of the Nordic Matters series of events that has been taking place all year, and part of the annual Southbank London Literature Festival too, this particular panel discussed the ways in which desire can fire the imagination and lead us into unknown futures.
Although in some ways it was a shame there were three panellists, as they didn’t get to talk for very long in answer to each question, the hour-long event was thought-provoking, leading me to consider my own desires regarding languages and cultures. When I was thirteen years old, I went on tour to Salzburg for a week with the South West Surrey Youth Orchestra, where we played in concerts across the city and stayed in a gorgeously traditional little hotel in the city centre (I believe it was called the Hotel Post, but I’m not sure if it still exists today). It was my first experience of being in a German-speaking country, and I remember the effect it had on me as though it were yesterday. I came back absolutely determined to learn German and to return to Austria as soon as possible in the future. Without a German course on offer at school, and being before the days of Duolingo and other language-learning apps, I got a book and started trying to teach myself. When I came to choose my A-levels I tried to find a sixth form college that offered German to students without a GCSE in the subject, but the closest I got was an evening class in the next town. I signed up, and soon found myself thrown together with a slightly random collection of people who were learning for business, or for a holiday or, in the case of one man, because his daughter was about to marry an Austrian and he wanted to be able to talk to his new family members at the wedding. Again, I felt an instant connection with the language and I really looked forward to those classes. But still I kept trying to find a way to learn the language ‘properly’. The next step being university, I looked around for ab initio degree courses, eventually settling for French and ab initio German at Royal Holloway (recently voted the UK’s most beautiful university – and it really is! They also seem to be introducing undergraduate degrees in translation next year, which is exciting!). Finally, I was about to realise my dream of really learning the language I had fallen in love with five years earlier.
Learning a new language at university is actually easier than it sounds. My teacher was a native German speaker, and she spoke almost no English in the lessons, which meant we had to pick it up pretty quickly! We had intensive classes, and the small group setting and constant exposure to German were more effective than eight years of French lessons at school. Although I was still quite shy speaking German when I moved there in 2010 for my year abroad, I had a fantastic time – and made some incredible friends – and by the time I came back for my final year at uni, my German had overtaken my French. Which was definitely a good thing, given that the beginners and advanced learners were no longer separated in the final year, so I was together with everyone who had been learning German since school. We even got to do a bit of translation, which was my first taste of it, and it was so much fun. I remember working on one literary text and really enjoying the creative process, though it has stuck in my mind in particular because I changed the text for a British audience without really thinking it through, moving the driver’s door from the left to the right-hand side of the car. After reading my text out to the class, I can still remember my teacher just looking at me and asking, ‘Why are they driving a British car through the Austrian mountains?’ An excellent question.
Following university, I was fortunate enough to land a job at a translation agency, proofreading and translating marketing texts from German into English. Later, deciding that I wanted to work with fiction, I did an MA in Literary Translation (you can read all about my experiences at UEA here: My first year as an ‘emerging translator’) and then got a job at Oneworld Publications, where I am now Assistant Editor for fiction, working with both translated and English-language fiction. The publishing world comes with its own set of challenges and there have been some tough days, but I get to spend my time reading, writing, talking to authors, translators, editors and literary agents around the world and generally discussing books, so it can’t get much better than that! Plus, I still get to translate on the side at home, working on samples or writing reports for German books, so it’s kind of the best of both worlds.
Throughout all of this, my love of German has stayed with me. My stomach actually flips if I hear people speaking in German on the Tube, and my ears prick up instantly. I try and go to Germany as often as I can (I’ve been back to Austria a couple of times too, and it never ceases to put a smile on my face) and speaking German gives me a big thrill. And yet, lately I’ve been experiencing something new, and something a bit surprising – a strange desire to learn more about Scandinavia, and to get to know more about Scandinavian fiction, culture and people. I recently went to Finland to stay with some very good friends of mine, and felt so at home in their beautiful country. I am currently teaching myself Swedish, and am determined to find an affordable evening class or a Swedish person in London who might want to give me the odd lesson. I feel desperate to be able to read Scandinavian fiction in the original languages, and have started imagining myself translating from German, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish one day, and even perhaps tackling the excruciatingly hard language that is Finnish. But where has this come from? Do I just have an innate desire to learn languages? I do love getting my head around new and difficult grammar rules (I know, I’m weird) so is it more about that than the specific languages themselves? Why do I feel so drawn to these places? Even stranger is that Swedish is the one I want to master first, and I’ve never even been to Sweden! (Though I hope that will change soon.) During my weekend in Finland I found myself in Helsinki with two hours to spare – I spent one and a half of those hours browsing a huge multilingual bookshop, coming out with two novels in Swedish to read. One of them is a book called Den stora verklighetsflykten (The Great Reality Escape) by Swedish author Lars Vasa Johansson, and the other is the Swedish translation of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which I’m hoping will be easier to read because I already know the story. I haven’t attempted them yet, but I’m working up to it!
I think a lot of these feelings stem from a simple desire – as a translator and as an editor of translated fiction – to learn more about other European cultures and languages, to build bridges between countries and get to know as many new people as possible. I do often say that my ideal job would be to spend time living in various countries just learning languages, though sadly I haven’t found anyone who will pay me to do that yet! That desire doesn’t feel too unusual in and of itself (though I have met many people who can’t understand why I would want to bother, especially with regard to German, which I’m often assured does not actually sound hauntingly beautiful to most ‘normal’ people…), but I do wonder why I was so drawn to German, and now to Swedish, and how I can feel that yearning when I barely know the country or culture. I don’t know if I will ever find the answer to that question, but with German my instinct certainly paid off. And so I intend to follow this desire and keep discovering new languages and cultures for as long as I can, and just see where it takes me.
They Know Not What They Do by Jussi Valtonen, translated from the Finnish by Kristian London, is out in the UK on 2 November 2017, published by Oneworld Publications.
It's strange to think how quickly the last five years have gone past, and just how much has happened in that time! Since I graduated with a BA in French and German in 2012, I've worked as an in-house translator and proofreader in a translation agency, worked as a freelance translator, completed an MA in literary translation, co-translated a novel from German that has now been published, and worked for over a year and a half in publishing, helping to give writers from around the world a voice in English.
I'm still translating myself in my spare time, which can be exhausting alongside a full-time job, but the reward is certainly worth the effort. My two jobs – assistant editor for fiction and literary translator – go extremely well together and I find that networking across the industry certainly benefits me in each of my roles. I've made so many fantastic friends and great contacts over the years and I am excited to see that continue.
My slightly revamped website now also contains a gallery of my favourite fiction that I've read recently. This will often include new releases that I'm working on at Oneworld, but I'll try and mix it up a bit with English-language fiction too, or any other books that I've come across. For example, I've added Let Us Be True, the outstanding new novel from Alex Christofi, which is well worth a read. You can also watch videos from the SPOILER ALERT! series, in which Matt Gardner (@FuzzyPixels) and myself see a film every week and record our thoughts before and after.
I will try and update my blog more frequently, including reviews of books I've particularly enjoyed, thoughts about working as a translator and editor, or round-ups of translation or general book events I attend. If there's anything you want to hear more about, let me know in the comments section.
Thanks for reading!
Just over a week ago, a group of crime fiction writers and fans gathered together at the Goethe Institut in London for an event called 'In the Library with the Lead Piping', organised jointly by the Goethe Institut and New Books in German. In keeping with its name, the event began with a crime scene set up in the library, staged by four actors - a man had been murdered, there were three suspects and it was the job of the guests (us, the audience) to question them and solve the case. We all managed to correctly guess the culprit, who turned out to be the detective's wife, who had killed the young man because he was about to elope with her daughter, and as the victim was a criminal she thought she was protecting her daughter (who in a twist at the end turned out to be pregnant with the dead man's child!). It was very dramatic and a great way to get everyone in the crime fiction mood!
We then moved on to the panel discussion, which was chaired by Dr Katharina Hall from Swansea University. The panel consisted of German crime writers Mechtild Borrmann and Mario Giordano, and British writers Louise Welsh and Michael Ridpath. The writers, all of whom are very successful and are also widely translated, each read an extract from one of their novels - the German authors read the original text, which was then read in English by one of the actors. As a German speaker myself I really loved this bilingual aspect and it was very interesting to compare the originals and the translations. Many of the texts read were new to me but each of them appealed to me very much.
The discussion that followed covered various topics, starting with a debate about the importance of the place in which the book is set. Michael Ridpath and Louise Welsh, for example, have both written books set in Berlin, and talked about the challenge of setting a story in a foreign city, and the research that is necessary to be able to do this effectively. Mechtild Borrmann, on the other hand, is less focused on location than she is on her characters - the setting is for her a secondary element. One piece of advice given by the writers in relation to setting/plot was to perhaps start by writing about what you know, for example Michael Ridpath writing several books about the financial world, in which he worked for many years, branching out to other topics or settings later, once you have established yourself.
Many of the writers are also interested in historical fiction, primarily the Nazi era. Michael Ridpath's novel Traitor's Gate tells the story of a Hitler-assassination that was planned in 1938, but which was called off after Hitler stopped his invasion of Czechoslovakia due to Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement. Mechtild Borrmann is interested in how the Nazi past affects today's generations in Germany, a topic that I find fascinating too. Michael Ridpath discussed the difficulty of researching Berlin in the 1930s, and how heavily he relied on books to paint a picture of the city at that time, as he was obviously unable to see how life was back then for himself. The writers were asked about the GDR history too and the possibilities for writing crime fiction set in this period of history. Whilst they all agreed that there was a lot of scope for this as a subject, and indeed many writers are already choosing the GDR as a place in which to set their novels, Mario Giordano pointed out that for many Germans this period is still too close to write about in (crime) fiction, and therefore suggested that it is more likely to be tackled by British and American authors than German authors, at least for the time being. I find the question of when is the 'right' time for writers to start writing about a difficult period of history very interesting, but I think probably there is no easy answer. If a writer chooses to set a novel in a particular era then I believe that as long as they carry out comprehensive research to ensure that the basic historical details are accurately portrayed, as far as is appropriate to the plot, historical fiction can be of great benefit to readers who want to find out more about that particular period of history. I love reading novels set in times that I will never be able to see for myself, experiencing them through the characters and the plot, and I think this is essential for getting people to think about the past and what others lived (and died) through and for.
The final topic of discussion before we all moved on to a drinks reception was the writing process of each of the authors, and the translation process too. The general consensus seemed to be that starting with at least a rough plan is helpful, as long as you don't force yourself to stick with it too rigidly - sometimes the story will take you in an unexpected direction, and you should let that happen. Louise Welsh's main piece of advice was that a writer needs to be 'selfish' in terms of their time, not letting life get in the way as far as possible. According to Mario Giordano, it is better not to overthink things - just write and let the story come out! All authors agreed that when being translated, they are incredibly happy to answer any questions the translator may have, and like entering into dialogue with them. As Louise Welsh said, the translator is often the best reader as they pick up every tiny inconsistency and ask the most detailed questions, which she said is very humbling for a writer. I love the idea of translators and authors developing such a close relationship and feeling able to discuss all kinds of questions and minor details. I was very happy to hear how positive they were about translation and being translated. All in all I thought the panel was very well chosen, and Katharina Hall was an excellent chair. The Goethe Institut is a lovely setting for this sort of event too, and it was lovely to meet up with a few translator friends there and make some new ones. I look forward to the next event!
Since Wednesday I have been in The Hague, where I am currently staying with six other translators and four authors for the Crossing Border Festival. Together we make up the Chronicles project - every day the authors write new blog posts, which we then translate into various languages, with all the language versions being posted online. This year involves a variety of language combinations with Dutch, English, German and Polish. All the blog posts and their translations can be read on the Chronicles page.
For me, the trip has been very fulfilling, but also a little overwhelming. The Hague, which is not a familiar city to me, has surprised me by being a bit of a culture shock. As is usual in the Netherlands, one of the most popular modes of transport is the bicycle, with cyclists dashing around the city in all directions. I still haven't figured out the rules of the pavement (if indeed there are any!) and with every step I find myself looking wildly around to check I'm not about to get myself run over. A cursory glance to my right yesterday whilst shopping led to a second of panic as I was faced with at least 20 bikes speeding towards me and I had to dash out of the way again.
The language is also a mystery to me. I tried to pick up a few words of Dutch before leaving England, but although I have a bit of a head start as I speak German, I haven't been able to understand many words here at all. Although everyone here speaks amazing English, there isn't much written English around the city and I've had to depend quite a bit on the Dutch speakers in my group. Luckily at an international festival no one bats an eyelid if you start speaking English, but as a linguist I feel the shame of not even being able to attempt to talk to my hosts in their native language and certainly wish I'd got a bit further in my learning. Still, it's a great way of spurring myself on - next time I visit to this country I hope to have more success!
The festival began in earnest yesterday, and I attended readings and interviews with authors Kevin Barry and Annelies Verbeke, Thomas Glavinic, Nino Haratischwili, Karen Köhler and Saša Stanišić. Although I am not familiar with works by all of these writers, they are clearly all hugely successful and were also all incredibly engaging and funny. They all spoke excellent English - it is always even more admirable hearing these writers talk in depth about themselves and their work in what is often not their first or even their second language. It was fascinating to hear about how they write and what drives their stories (the general consensus seemed to be that the story writes itself, rather than being planned out rigidly by the writer in advance) and, as usual after attending these events, I now have another ten or so books that I'd love to read!
It has been exciting, if rather surreal, to be hanging out with very successful and highly respected authors and translators in bars and restaurants, bumping into literary agents in the lift and chatting to publishers in the breakfast room. I am new enough to the industry that I still feel slightly starstruck by everything going on around me, but I know that I can learn a lot from everyone here and am extremely fortunate and privileged to be here. Especially at a time when the world is being rocked by the shocking news from Paris, it is wonderful to be able to share a sense of solidarity with people from all kinds of nationalities. Everyone here has been a real pleasure to work with, and the organisation has been fantastic too. Tonight, our group of authors and translators will be interviewed on stage at the festival, then we'll cram in the last few readings and bands before we go our separate ways tomorrow. Although it's goodbye for now, I hope there will be more opportunities for us all to collaborate again in the future.
Over the last few days I have been engrossed in Die andere Hälfte der Hoffnung by German author Mechtild Borrmann. I came across the book a few months ago through New Books in German but, as happens too often, I didn't get round to reading it straight away. After finding out that Mechtild Borrmann will be appearing at the crime fiction event 'In the Library with the Lead Piping' next week, which is being organised jointly by the Goethe Institute and New Books in German and which I am very much looking forward to attending, I thought now would be a good time to pick up the one book of hers I have waiting on my shelf.
The book hooked me right from the start. The crime element deals with the search for a number of Ukrainian girls who travel to Germany to study on alleged student exchanges, leaving behind families who often never hear from them again. At the same time, the story tells of life in Ukraine before, during and after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, providing a gripping and devastating insight into life at the time of the event and the tragic repercussions for Ukraine and its people. It is not a subject I've read much about in the past, so it was fascinating for me to learn more about it.
The story switches between the exclusion zone in Ukraine, Düsseldorf, and Zyfflich, a small village in Germany near the Dutch border, and is told through a combination of present-day narration, flashbacks and diary-writing. The suspense throughout is prolonged expertly as the story builds and the police in Germany and Ukraine finally get to the bottom of the human trafficking ring, and the threads of the various stories are eventually tied up at the end.
This novel has stayed in my head even when I haven't been reading, and I have found it very difficult to switch between the story and real life. It is always a sign of a great novel when I have to cover the page to stop myself from skipping ahead as I am so desperate to find out what happens next!
Unfortunately, no English translation of this novel has yet been published, but I sincerely hope that one will appear in the near future. It is the kind of story that can and should travel between cultures, and I believe many readers of English would thoroughly enjoy and benefit from this important and thrilling novel. I am very much looking forward to hearing Mechtild Borrmann speak next week (there are still a few tickets available for free, so register now - the event is in English!) and to getting started on her other novels. Wer das Schweigen bricht (published in English in May 2015 as Silence, translated by Aubrey Botsford) is next on my list, and I'm sure it will be as fantastically written as Die andere Hälfte der Hoffnung.
Last night, my boyfriend Matt and I finally sat down to watch Testament of Youth – the film adaptation of Vera Brittain’s autobiography with the same name – which was released in January of this year. I had been wanting to see it since it came out, although I am ashamed to say that despite being extremely interested in everything relating to the World Wars, I have not actually read the book itself. It’s been on my shelf for a while, but I haven’t yet got round to reading it (but I certainly will do so sometime soon!). I was a bit hesitant to watch the film before reading the book, as I generally prefer to read books before watching the film adaptations, but I was not disappointed.
The film was incredibly emotive from start to finish. Without trying to give too much away about the plot, it was clear from very early on that it would not have a particularly happy ending (but then what war film does?) and it wasn’t long before Matt handed me the tissue box ‘just in case’. The acting, which was incredible on all accounts, drew us in immediately and we were taken back to the First World War, sharing in the terror of the soldiers and the pain of those left behind at home. The battlefields and field hospitals in France revealed the suffering of the soldiers and the bravery of the nurses who looked after them, and towards the end I was very glad the tissues were on hand.
Testament of Youth reminded me very slightly of Atonement – although of course based on the First World War rather than the Second – with flashbacks to the characters’ youths at the family home prior to the outbreak of war, scenes of the men at war and the sisters/girlfriends becoming nurses. Interestingly enough, Saoirse Ronan from Atonement was even originally cast as Vera, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced by the fabulous Alicia Vikander. Despite the slight parallels, however, Testament of Youth has an added element of emotion because it is of course based on a true story. I couldn’t help remembering this fact as I watched the film, and Vera’s pain was all the stronger for it.
All in all, this was a very moving portrayal of life and love in the First World War, and I would absolutely recommend you see it if you haven’t already. Just don’t forget those tissues.
After just over 18 months of working in a translation agency, I decided to shift my focus and return to university to do an MA in Literary Translation. I had sort of always assumed I would do an MA at some point and I was keen to get back to the library and start studying again. With its outstanding reputation for creative writing and translation, the University of East Anglia seemed like the obvious choice and after attending an open day I submitted my application and that was that.
Although moving to Norwich felt like the right choice, it wasn’t easy to uproot my life and start over, although having a very supportive boyfriend who decided to join me for the adventure definitely helped! I was also lucky that my best friend from school lives in Norwich too, so that made the transition that much easier too. We moved into a lovely big house right in the city centre (the rent in Norwich is a very depressing reminder of how bad the situation is in London!) in May 2014 and settled in over the summer before I started my course in September.
Although I didn’t yet have an MA in translation, the fact that I had in-house experience as a translator (having worked my way up from a proofreader) was invaluable as it allowed me to set myself up as a freelance translator. I signed up with a few agencies and soon had enough work to keep me busy full time over the summer. As I was planning to pay for the course myself, it was very reassuring to be able to save a bit before starting so that when I reduced my hours to part-time work once the course began I would have a bit of a cushion in terms of savings. Even so, I knew it wouldn’t be an easy year, as I was determined not to take a loan out and add to my already very high student debt! It can be very difficult returning to education, especially as student loans are not available for master’s degrees, but I was convinced that it was the right path for me and so I decided I had to just go for it.
It didn’t take long for me to feel sure that I had made the right decision. Everyone at UEA was extremely welcoming and there were only four other girls on my course, which gave it a very intimate feel. Overall, four of us spoke German, but there was still a good variety of languages between us (Japanese, German, Turkish and Dutch) which would make for some very interesting discussions and comparisons over the year.
The first term was very theoretical, with two modules Translation Theory and Stylistics for Translators providing the basics of literary translation. We all came from different backgrounds in terms of what we had studied before; we had all attended different universities, which meant we had taken varying modules ranging from literature and film to linguistics and translation, so it took a little while to adjust to this and find a pace we were all comfortable with. It was certainly a bit of a baptism of fire, as I had done hardly any translation at university and certainly no theory, so I was very much starting from scratch. There were also times when I struggled with the comparatively slim proportion of practical work, but once that grew more intense in the second term I was definitely grateful for already having the theoretical background in place! We did work on a portfolio of translations leading up to Christmas that were then workshopped by a member of staff at the end of the term, which provided some useful feedback.
Just before Christmas we had to submit our first two essays, one for each module and each 5,000 words in length. Coming from Royal Holloway, where we had never written more than 3,000 words in one piece of work (studying two languages meant I was able to escape a BA dissertation!), this initially seemed very daunting but I soon warmed up to it. It was tough a first as I felt like I was using a part of my brain that had been asleep for two years since finishing my BA, but I found the freedom of choosing our own essay topics and texts very liberating. I was able to explore both my passion for contemporary fiction by writing about style in Daniel Glattauer’s novel Ewig Dein (English version entitled Forever Yours, translated by Jamie Bulloch) and my interest in East Germany, by looking at the translation of East German literature, focusing on Christa Wolf’s Was bleibt and Julia Franck’s short story Der Hausfreund. This definitely went a long way to increasing my enjoyment of the course, as I could pick texts that I had particularly enjoyed or wanted to explore in more depth, rather than being given a title. This was one of the advantages of being in a mixed-language class, as there really was no way of (or no point in) regulating what we chose to write about, so we were each able to go in our own direction. Several of us had not come straight from a BA course so were a little rusty in our essay writing – as always, Facebook proved a great help for us pooling ideas and helping each other out with practicalities. Another advantage of the MA course was that, unlike my previous degree, our essay deadlines were before Christmas rather than afterwards, leaving time to enjoy the holiday without an impending deadline!
The second term was much more practical and allowed us to build on what we had learned in the previous term. We took another two modules, Case Studies and Process and Product. In Case Studies we worked through different genres, looking at historical fiction, crime fiction, children’s literature and feminist texts, for which we discussed texts such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Harry Potter, and each presented our own short translations for each genre, which we presented to and discussed with the class. This gave us an insight into the translation of various text types, which was incredibly useful. I surprised myself by particularly enjoying the children’s literature section, which I actually really appreciated because it opened my eyes to something I had not really considered much before. Of course, I had been a big reader as a child, but I certainly hadn’t considered translating children’s fiction before, whereas I would now. Our other module, Process and Product, allowed us to be more creative and to work with rewriting as well as translation, focusing on the writing process and exploring how texts are created. For the assessed project, for example, I chose to work with Erich Kästner’s book Das doppelte Lottchen (and the new translation by Anthea Bell, entitled The Parent Trap) in which I experimented with rewriting the text for adults, by adding plot details and changing the voices in the story. I was really excited by this as it forced me to analyse the text in detail and to explore just what makes a text suitable for children or for adults. I was also very happy to work with a translation by the incredible Anthea Bell. Continuing my Erich Kästner theme in my Case Studies essay, I looked at his famous novel Emil und die Detektive (Emil and the Detectives), focusing on the translation by Eileen Hall, and looking predominantly at the issue of paratext and of cultural adaptation, in particular for a child audience. I loved Erich Kästner as a child myself (long before I thought of studying German and without really knowing anything about the concept of literature in translation) and it was amazing to be able to take a trip down memory lane and revisit his work, and to explore it from a new angle.
The first two terms of my MA were very busy for me as I continued to take on freelance translation work three days a week to pay the bills, and from November to April I also worked as an intern for the journal New Books in German (NBG). This amazing experience opened my eyes to numerous contemporary authors from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and gave me an insight into the work of publishers and editors. I met some great linguists and attended a couple of editorial meetings at which I was able to watch translators, editors, publishers and literary agents discuss titles and what would work best in translation for the UK/US market. This was a fantastic internship and, as it was mostly carried out remotely, was one which could be fitted in around my other commitments. I was also able to contribute an article to the journal, to interview literary translator Jamie Searle Romanelli, and to write a reader’s report, which was a great experience. All in all this was a very good practical way to supplement my course and provided me with invaluable contacts for the future.
Another great opportunity I had in the spring of 2015 was to participate in the Emerging Translators Programme (run by New Books in German). After entering a competition for which I submitted a short translation of a supplied text, six entrants were chosen to complete a longer sample of various novels from the latest issue of New Books in German, for which we were then given a workshop by NBG editor Charlotte Ryland and translator Shaun Whiteside. This one-day workshop allowed us to explore a variety of contemporary works, to meet new people and to receive great advice from Charlotte and Shaun. It was very encouraging to be selected and really added to my enthusiasm to become a literary translator. There are a huge number of similar initiatives and competitions for emerging translators, all of which offer invaluable support from peers and experts alike, which I would definitely recommend.
In the final term of my MA I worked on my dissertation, which allowed me to focus on another of my interests – the Second World War and the Holocaust. I selected another contemporary novel, Nagars Nacht, by authors Astrid Dehe and Achim Engstler, which I had actually come across through my internship at NBG. This novel is an incredible work of fiction which follows the story of Shalom Nagar, prison guard and hangman of the infamous Nazi Adolf Eichmann. The novel uses an extensive factual background on which to tell a very important story, set in the present day, focusing on the fact that the Holocaust is not something which has been (or should be) assigned to the past, but rather still has an effect today and should continue to be remembered into the future. I found the text fascinating to work with, exploring the use of fact and fiction in the Holocaust novel, and the way in which contemporary writers can approach such topics and how these can be translated. The advantage of working with a work by contemporary writers is that I was able to get in touch with them, and both Dehe and Engstler were very willing to talk me through their writing and answer any questions, for which I am very grateful.
The dissertation, whilst stressful and hard work, was an amazing experience. I was very happy to be able to translate 10,000 words of the novel and to write a commentary roughly the same length, thus allowing me to really get into the text and the translation. The MA course included other additional aspects, such as the editing workshops we attended once a fortnight, taking it in turns to present a translation that enabled us to improve our editing skills and get used to discussing the nitty gritty of translation, and overall there were an impressive number of opportunities available to students. Norwich itself also offers a plethora of literary events – talks by authors, readings, literary festivals, among others – which meant that there was never a shortage of things to get involved with. We were also given the opportunity to read our own work in the Book Hive (a lovely little independent book shop in the centre of Norwich) which none of us had done before, and which we very much enjoyed, and to attend the Literary Translation and Creative Writing Summer School, run by the British Centre for Literary Translation, which provided another chance to work with great translators and authors and meet numerous other literature and translation enthusiasts.
It can be extremely difficult to study today for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is related to finances, but I can say that I have never regretted going to UEA to study literary translation for a second. I have gained in confidence, knowledge, experience and contacts and have had some fantastic opportunities. Taking this course has also made me certain that I do want to be a practising literary translator, and has given me a firm foundation on which to hopefully make this happen. If you are considering the course, or another similar master’s course, go for it! I have certainly gained a lot in the last year and look forward to seeing what the future brings.
On Friday 2 October 2015, a large group of translators, editors, publishers, booksellers and other bibliophiles descended on the British Library for the sixth International Translation Day. Having missed last year’s ITD after relocating to Norwich to study for an MA in Literary Translation, I was excited to be back living in London and to be able to take a day off freelance translation to attend the event. ITD is a great opportunity to network with lots of people from all different areas of the translation industry, and I was very encouraged to see quite a few familiar faces in the crowd. Making contacts can be hard, especially as a freelancer, but through my MA and getting involved this year with the journal New Books in German, both as an intern and a participant in the Emerging Translators Programme, I’ve got to know many more translators recently and it was great to catch up with a number of them.
After a quick chat and a coffee, the day kicked off with a panel discussion on the rise of the reader. Representatives from the publishing industry and the Booker Prize Foundation talked about the importance of the reader in today’s world, at a time when social media is continually gaining in influence and anyone and everyone can engage in conversation about what they are reading and what they want to read next. Although this of course involves people from all walks of life, not just translators or linguists, I was often told by my MA tutors that no one ever reads a book more closely than a translator, who has to recreate the story in their own language. We also had many a lengthy discussion about the translator’s role as a writer, which was a subject that came up in this session. The idea of translators and authors working together to produce well-written novels was floated – and caused a bit of a stir, as a room of literary translators wondered whether to be offended at the suggestion that we might need an author to help us write a high-quality novel. I for one am very aware that translators need to be able to weave a story effectively and captivatingly, whilst also remaining loyal to the author’s original work, and believe that literary translators are very capable of doing so. Having said that, I did value the point that many authors who write in languages other than English are also translators, and I certainly agree it would be great to get more British authors involved in translation. The lack of authors at this event (at least on the panels) did stand out to me so perhaps this is an area where more networking could be done and ties between authors and translators strengthened in general.
The second session I attended was about selling translations and involved a panel of booksellers and publishers. The first important message was that independent bookshops are currently in a very strong position, although as always translations are proving much harder to sell than original English-language fiction. I especially enjoyed the debate about where to place translations in the shop – in Dulwich Books they are in a separate section, whilst at Foyles they are mingled in with the non-translations. I personally love the idea of being able to browse specifically for new translations without getting distracted by other great titles, but at the same time I see it could make translations easier for others to ignore. Having never been to Dulwich Books, and living only a short train ride away, I will just have to go and have a look around and see what I think! The prevailing view, whatever the layout of the bookshops, is that there is room for translators to become much more involved with bookselling after publication. This was all a bit far in the future for me, as a translator who is still very much ‘emerging’ and has not yet completed a book-length translation, but it was still fascinating to hear about the events that translators can take part in to raise awareness of their books, as well as the possibility for publicity via social media and in interviews, for example. I look forward to a time in the future where I can take this advice on board myself and encourage people to read my own work!
After a buffet lunch and a quick networking session with the Emerging Translators Network, I returned to the auditorium for a discussion of ‘translator speak’ with editors from Peirene Press and Granta, and literary translator Shaun Whiteside. A group exercise of trying to guess whether various extracts were translations or original-English works led to a very interesting discussion of how much freedom a translator has in their work, and how much an editor can or should intervene. There seemed to be a general feeling that translators should have the courage to stand up for what they believe the author wants to say and to have more freedom in how they express this in their own language. Another important issue raised was the idea of easing readers into the book on the first couple of pages, so editing a bit more heavily to start with and then easing off to allow the original style and foreign flair to really shine through. This has the benefit of potentially preventing readers being put off reading a translation, but Shaun Whiteside expressed the viewpoint that this is not always fair to the author. Why should an author who frequently writes in very long sentences, for example, be reduced to shorter sentences in translation? Does that really give readers of that translation an idea of the author’s work or style? The main thought that stuck in my mind is how willing we are to tiptoe around readers of translations, making the reading process easier for them instead of stretching them and making them work perhaps a bit harder to really get to grips with the novel. It is a difficult question and there is almost certainly no definitive answer, but I can’t help thinking it’s a shame to make significant changes to a work just so readers can perhaps go so far as to pretend they are not reading a translation at all. The session certainly threw up some complex and important issues and it was thoroughly enjoyable.
After another quick coffee break came the final session, with everyone all together again in the auditorium. A couple of extracts from translated plays were read by a group of actors and then they and the translators discussed the process of translation, rehearsing and editing (covering issues such as rhythm, humour and the difficulty of transferring cultural differences). The session was incredibly engaging and it was very interesting to approach translation from a slightly different angle. This was followed by the presenting of the 2015 Found in Translation Award to Ursula Phillips, a translator of Polish literature. It was a very positive way to finish the session and was nice for everyone there to be able to share in her success.
The final drinks reception provided a last chance to do some networking and, all in all, it was a very rewarding day. Freelancing has the potential to be a very lonely job (however passionate a translator you may be) and it is essential to have that contact with other translators whenever possible. I came away feeling reinvigorated, with my head buzzing with even more book titles that I now want to get my hands on. Languages, literature and translation are all important parts of my life and I really don’t think you can beat spending a day in the beautiful British Library with likeminded people, talking about books. I can’t wait for next year!
I picked up Ewig Dein (English title: Forever Yours) after thoroughly enjoying Daniel Glattauer's email-romance Gut gegen Nordwind (English title: Love Virtually) and its sequel, Alle sieben Wellen (English title: Every Seventh Wave). I think I was hoping for a similar feel-good romance, one which would be easy to read in German and which, hopefully, might make me laugh out loud. It started off well and I was quickly transported to Vienna, where I got to know single protagonist Judith and her chance-supermarket-encounter-friend Hannes. Judith's slightly prickly (or perhaps just very independent) outer shell was quite hard to crack, however, and I didn't find myself warming to her as quickly as I had perhaps hoped. Hannes, who obviously fell for Judith from the start, was as suffocating as Judith was reticent, eager as she was unsure. This made for an interesting pair, but didn't evoke many feelings of surprise as the story started spiralling downhill. However, the plot did not go where I predicted it at all, which certainly served to maintain an element of surprise and I did find myself reading quite late into the night to find out just how this book could possibly end. The resolution was satisfying once I got there but the suspense was almost unbearable as I had to wait until the very end for the twist to unfold. Feel-good it was not. In fact, I found the story quite dark as it began dealing with psychological issues and the characters found themselves deep in a web of lies and fear, and Hannes' character made me feel really quite uncomfortable. Being honest, part of me found it refreshing to not read about a male protagonist designed to make female characters fall in love with him (it is possible that some might, but I very much didn't!) and I was intrigued by the plot, which was really quite different to most books I've read and, as I said, absolutely not what I was expecting. I am still not quite sure whether I enjoyed the feeling of discomfort that accompanied me throughout the story, the depth of which must, however, be attributed to the talent of Daniel Glattauer, whose writing captivated me and made me read on, finishing the book in just three days (not bad for me, especially not being in my native language!). I now have a new-found respect for Glattauer in terms of the versatility of his subject matter, and I would be very interested to read another of his books to see where that takes me. I would certainly recommend Ewig Dein (the English version, translated by Jamie Bulloch, was released in September and is available on Amazon) but be warned, this is far less straightforward than your usual love story and will linger in your thoughts long after you have turned the final page.