Last week, the translators on the mentorship scheme got together in the Free Word Centre for ‘Industry Day’. The line-up included an overview of the publishing process by Katharina Bielenberg, publisher (and translator) with MacLehose Press, a guide to writing reader’s reports by Weidenfeld & Nicolson editor Sophie Buchan, an insight into the editing process by Rebecca Carter, editor-at-large with Harvill Secker, the ‘360 degree translator’ by Sarah Ardizzone and guidance on pitching to publishers by Ros Schwartz (both award-winning translators from French to English), followed by an overview of copyright and contracts by the Society of Author’s Sarah Burton. The jam-packed and informative day finished up with an open question and answer session with Ros, translator and author Maureen Freely and Portobello Books’ Philip Gwyn Jones.
The aim of the event was to give a comprehensive overview of the nuts and bolts of being a literary translator. But rather than taking the usual approach – such as ‘how’ and ‘why’ we translate – it focused on the practicalities – how to get the work in the first place, how to negotiate, how to make a name for yourself…It was an excellent (and essential) accompaniment to events like the BCLT Summer School, which tend to focus more on the art of translation itself.
It was so encouraging to see increasing support for providing emerging translators with the tools they need to develop a successful and rewarding career. And this is the point. It is a career, but one which – due to traditionally being seen as quite solitary and unstructured – has arguably been quite challenging in the past for those who didn’t have any guidance on the practical side. Some of the topics discussed – like writing reader’s reports – I learnt several years ago just by doing them. But I’m sure I would have gained confidence much more quickly if I’d known where to go for advice and guidance. Being a translator really is a ‘360 degree’ affair: it certainly isn’t about just sitting down at your desk and translating, day in, day out. It’s about research, keeping up-to-date with the literary scene in the languages you work with (and those you don’t, in translation), negotiating, talking to publishers, contributing to the translation community, taking part in events, helping to promote books you’ve translated, going to readings, and of course the less exciting side, invoicing, tax returns and so on. As well as other work you might do on the side: in my case, teaching. And I’m very happy it involves all these things – to put it simply, this is exactly what I signed up for! As Sarah Ardizzone said: ‘Translating is a wonderful space, but you can have too much of a good thing.’
On the subject of learning from each others’ experiences as emerging translators, Rosalind Harvey (Spanish-English translator in residence at the Free Word Centre), Anna Holmwood (Chinese-English translator and participant in the 2010 mentorship scheme) and myself are setting up an online forum to do just this: the Emerging Translators Network. The forum is still in its early stages at the moment, but we hope it will become a forum for discussion across the language groups, and a place where we can address topics similar to those discussed in the Industry Day, as well as developing a strong community of emerging translators in theUK. If anyone would like to find out more, please drop me a line.
Thanks to the seemingly inexhaustible Daniel Hahn, as well as Sarah Bower, the BCLT, the TA and PEN, the industry experts and all the other translators on the scheme for a wonderful day!