This is an adapted version of a short piece I wrote for the latest edition of the BCLT/TA’s bi-annual publication In Other Words, a journal for literary translators. Further information and subscription details for the journal can be found here.
In October of last year, I mentioned in a blog post that Rosalind Harvey (Spanish-English translator and 2011 Free Word Centre translator in residence), Anna Holmwood (Chinese-English translator) and myself were planning to set up an online forum for emerging translators across the UK. Part of the inspiration for this was the Industry Day arranged as part of last year’s BCLT/TA Mentorship Scheme. The event presented a series of practical and invaluable seminars: guidance on pitching books to publishers, how to negotiate contracts, how to write reader’s reports. It became clear that there was a need for this kind of support on a regular basis, and in a format open to many more emerging literary translators. We also knew from our own experiences starting out that there was a need for a strong community which would enable early-career translators to share knowledge and support.
There is, of course, the Translators Association, a well-known and respected source of advice for literary translators. However, there’s one important thing you need to become a TA member, and that’s a contract to translate a full-length work. As many who are relatively new to the profession will know, the time spent working towards this can often be the time when advice is most needed.
Many established translators often say they learnt purely by doing when they started out, as there was little structured support available. Now though, there is an increasing amount of focus on literary translation as a profession. Initiatives such as the BCLT Summer School and Mentorship Scheme are doing excellent work already, but we wanted to add to this, to create an all-year-round community. The concept of the network was, and remains, an evolving one, as we are keen for it to adapt to need and demand. Yet we still have a clear idea of the overall goal we want it to serve. In a rather large nutshell, the Emerging Translators Network is a forum and participatory group for emerging translators, focused on sharing experience, advice, contacts and professional know-how within the field of literary translation.
What began as a small group in November 2011 has now grown to a forum with over 80 members, with both online discussion and offline meet-ups, for example in the Free Word Centre. Although some ETN members are indeed just starting out, the term ‘emerging’ covers a fairly broad range. Some have been working in the literary translation field for several years and have already worked on their first novels, some are coming back to the profession and ‘re-emerging’ after a career-break, while others are very much just starting out. This diversity is of great benefit to the network, as it means we have different strengths and areas of experience. It is also in the nature of such a group that its members will ultimately move on, passing on the baton to new ‘emerging’ translators, and so it’s essential to have members at different stages of this process.
Freelancers can sometimes be reluctant to divulge information about their work processes and negotiating techniques. There are, of course, official guidelines provided by organisations such as the TA, but it can often be difficult to find out what happens in practice. A key advantage of the network is that members know others are in the same boat, which gives them the confidence to ask questions and admit that some aspects of the trade are still unfamiliar. One striking feature in how the ETN has evolved is the openness with which its members share information and support, and how keen others have been to get involved and build up the group. The ETN is now very much a collaborative venture.
Our online presence also means that, unlike many events in the industry, networking opportunities are not confined to the London area. Although the existing offline meet-ups have been in London so far, one is currently being planned for Edinburgh during the festival, and others will hopefully follow as the community evolves. We’ve recently started ‘Translation Tuesdays and Thursdays’ in the British Library, where some of us gather to work in companiable, BL-enforced silence, then take coffee and lunch breaks together. It’s a simple tweak to the working day, but we’re already feeling the benefit in terms of productivity and inspiration. There are also many exciting prospects ahead for our future development; in addition to the existing online discussion of the nuts and bolts of getting started in literary translation, we also aim to hold regular workshops providing guidance in collaboration with more established translators. Other possible ideas for the future including developing our members-only forum – currently managed via Google Groups – to include a public-facing online platform for showcasing members’ translation work.
I’ll close with a quote from translator Chenxin Jiang (from Italian and Chinese into English): ‘‘Getting started in translating, as with anything else, happens in fits and starts, and is subject to the freelancer’s version of Murphy’s Law – some weeks or months are an avalanche of work, and others are not. So this group of like-minded people all plugging away at the same thing has been a steady source of ideas and encouragement, and certainly one of the best perks of being an “emerging” translator.’’