Happy New Year, everyone! May it be filled with books, translations, travel and as many leisurely hours of reading as possible. I’ve been quiet for a while, finishing off some projects, but now that I’ve made a start on 2015’s work schedule I want to pause and reflect on last year.
To me, 2014 looks like an entire decade viewed on time-lapse. I started the year in Argentina, where I was learning Spanish and exploring the location-independent lifestyle. Then I fell in love and made the decision to move my life to Brazil. We got married in England in the summer, which brought a wonderful but intense few months of travel and wedding planning, along with piles of visa application paperwork. It was also a great year work-wise; 2014 saw the publication of my translations of Andreas Maier’s The Room, Ursula Poznanski’s Five, Post-War Lies by Malte Herwig, as well as the submission of forthcoming translations of Sebastian Fitzek’s Nightwalker and Jonathan Crowne’s Sirius. I spoke at the Emerging Translators Network event in July, which happily tied in with the Europe trip. My German translation work has been like an anchor in a sea of change; everything in my day-to-day life has changed dramatically, from people and culture to language and climate — but my work, which is also my passion, has kept me in tune with who I am. It’s important to remember, though, that in order to continue to grow as a translator, first and foremost I need to have a good work/life balance and feel truly at home in my adopted country. So that’s why my main aims for the coming year are both personal and professional, and inextricably linked. I want to dedicate more time to integrating here, to getting to know the people, language and culture more with each day. I’m not planning on taking a step back from my German translation work (I doubt I will ever want to do that), but I do want to focus on continuing to improve the quality of my work, and to putting aside ample time for the challenging, inspiring projects which I hope will continue to come my way.
And it seems as though the year has started in the way I hope it will go on. I am currently working on one of Kafka’s short stories for publication by a fine letter press, and over the last week I’ve been immersing myself in the story, getting to know the fine details of the German original, as well as reading the fascinating Kafka Translated: How Translators Have Shaped our Reading of Kafka by Michelle Woods. Over the last few days, I’ve been taking the original text and my notebook to the hammock with me, taking my time to explore the cadence and sensory impact of Kafka’s words. When inspiration hits, I return to my laptop and revise my draft. This change in pace — from the intense editing of a 400 page contemporary thriller to the calm, studious contemplation of a 10 page short story — is totally invigorating.
When I started out as a freelance translator, about 7 years ago, I thought that as I gained more experience I would also get quicker, therefore enabling me to produce more work each year. Through practice, some thought processes involved with translation do become quicker, but I also feel increasingly aware of how important it is to take your time getting to know a text. I remember reading that Margaret Jull Costa revises her translations more, not less, than she used to. It makes sense; the more experience you gain as a reader and translator, the more heightened your awareness of the intricacies of a text become. In turn, this means more time spent weighing up the very best way to render them in your native language.
As I’ve mentioned before, I think one of the most amazing things about the ETN is its spirit of openness — in sharing ideas, resources, advice and support with fellow translators. Many of the members of my ‘generation’ of literary translators in the English-language world are also my friends, and I know how hard they work. Many of us make sacrifices in our personal lives in order to take on projects — whether that be through the ‘freelancer fear’ of a dry patch, the awareness of needing to establish oneself in that early career stage, or the inability to say no to a dream project — whatever the motivation is, I’ve seen it many times. If it wasn’t for that spirit of openness, I might look around at these amazingly-productive translators and wonder how they do it without sacrificing other things/getting stressed/doubting themselves now and again. But I know that we’ve all pushed ourselves a little too hard at times, and I think it’s especially important to be open about this so that the next generation of emerging translators know it too. Because in order to continue improving the quality of our work, some things are non-negotiable. Like asking for realistic deadlines, for the time we need in order to do a great job, and not being afraid to insist on this. After all, you want to become known for excellence, not speed alone. And remembering that you need to be well-rested, well-fed and focused to do your best work. Rest time is essential; I’m sure it’s not only me who finds that the solutions to particularly complex translation challenges come not while you’re sat over the text, but after that period of intense thought, while you’re on a walk or cooking dinner. Having time to research, do background reading, to soak up the text AND to take time away from it — all of these things are essential.
So I hope that my 2015, too, will be filled with all the things I wished you all at the beginning of this post — from the intensity of great projects to languorous hours spent reading in the hammock, exploring the island and being with the people I love. I have the Kafka short story and Andreas Maier’s The House as work in progress , as well as a planned trip to the London Book Fair in April, along with some translation events in the week leading up to the fair. I’ll also be dedicating time to building up the Diaspora Network, and look forward to introducing it to you all very soon.