Thursday, 20 June 2013

Reviewing, translating, and Booktrust

Book Reviewing for Booktrust

In the last six or seven months, I've been reviewing fiction for Booktrust, and this has been one of the most fulfilling things I've done in recent years because it's given me a succession of first rate novels to read, by top literary authors. Here's a list of some:

Jane Rogers Hitting Trees With Sticks 
Andrew Cowan Worthless Men
Amy Sackville Orkney
Maggie O'Farrell Instructions for a Heatwave
Toni Morrison Home
Sarah Butler Ten Things I've Learnt About Love 

Booktrust reviewing has also introduced me to some literature in translation, including Finnish author Kari Hotakainen's The Human Part.

Here's the link to Booktrust's monthly reviews in their 'Books we like' feature.

Adventures in translation

Now, I don't claim any kind of expertise in literary translation - just an interest. I was once accepted as a freelance translator for Unesco's Paris office, believe it or not, shortly after I passed my Institute of Linguists' ELIC Diploma in French (with - incredibly - a distinction for translation!).  I translated one academic paper for Unesco, then heard nothing back from them. In a way, that was a relief, because that work was hard! Nine days to translate twenty-seven pages written by a respected North African academic who was writing in his second language. Translating against the clock meant I couldn't leave the work aside for a while to help me see it with fresh eyes. The whole thing had to be translated - bump - and sent off. I'm filled with admiration for those who can churn out work like that with any polish! Me, I had four children in the house. Nothing in my house had any polish then!

My next sortee into translation was a single short story by French author Mouloud Akkouche. His story Les dents du bonheur appeared in Liberation, and I approached him to ask if I could translate it. He agreed, and Raymond Ross at the Scottish literary magazine Cencrastus accepted it for publication in issue 71 under the title Wisdom Teeth, way back in 2002.  I had a horrible blank moment when I couldn't work out the meaning of one particular phrase. It was too new and edgy to appear in the dictionaries. (And this was in the days before Google.) I had to fill in the blank as best I could! Fortunately, Mouloud liked what I did with his story, and called it 'une bonne traduction'.

Blogging for Booktrust

I've really enjoyed contributing to Booktrust's Translated Fiction blog. I've written two posts for it, so far. The first, in February 2013, considered whether there might be an increase in demand, and a new vivacity, for literature in translation given the influx of people from Poland and other countries of the eastern European Union. You can read 'Eyes East' here.

Anyway, my reason for confessing about the difficulties I encountered with translation is to introduce Donal McLaughlin and the chat we had, for Booktrust, about his work as a translator. Donal will be shaking his head about my botched translation apprenticeship. He's a meticulous worker with the highest standards, and would never have made anything up, I'm sure! Add to this, his great ear and sensitivity to the nuances of language and you'll understand why he's such a respected and sought-after translator - and author! I really enjoyed our discussion.

Booktrust have now posted on their blog the friendly and informative exchange Donal and I had about his work, and I really recommend it. Click on the link to read it - A chat with Donal McLaughlin.

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