Aside from the book, what other writing did you draw inspiration from for your translation?
Anything I read can fire my imagination: novels, poetry, newspapers, TV programmes, social media posts. I get quite obsessed with a novel that I’m translating and I start to pick up words or phrases that capture ideas in the translation. Language is constantly evolving and I am always finding fresh stimulus in what I read, but also in conversations with others or anything I might overhear, say, on a train.
What was your path to becoming a translator of literary fiction? What would you say to someone who is considering such a career for themselves?
I read voraciously as a child and always hoped that I could find a way to make a career out of reading and translating books. It seemed unlikely for a while as I am the first person in my family to go to university, but after working in theatre and translating plays as well as many other types of text, I felt ready for novels. My advice to budding translators would be read widely, become obsessed with their chosen language and live in that country so they understand and absorb its culture. Much of my translation work is knowing what an author means rather than what they write, so you need enough life experience to make that call.
Why do you feel it’s important for us to celebrate translated fiction?
Translated fiction can show us that we are ultimately all connected. A Norwegian writer writing about parent-child relationships can reach across divides and remind us of shared experiences of the human condition. Is Mother Dead has been widely read in Norway, but Norwegian is spoken by only five million people. Celebrating translated fiction gives this book, and others like it, a springboard to a much wider readership.
If you had to choose three works of fiction that have inspired your career the most, what would they be and why?
Christopher Hampton’s play Les Liaisons Dangereuses from the French epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. A brilliant lesson in what to include and what to leave out when you are translating and adapting a text. Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, translated by Felicity David. I read it in Danish and it made me realise just how good a translator needs to be. I have no opinion on whether the Bible is a work of fiction, but I would like to include the King James Bible for its influence on the English language and the beauty and power of the translation itself. Other Bible translations are available, but this is, and always will be, the only one for me.