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?
It was long and very slowly trodden! I did my first translations (mainly arts/copywriting and financial translation) when I was doing my undergraduate degree, but knew right away that I really wanted to work with literature. During my PhD I was introduced to more literary translators, and attended the BCLT Summer School, which was a really wonderful opportunity to geek out for a week, and around the same time I was doing sample work for Foreign Rights agents in Sweden, off the back of which I got my first book translation (my PhD supervisor was not very happy…). Then I worked for the great indie publisher And Other Stories for several years, during which time I translated at weekends (one year I did three books in my spare time! Not something I’d recommend). My best advice to people wishing to get into translation themselves is to talk to and build relationships with other translators, and to read read read! It’s the best way to improve your practice, aside from just translating more.
Why do you feel it’s important for us to celebrate translated fiction?
Stories are life! They both tell us about how others feel, and help us understand how we feel - and if we’re only looking at the feelings of those who speak our language, we’re limiting ourselves - both in the sense that we’re not learning about other ways of thinking, but also in the sense that we’re not seeing the things we have in common with others - the ways we might think similarly, despite being in a different place.
If you had to choose three works of fiction that have inspired your career the most, what would they be and why?
Reading the Swedish author Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s debut novel Ett öga rött (One Eye Red - it’s never been translated, and I actually think it would be impossible to translate, for many, complex reasons) when I was learning Swedish taught me how varied and flexible a language can be, and how the very act of utilising that flexibility can create new meaning.
My absolute hero in life is Anne of Green Gables, the wildly imaginative and chaotic orphan created by LM Montgomery, so I guess I could attribute some of my acceptance of my own chaotic way of doing things to reading those books when I was a child!
Lastly, Lisa Dillman’s translation (and Lorna Scott Fox’s editing) of Yuri Herrera’s brilliant gem of a novel Signs Preceding the End of the World showed me that with a little courage, playfulness and lateral thinking, what seems untranslatable can indeed be captured in another language, and can become an enchanting and beautiful thing in its own right.