Image © Heidi Levine

Image © Heidi Levine

What place do you consider home and where are you based now?

Home is where the people I love are, and that’s Israel right now, where I live with my partner and three children. But it will always be Yorkshire, too, where I was born in the UK, because I have so many memories. I’ve been living in the Ella Valley of Israel for many years and am immersed in Israeli and Palestinian culture, too. Yesterday, I visited a Palestinian friend in Jericho and we talked about Mahmoud Darwish’s magnificent contribution to poetry in Arabic.

Tell us a little about your cultural influences.

I studied English Literature and communications for my BA and also completed an MA at the Shaindy Rudoff Creative Writing Program at Bar Ilan University, which is where I first encountered literary translation. I’m so grateful to the program for introducing me to this.

I read a lot of poetry in Hebrew and English. I love all kinds of music and I enjoy fiction. I was raised on A. A. Milne and Robert Browning. Today, I particularly love Wendell Berry, Jane Hirshfield and Mary Oliver, among others. Jane Hirshfield, by the way, has an amazing essay on translation in Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, entitled “The World is Large and Full of Noises”. I often go back to this essay when I’m translating.  I also read a lot of W S Merwin’s translations

What language(s) do you translate from?

Hebrew to English.

What do you love most about being a literary translator?

I love the opportunity to get into another writer’s head, to examine the layers of meaning that lie beneath the words I’m translating. The Hebrew language is multi-layered and many of the words have their own biblical, cultural and social connotations waiting to be discovered through translation, waiting to be laid open for others to understand and enjoy. The writer Cynthia Ozick said that “translation can serve as a lens into the underground life of another culture,” and I want to be that lens.

I enjoy the interaction with the author I’m translating, the dialogue both internal (as I’m translating) and discussions with the author. I’ve been lucky enough to work with living authors so far, although I am told by colleagues that there’s some merit to working with a dead author who cannot argue with your choice of words or interpretation. I’ve been working with Israeli poet Agi Mishol for a couple of years now and we regularly meet at her house, where dogs and cats wander around and where chickens regularly interrupt our work together. It’s a relationship I value highly.

How does working as a translator affect your own writing?

As a poet and essayist, I find that working on other people’s writing is an enriching experience. It’s a whole different perspective on the act of writing. The words are already there on the page, facing you. The trick is taking these words apart and then putting them together, like a puzzle. Sometimes it’s like chewing on words when you’re used to swallowing them whole.

What is your daily routine like?

I live out in the Ella Valley, a beautiful part of the country surrounded by a forest. I get up very early and do an hour of yoga, and this is when I do a lot of thinking. Some of my best thoughts on translation come when I’m upside down. Otherwise I take walks in the forest near my house; being out in the open helps me to crystallize ideas for my own writing. After that, I drink a big cup of coffee and the work day begins. I have a workroom but rarely use it, preferring to sit at the kitchen table or outside. My lap top is my office.  When translating poetry, I like to print out the drafts of poems I’m working on and lay them on the kitchen table. I befriend them, I glance at them as I move around the house. I interact with them until they’re ready to go out into the world.

I work from home at least four days a week, and travel to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem on the other days for meetings or to work in cafes. I love working in cafes! Translating can be a lonely profession and sitting in a café with all the bustle around me created by people I don’t know is amazing. And it means I can’t just wander off to check the washing machine or do the dishes!

Image © Heidi Levine

Image © Heidi Levine

How do you maintain and strengthen your working relationship with authors and publishers?

Right now, most of my work is done through The Deborah Harris Agency, based in Jerusalem. I’m also contacted directly by authors seeking to translate their writing into English.

Is there an active translation community where you are based?

Although there’s no organised group in Israel that I know of, I’m in touch with translators around the country and we often compare notes or bounce ideas off each other. We also pass work on to each other. TA Diaspora is a great way of interacting globally. Like ELTNA, TA Diaspora connects up translators all over the world.  It’s also indispensable as a way of staying up-to-date. We’ve done a few virtual readings on Google Hangout at ELTNA and these have been wonderful.

Do you attend translation events abroad?

I went to the Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference in Vermont earlier this year and found it invaluable. Networking is part of the job.

How is the literary translator regarded in Israel? Are there organisations there working to improve translators’ status, rights and visibility?

The Israeli Translators’ Association does its best to protect the rights of translators and to improve their status but it’s tough going, I think. The rates for work vary and often the pay is much too low.

What do you do to keep your mother tongue active and evolving?

I read a lot, which I think is essential for any writer.  I’m always on the lookout for new things in poetry and non-fiction. I write a column, The View from Here, for The Los Angeles Review of Books. I may live outside of an English-speaking country but I certainly don’t want to bob around in my own little bubble all day, so keeping up to speed is important to me. When I visit the UK I make a point of heading for book stores to see what people are reading.  And I play word games on my iPhone, which is a wonderful form of procrastination.

What are you working on at the moment?

Right now, I’m translating a prize-winning novel by Hagai Linik, through The Deborah Harris Agency. It’s a beautiful, dark book and a challenging piece of work.  I’m also translating the poetry of Yonatan Berg, who recently appeared on Transatlantic Poetry, together with the US poet, Jericho Brown.

What improvement would you like to see in the world of literary translation?

Recognition for the translator! So often literary works are cited without crediting the translator.


The View From Here (my column in The Los Angeles Review of Books)


London Book Fair 2015

Almost all of the panel sessions from this year’s Literary Translation Centre at the London Book Fair are now online. Click here for the playlist. A big thanks to the organisers for having all the panels videoed and uploading them so soon – these are an excellent resource for diaspora translators who are unable to make it to the fair, and indeed those who did attend but want to re-cap. Despite having spent three days at the fair, I’m still looking forward to settling down and watching as many of these as possible; there’s always so much going on in the LTC that it’s wonderful to be able to go into the finer details of the panel discussions later. To start you off, here’s the video of ‘A Single Title’s Journey into English’.

And for some more reflections on LBF15, here’s a dispatch on the Asymptote blog by editor-at-large Julia Sherwood.

Diaspora Q&A Series: Katy Derbyshire

Image © Ulrike Brauns

Image © Ulrike Brauns

Tell us a little about your cultural influences. What place(s) do you consider ‘home’ and where are you based now?

I was born and brought up in suburban London, and I suppose that’s the place most like home to me in the sense that it has all my childhood memories tucked into it, and most of my family too. My parents are both locals – my dad comes from Acton and my mum’s from Shepherd’s Bush – which is unusual in the area. Almost all the kids I went to school with had parents from elsewhere, India, Pakistan, Ireland, the West Indies, Turkey, Greece, all over, so my sense of British culture might be different to other people’s. Then I moved to Berlin immediately after graduating, at the age of 23, so the city is very much my home as an adult. Again, it’s not a city like the rest of the country, not as typically German as other places. I like that overlap.

What language(s) do you translate from (and into, in the case of bilingual translators working into others besides English)?

I translate only out of German into English; I don’t really have any other languages, although I tried learning French, Russian and Polish when I was younger.

What do you love most about being a literary translator?

I love having a licence to dig myself right into a piece of writing, really submerge myself in it and lose sight of everything else. It feels very intimate and exclusive. I love the creative side of the work, finding solutions that really fit or jiggling and jiggling until things fall into place. I love the times when I go into a trance and everything flows and it seems like automatic writing. That’s probably what I love most, although of course it doesn’t happen every day. 

Image © Ulrike Brauns

Image © Ulrike Brauns

What is your daily work routine like? Do you work from home/in a library/in a co-working space?

I share an office with a journalist friend, which gets me out of the house and makes sure I speak to another human being. I get up fairly early, especially when my daughter is with me, and try and take a walk to clear my head, then pack up my laptop and go to the office. I sit at my desk for a long time and don’t take enough breaks except for lunch (usually something I’ve brought along; café lunches are a special treat). Usually I like to get non-literary translation work out of the way first. And then I plug away at the book I’m working on until I feel I’ve done enough. Ideally about ten pages if I have all day, sometimes more or less depending on how much research needs doing, how tricky it is, and so on. I get faster as I go along. In the evenings I like to go to readings to keep an eye on the literary scene, or I read or watch German TV. If a book is set in Berlin or within easy reach, I’ll often take a day to visit the locations to get an idea of the physical spaces.   

Do you attend translation events in the UK or U.S., and if so how often?

I only really attend translation events in the UK if I’m invited specifically, to talk on a panel, lead a workshop, take part in a reading, etc. I try to stay a bit longer and take in other things because I can stay with my mum in London, so accommodation’s not a problem. But flights aren’t getting any cheaper and I find I can’t work well away from my usual surroundings, so I really have to weigh up the cost.

How do you maintain and strengthen your working relationship with UK/U.S. publishers while living abroad?

That’s probably the hardest thing. I think living in Berlin is a slight advantage because people actually want to come here, so I occasionally get emails from editors saying hey, I’m visiting, let’s meet up for coffee! Otherwise it’s email, reader’s reports, book fairs (I go to London and Frankfurt). I send little pitches now and then and I have my blog love german books, which seems to have established me as someone to ask if you want to know about German books. 

Is there an active translation community in the city/country where you are based?

We do indeed have a very active translation community in Berlin, and in Germany. There’s a lot more literary translation going on into German, and the Verband deutschsprachiger Übersetzer (VdÜ) is very active and sociable. There are also a lot of translators into English here, mainly commercial and academic and again very supportive. And then we have our “translation lab” once a month, where anyone interested in literary translation can come along and bring texts to workshop or just join in the conversation. It’s been going for seven years now, I think, and has become a very close-knit but I hope still welcoming community.  

How is the literary translator regarded there? Are there organisations and initiatives (such as the TA in the UK and ALTA in the U.S.) working to improve translators’ status, rights and visibility?

Literary translators are more visible here, partly because there are simply more of them. There are major prizes and grants, the European Translators’ Collegium in Straelen with residencies, and the VdÜ is affiliated to the service sector trade union. At the same time, perhaps because there are so many people capable of translating on the supply side, pay is low compared to the UK. There’s not so much mystique about the job – people will say things like, Oh, I’ve thought about doing a bit of translating, I watch American TV series all the time so it shouldn’t be a problem. The VdÜ and the publishers have been going to and fro on the pay and royalties issue for years now, and progress is slow. Visibility is improving at a faster pace, though.  

Are there any initiatives there which you think UK/U.S. translation organisations could implement or learn from?

The Deutscher Übersetzerfonds (German Translator Fund) is an incredible government-subsidized institution started by translators, which funds grants and prizes and a guest professorship, and also runs seminars for both emerging and experienced translators. The most amazing workshop I’ve ever had the privilege to take part in was part of their “Vice Versa” programme, a week spent in the Swiss translators’ house in Looren with six German-English and six English-German translators, led by the wonderful Karen Nölle and Shelley Frisch. Each of us was in the hot-seat for a whole morning or afternoon, with the group going through a translated passage we submitted in advance. So nerve-wracking! This kind of intense focus activity for experienced translators is lacking in the UK, I think. Once you’ve found your feet you’re expected to improve of your own accord, which of course we probably do to some extent, but there’s also a lot we could learn from each other. The VdÜ also runs an annual get-together in Wolfenbüttel, where translators lead practical workshops for each other. There’s usually also one session with an editor and one with an outside expert on specific topics, like firearms or American football or prison life. And there’s an evening of readings and a big party with food and drinks and dancing. I don’t think UK translators do enough dancing.   

Depending on where you live, you may be immersed in the language of your source language(s) and distanced from your target language, or perhaps even distanced from both. What do you do to keep your mother tongue and other languages active and evolving?

It varies, actually. My daughter and I only speak English to each other and my office mate is American. So at the moment I have to make an effort to speak German. Keeping up my English has got much easier, with journalism, film and books within easy reach. On visits to London I like to sit on the 207 bus and eavesdrop, but actually I can now do some eavesdropping here in Berlin, what with the volume of tourists and longer-stay Brits, Americans, etc.

And, finally, what are you working on at the moment, and what book would you still like to translate? 

I’m finishing off a book of Christa Wolf’s diaries; it hasn’t been as much fun as translating fiction. I’d still like to translate David Wagner’s Leben, a strange hybrid between fiction and non-fiction about a man who gets a liver transplant. Sadly, the whole hybrid thing is fine when American or British writers do it but it seems to put off the kind of editors who’ll publish translation. Too many risks at once, I suspect.  

Diaspora Q&A Series: Laura Watkinson

LW bio picTell us a little about your cultural influences. What place(s) do you consider ‘home’ and where are you based now?

I’m from the UK and I’ve moved around a bit. I grew up in the Midlands and the Cotswolds, studied in Oxford, lived in Germany for four years, Cambridge for a year, Milan for a year, Aberdeen for a couple of years, and then spent a few years in London before moving to the Netherlands in 2003. I’ve been living in Amsterdam since 2010. I love the city and definitely consider it home, but I like going back to England, too, and visiting Italy as often as I can. I wouldn’t rule out another move in the future. That’s one of the best things about translation, of course – the job moves along with you.

What language(s) do you translate from (and into, in the case of bilingual translators working into others besides English)?

I translate mainly from Dutch and also from German and Italian, always into English. I work for English-language publishers in various countries, though, so I sometimes find myself translating into different varieties of English.

What you love most about being a literary translator?

I love that it’s a fully flexible job and you can do it wherever you like. It’s great to be able to use your creativity on a daily basis and to work on wonderful stories that you can introduce to new readers. I’ve also met some lovely people through literary translation. I think we’re pretty good at creating friendly and helpful networks, and so many translators are really generous with their advice, support and expertise, which is enormously valuable for the profession as a whole. I’m really pleased that you’ve taken the initiative to set up this diaspora group, too, Jamie. It’s a great move.

What is your daily work routine like? Do you work from home/in a library/in a co-working space?

I generally work at home, but sometimes I’ll work in a local café or bar. There’s a tradition of the leestafel in Dutch bars, a big “reading table” with magazines and newspapers for customers. So there’s nearly always a free spot for a lone translator with a laptop… The city library in Amsterdam is stunning, too, with a fantastic view over the city and a nice café at the top of the building. Hmm, maybe I’ll move my office there for a couple of hours this afternoon…

View from the top floor of the library in Amsterdam

View from the top floor of the library in Amsterdam

Do you attend translation events in the UK or U.S., and if so how often?

I like to pop over for events every now and then, such as the International Translation Day programme or translation talks at the Society of Authors. It’s such a wonderful opportunity to talk to other translators in person, rather than just on Facebook.

I also took part in a panel discussion at the American Library Association’s summer conference a few years back, which was a fantastic experience. I’m still in touch with some of people I met there and there was definitely a lot of enthusiasm about translated children’s books, which has developed over the years into various projects and collaborations. I’ll be back in the US later this year and I’m hoping to meet up with a few translation-related contacts there.

I’ve been involved with the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators www.scbwi.org since 2008, when I set up the Dutch chapter. They’re based in the US, but have smaller chapters throughout the world. They’ve recently started to focus more closely on translators, too, with an initiative led by Avery Udagawa, so I hope that will lead to more translated children’s books and events to raise the profile of children’s literature in translation. The European SCBWI chapters are having their Europolitan conference in Amsterdam in April and we’re organising a translation panel with a great line-up. So that’ll be nice and local for me.

Translation events at book fairs are always good fun, too. I’m planning to visit Bologna for the children’s book fair again next year and definitely Frankfurt, as the Netherlands and Flanders will be guests of honour.

How do you maintain and strengthen your working relationship with UK/U.S. publishers while living abroad?

I often wonder how translators must have managed before the internet came along. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, so I keep up to date with publishers on social media. If I’m over in the UK or US or at one of the book fairs or conferences, it’s always nice to meet up with publishers, too, so that our contact isn’t limited to email exchanges. I’ve been lucky to have worked with a lot of friendly publishers and editors who are generous with their time and keen to keep in touch and to hear about interesting books.

Is there an active translation community in the city/country where you are based?

That’s another area where I’ve been really lucky. There’s quite a close community of Dutch–English translators, many of whom are based in Amsterdam. Over the years, colleagues have become friends and there’s always someone to turn to for advice about tricky phrases or contracts.

I’ve also translated comic books with Michele Hutchison, for instance, which wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t live so close. The two of us travelled down to Angoulême last year for the comics festival and met up with a bunch of Dutch comics writers there.

A few times a year, a bunch of us will meet up and go for a meal or a drink or a big old ramble in the countryside to the north of Amsterdam. Last year we went for a trek around the poems painted on the walls throughout Leiden, followed by a lunch, which was accompanied by the usual translator-type chat. We’ve also organised translation-related events in tandem with local bookshops, such as the American Book Center www.abc.nl. David Colmer has been particularly active in building up relationships with Dutch bookshops.

The Dutch Foundation for Literature www.letterenfonds.nl/en/ and the Expertisecentrum Literair Vertalen http://literairvertalen.org/ are another fantastic source of support, providing plenty of opportunities for translators to connect with writers and with each other, like the annual Literary Translation Days in December, two days of seminars and workshops that are open to active and aspiring literary translators.

How is the literary translator regarded there? Are there organisations and initiatives (such as the TA in the UK and ALTA in the U.S.) working to improve translators’ status, rights and visibility?

As a translator into English, I look more to the Translators’ Association in the UK for advice on contracts and professional issues, but I’m also a member of the equivalent Dutch organisation, the Vereniging van Letterkundigen (VvL) http://www.vvl.nu/, which has a working group for literary translators that fulfils a similar function to the TA.

Are there any initiatives there which you think UK/U.S. translation organisations could implement or learn from?

One of my favourite initiatives organised by the VvL’s literary translation group is the annual Vertaalengel (translation angel) and Vertaalduivel (translation devil) awards. They’re designed to reward those who have had a positive impact on literary translation and to encourage people and organisations who could be doing more to help. This year’s devil award went to literary translation journal Filter to encourage them to place more emphasis on the practice of translation, rather than the theory. The angel in 2015 is Poetry International for continuing to emphasise the importance of poetry translation and translators: http://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/home/index. Last year, Amsterdam’s fabulous Athenaeum bookshop www.athenaeum.nl won the “angel” award for doing so much to promote books, particularly in translation. The “devil” award went to De Wereld Draait Door, one of the most important Dutch TV shows for culture, to encourage them to name the translator when discussing translated books. Sound familiar?

Depending on where you live, you may be immersed in the language of your source language(s) and distanced from your target language, or perhaps even distanced from both. What do you do to keep your mother tongue and other languages active and evolving?

Keeping my English fresh is never going to be a problem in Amsterdam. My partner is English and there are plenty of English speakers around, so I have an environment that’s fairly well balanced in terms of source and target language. Keeping up my Italian and my German is more difficult, but there’s a Goethe-Institut and an Italian Cultural Institute in Amsterdam, which is handy, and I read a lot of the kind of books that I like to translate in those languages (graphic novels and children’s books) and travel to those countries as often as I can.

And, finally, what are you working on at the moment, and what book would you still like to translate? Thank you!

I’m translating a brilliant young-adult novel by Anna Woltz, A Hundred Hours of Night, for Arthur A. Levine in New York. It’s about a troubled Dutch girl who finds herself in New York during Hurricane Sandy, and is partly based on the author’s own experiences of New York in the hurricane. Anna’s a wonderful writer and Arthur’s a fantastic publisher, so I’m really pleased that the two of them are working together, particularly on this New York-based project.

I’m also just about to embark on a translation with Michele Hutchison of Brecht Evens’s graphic novel Panther. We’ve translated two of Brecht’s previous graphic novels and it’s always fun and interesting to translate as a team for a change.

What book would I still like to translate? Oooh, there are so many…

Website: www.laurawatkinson.com
Twitter: @Laura_Wat

Events for everyone!

We literary translators like to keep up-to-date with events that are going on in the translation world, but for those who aren’t an easy commute from that lecture, reading or translation slam, it can be envy-inducing to watch your colleagues confirming their attendance via social media. That’s why it’s great when these events are audio or video taped, because it allows even the most remotely-based translator to benefit. There are an increasing number of organisations and literary events and festivals in the UK publishing scene which are really on the ball with this. From the BCLT (the British Centre for Literary Translation) to the Free Word Centre, British Library and London Review Bookshop, many upload podcasts and videos after their events, and a number have their own YouTube channels and SoundCloud streams. If you haven’t checked these out yet, you definitely should.  Their example also proves that there’s no reason to fear that people won’t buy tickets to an event if they know a recording will be online soon after; the Sebald lecture is always a sell-out, and is so popular that it keeps moving to bigger venues.

One of our aims for the TA Diaspora site is to collate and regularly update a resource of links to these audio/video recordings and event write-ups. After all, it benefits the translation industry as a whole if both budding and experienced translators, regardless of their location, have access to the discussions which help them to develop their craft. Today we launch the Virtual Events page of our site. We will update this regularly, and encourage you to alert us to any we haven’t discovered yet as they are released.

Yesterday evening, as one of the frequent electric storms of the late Brazilian summer rumbled overhead, I was transported by the power of an audio file to the February chill of London and into the British Library, where the author A L Kennedy was giving this year’s Sebald lecture: The Language of the Heart.

I was mesmerised by her lecture, and found it inspiring and necessarily uncompromising. All credit to the BCLT for getting a high-quality recording online as quickly as the day after the event.  In fact, the only thing missing was being able to discuss it with colleagues afterwards – but what better way to employ social media? To listen to this year’s lecture (and those of many of the preceding years), go to this link. And then come back here, or to our Facebook group, and let us know what you thought!

Diaspora Q&A Series: Charlotte Coombe

Welcome, diaspora translators! It was wonderful to see such a great response to the launch yesterday; the website statistics showed readers from all over the world, and our Facebook group is growing steadily. So fascinating, too, to see all the different language combinations and locations — and there were some beautiful photographs shared on Twitter yesterday after new member Louise Lalaurie tweeted a picture of her surroundings with the questions ‘Where am I? Where are you?’. We look forward to getting to know you all, and what better way to do that than with our Diaspora Translator Q&A? This will be a regular feature on the blog, and besides offering an insight into how other literary translators live and work, we hope it will also provide resources and tips that could be helpful to others, whether they are resident in the same country or not.

The first is with Charlotte Coombe, a British translator from French and Spanish who lives in Morocco. She is also co-admin of the TA Diaspora Facebook and Twitter, and is helping to develop the network.

Tell us a little about your cultural influences. What place(s) do you consider ‘home’ and where are you based now?

CNV00051I originally hail from the southwest of England. When I was a child my family moved around a lot with the army (Germany, Hong Kong, UK), until we finally settled in Salisbury, Wiltshire (which is handy for Stonehenge). I have lived in Bath, Brighton and London, as well as Barcelona, Zaragoza and Paris. But now I am based in Marrakech with my husband, who is Moroccan. We have been here for almost a year and a half now. I/we go back to the UK every few months or so to visit family and friends, so my home is here in Marrakech, but also I suppose it is partly in Salisbury with my family, and in London where most of my UK friends now live. Home is wherever you are. Or where the laptop is. Or where your loved ones are. It’s a tricky subject to get into…

What language(s) do you translate from (and into, in the case of bilingual translators working into others besides English)?

I translate from French and Spanish, into my mother tongue, English.

What you love most about being a literary translator?

What’s not to love? (Apart from the endless challenges, frustrations, working and re-working of texts, the feeling of never quite being satisfied…). I love: Playing around with words. Creating. Searching for the perfect phrasing. The variety of subject matters that a novel can bring up (it’s strange what you find yourself researching – a literary translator’s internet browsing history must make for very bizarre reading!) That moment when you find the author’s voice, or when that devilishly difficult paragraph finally clicks into place. The joy of bringing a text to an English readership; knowing that people will get to read a story that they might otherwise never have had access to. I love being that invisible bridge between languages and cultures (although of course, I would like literary translators to become a bit more visible in the publishing process, and am keen to campaign for this). Seeing your words in print (the smell of a new book is always incredible, even more so when the words inside are yours). I love it when an author tells you how happy they are with the result, with seeing their novel ‘reborn’ in another language.

What is your daily work routine like? Do you work from home/in a library/in a co-working space?

I tend to work from home most days. Our sunny spare room doubles as my office space, a little haven where I can shut myself away in peace and quiet to work. Sometimes, if I am feeling slightly stir crazy, I take my laptop, book or printed drafts to a nearby café and work from there. Marrakech has a thriving café culture, so there are plenty of nice places to sit and watch the world go by, to avoid feeling like I spend all my time cooped up at home. I try to be at my desk by 9 am, although I’m not really a morning person so sometimes it ends up being later (by sometimes, I mean fairly often, but sshhh … don’t tell my clients). Generally though, I try to keep office hours as I do a lot of other translation and proofreading besides literary, and I need to be available from 9 am to 6 pm. I deal with emails and some social networking first thing, then settle down to work. Depending what I am working on, I try and work in 2-hour blocks, with various breaks for procrastination, house cleaning, that sort of thing. I try to get out for a walk or to run some errands, to break up my day and get out in the Moroccan sunshine (if it is not too hot). But my schedule is far from set in stone, and I often end up burning the midnight oil. I am a bit of a night owl and my creative juices tend to flow better in the evenings. On occasion, albeit incredibly rarely, I wake up around dawn and get a couple of hours of writing or translating done in the quiet stillness of the early morning.

Do you attend translation events in the UK or U.S., and if so how often?

I go back to the UK regularly, and while I am there I try to fit in at least one seminar, workshop or networking event if possible. I also try to attend the London Book Fair every year as it’s a great opportunity to meet people, catch up with colleagues and meet publishers in person who I previously have only had email contact with.

How do you maintain and strengthen your working relationship with UK/U.S. publishers while living abroad?

This is hard – I have to say it is mainly by email and keeping in touch via social networks – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I like to try and source new books and pitch to potential publishers using these methods, and then follow up with an email. It seems to be quite effective. Then, once a year, I try to meet face to face at LBF if possible.

Is there an active translation community in the city/country where you are based?

Not really – or if there is, I haven’t found my way into it yet! I don’t know any other translators living here (not even French, let along English ones) – but I am still on the lookout.


How is the literary translator regarded there? Are there organisations and initiatives (such as the TA in the UK and ALTA in the U.S.) working to improve the translator’s status, rights and visibility?

Speaking only from my experience when I tell people what I do – they seem to think it is a very ‘cool’ job to translate books (but I also get the feeling they think I sit around doing nothing all day – I keep getting unwanted advice about how to turn my translation skills into a business, as if I have not already!). There are various associations for professional translators (like this one) but they are not specifically for literary translators, and there are some minor literary translation initiatives (like the research centre Dar Al Ma’mun), but there is nothing akin to the TA or ETN in the UK. There are no major international book fairs, as far as I am aware. I would like to try and promote literary translation more here, and find some initiatives to be involved in, but literature does not seem to be high up on the list of priorities for most people in Morocco – illiteracy is still high in the country.

Depending on where you live, you may be immersed in the language of your source language(s) and distanced from your target language, or perhaps even distanced from both. What do you do to keep your mother tongue and other languages active and evolving?

French is the second language here in Morocco, after Arabic, and is widely spoken. Most people speak it to some extent, and so I speak French a lot here. My mother tongue does not suffer, as I speak in English with my husband. If anything, as he is constantly improving his English, I have to think about points of language in my mother tongue fairly often, which is good.

I have to make an effort to speak with Spanish people when I can, and to listen/watch/read in Spanish as much as possible to keep my language thriving. There are a surprising amount of Spanish speakers in Morocco – in fact, in the north they speak Spanish, rather than French – so all things considered, I am managing quite well to keep up all of my languages. My Darija is also coming along; I have quite a good level of understanding and my vocabulary is growing. This comes mainly from immersion and talking with my husband and his family/friends.

And, finally, what are you working on at the moment, and what book would you still like to translate?

I finished my last book project at the end of last year, a romantic fiction title by a new young Venezuelan author. Right now I am busy with a lot of non-literary translation and proofreading jobs, as usual, and trying to find my next book to translate. I am working on a sample for a funny new Spanish title, a sort of ‘Mum-Lit’ genre book, which I will submit to a literary agency with a view to finding a UK publisher. I also have another sample in handwhich I have been pitching to publishers, by a Moroccan-French author. The book I would still love to translate is Amor, curiosidad, prozac y dudas by Lucía Etxebarría – I approached the author about translating it into English, but she never got back in touch, unfortunately. It was one of my early favourite books in Spanish, and has not yet been translated into English. I would love to be the one to do it.

Charlotte Coombe
Literary translator, French & Spanish into English
BA Hons, MCIL, AITI, DipTransIoLET

email: charlie[at]cmctranslations[dot]com
skype: charlotte.coombe
twitter: @cmctranslations

The TA Diaspora — Who, What, Why?

Literary translators tend to be infinitely curious about other cultures. In fact, it’s part of the job description. We travel as often as we can, and unsurprisingly many of us end up living abroad. Some of us live a wanderlust-fuelled nomadic lifestyle, while others find a corner of the world that calls to us and make it our home. Regardless of whether this is near or far from where we started, living abroad enables us to develop an in-depth understanding of another culture, language and literary landscape – and this experience greatly enhances our work. Yet with these gains also come losses, for we are no longer within easy reach of industry events in the English-language literary translation scene. This can be challenging, as the ability to keep up-to-date and maintain and build relationships in the publishing industry is essential to the development of our careers.

As a literary translator who was based in London for many years and closely involved with industry networks there, I know how enriching it is to regularly attend events and feel part of the translation community. From the Book Fair to ETN meetings, seminars and translation slams, for myself and many others London is the hub of the UK literary translation scene. After relocating to Brazil in early 2014, I keenly felt the absence of these regular, inspirational meet-ups. I also found myself with a huge number of questions; how would I tackle tax returns and foreign banking issues as a freelancer based in South America but working for clients based in Europe and North America?; how would I maintain my connections with UK publishers if only able to visit once or twice a year?; what is the best way to keep my languages active in a country where neither my source nor target language is commonly spoken? Looking around me (in the digital sense), I found that many literary translators I knew were in very similar situations, and after speaking to them and reaching out to others on social media, it became clear that they felt the need for an initiative which would crowdsource and share knowledge on these very issues, along with a steady dose of inspiration to combat those occasional feelings of isolation (after all, working as a literary translator can be a solitary activity, particularly if you are geographically distanced from your colleagues).

Social media enables us to stay in touch, of course, but a focused network specifically for diaspora translators will strengthen and organize these connections, enabling members at all stages of their careers to share information and ask for specific advice and support on the practicalities, challenges and opportunities of being a literary translator abroad. Last year, while serving on the TA Committee, I discussed these ideas with the outgoing chairwoman, translator Maureen Freely. She envisioned a network which would be supported by and linked to the UK Translators Association, and which would bring together literary translators working into English but living outside the UK or U.S. Today, I am very happy to be launching the Translators Association Diaspora.

If you are a literary translator living outside the UK/US, but with English as your native language, then we would love to hear from you. You can request to join our members-only Facebook group to keep up-to-date on the latest discussions, as well as follow and contribute to the blog. You can read more about our aims here, and get in touch via Facebook, Twitter or our contact form. One of our regular features will be a series of Q&As with fellow diaspora translators, who will share insights from their experiences living and working abroad. The first, which will go live tomorrow, is with Charlotte Coombe, a translator from French and Spanish who is resident in Morocco. She is also co-administrator of our Facebook group and Twitter, and is working together with me to develop the Diaspora.

We hope this network will be shaped by the needs of its members – so do let us know what content you would like to see here, and spread the word to other translators who you feel could benefit. After all, the more we grow, the more knowledge we’ll have to share!

We look forward to welcoming you!