Do you secretly want to be a literary translator?

By Felicity Pearce

I do. I guess it’s not a secret anymore, but I think it’s quite a common dream among us commercial translators, and most literary translators will admit to doing some commercial work on the side. Of course, they must only do the glamorous and creative stuff, but it seems that they are not always only working on translating a book. Or a poem, which could easily take just as long.

And so I began my journey into the world of literary translators, attending this year’s International Literary Translation and Creative Writing Summer School which was run by the British Centre for Literary Translation and Writers’ Centre Norwich, at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, Unesco City of Literature, of course. The summer school combined literary translation workshops with creative writing sessions and panel discussions.

Apart from being surrounded by genius, one thing that really stood out for me during the week was the collaboration among translators, nicely linking in to my last post on the #translaborate event. Our English-language workshop leader, a writer herself, also highlighted that this collaboration is not quite as natural among writers, who usually work in terrifying or beautiful solitude. I now have a better understanding of the fear of the blank page.

But back to translation. With the array of exotic languages on offer at this year’s Summer School, I considered trying Italian, which I love but do not have an in-depth knowledge of, or German, which I have a good understanding of, although our relationship is very complex. But in the end I went for the non-language-specific prose workshop, which took me so far out of my comfort zone, working with a Bengali text (and a first-draft/literal translation thereof). Imagine the discomfort of having zero comprehension of the source text! But we were all in it together, feeling our way through the dark.

The process was very enlightening. I see it as a slow-word movement in the middle of commercial deadlines and requests and follow-ups. We spent the whole week on it (many morning and afternoon sessions) and, by the end of the third day, I think we had less than 200 words, and even those were not finalised! What we did was a kind of editing/translating hybrid, and we had in-depth access to the source language and culture through Arunava Sinha, our workshop leader. It is easy to apply everything we were doing to translations with the languages I do understand, and especially to the editing we do every day.

On the last day, we enjoyed listening to the work of each group (translations from Dutch, German, Korean and Italian, to name but a few) and a dinner at the medieval Dragon Hall, the home of Writers’ Centre Norwich. Dragons feature a great deal in the history and architecture of Norwich, and Dragon Hall itself has a hugely rich history. The building began life in the 15th century as a trading hall, but has housed many other businesses and causes in its colourful history, including a brothel, we were told.

Dragon at Dragon Hall

A dragon relaxing at Dragon Hall

I cannot recommend this summer school highly enough, and if you are interested in literary translation, here are some other points of interest (if you are a literary translator or if you know of any more, please comment):

In Other Words journal from BCLT

Translate in the City Summer School – held annually in London

International Translation Day event at the British Library

Emerging Translators Network – E-mail based forum to ask questions about literary translation in a safe environment

European Literature Night – event held annually at the British Library

Translators Association – part of the Society of Authors

MA in Literary Translation at UEA

American Literary Translators Association



My first Jelly

by Katharine Mears

A couple of weeks ago I attended my first Jelly; an informal co-working event where freelancers and small business owners can bring their laptops, and work, chat and collaborate with others. The UK Jelly website defines co-working as, “Meeting up with like-minded people to work together in a different environment, to exchange help and advice, and maybe come up with a new idea to collaborate on”. It differs from a networking event in that the primary purpose of a Jelly isn’t to find new clients or promote your business, although of course this often happens indirectly.

The Jelly I attended was held in a local pub in St Albans (which is, conveniently, the city I live in!). It was free to attend, in line with Jelly’s ethos that their events are accessible to all. We had our own room allocated to us so we weren’t disturbed by other customers and we were given free use of the Wi-Fi. The only thing that needed to be paid for was food and drink.

So, how did I find it?

The highlight for me was undoubtedly having the opportunity to meet other local freelancers and getting to know them as we worked. Any co-working I have undertaken in recent years has been solely with other translators, so I did wonder whether there would be as much scope for discussion with freelancers from other fields. I couldn’t have been more wrong! There were around ten people at the Jelly, including the founder of Popdance, an IT consultant, a PA and a children’s outdoor activities coordinator. I was also pleasantly surprised to see another local translator that I had recently met, as well as an old friend I had worked alongside in my previous career in the charity sector. A friendly and chatty atmosphere quickly developed between all of us. There are so many advantages to freelancing from home but this event really made me realise how much I’d missed having colleagues to chat to on a day-to-day basis. It was also clear that some real friendships had developed among those who had been attending for a while.

St Albans Jelly event

It wasn’t only the social aspect and the novelty of getting out of the house that appealed to me. I also found I learned a great deal from others that may prove to be of use to my business. I was introduced to Periscope, a live video streaming app, and we even conducted a live Periscope broadcast from the Jelly! I also found out about an active Facebook page for local businesses in St Albans and about other Jelly and networking events. Tapping into this local knowledge was extremely useful and something that can be hard to come by at translation events.

The only downside to the morning I spent at the event was that I only got about half the amount of work done that I would normally have achieved. I think this was partly because it was the first Jelly I had attended and I was keen to get to know people. There would have been little point in going if I had just tapped away on my laptop all morning without speaking to anyone! Should you decide to go along to a Jelly near you, I would recommend having an admin day rather than taking along a translation you really need to focus on or working to meet a deadline, as it can be difficult to concentrate. That said, perhaps I have just got too used to the silence!

What about you? Do you attend co-working events? Is there anything similar on offer where you live? Let us know in the comments below.

For those interested in a more regular co-working arrangement, take a look at Claire Harmer’s blog post on the subject from back in April.