The importance of reading translated fiction is well-known – it allows readers to explore new literary worlds, learn about different cultures and uncover new pioneers of fiction. But what is the process of translating fiction into English like? And what should we – as budding publishers – keep in mind when working with translators?
A few evenings ago, I was lucky to attend the in-person event ‘An Evening in Translation’ hosted by Bruntsfield-based The Edinburgh Bookshop. Chair of the discussion, Italian-Scottish author/poet Anne Pia was joined by French to English translator, Vineet Lal and Norwegian to English translator Kari Dickson. Beginning with short introductions and readings from all three guests, Anne opened the discussion by asking Vineet and Kari how they came to be translators and why they wanted to work in the role. Both guests suggested they had gradual, indirect paths into the industry, first beginning in other occupations and then completing a Masters in Translation before picking up literary translation work.
Reflecting on their path in becoming a translator, Vineet commented on how translations required within academia are different to literary translations, as academia employs a more technical than creative approach. Translation for Vineet is not translating word for word or tense for tense, but, as Anne beautifully summarises, ‘stepping outside the text…to bring it alive.’
Kari explained that her primary loyalty is to the story and the writing style, agreeing with Vineet that she may shift sentences around or change tenses, to suit the British audience. In describing how she once switched out a Norwegian Hymn for nursery rhyme ‘The Teddy Bears’ Picnic’, Kari suggested that such vast changes can be justified if they serve the same function for the story as the similar component in the original text. Of course, such changes must be approved by the publisher or author. Yet, both Kari and Vineet commented on how author/translator relationships do differ from project to project.
Creative freedom, then, is key to the translating process. But what can publishers do to support translators in re-producing excellent texts? Discussing the recent #TranslatorsOnTheCover campaign launched on International Translation Day (30th September) by author Mark Haddon and translator and author Jennifer Croft, the translators were asked about the significance of where their name is cited within their translated work. Whilst recognising the role the campaign could have in providing the translator a literary profile, Vineet and Kari also suggested that further support is needed from the publishing industry in terms of renumeration. Without agents, translators are left to negotiate their own contracts and are often only given the baseline rate. Vineet mentioned how many contracts do not include fixed royalty payments for translators, and Kari highlighted that many translators only receive royalties once (and if) the book earns out. Indeed, a translator’s efforts should not be overlooked or undervalued – it seems the very least that publishers can do is place the translators name on the cover.
This event was a reminder that translated fiction is not just producing an exact copy of a text – whilst it is the author’s story, the translator’s own artistic style will permeate onto the page, and ultimately an adapted product emerges. Translators should be given more recognition and renumeration from the industry for their craft and creativity, and the key role they play in bringing new works of outstanding fiction to the UK market.