Interview | Frank Wynne | Translator of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Sligo, Ireland and while I was a good student, and a precociously gifted musician, I did very little to maximize my talents. I went to Trinity College Dublin to study English and Philosophy, but as a young gay man just coming out (in a conservative, deeply Catholic country), I feel in love, slipped off the radar and left university without finishing my degree. It was the end of my first real relationship that prompted me to move to Paris (to a country and a city I have never visited, with rudimentary secondary-school French that I had never been called on to speak aloud). From there, a series of curious but fortunate accidents led to me translating bandes dessinées, working as a publishers’ reader and finally, in 1998, embarking on my first literary translation. So, while I am passionate about languages, and cannot imagine anything more fulfilling than literary translation, I can hardly claim that I had a career path, or worked towards it. In fact, it never occurred to me that I would be “allowed” to translate novels, assuming vaguely that such herculean feats were reserved for some rarefied species.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
From a very early age, I was a voracious reader – not that our house was filled with books or my parents were particularly bookish, but I haunted the local library and read anything and everything I could lay hands on. My early reading tastes were probably no different to any boy of my generation: C.S. Lewis, Emil and the Detectives, Richmal Crompton and later Tolkien, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein and A.E. Van Vogt. By my teens, I was reading Joyce and Woolf and Dostoevsky (I was idiotically precocious, and my reading of them was through a glass darkly) and marvelling at what words could do, how they could create worlds, affect moods, inspire thoughts, mould dreams. I was determined to be a writer. I wrote my first (truly awful) novel at about fourteen, my second (modernist, sub-Salinger) novel at about sixteen. Thankfully, neither has survived to embarrass me. Books, for me were both a world, and an escape from the world.

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Spotlight | Beauty Victims at Le Palace | 3:AM Magazine 2005

An early article, Beauty Victims at Le Palace by Georgia de Chamberet for 3:am magazine (2005) from the BookBlast™ Archive.

During a recent trip to Paris, I mentioned to various French publishers that in the UK, nostalgia for the underground  movements of the last thirty years is grace jones le palace bookblastflourishing. Yet despite the outpouring of books, films, documentaries, compilation CDs and exhibitions like the Vivienne Westwood, it is obvious to me that one side of the London-New York-Paris “golden triangle” has been overlooked. Between artists there is always a cross-fertilisation of ideas, and the effect of the Parisian underground remains influential. Grace Jones learned devices for subversive performance during her time at Fabrice Emaer’s legendary club, Le Palace — the Studio 54 of its day — and Madonna was backup singer and dancer for disco star Patrick Hernandez when his hit “Born To Be Alive” went global.

I argued that people who enjoy reading, and relish the likes of Michael Bracewell, Ben Myers, Jeff Noon and Robert Elms should be given a chance to check out their French counterparts. But I was told by the French publishers that English publishers are not interested in a certain type of French culture, and translation is seen as a risky venture, so to pitch offbeat or outrageous books considered to have limited sales potential would be a waste of time. Bonjour tristesse. From idea to bookstore the reader comes last in a long line of corporate decision-makers, in a game of blind man’s bluff. Continue reading Spotlight | Beauty Victims at Le Palace | 3:AM Magazine 2005