International Translation Day 2015, held at the British Library, opened with buzzing euphoria. It is rare for a single book, let alone a translation, to generate such widespread excitement across the publishing industry. Joel Dicker’s thriller, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, published in 2012 by 87-year-old veteran, Bernard de Fallois, became the most talked-about French novel of the decade. Christopher MacLehose, the publisher behind Stieg Larsson, made an offer a few weeks before the Frankfurt book fair − pre-empting a stampede of publishers bidding for the rights to translate the novel into 35 other languages. Novels by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard and Turkish Wunderkind, Orhan Pamuk − agented by Andrew ‘the Jackal’ Wylie − are likely to be hot properties at this year’s Frankfurt book fair. And Scandi-Crime continues to be hugely popular.
Translators and their publishers are a bridge between worlds . . . between writers abroad and readers at home. Judging by the throng of professionals attending International Translation Day 2015 held at the British Library − the waiting list to get in was long and many were turned away – translation continues to be The Next Big Thing & Getting Bigger, as it rises in popularity and visibility. The insularity of certain mainstream sectors of the book trade come across as increasingly old-skool elitist like politicians quaffing Dom Perignon in the Westminster bar.
Journalist and broadcaster, Alex Clark, chaired the opening panel discussion. A new generation of readers and digital mavens are welcoming unusual voices and different perspectives, in part as a reaction to over-hyped mediocre genre fiction. Translated fiction by unknown authors is cool; reading it and carrying a translated book around is a badge of honour. Readers are playing an active role in the selection and commissioning of translated books into English. Publishers are working to create engaged and vibrant reading communities. Readers’ groups offer their own verdicts on prize lists.
Anna Jean Hughes, a founder and the editorial director of @ThePigeonholeHQ, ‘the book club in your pocket’, was passionate about serialization and ways to build an online conversation for new writing in bite-size chunks. Will Rycroft, community manager for @VintageBooks, is an avid reader and book blogger, and so was spotted and snapped up by Random House. His success promoting classics on twitter shows how ‘there is an appetite for great books . . . and a core group of people who want something different, with a twist, opening them up to a different culture.’ The way to go with books and readers is gamification: narrative games lead readers into new compulsively readable magical worlds using elements from video games – translation lends itself especially well to this approach.
Gaby Wood, until recently books editor at The Telegraph, is now Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation. Only Commonwealth, Irish and Zimbabwean citizens were eligible to receive The Booker, (first awarded in 1969), however in 2013 its remit was widened to any English language novel, so American writers are now on board. The Man Booker International Prize was inaugurated in 2005 and is awarded biennially. She aims to bring new perspectives to the table. Good translations are like good food: full of world flavours and new tastes. The literary pages of the press and what is being covered are being cut back, and ‘Features’ only focus on big known names – so the field is open to new initiatives.
Since there are not enough reviews of foreign literature in English this leaves space for the likes of the European Literature Network, created by Rosie Goldsmith, former BBC broadcaster, linguist and book lover. She recently wrote in an email, ‘Initially the “big reviews” of “big names in foreign literature” will be aimed at drawing attention to the site as somewhere “different” – in other words genuine and freely critical, from the reviewer where due, underpinned by passion and conviction. Reviews are becoming too formulaic, impersonal and often dry, so more along ‘opinionated’ lines!’ You can reach Rosie and read about the new venture #RivetingReviews via her website eurolitnetwork. She has found success with European Literature Night so this latest venture is bound to do well.
Seminars and workshops covered a range of topics, including: ‘How to launch a career in literary translation’ with Rosalind Harvey and Ruth Martin from the Emerging Translators Network; ‘Translator in residence schemes’ with Lucy Greaves, former Translator in Residence at Free Word and Anne Caldwell, Programme Director at the National Association of Writers in Education; ‘Selling translated literatures’ with Jonathan Ruppin, Web Editor at Foyles and Sheila O’Reilly, owner of Dulwich Books, Chaired by Miriam Robinson, Marketing and Events Consultant and former Head of Marketing at Foyles; ‘Framing translation’ with Marilyn Booth discussing the challenges facing translators in crossing the cultural and historical divide that may separate their readers from the original text . . . ‘Pitch perfect plus’ . . . ‘What is multimedia translation?’ . . . ‘Fifty years of Modern Poetry in Translation’ . . .
Advisors from Creative Europe were on hand to offer tips to publishers applying for funding of up to €100,000 for the Literary Translation of European titles, (those who missed out can email: Creative.Europe@britishcouncil.org). And the Society of Authors gave an informal session discussing the nuts and bolts of translators’ publishing contracts.
The Finale was a fun session about translation and the theatre, ‘From Page to stage,’ including actor readings as though at a rehearsal. Chaired by Chris Campbell, Literary Manager at the Royal Court.
We went off with a goodie bag full of flyers, The Linguist Magazine, and news about a couple of competitions. Asymptote Journal’s translation contest ‘Close Approximations’ is open to submissions – deadline: 15 December, 2015. And the ELN PEN Samples Translation Pitch part of the 2016 European Literature Night (ELN) series – is now open to all translators living in the UK, or in mainland Europe, who have an author whose work they are proposing to translate into English and develop for publication. Submissions deadline: 7 December, 2015. It has a whiff of the #XFactor to it – albeit way less botoxed, Barbie-dolled and banal – since the top six shortlisted translators will compete for the Best Pitch by presenting their project live to an audience and a jury of publishing professionals chaired by Granta Books senior editor Max Porter, who will vote to determine the winner.
The day as a whole was a collaborative venture put together by a merry band of brothers: Free Word, English PEN, the British Library, British Centre for Literary Translation, Emerging Translators Network, Literature Across Frontiers, Translators’ Association, Wales Literature Exchange, Words Without Borders and Writers’ Centre Norwich. Chapeau les gars!
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