Sam Taylor Translator Interview

sam taylor translator interview book blast

BookBlast interview with award-winning translator, Sam Taylor

Sam Taylor, tell us a little bit about yourself
I grew up in England, worked as a journalist on The Observer for eight years, moved to France and wrote four novels, then translated my first novel (Laurent Binet’s HHhH) in 2010. Two years later, I moved to the US, where I now divide my time between writing and translating.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
The Lord of the Rings is the first book I remember loving. I was a big Italo Calvino (tr. William Weaver) fan as a teenager, Baron in the Trees in particular. I’ve always been attracted to fairytale-like stories that have aspects of the real world but also some magical difference.

How did your career as a translator come about?
Around 2009, I realized I could no longer make a living as a novelist, so I tried to think what else I could do to support my family. I was living in remote rural France, so journalism was out, but by then I could speak French fluently. So I asked my agent how I could become a literary translator. She put me in touch with editor Rebecca Carter (then at Harvill Secker), who advised me to write reader reports on French novels for UK publishers. The first one I wrote, luckily, was about HHhH.

To what extent was your work as a journalist at The Observer helpful training for a would-be translator and writer?
I was a sub-editor as well as a writer at The Observer. In general terms, I would say that working as a sub was very useful, because it taught me the art of editing text. But when I wrote my first novel, I had to unlearn most of what I’d learned writing 800-word articles for newspapers.

What was the most challenging part of translating your first work, HHhH?
Finding the confidence to write in fluent English, rather than slipping into Translatorese – that hybrid language produced by trying too hard to stay faithful to the rhythms and syntax of the original.

How important is the relationship between author and translator?
It depends. I don’t always have a lot of interaction with the author. The most important element in the relationship is trust.

What are you most proud of translating?
I’m going to cheat by naming two books: The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal, because it was mind-meltingly dense and difficult, but also beautiful and rewarding – and it won two translation awards.
In Paris With You by Clémentine Beauvais, because it’s the most “mine” of any translation I’ve done. It’s a novel in verse, and I loved the freedom that Clémentine gave me, I loved playing with rhymes and rhythms, and I really enjoyed the collaborative nature of the work. It was a lot of fun.

How involved are you in the promotion of the books you translate? Your views on how new technology and social media have (or have not) impacted books in translation and your working life as a translator?
I rarely do promotional work – just the odd interview like this one – and I don’t really use social media. My working life would be a lot harder and less portable without the internet!

What are you working on at the moment — be it as a translator, or as a writer, or both!
I just finished the fourth and (I hope!) final draft of my next novel. (I wrote the first draft back in 2010, so it’s taken me a while!) The next book I’ll translate is La chaleur by Victor Jestin. After that, I have the new Laurent Binet novel, the new Leila Slimani novel, the new Riad Sattouff book, and a couple of others lined up.

Has the perception of books in translation in both the book trade and the Media changed during the time you have worked as a translator?
It seems to have become a bit more heralded, more visible. The International Booker is a big part of that.

Is winning a Translation Prize important and why?
It was important to me, particularly the French-American Translation Prize because that is actually a prize (judged by other French-English translators) based on the quality of the translation rather than just the overall quality of the book. I never studied translation at university (or even French in school), so I think I had a bit of Impostor Syndrome until I received that award.

Your views on success?
I have to admit I still dream of writing a bestselling, prize-winning novel. But I’ve now reached a point in my life where I know I’ll continue to be happy and fulfilled even if that doesn’t happen.

A translator recreates the world of the writer in language. Since you became a writer yourself, how has each role proved beneficial to the other?
I think the two occupations are nicely complementary. Being a writer obviously helps me as a translator because the most important part of the job is writing well in English. Being a translator has enabled me to inhabit a vast variety of other prose styles and sensibilities in a deeper way than can be achieved just by reading them. It also makes a pleasant break from writing, which is more difficult (but also more rewarding) in the sense that it is all up to you. As a translator, you are following someone else’s tracks. There are still a thousand ways you could go wrong, but not an infinite number as there are when you’re writing a novel!

Your chief fault?

Your chief characteristic?
As a translator? Fluidity, I hope.

Five favourite novels?
The Time Traveler’s Wife; The Count of Monte Cristo; The Secret History; The Talented Mr Ripley; The Magus.

Five favourite writers translated into English?
Italo Calvino; Jorge Luis Borges; Fyodor Dostoyevsky; Franz Kafka; Hubert Mingarelli.

Five favourite feature films?
Memento; The Wizard of Oz; Pulp Fiction; Donnie Darko; Peter Pan.

Five favourite musicians or bands?
Lana del Rey; Greg Dulli; Massive Attack; The Sound; Radiohead.

Your bedside reading?
The Ventriloquists by E.R. Ramzipoor and The Overstory by Richard Powers

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About Georgia de Chamberet 377 Articles
Bilingual editor, rewriter, anthologist, French-to-English translator. Has written for 3am magazine, words without borders, The Independent, The Lady, Banipal, Prospect Magazine, Times Literary Supplement. Currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Founder (1997) of London-based writing agency BookBlast.