A life in publishing, with literary translation a recurrent theme

I have worked as an editor, translator, writer, anthologist and promoter of translations with a brief interim as a literary agent for nearly thirty years. During that time, publishing translated books has gone from being a no-go un-commercial niche sector of trade publishing to a boom not bust success story.

Despite the need for stronger Media coverage and cooperation strategies for the promotion of translations, research released by Nielsen in 2019 indicates that translated fiction in the UK market grew by 5.5 percent from 2001 to 2016.

Today, the Brexit factor means that people are even more keen to read good new writing from other countries. A welcome change from the 1990s! At the start of my publishing career working as a bilingual editor with Stephen Pickles at the now defunct Quartet Books, I published in English for the first time: Annie Ernaux (Nobel Prize, 2022), Simon Leys (Independent Foreign Fiction Award, 1992), Daniel Pennac, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Gisèle Pineau and many others. I was derided for being an idealistic risk-taker.

Why is editing a translation so important?

Nowadays not many editors proficient in other languages work in-house for sizeable UK-US publishing houses. So even though the economics of publishing are getting tougher, freelance editors fluent with aptitude in one or more languages are in demand.

After all a translator is a writer: s/he creates a new text in their native language from a source text in a different tongue. Over and beyond ensuring accuracy and consistency, flow and readability, cultural cohesion and coherence, so that the final text is the best overall quality possible, it is essential to ensure that the translated text is true to the source and that no changes in meaning and intent have been introduced.

Podcast interview with the National Centre for Writing in Norwich about the value of editing

They work with early-career and established literary translators and run a fantastic mentoring programme.

From publishing to agenting: literary translation remains a theme

In 1997 I founded BookBlast® Ltd with a  couple of friends, our mission being to foster cultural understanding by breaking or relaunching quality writing and myriad voices from around the world into the mainstream.

At the time Philip Gwyn Jones was heading up an imprint at HarperCollins. So I edited XCiTés: the Flamingo Book of New French Writing for him, to showcase a new generation of French writers unpublished and unknown in English at the time, Frédéric Beigbeder, Tonino Benacquista, Virginie Despentes, Michel Houellebecq, Abdourahman Waberi among them.

Interview with Francine Stock on 5 July 1999 for BBC Radio 4, Front Row, about XCiTés, 

Since then freelancing has led to all kinds of adventures at home and abroad, from editing French-to-English translations and writing reader’s reports for publishers, to  troubleshooting “stuck” projects (most notably the memoirs of Claude Lanzmann for Gallimard/Atlantic UK), or rewriting and ghostwriting (a trip to Outer Mongolia being about the best gig ever!), as well as Francophone copy editing and  working as a mentor and a consultant.

Working at the kitchen table with French former professional footballer, Louis Saha, on his memoirs, Thinking Inside The Box: Reflections on Life as a Premier League Footballer, shortlisted for the 2012 FSF Book of the Year.

Trade publishers and authors can join forces with me here at BookBlast to create books from French into English (confirmation of ownership of the translation rights is a prerequisite).

Recent translations include:
The Disappearance of Josef Mengele by Olivier Guez (Verso); A Restless Man: Portrait of an Artist, a Son, a Madman by Gérard Garouste with Judith Perrignon (Galérie Templon, Paris); A Call for Revolution by The Dalai Lama & Sofia Stril-Rever (Rider, Penguin Random House Group); Thinking Inside the Box by Louis Saha (Vision Sports).

Testimonials

Associate Publisher, MacLehose Press — “We are very happy with the work you have done on Nathacha Appanah’s Tropic of Violence.”
Boyd Tonkin, Independent — “Louis Saha is now published in English thanks to a flavourful, idiomatic translation by Georgia de Chamberet … Packed with frankness, insight and self-knowledge … The book shines with candour, modesty and intelligence.”
Foreign rights and Acquisitions, Les Arènes — “Your translation work is perfect and your rates are compatible with those of other British translators. Your work is impeccable!”
Grasset & Fasquelle, Paris — “The text which you edited for us is perfect. You’ve done a great job and can be proud of yourself.”
Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph — “On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life is edited with affection and grace by de Chamberet [. . .] a deliciously readable monument to a writer who combined a steely resilience and capacity for hard work with an elegant frivolity and a voracious appetite for love, beauty and adventure.”
your lovely translation.

Writers make national literature, while translators make universal literature

Promoting translation has included being a founder committee member back in 2005 of PEN Writers in Translation alongside Susie Nicklin, Julian Evans and others; writing for the likes of 3:AM Magazine and Words Without Borders; judging the 2018 Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation; and of course showcasing new books in translation, and interviewing leading and emerging translators for the BookBlast Diary.

Find out more about translation in practice, in my A to Z of Literary Translation, originally published by Words without Borders.

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