Thursday, 12 March 2009

Choosing your own translations

One thing that would be interesting to know is what proportion of translators from Nordic languages into English choose their own translations of literary works.

Many translations seem to be commissioned by publishers. And the initial impulse for the publisher has come from perhaps a talk with a foreign publisher, a representative of a national book promotion agency, or a literary agent, at a book fair. I can understand that crime novels travel by this route, but what about general fiction and poetry?

How many translators as such have the clout to persuade a British or American publisher to take on board a book that they, the translator, have identified?


David McDuff said...

Eric, this is another of those questions which require translators to "reveal all" - something they are never going to do. :-)

In my own case, I can say that while my translations of the complete poems of Edith Södergran and Karin Boye (both in Bloodaxe) were entirely self-prompted (i.e. I was not commissioned to do them, and they were personal projects of my own), other translations of mine were initiated by a mixture of commissioning and personal interest.

Reg / Steve said...

(I typed a comment and hit 'preview', and it disappeared...hmm.)

Eric Dickens said...

I'm doubly cautious. Technology can sink enthusiasm, when your winged comments vanish for good. So I block and save things I write here before pressing any buttons that could preview, post or eradicate them.

If you save your comments yourself, it means more effort. But it also means that you do not lose your text. [I've just done this 30 seconds ago.] No technology is perfect. So back-ups are essential.

Reg said...

Dear Eric,

Great idea. Sign us up, we'll definitely contribute.

See also my new blog at

Our lists of works can be found in English Wikipedia under

Tiina Nunnally
Steven T. Murray

P.S. Thanks for the tip, I'm rather new to blogging. But I think I wanted to say that I do alert my editors to books I think might do well in the US or UK, but haven't convinced any yet. I did try to hype Stieg Larsson back when I was doing the translations for Yellow Bird to use with their (then UK) screenwriter, but to no avail. Kudos to Christopher Maclehose & Quercus for picking up the trilogy.

David McDuff said...

Thanks for your feedback, Steve. I'm sorry your first comment got "lost". I've made an adjustment to the way the comment boxes are shown (before they were embedded in the posts, but now they are shown in a pop-up box), and hopefully that will fix the problem that people have been having. If you find that the comments are still not working properly, please let us know.

Best wishes,


Eric Dickens said...

Yes, Reg-Steve, I've learnt from the Russians - agitatsiya i propaganda. In other words, you've got to tell people you're there, and attempt to change things. Not by bloody revolution, however, but by persuasion. In the West great energies are put into selling you things by way of advertising and marketing, but less effort merely to raise people's awareness of cultural artefacts, on a non-commercial basis.

To pick up on David's point, I don't think that translators should "reveal all". I have had my good and bad experiences promoting my own pet books, or taking on commissions from others, but the negotiations should not be discussed on a public forum.

I did indeed, fairly recently, translate a book of Danish WWII memoirs, when I was desperate for the money. But, as it happened, I greatly enjoyed doing the work, as it opened a whole new window on people-smuggling (then a heroic activity over to Swedish safety) and how you sabotage a factory belonging to those who collaborate with the enemy. A few sticks of explosives work wonders. The unpleasant part is when you get caught and sentenced to underground work in the literal sense, assembling German bombers in a huge cave (Porta Westphalica). The author, a medical student at the time, survived and wrote his memoirs decades later.