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Interview with Scheherezade Surià - February 2016

Interview with Scheherezade Surià - February 2016 - Algo para traducir

 1. Scheherezade, we know that you are a renowned and recognised translator and that you have loved languages ever since you were a little girl. It is that passion that compelled you to enter into this profession which lives on and strengthens every one of your clients, your professional colleagues and your pupils? What do you think is the secret ingredient (or at least one of them) to help you not give up when starting to work as a freelance translator?  

Undoubtedly passion is what gives you strength when you feel saturated by work or in times of work overload. With how lonely this profession can be and the difficulties you face in organising your work, you need to be passionate about what you do. In fact, the idea of creating a blog and a Twitter account came from wanting to share these small (or big) things about the profession that perhaps only we understand.

Other ingredients are perseverance and patience. You have to knock on many doors at first, fill in a lot of forms, send a lot of emails and take lots of translation tests, but little by little everything comes together. It is difficult to create a client base and then you have to work hard to maintain it. I sometimes think that our profession is a demanding lover in this way and like any relationship you have to look after it every day.


2. From what is heard or what can be seen on both your web page www.las1001traducciones.com, and your blog enlalunadebabel.wordpress.com, you have a very versatile profile within the field of translation and interpreting: you actively write your blog; you give talks, classes and interviews; and you dedicate yourself to literary and audiovisual translation (something that I will be leaving over there...). How do you manage to balance everything? And more importantly how do you manage to do everything well? 

 If the underlying question is if I use time travel, no I’m afraid not and if I did I wouldn't tell you either. No, honestly, I think it’s a question of preparing yourself mentally. With work I try to be very aware of deadlines so I can meet them and not rush everything at last minute, although I don’t always manage it. I also consider the blog and social networking part of my work and for this reason I try to update everything regularly. Luckily the content can be left ready and waiting and it's perfectly possible to get the work and the more social part off the ground.

I always try to find time for the talks and interviews, although it is difficult sometimes, as it has been recently, because - luckily, and I’m not complaining - I have a lot of work. I always say it’s an honour to be invited to translation conferences and talks because, despite the fact that I am so present in social networks, I consider myself more of a worker of translation.

 About what you said about doing everything well, well, I try. There are always going to be people criticising, as with everything, but with passion for what you do, excitement for sharing and wanting to help, you can achieve many things. And if I have any tips for this, well, there would be two: to give myself a deadline and write everything down. Otherwise, it’s easy for me to forget so many things.


3. Referring to your blog in particular enlalunadebabel.wordpress.com, what led you to actively publish issues related to language and foreign languages and for that matter about translation and interpreting? You have a special  something for certain issues which may be considered controversial or taboo, depending on who read them, without hurting anyone's feelings and what's more, you go straight to the point without beating around the bush. What drives you to write about or choose the issue? 

 I started the blog in 2011 after finishing my Master's Degree in audiovisual translation (UAB). A professor gave us a few pointers about employment and that was one of her recommendations. I started to mull over the topic and I came to the conclusion that it would be good to share things that happened to me at work with others, the difficulties that I found and the linguistic matters that you can’t speak to my friends about, only translators. (Well, you can speak about those things of course but you get more excited or certain matters stir you up more than them… and you end up boring them to tears).

 When dealing with the topics, I always try to tread carefully for several reasons. Firstly, because I don't have the whole truth about everything and I’m not an expert on all topics either; I simply give my vision of things according to what I have found when translating, for example. I also think that respect is essential, whatever you do or whatever you write. In that sense and generally we often talk about translation mistakes but we don't know the context of that assignment, the conditions that the translator had to work under or how many other people have already looked at the translation of the film or book, etc. 

 Choosing the topic depends on multiple factors. I have a list where I write down the articles that I would like to write (advice to help find work in translation publishing houses, fansubs, typical beginners’ mistakes, cultural references to novels, chick lit, etc.) and then there are the ideas that come to you just after you read a news article or because of something that you have randomly found.  Languages and translation are the driving force but the reflections often go beyond. In this sense I don't have a SEO strategy or anything similar either, I always write about what I would like to read.


4. As you know, at www.algoparatraducir.com we want to bring groups together that are so close and sometimes so far apart from the same world, those who love writing and dedicate themselves to translation, writing books or publishing. What do you think is the current situation in Spain (and abroad if you know about the case of another country) regarding literary translation? Do you think that there is a certain understanding from the beginning of a professional relationship or alternatively, in order to establish one do you have to break ice which seems like wrought iron?  

It is often said that it is difficult to find work in literary translation in Spain and that's a reality. The publishers quite often already have reliable translators whose translations they trust, but you always have a chance. Besides, in the last couple of years many independent publishing houses have popped up and you never know. That's why it's recommendable to always keep your finger on the pulse regarding what’s published, even though that might mean going directly to the bookshops.

Having overcome this first “obstacle” you obviously have to negotiate to get the appropriate fees and conditions as well.  The deadlines are usually very short for the attention that you need to pay to the text and the earnings don't usually compensate. Unfortunately, not all the publishing houses give in, but there we are, you've got to try.


5. As translators and writers, we believe that literary translation plays an important role on a cultural, social and even educational level, what’s your opinion on this? 

That's how it is, without a doubt. And not only literary translation, let's think about the large amount of translated journalistic articles for example. They bring unknown realities to us or ones that we are not fully aware of. But yes, published translation, as it transfers thoughts and the sociocultural background of an author, knowledge of a determined context, it can't do anything else other than enrich us. And I’m not only talking about highbrow literature, which is clear, but also what others call “airport novels”. I think that you can always learn from everything to a greater or lesser extent.


6. The percentage or translated books in Spain is high, if I’m not wrong, it is around 60% of books published. In fact, unlike the United Kingdom, which distinguishes between literature and literature in translation, for us everything is literature. When we go to a bookshop or a library we don't usually ask, “excuse me, where is the translated books section?” What's more, as it is known, the fees for literary translation are some of the lowest. What do you think is the reason for this situation? It's not less important nor easier than other types of translation. 

The occasional reader surely doesn't pay attention to the translation, it’s as if it doesn't exist. Sometimes I think that many people think that it's done by a machine… or some little pixies. Somebody who reads a lot may be more aware, but even then, as you say, no, they don't ask and they're not interested in the translation unless they are very involved in the subject. Luckily on the other hand, translated books and non translated books coexist equally in bookshops and libraries.

And yes, they are low compared to all the work they involve. You earn more translating a technical manual of two hundred pages than a novel of the same length. I suppose that they use it as an excuse that what we earn for a translated book is considered a type of advance which will then be earned in sales, even though the translators doesn't usually earn any profits from that book unless it is a best seller, as it was for example for the Fifty Shades trilogy. Of course, for the work it involves, it should be better paid.


7. Books are known because of their authors, however, in countries with a language different to the author, they are known thanks to the work of the translators. Instead of asking you about your favourite author, who is your favourite literary translator?  Why? What is the most famous book he has translated? 

My favourite translator? Miguel Sáenz, without a shadow of a doubt. For me he is an authentic gentleman of translation, especially for having translated the greats such as Kafka, Faulkner, Rushdie and Grass. I have translated great works and books of great importance, but I’m sticking with the translation of The neverending story because of purely emotional motives and it was my bedtime story when I was a child (and even more so after seeing how little justice they did with the film). And of course also because of the difficulties that the book entailed, with so many cultural references, neologisms and terminological inventions, rhymes, etc.

Furthermore, Sáenz is the author of one the best quotes that I have read about translation. “Translation is the most attentive and intense way to read; is also gives the pleasure of writing without the pain of having to create something totally new”.


8. Regarding the previous question and our profession, what do you think are the appropriate qualities to be or become an excellent literary translator? 

Read a lot and have a good pen. You have to defend yourself well with your writing, have both good cultural experience and curiosity in equal parts. Each book is a different world and sometimes you have to get into them with a helmet and good binoculars to read between the lines well. Each book is a new adventure that you have to discover and it makes you learn very different things every time, even though it doesn't look like that in the beginning.

Something more specific? Knowing how to evaluate and also daring to deviate from the text. Perhaps in a technical translation there are more repetitions and you have to adhere to the text more, but in a novel, a story you must dare to vary, to respect the author and at the same time make the narration sound so fluid and natural that nobody would say that it is a translation. You have to ensure that they can't see the seams of the original language in our translated piece.


9. We know that translations age. Do you think that this happens more or less frequently in literary translations? Do you think they can survive for longer? Should they be translated again, or transcribed from time to time? 

It seems to me that recently things are retranslated more for commercial reasons and not because of simple ageing of the translation. Personally, I like to read old novels that have been translated a long time ago and that can leave that aftertaste of times past. For me it's good enough for the original translation to prevail and I don't consider that a great work needs to be revised once in a while.  It is good to compare versions later, of course, because they are different ways of reading, understanding and transferring the text, but I don't consider it to be necessary.

And as for the translations themselves, for as much care you put into not using localisms or expressions that could go out of fashion at the drop of a hat, in every age and place more and more terms than others are used and it is inevitable that they leave footprints. However, you have to think that happens with the original work, that it is written and framed in its time.


10. Finally, I’m going to ask you to give me some advice or if not at least a suggestion, for a fledgling translator and a translator that has been translating for some time. To make it a little easier, let's concentrate on literary translators. 

This might sound like a truism, but my advice is work and don't stop learning and do all of this without loosing your patience. Patience for those who start but don't end up seeing the light, because if you keep on knocking on doors, if you prepare materials to present to publishing houses, if you don't let the negative comments demotivate you (”Literary translation is a very closed world”) everything will come together. Not everything is rosy but it's not as bad as it seems.

To those colleagues who have already been working for a while, be patient when those times of less work come around too, because you already know that this is like a rollercoaster. And the desire to continue improving, read a lot and learn about what is going on in the world of translation, we aren't in an ivory tower and there are always thousands of things to learn to keep on improving.

Mª Carmen de Bernardo Martínez

Translated by Sinead Rowley-Smith

Interview with Alison Layland - September 2015

Interview with Alison Layland - September 2015 - Algo para traducir

 1. You didn’t choose to work as a translator from the beginning, but translation was your “first love”. Why did you change your mind after your first jobs non-related to the linguistic field?

My degree was in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic paired with Modern Languages. As it was not directly translation-related I had no proper advice about how to get into translation, so initially pursued a completely different career, in surveying. After a few years in the profession I had the opportunity of voluntary redundancy and, with that opportunity and having gained several years of business experience, by then I felt confident to set up as a freelance translator, which I have now been doing successfully for about 20 years.


2. What was the most difficult when starting as a freelance translator?

It was partly a question of confidence, and partly making contacts and getting work. It took a few years to establish a network of clients – I work mainly for translation agencies in my commercial translation work – but once I had, I found that based on good work done for people, I soon had as much work as I could handle, if not more. My experience as a surveyor initially enabled me to offer building, architecture and law-related subjects as a specialisation, and at first my translation work was mainly commercial. Over the years I have succeeded in doing an increasing percentage of literary translation as well as my own fiction writing.


3. What would you advise to new translators who want to start in this field?

I’d say it’s a question of perseverance, having confidence in your skills and establishing as many contacts as possible. Think of your specialist knowledge and skills and use those as a way of selling yourself. There are some great networks among translators, as it’s a largely freelance profession, and I have always found translator colleagues to be extremely helpful and supportive.


4. Translators and interpreters’ roles are sometimes confused outside the translation and interpreting sector. Do you believe a stereotype about translators (or interpreters) has been created?

I’m not sure about stereotypes, but certainly what we do often needs explaining – both the difference between translation and interpreting, and also that most translators (myself included) usually work from the foreign language into their native language. We often have to explain the nature of the way we charge for our work, and the fact that a firm quote cannot always be given, particularly for a more unusual text or request, without first examining the text thoroughly.


5. Someone Else´s Conflict is your first published novel. What was your motivation to write it? Do you have in mind to write another one?

I began writing fiction about fifteen years ago, as an indirect result of moving to Wales and learning the Welsh language. The novel itself was inspired by my love of oral storytelling (the main character is a storyteller) and an increasing fascination with the Balkans and the culture and recent history of the region, which forms the back story. I wanted to feature aspects of the conflict in Croatia which are little known in the UK, as it was the concurrent war in Bosnia that caught most of the attention at the time here.

I am currently starting on a second novel and hope to make writing fiction a career alongside literary translation.


6. In your opinion, what are the issues for foreign publishers in order to have an interest in translating your book?

My knowledge of the publishing market is at present limited to what I have learned since the publication of my own novel, so I have little knowledge of the issues foreign publishers may face. To date, the novel has been well received in the UK, and although most of the story takes place in present-day England, I hope that the back story in Croatia gives it a more international appeal.


7. Do you believe there is a hidden writer´s soul in every translator? What´s the difference you feel when writing against translating?

I’m a great believer that in order to translate well, it is as important as understanding the source language to be able to write well in your target language. A literary translation is a piece of writing and a work in its own right, even though it’s the original writer’s words you are conveying. Therefore, every literary translator is also an author. Many literary translators do also write themselves, though this isn’t and needn’t be the case.

When I’m translating a work of fiction I feel involved with the characters and story, although it’s not as intense or obsessive a relationship as with the characters and story in my own work, because the characters and plot are already there, already created. I’m not an actor, but I imagine that translating fiction feels a little like an actor performing a role, in contrast to the playwright who wrote it. Both bring something of themselves to the finished performance. Alternatively, I could say that translating fiction feels a little like when I’m working on the second draft of a novel of my own.


8. As translators and writers, we believe that literature in translation plays a very important role in culture, society and education. What do you think about it?

Literature is a very immediate opportunity to learn about different cultures, to immerse yourself and feel involved, to get insights that are different from those of your own country. Being able to read literature from around the world helps to break down borders and promote understanding. Translation is the way to make the great variety of literature from around the world accessible to everyone, regardless of what language they speak.


9. There are several prizes in the Anglo-Saxon world (Marsh Award for Children´s Literature in Translation, Gulf Coast Prize in Translation, Popescu Prize, etc.) to boost foreign literature in translation into English. Besides the fact that the percentage of literature in translation in the UK is around 4 %, to what extent do you think these measures are encouraging literature in translation?

I think that in a crowded, competitive domestic market, anything that raises the profile of literature in translation has got to be a good thing. I feel that translated literature is still rather overlooked in the UK, but things are changing slowly, and awards and prizes can only help the process, as well as giving a much-needed boost to individual translators’ careers.


10. What do you think about the future of translation? And about the future of literature in translation?

Some people are worried that phenomena such as machine translation may eventually spell the end of human translation as a career. I don’t believe this at all – as I said above, the ability to write well is essential to good translation, both commercial and literary, and it will be a long time, if ever, before artificial intelligence can “think” creatively enough to achieve that. It may be increasingly competitive, but there will always be a place for good translators.

As for literature in translation, the patterns are changing. I hope that globalisation and ever-increasing awareness are leading to an increased demand among readers for translated literature. In a crowded publishing market it may be a while before the traditional publishers pay more attention to translated literature, but small presses who focus on quality literary translation, often using subscription or crowd-funding methods, are showing that it is possible to succeed.


Mª Carmen de Bernardo Martínez