This week has been pretty excellent, translation-wise. I spent Monday and Tuesday at the London Book Fair, which is something I always enjoy – I’ve attended for six years running now, as a student, an exhibitor and now as a translator. As a student I was mostly wandering around trying to convince the publishers’ stand receptionists to give me a job (note to students: this is futile, not least because the stand receptionists generally have no authority); as an exhibitor I was meeting clients, selling books and sneaking off to the odd seminar, and as a translator I spent almost all my time in the wonderful Literary Translation Centre, organised by many brilliant translation-related institutions including the BCLT.
Seminar topics ranged from how best to promote writers in translation, to diaspora and minority writing in translation. There was a very well-attended session on ‘What Publishers Want’ (the answer turned out to be ‘it depends very much on the publisher’ – an argument for thoroughly researching publishers’ lists, I suppose), and, as usual, there were two sessions on Becoming a Literary Translator. I’ve been to a few of these over the past couple of years, but I always go along to them anyway just in case somebody’s invented a new way of becoming a literary translator that I haven’t heard about yet.
I felt the mood was optimistic, especially from UK-based translators and publishers: there’s a sense that the UK market is becoming more open to translations now than it has been for a while. Several people went as far as saying that they felt we were living in a ‘golden age’ of translation into English, which is rather nice to think about. There was also a lot of emphasis on the translator’s involvement in the publishing process – we were encouraged to think of ourselves as literary scouts, as publicists, as advocates for translated literature, as builders of bridges between the source and the target culture. Daniel Hahn of BCLT often says that much of his job consists of Being a Translator, rather than actually translating anything, and I think that’s quite exciting – perhaps because my background is in publishing and I love the industry, I feel much more enthusiastic about getting involved with books in this way than I do about just getting stuck into translating them, producing a good translation and then moving on.
My favourite session was the last one I attended, an excellent panel on ‘Translation Flows in Asia’ featuring brilliant translators from Chinese, Korean and Japanese, as well as an editor from Singapore. As a lover of SF/fantasy and an advocate for translation of ‘genre fiction’ (I hate this term but I don’t know a better one), I was interested to hear both Deborah Smith and Michael Emmerich remark that genre boundaries in Korea and Japan are much more fluid than they are in the UK – it’s more usual to find, say, science-fictional elements in works of ostensibly ‘literary fiction’ (another term I hate), and authors switch happily between mimetic and fantastic fiction with comparatively little risk of being pigeonholed into one genre or another. The author I’ve been translating recently, Onda Riku, is actually a good example of this – I’m working on one of her more science fictional works, but she also writes mysteries and more ‘realistic’ fiction. As always, Michael’s vast breadth and depth of knowledge about Japanese literature made me long to know more about it myself – I became interested in contemporary Japanese literature relatively recently, and while I’ve got a few favourite authors, there’s just so much more to learn about – I’m always wanting to add to my massive reading list.
Still, that’s something the Literary Translation Centre is really good for – you meet so many people who care about the same things as you do, you have interesting discussions and you leave feeling hugely enthusiastic, with all sorts of ideas about how to get more involved in the translation world (read more Japanese news online! Try new authors! Finally start my blog!). So, here we go. Wish me luck 😉