(An Extract from My BCLT 30th Anniversary Edition)
My involvement with the BCLT began, as it did for many others, with the Literary Translation Summer School. Unlike most other contributors to this collection, however, for me it has only been a year since that first encounter. In fact, chances are that I’m one of the few whose birth is predated by the BCLT’s. So how, you might ask, should I have anything useful to say about the long-standing history of this great institution, having only just begun to get my career off the ground? Precisely because it is in this beginning, this getting under way, that the BCLT plays an invaluable role. With my memory still fresh, I would like to offer an account of these first few baby steps into the translation world, not to serve as an example for other translators – for there is no such thing as an ‘exemplary’ route into translation – but as a testament to how almost everything can be traced back to this ‘fine city’ in Norfolk.
I remember writing in my Summer School application something along the lines of: ‘In many ways, the Summer School will help me transition from being a student of Translation Studies to being a professional literary translator.’ Looking back, I was right about the ‘many ways’: from familiarising myself with different perspectives on translation as a hands-on activity rather than a museum-like object of study, to learning about the myriad facets of life as a freelance translator that no one tells you about in school, to meeting the most dazzling group of people who take joy in leading such lives, the take-homes were endless. Most of all, the Summer School presented the unique opportunity to dwell on translation choices for a seriously long time. What with all the constant time pressure so inherently part of the profession, only rarely are we able to bring the decision-making train to a standstill. That is, to collectively mull over the effects of every last comma, before concluding that the whole sentence should have run differently in the first place and starting back at square one. It is a commonplace to say that ten different translators will inevitably produce ten different translations of any given text, but I hadn’t realised the full truth of this maxim until physically being in one room with nine other translators, working on the same text. After five days of blood, sweat and tears, we managed to get through no more than two pages of the Korean original. And it was wonderful.
The word ‘transition’ in my application, on the other hand, was a poor choice. It doesn’t do the job. ‘Kick-start’ or ‘rocket launch’ would have been more accurate. Here I was, on the eve of heading to Norwich, thinking I was going to ‘test the waters’ of literary translation, when in fact the BCLT torpedoed me straight onto a surfboard in the deep end. Or, to borrow a metaphor from Anton Hur, it cannonballed me right across the ‘Valley of Death’. For even though I was preparing myself to spend some time down there – where you persistently translate out of your skin without getting noticed by any publisher – there was no need. Following Summer School, one thing seemed to naturally lead to the next: it was where I learned about the Emerging Translators Mentorship, which I somehow managed to secure, and which, in turn, resulted in my first published translation.
Most importantly, the Summer School gave reason to believe that this rocket of mine was launched in the right direction. Of course, my motivation letter presented the most confident translator-to-be, but truth be told, how do we ever know our next move is the right one before the move is made? It was tremendously reassuring to find myself surrounded by people who, I felt, were basically kith and kin and, what is more, did the kind of work that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. In other words, I do not just have very fond memories of Norwich, I will remember it as the place where, for the first time, I felt completely sure I had made the right choice in becoming a translator. And so I thank you, BCLT.
Mattho Mandersloot is a translator from Amsterdam. He holds a degree in Classics from King’s College London, in Translation from SOAS, and in Korean Studies from Oxford. In 2018 he was awarded the inaugural World Literature Today Trans- lation Prize as well as the Oxford Korean Poetry Translation Prize. He currently lives in Seoul.