A Quiver of Skills: Non-Fiction and the Translator as Archer
Every time I finish a translation, I ponder on what I have learned and how my practice has shifted a little then resettled, like sand – almost the same but slightly different, undoubtedly shaped by the experience.
In December 2021 I embarked on a somewhat unusual project that demonstrates the breadth of a freelance translator’s remit: translation of a full-length memoir of some 35,000 words for the agent representing the book and therefore not for publication, but to help in selling rights for the book to publishers. After reading a chapter, I was intrigued enough to agree to translate it. It wasn’t the first time I’d worked on something that wouldn’t be published – I’ve translated a playscript for a British theatre company and a screenplay for a Spanish director seeking investment – but certainly the first time in a while. Overall, it proved to be an interesting experience which will certainly shape my translation practice; here I highlight a couple of the things I’ll keep in mind in the future.
- Don’t under-estimate the time required: Just because the text is non-fiction, don’t be fooled into thinking it will take less time to translate, as I was. While the language was straightforward, the quotes, references, acronyms and placenames that had to be researched and translated correctly pushed me uncomfortably close to an already over-ambitious deadline.
- Think about the demands of the text, and be very clear what you are agreeing to deliver: I would ensure that what the ‘client’ expects you to deliver aligns with what you will produce. Are they expecting a document that has already been edited – publication-ready, as it were – or something akin to what is usually submitted to an editor, to be batted back and forth in the editorial process?
- Different challenges, varied strategies: As in translating fiction, if books quoted already exist in English – whether originally or in translation – they must be quoted accurately. This text threw up all sorts of challenges, not least in these pandemic times, and I needed to use every string in my translator’s bow to hit the quote-shaped targets: from looking at official UN transcripts to find a speech made in the 1920s to hunting for a newly-published book currently in the fog between hardback and paperback editions and therefore not to be found on bookshop or library shelves anywhere (aside: this book is available in UK depository libraries, but time and COVID made visiting an unviable option). What to do, then? I turned to the amazing community of translators on Twitter, and a single tweet led to a fellow translator verifying two quotes for me in their own copy of the book – a heartening reminder of the generosity and friendliness of fellow translators.
As I hit click to submit my translation, an image floated up in my mind of the ideal translator of non-fiction as an archer: slow, measured, poised, precise, with a quiver of skills of their hip, hopefully hitting the target.
Laura McGloughlin has been a freelance translator from Catalan and Spanish since completing a Masters in literary translation at the University of East Anglia. She was awarded the inaugural British Centre for Literary Translation Catalan-English Translation Mentorship in 2011. Among others she has translated work by Llüisa Cunillé, Maria Barbal, Flavia Company, Toni Hill Gumbao, and Joan Brossa, as well as for director Carlos Saura, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona and the Association of Writers in Catalan (AELC). Her most recent publication is a translation of Wilder Winds by Bel Olid. During the residency, she plans to explore the extra-lingual factors affecting literary translation, especially the Anglophone literary tradition.