Below is a short excerpt from a work-in-progress, Fair: a literary translator memoir.
Your eyes are drawn to flashing coloured lights in the far corner of the fair.
It’s a shiny black retro arcade console with the name The Translation Game in gold lettering running across the top.
There are cartoonish caricatures of various literary translators scratching their heads, jumping in the air cheering, peering dejectedly into their wallets, giving a thumbs up.
You put your hand in your pocket and find a golden token.
You push it into the slot.
E M E R G I N G
You pull down a big silver handle, and three columns of coloured shapes start scrolling speedily down the screen, before suddenly stopping and revealing your points, which feel like they come directly from your own body:
You’re commissioned to translate the abstracts for an academic conference via someone you met at university (paid) +1POINT
One of the academics commissions you to translate an essay about the sea (paid) +3POINTS
You meet the website editor for a charity at a networking event and they commission you to translate a piece of memoir (unpaid) +3POINTS
You’re commissioned to translate your first book, a YA story about recycling, after the editor googles ‘german translators’ and finds your new, basic website +10POINTS
But! You later find out you got paid half the fee you should have got -5POINTS
You think commissions will always come to you, so you wait, but nothing happens for three years -10POINTS
You go to a magazine launch and dare to chat to the editor who has just started a publishing house about how you want to become a literary translator. They commission you to translate a literary work of non-fiction for a proper fee +20POINTS
Another publisher notices your name on your translation for the new publisher and contacts you to try out for a novel translation, which you get +20POINTS
You self-publish a magazine on German-language culture. A newspaper editor that buys a copy recommends you to their book publisher for a new translation +20POINTS
The new publisher recommends you to an established press, which ends up commissioning you +2OPOINTS
The book is shortlisted for a major translation prize +30 POINTS
No one commissions you for over a year -60POINTS
BONUS ROUND !
M U L T I P L E C H O I C E
A large question mark appears on the screen, overlaid with a box in the shape of a medieval scroll
Q: A publisher asks you to translate a book for them. An agent told them the book is fantastic, so the publisher bought the rights without having read a word of it. They’ve only read the publicity material and a sample translation they weren’t sure about. You need money to pay rent, but you’re also wary of getting stuck translating something bad.
A) say you’ll have to read the book before making a decision
B) ask around friends and other translators and read reviews to see if it sounds good
C) agree to do the job
What will you choose?
You selected A: The publisher couldn’t wait, so they’ve already asked someone else who can start work straightaway! It turns out the book is brilliant / terrible !
You selected B: The book isn’t out yet so there aren’t any reviews, one friend says they loved it, one says they hated it! You still have no idea and opt to /not/ take it on. It turns out to be brilliant / terrible !
You selected C: You’re anxious for the whole first draft and it turns out to be incredibly hard / incredibly boring / incredibly offensive / incredible.
Would you like to continue playing?
You can watch Jen Calleja’s recent research seminar ‘The Life-Art of Translation: hybrid life writing by literary translators’, which includes a discussion and reading from Fair: a literary translator memoir, on the BCLT YouTube channel.