Cracking language conundrums: Q&A with translator Rachel Ward #QandASunday #Orentober

Hi and welcome to #QandASunday! Planning and plotting #Orentober2020, I wanted to put the spotlight once again on some of the people who are important to the bookish process but who remain more in the background. Last year I talked to jacket designer kid-ethic and when I was pondering who I should talk to this year, two people immediately came to mind, one of them the brilliant Rachel Ward.

In case you have no clue who Rachel is or why I would want to interview her for #Orentober: Rachel Ward has translated the Chastity Riley series by Simone Buchholz from German to English so today it is my absolute honour to welcome to FromBelgiumWithBookLove: Rachel Ward!

Hi Rachel, and welcome! It’s a huge pleasure to have you here, thanks so much for stopping by! As we’re having our talk when the coronavirus is on a global rampage, the most important question I can ask you is: how are you?

Very well, thank you!

Happy to hear it! If this were an actual meeting in real life (and without the corona situation, obviously), where would we be now? Would we be out for coffee, would we go for a bite to eat? Where would you take me, and why?

Right now there’s a bit of a mini heatwave going on, so I’d go for somewhere in the shade with a lovely breeze! There are a few cosy cafés in the town here, but in this weather, I’d go for the beer garden at The Green Dragon, our local 14th-century pub… It’s even appeared in a bestselling book – Tombland by C.J. Sansom.

Sounds great! Please describe yourself in 5 key words. Who is Rachel Ward?

Bookish, trying to be kind.

You are a literary translator. Did you always know that’s what you wanted to do? How did you go about getting where you are today?

I wanted to work with languages in some form from the age of about 16, and studied modern languages at UEA. I really enjoyed the final year translation module and I can still remember the moment when, doing some practice translations, I thought “this is what I want to do for a career”. I wanted to stay in Norwich so I applied for the MA in Literary Translation also at UEA, which I finished back in 2003. I was lucky enough to find a publisher (Andersen Press) for the book I worked on for my dissertation (Traitor by Gudrun Pausewang). I’ve been working as a translator of literary and creative non-literary texts ever since, although it’s only in the last few years that I’ve felt reasonably established. It takes time to build up contacts and I had a bit out time out while my children were small. In the meantime, I worked on books for self-published authors, non-fiction for a multilingual publisher in Prague and all kinds of agency work and sample translations.

What is your Orenda translation progress like? Are you sent the whole book and do you start translating it right away? Or do you read the book first? Or are you sent a few chapters at the time? Does West Camel, Orenda’s editor extraordinaire, edit your translation? Does Simone Buchholz?

I almost always read the whole of a book in advance, although there have been occasional exceptions for reasons of time, or length. I’ve always read Simone’s books before starting work on them. West has edited them all so far, and done so with huge sensitivity. I usually do a fairly fast first draft, which I like to get done before the summer holidays, and highlight all the tricky parts to come back to. I like to bounce ideas around with other translators as well as with people who are concentrating only on the English. With Simone’s books, the voice is really important, so one of the final stages is to read them aloud to myself to make sure that it flows.

On average, how much time do you have to translate a Chastity Riley novel?

Generally around 6 months from signing the contract to sending off the translation, although this year has been different as you can imagine!

Are you in contact with the authors of the books or texts you translate? For clarifications or translation questions you may have, for example.

I always like to have direct contact with the authors, but it isn’t always possible. Sometimes publishers don’t want to put you in touch, and sometimes the author isn’t available, or even dead, although I haven’t worked on very many classic texts. It’s enormously helpful to be able to ask questions and clarify things. I’ve developed a really good working relationship with Simone, and other authors I’ve worked with have been very helpful and friendly too. There’s also always loads of research! And lots of questions back and forth to the author when possible. A few times this has even involved sending gifs or swapping videos of movements characters make: “Did you mean something like this?”, “No, I’d say more like that…” and so on!

That sounds intense, but really fun as well, and very rewarding when you figure it out! What do you like most about your job? Are there any disadvantages, or parts you enjoy less?

There’s a real sense of achievement in cracking some tricky conundrum when the two languages don’t match up, and it’s also lovely when the words just flow. But really the best bit is if reviews show that readers are reacting to the translation the same way that I did to the original because that means I’ve done what I set out to achieve.

I have absolutely loved working on Simone’s books (Blue Night, Beton Rouge and Mexico Street) for Orenda. She has a unique voice and the books fizz with energy. Every word seems chosen with care and attention and it’s a privilege to try to pull off the same trick in English. I’ve also recently translated Zippel, the Little Keyhole Ghost by Alex Ruehle and The Train Mouse by Uwe Timm, both illustrated by Axel Scheffler, for Andersen Press. Zippel is crammed with rhymes, puns and wordplay, while The Train Mouse features lots of accents and dialect, and both were huge fun to translate.

For me, there are really two big challenges in translation – the nuts and bolts of style and voice, conveying words and intentions from one language to another when the two don’t (and never can) map onto each other precisely, and the business of networking and finding the next project. I find the business side harder than translating itself, which can be thrilling and frustrating in equal measure. Working from home can be isolating, and it isn’t an easy way to make a living. The combination of the right book, the right publisher and the right funding is hard to come by.

What is a typical day in the life of Rachel Ward like?

I’m not sure that there’s any such thing as a typical day in the life of a translator, especially at the moment, but it might be something like this for me… I work from home. Working from German, there is often a lot of time spent translating serious academic books, papers etc. on difficult subjects, and even my latest YA novel is fairly gritty, set during the Second World War, so when there’s something of that sort on, I try to have a burst of focused attention on those in the mornings, then work on more uplifting or playful projects in the afternoons. In normal times, I like to try and do admin and suchlike once my sons are home from school, and other tasks that involve less sustained concentration.

I try not to snack while I’m working, but I do run on coffee, like a lot of translators.

Right now though, my younger son and I are sharing the computer, so my routines are a bit more hit and miss. I’m trying to do a bit of exercise first thing to make up for the lack of the school walks, while he does his school work, then I can usually get on with some work in the mid mornings and after lunch. With the whole family in the house, it’s a bit more challenging, but it’s nice to be able to share coffee and tea breaks with my husband and to have lunch all together.

Are you a reader? Do you have a favourite genre as a reader? Do you have a favourite author, or a favourite novel?

Of course! Obviously, I read a lot of crime fiction, and just at the moment, my preference is for entertaining, well-written fiction – books that make me laugh or smile. I can never pick a favourite novel, but my favourite authors include Simone Buchholz (of course!), Terry Pratchett, PG Wodehouse, Jane Austen, Kerstin Gier and Walter Moers. I tend to like books that are quirky or have a distinct voice, so I’ve loved Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos, tr. Rosalind Harvey, and The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain, tr. Louise Rogers Lalaurie, Emily Boyce & Jane Aitken, for example. I also enjoyed Frank Wynne’s translation of Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger. Right now, I’m reading The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos, tr. Sam Taylor, which is a lot of fun.

What makes you happy? What are your favourite things?

A good book and a cool drink in my garden. I’m not a very organised gardener, but I love flowers, and photographing them. We’re very lucky to have beautiful countryside around us for walking and cycling, and we’re not far from the coast either. I also enjoy embroidery and crochet. And cats.

Looks like we have a few favourite things in common, and that is such a gorgeous rose, I can almost smell it!

Thanks for joining me today for #QandASunday! I’ll be back next week with another Q&A! Find Rachel on Twitter @FwdTranslations, check out her blog or visit her website

Find out more about Blue Night and Beton Rouge here, and about Mexico Street here and here.

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