The shelf life of a translator

I’ve just had a fine time at the annual Vertaaldagen, the literary translation symposium and workshop days organised by the Vertalershuis in Amsterdam. The symposium day, held this year in the beautiful cultural centre De Rode Hoed in Amsterdam, focused on the ‘shelf life’ of the translator. How do older translators cope with texts by young authors, and vice versa? Do you find that your approach to translation changes as you get older? How do publishers select translators for particular projects? Is age a consideration?

The second day was dedicated to translation workshops, with groups of different language combinations occupying the classrooms of the Vossiusgymnasium for the day. I moderated a session on translating YA literature and we worked on a section of Erna Sassen’s Dit is geen dagboek, a first-person, diary-style narrative with a sixteen-year-old protagonist who is furious at his mother for committing suicide. Lots of emotion. Lots of swearing. Lots of ‘youth speak’. And plenty of references to chatting online, texting, and so on. We certainly had a lot to talk about. Did the author succeed in capturing an authentic voice? Could we replicate that voice in English? It’s always surprising to see how much variety there is in eleven translations of the same text.


Photo: Barbara den Ouden

I rounded the weekend off on Sunday with a great group of children’s writers and illustrators at our annual SCBWI Christmas drinks party, this time at KHL. As most of us are freelancers, it’s the closest we get to a work Christmas do. It’s so energising spending time with people who are fizzing with such great ideas and plans for fun projects – and perfect for extending the shelf life of this particular translator!

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