4 to 5 translations to pay the mortgage

I was ready to throw something at the screen. But as it was the television screen I had to restrain myself. Although, I don’t suppose the computer screen would have been a cheaper option.

I was enjoying Singing for Your Supper: How to Make it as a Translator, on Zoom last night. It was organised by DELT, which is to Denmark what SELTA is to Sweden. Literary translators. OK, so it was supposed to be literary. But to me that is as opposed to business press releases, mining reports or death certificates. Fiction.

But when Kyle Semmel, the chair of this event with Daniel Hahn and Misha Hoekstra, said as advice to new translators that there was no immediate shame to translating genre (he’d done it himself to begin with), well, I was reaching for something to throw. Because clearly you must be literary. Misha Hoekstra nodded in agreement, whereas Daniel had stressed that mortgages have to be paid and he likes to eat, too.

He wasn’t the only one to pipe up about how being paid is important. He translates four or five books a year just to make sure he has somewhere to live. Kyle translates when he feels like it, and Misha has the safety net that is a Nordic country with financial support for literature. Very different lives. I couldn’t help but feel that many of the translators or hopefuls who listened in were also in need of daily food and a roof over their heads.

Misha’s advice was probably sound for someone living and working in Denmark, and I suppose many of these translators were working from Danish, if not actually in Denmark. I know that some authors do well enough to be able to pay for someone to translate their books [without there being a buyer for it abroad], but not everyone is that lucky. The idea that a budding translator should approach some of the authors I know here in the UK, wanting money for a sample translation is, well, not terribly realistic.

If you want to know how a translator like Daniel works, I will suggest, again, his diary from earlier this year, on how he translated one particular Chilean novel. Aside from being an interesting window into how one person works, it’s a funny, well-written diary.

And no, you don’t have to love what you translate. As Daniel pointed out, there are more hopeful translators than there are books publishers want translated. And there is that mortgage that wants paying.

Genre, that is also literature. It can be crime. Or children’s. It’s not something to be looked down on. Especially not if you work with books, words and language.

6 responses to “4 to 5 translations to pay the mortgage

  1. How disgraceful! I would have thrown something, too. There is no shame in any kind of work that doesn’t harm other people. Pleny of shame in work that does (like, say, drug dealer or over-paid banker)

    • I thought at first I was not hearing it right.
      My belief has been that it can be seen as quite prestigious to have translated the latest worldwide crime blockbuster. As opposed to the mining report, I mean. But whatever pays the bills, including mining reports.

  2. Glad to see that screenshot – we weren’t able to see any of the audience! A little suspicious of that person who seems to be commenting at that moment you’re sharing, though…

    • That was the weirdest thing. For the whole hour I sat there, not moving, and then walked up to the laptop to take a screen grab, and there he was…
      No idea what the rest of his message was.

  3. “The myth of the penniless artist hu”

    (rts us all?) (ngry for fame?) (gely affects our morale?) (ms Bohemian Rhapsody?)

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