It’s a Thursday…. It is Thursday, right?!
Anyways, Thursday must mean Translation Thursday, but we are doing something a bit different today! Rather than sharing a review of one of the brilliant translated goodies Orenda Books has to offer, I’m looking behind the scenes, the person behind the translation of the Smoke Screen, the second in the Blix & Ramm series written by Thomas Enger and Jørn Lier Horst, Megan Turney. I started chatting to Megan last year and she is a wonderful human and an incredible translator.
So, that being said, I’d love to thank Megan for her time in writing this amazing guest post about her career in translating novels.
So, Megan, why did you decide to start a career in literary translation?
I want to start by thanking Danielle for the opportunity to write this piece for Orentober – I always jump at the chance to talk about anything translation-related, so this was a very refreshing change amidst all the actual translating! For context, I am a literary and commercial translator working from Norwegian into English. I’m originally from the Stoke-on-Trent area and have absolutely no Norwegian background prior to learning the language, which I did while studying Scandinavian Studies and English Literature at Edinburgh, moving back and forth between Norway and the UK for a few years, and by completing an MA in Translation and Interpreting Studies at Manchester.
To answer Danielle’s first question – how did I decide that literary translation was the career for me – I’m actually constantly surprised to find myself in this profession. Translation wasn’t a career I had even remotely considered until half-way through my undergraduate degree. I was abysmal at language learning in school, and due to one certain language teacher, I was convinced that I simply did not have the brain to comprehend them. So I still haven’t the foggiest why I decided to jump all in and learn a whole new one at university instead, and go on to work with languages on a daily basis, but here we are 7 years later.
Not to say that learning Norwegian wasn’t a struggle for me, because it was, but the moment I knew I wanted to pursue a career in translation despite my shaky grasp of the language at the time, was when we were given our first translation assignment – and everything seemed to suddenly click and make sense. Translation was the perfect balance between being creative while also being methodical. Having fun with language while still having to work within various frameworks and follow certain rules. For me, it feels like code-breaking, and I often say that a career in this field is like getting to work on a new puzzle every day.
I like working in commercial and literary translation in equal measure too, but there is a certain satisfaction in experimenting with works of literature, and getting to move from drastically different texts from one day to the next. But this career can certainly be turbulent, and translation has been at the centre of a number of debates, controversies and arguments recently, meaning that there’s been quite a bit of negative discourse floating around about it online – see: the recent misplaced criticism of Squid Game’s subtitling and dubbing.
And while I always aim to advocate for our rights as workers and for our role as an integral part of the industry, and I will argue relentlessly about the importance of translation in society as a whole, there are many translators and translation scholars who have already done an excellent job of explaining some of the negative parts of the job and the issues facing the field. I would certainly recommend reading, watching and listening to the discourse surrounding these issues, such as the instability of the profession and our so-called ‘invisibility’, via translation Twitter and various podcasts, interviews and talks – all of which are available on numerous online platforms and institutions in the UK and further afield.
So instead of me listing my own negative experiences with the job here then, I’d rather use the rest of this relatively short article to list a few things I love about working as a translator. Firstly, the community – I am especially grateful to Orenda, Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger, who took a chance on me with Smoke Screen, my first full-length translation. They not only kept me involved with all the decision making and the entire publication process, but they were so supportive, and put up with my excessive questions. To add to that, I find it very rewarding getting to work and engage with colleagues all over the world and learn about their specific language pairs and the challenges they face in their respective markets, to better understand the issues translators face as a whole, and not just those affecting the English language market and industry.
This community is endlessly helpful when it comes to seeking advice too, and this collaborative element is one of my favourite parts of the job, although I would suspect my friends and family are less happy about this. I bother all of them on a daily basis with various, occasionally incoherent questions, and I personally find it an absolute joy getting to discuss the nitty gritty, minute parts of a text to ensure the end result is the best translation it can be. I’d like to include a special shout out to fellow Norwegian translator Rachel Rankin, who bears the brunt of most of my complaining/begging for help/workshopping requests.
Not to get into the entire ‘what is translation’ debate either, but so much is expected of translators and translations, in that you’ve got to try and think about numerous different factors and perspectives simultaneously, and in a way try and somehow read your author’s mind while trying to predict how your innumerable, unknown readers may experience the text. And given you can be working on texts of different genres or topics from one project to the next, this often feels like an impossible task. And in reality, it is – but we still have to at least attempt it. So while I feel like this is one of the most challenging parts of the job, I thoroughly enjoy getting to do a deep dive into a new topic and do all the researching and learning required to ensure I’ve understood as much about the text as is possible, so I can deliver a translation that is as accurate as possible. Another positive side to this is that the job really does make you the ultimate pub quiz competitor, what with the amount of random, bizarre facts you pick up almost daily.
To wrap up then, thank you so much to Danielle for the opportunity to rave about my love of translation. Every job has its lows, with literary translation being no exception, but I still can’t quite believe I get to work in such a diverse and engaging field.
Thanks again Megan for sharing this post with us and highlighting some parts of what it’s like to be a translator, I’m sure many readers will find it insightful and they will hopefully be picking up a copy of Smoke Screen to check out your amazing translation skills, along with the penmanship of Thomas and Jørn.