View all news

English PEN Translation Manager addresses Bristol Translates

6 July 2021

Making sure translators’ voices are heard, their work is properly paid, and the UK publishing landscape becomes ever more diverse – these were some of the issues discussed by Will Forrester, Translation and International Manager at English PEN, on the second day of Bristol Translates 2021.

Making sure translators’ voices are heard, their work is properly paid, and the UK publishing landscape becomes ever more diverse – these were some of the issues discussed by Will Forrester, Translation and International Manager at English PEN, on the second day of Bristol Translates 2021. Forrester spoke to nearly two hundred attendees via Zoom, outlining the three initiatives he oversees: PEN Translates, PEN Transmissions and International Translation Day. In the following Q&A, hosted by Bristol Translates co-director Ros Schwartz, Forrester responded to questions about both practical and conceptual aspects of the work of translators.

PEN Translates provides funding in support of specific translation projects. Applications must be made by publishers, who have to be UK-based. Normally, the award pays for up to 75% of translation costs for selected projects, but when the applying publisher’s annual turnover is below £500,000, judges may consider funding 100%. In response to an attendee question about the “driving force” behind projects, Will Forrester said that there is often a sense that it is the translator more than the applying publisher who has masterminded the project, but that this does not affect the chances of the application itself.

Forrester pointed to the PEN Translates website to explain the criteria for assessment: literary quality (40% weighting), strength of the publishing project (30%) and contribution to UK bibliodiversity (30%). He explained that “strength of the project” includes factors such as a marketing concept for the publication. Attendees took a keen interest in questions around diversity. Forrester noted that while “bibliodiversity” generally refers to the variety of literature available in a region or country, successful PEN Translates projects often enhance the UK’s bibliodiversity in more than one way, e.g. by introducing a text from a lesser-translated language, a less well represented country, culture, genre, perspective or theme, or an author or translator with an identity that is less well represented in UK publishing. Forrester pointed out that the picture was improving in terms of gender diversity, but that much work was still to be done. Finally, he was able to disclose that roughly 30% of project applications are successful.

International authors as well as translators are featured in PEN Transmissions, PEN’s online magazine, of which Will Forrester is the editor. The magazine includes interviews and essays and welcomes proposals for contributions. Forrester as well as Schwartz emphasised the importance of checking editorial guidelines and generally “getting a feel” for the publication before you submit anything. Forrester noted specifically that the magazine’s ethos is informed by PEN’s Charter, which emphasises the importance of freedom of expression. The magazine is looking for “original and urgent contributions, and we are very much open to the ‘unexpected.’” He stressed that proposals for contributions are assessed on merit, and although the promotion of underrepresented voices is a factor in decision-making, no-one is excluded, especially not those without a formal qualification or a long track record as translators. This was a question of concern to Bristol Translates attendees at the beginning of their translation journey.

The third English PEN activity discussed at the meeting was International Translation Day, which happens every 30 September. It marks the feast day of St Jerome, patron saint of translators. English On the day, PEN hosts a programme of talks, workshops and networking opportunities for literary translators. Depending on the course of the pandemic, this year’s events, too, may look different from pre-2020 schedules and might, like Bristol Translates, be largely online. Check the relevant website for details.

 

Further information

Will Forrester can be contacted at will@englishpen.org. English PEN is a membership organisation, and Forrester encouraged Bristol Translates participants to consider joining. By the end of the meeting, one participant wrote in the chat that she had just signed up for the PEN mailing list, and another said how glad she was to have PEN’s “great work on our radar!”

Edit this page