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Star cast of translators field questions about their work

Daniel Hahn Catching Fire - Book cover

7 July 2022

All twenty Bristol Translates tutors gathered for a Q&A session on aspects of their work, discussing issues as diverse as their work process, copyright issues, and CAT tools.

Translators teaching at this year’s Bristol Translates summer school include some of the most prominent practitioners working from their respective languages into English, and many of them are public intellectuals speaking up for translation and other forms of creative working. The session offered a rare opportunity to interact with such a wide range of multilinguists and to hear them in conversation with one another.

The question on which they gave the most divergent answers was, perhaps unsurprisingly, about their work process. Daniel Hahn, tutor of one of this year’s multi-language workshops, explained that he produces a first draft very quickly and then homes in on an ever-more refined – but never ‘perfect’ – version. His recent book Catching Fire: A Translation Diary (available here) shows this process in action: based on a blog written during Hahn’s work on Diamela Eltit's Never Did the Fire, it offers the reader insights into various drafts, from first to final. French translator Frank Wynne, on the other hand, explained that he can spend three hours on a single sentence and won’t move on until he finds that he has reached an English translation he is happy with.

On the question of CAT tools, Spanish translator Tim Gutterridge was the only panellist present who said he regularly uses them, although others later said on Twitter that they used them at least occasionally, too.

Several participants, including Polish translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones, shared happy memories of team translation projects, notably those in which a more experienced practitioner takes on the role of mentor. Lloyd-Jones pointed out that even in this situation, the ‘older’ translator will still learn a lot and benefit from collaboration.

Chinese translator Jack Hargreaves, answering a question about interactions with rights holders, highlighted the fact that Chinese working practices may differ from those elsewhere, and that contacting both authors and publishers may be advisable. Others also emphasised the importance of relationship building as the basis for professional conversations, including on rights and obligations.

Asked about whether postgraduate work in Translation offered value for money, Christophe Fricker, director of Bristol’s online MA Translation, cited students who said their confidence grew during coursework, a point supported by contributions of current students to the session chat. Spanish translator Rosalind Harvey explained that university programmes came with networking opportunities as well, but that, ultimately, it is professional practice that makes perfect.

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