L to R: Fiammetta Rocco, Sophie Hughes, Jen Calleja, Maureen Freely

This year’s Man Booker International Prize Translator event was an all woman affair. Fiammetta Rocco chaired Maureen Freely, who represented the judges, with Sophie Hughes (Trans The Remainder) and Jen Calleja (Trans The Pine Islands) representing the short listed translators. Although there were brief readings from the shortlisted works, the event wasn’t so much about those but about translating itself.

Fiammetta Rocco opened with a Sophie Hughes tweet.

Being a translator is the closest thing to bankruptcy, nervous breakdown and God.

Is it true? Fiammetta Rocco didn’t ask the translators to dwell on it, but it certainly made a great opener! The discussion, thereafter was wide-ranging. Here are a few highlights.

On the challenges of translation

Words that shine in the original may not be those that shine in the translation. The work of a translator is to find the peaks and troughs of the original, to juggle the meaning, music, rhythm and disclosure. Hence translation is a creative act. Jen Calleja

The first pages take the longest. It is essential to establish the voice, pace and trance that will carry the book through. Maureen Freely

A simple text can be more complicated to translate. I once read a book in a day. The translation resulted in more drafts than I ever had before or since. Jen Calleja

Yes. The challenge is nailing the finest, faintest nuance. Sophie Hughes

On translating cold (i.e without reading through first)

I’ve only done it once. Then I realised this wasn’t a story that needed retelling. But I still had to spend a year on the book. Sophie Hughes

I prefer not to. But sometimes time constraints force it. Jen Calleja

On the relationship between translators and living authors

The relationships between translators and authors are lop-sided and hair-raisingly voyeuristic! Fiammetta Rocco quoting someone whose name I didn’t note.

Voyeuristic, only in the sense that we have lots of questions. We have to uncover intent and re-infuse original ambiguity into the translated text. Sophie Hughes

What happens when living authors who speak English intervene in the translation? They can go too far and well-established, if difficult, partnerships can break down. Maureen Freely has not translated Pamuk since he said at a shared event: The trouble with translations is that they should be perfect and translators are human.

Jen Calleja, a living author and poet herself, said that as translating has increased her awareness of the interpretative process, her own vocabulary and sentence structure has become simpler. As for translating poetry, she tries to avoid it as much as possible.

On co-translation

I have never been more scared that when I had to send Margaret Jull Costa my edit of her translation. Sophie Hughes

You always gain from having a co-translator, a second person wearing the same glasses when looking at a text. Jen Calleja

On relationships with editors

I’ve only had one bad experience when the editor wanted to change the translation because he didn’t like the behaviour of the hero. Maureen Freely

We mustn’t forget that editors are often delivering something they haven’t read. They don’t know what they’ve bought. Sophie Hughes

And finally, a tantalising morsel of conversation …

“I’ve generally had great editorial experiences”, said Jen Calleja. “Tell us what happened with The Pine Islands“, prompted Fiammetta Rocco. “Ah, well the first editors got fired, but that was nothing to do with me!”