I’ve been a translator and a teacher of translation studies for about ten years. But becoming Translator–in–Residence at the Free Word Centre is something quite different and filled me with inspiration from the moment I first heard about it. My head fizzed with ideas for days on end…and nights too. What a marvelous opportunity to present translation in the context of other arts – translation and poetry or rapping or song lyrics, translating and story–telling for children, translation and architecture, translation and food… I hope it will be fun. If, at the end of the three months, we’ve all enjoyed ourselves, then I’ll feel I’ve succeeded.

It should be de–mystified too, I reckon. There’s a sense in which you don’t even need to know different languages to “translate”. After all, we all do a kind of translation every day of our lives. We “translate” between the kind of language we use with children and the child’s teacher, for example. “Shut up!” and “I told her to keep her voice down…” is a kind of translation.

Well, as the programme began to come together in the last few months, some of the wild fizz went out of my ideas and my feet touched ground again. But I’m pleased with the programme and, even before the events have happened, I’ve begun to feel it’s an enriching experience for me, as well as for our audiences.

Two weeks ago, I was in Beijing and I went to see the people who run the Chinese side of the website China Dialogue (www.chinadialogue.net). This is a bilingual website focusing on the environment in China and is the subject of a panel discussion at the Free Word Centre on 8 December, the last in our autumn series of events. The people who translate articles into Chinese for the website can’t be with us on 8 December, but I still wanted to find out what they think about their work and about environmental issues. So we met in a Beijing hotel for “tea”. They had cleverly brought along a camcorder and we found a quiet–ish corner and looked at the questions I had prepared (Why did you want to work on China Dialogue? What has been the issue which has most interested you? etc etc). This was the first time I had met these three young women, and I think we were all rather nervous, especially as the quiet corner turned rather noisy with people taking loud mobile phone calls practically in our ears. However, the ice was soon broken – in particular when a new top I was wearing proved rather slippery and revealed a little bit of underwear to the camera (to be edited out, don’t worry). Then, about fifteen minutes in to the general chat, they began to get going and to tell me some really interesting stories. I ended up feeling extremely privileged to have had the opportunity of this conversation with them. The result will be as fascinating to audiences at our panel discussion as it was to me, I’m sure. We’ll be playing it at some point in the evening, as Isabel Hilton and Sam Geall talk about what it’s like running a bilingual website which has an equally enthusiastic readership in China and in the West. Visit it in advance and take a look.

Our first event is next week’s Bookclub Fest (21 September, see FWC Events List). It looks like it’ll practically be standing–room only. I got to translate the Chinese piece, and I can’t wait to hear readers’ reactions to Han Dong’s short story.

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