Archives for category: Nicky

phew! Well we had our first event last night, a joint one hosted by Rosalind and me, the Bookclub Fest. Around 40 people came, all enthusiastic readers and some clearly Bookclub regulars. It was excellent. First the practicalities: we had a great space, at the Free Word Centre, with plenty of room for everyone, plenty of seating, and refreshments. We had a lovely handbell to bring people to order, and mikes so we could have a whole-group discussion at the end.

We were nervous, Rosalind and I, it has to be admitted. Has anyone done anything like this before? With this number of people who didn’t know each other (and some of them didn’t know us)? It was all a bit experimental. But the numbers who registered and the feedback we got as people participated and the nice things they said as they left, all encouraged us to believe that this is a winning formula. Lets do it again sometime!

This is how it worked: four existing Bookclubs who read translated literature, respectively, from Spanish, Swedish, Chinese and Russian, each produced a short story (translated into English) which participants read beforehand. Each Bookclub group had a discussion-leader and people circulated between groups, spending time in each talking about the story. The time we had – a maximum of two hours – meant that participants could spend twenty minutes in each group. The bell was then rung, and they changed to another group for another discussion. Everyone then got together for a whole-group recap of the discussions, and there was time at the end for announcements (of other book-reading groups and events). Judging by the lingering and chatting afterwards, the chance to network and talk to fellow book(club) enthusiasts was as important to everyone as the discussion of the stories which preceded it.

Rosalind and I spent the evening dropping in on the various groups.  I was extremely impressed by the kind of contributions people were making – thoughtful, informed, uninhibited. Personally, I’ve never been to a Bookclub before. I’m seriously considering joining one now!

* Edit as of October 7th – Jessica from young people’s creative reading and writing project MyVoice, who attended Book Club Fest, has kindly written a review of the event – you can read it here. Thanks Jessica! Glad you felt inspired to read some more translations after our event – let us know how you get on!

**Edit as of October 31st – another great review of the event by Steve Wasserman, who attended the Fest and also runs his own monthly book club reading short stories. Read all about it here.

The Spanish and the Chinese groups discuss their short stories

One big group rounds up the discussion at the end


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 ( 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.