Archives for posts with tag: translation

Time: September 30th 2011, 9am- 6.30pm

Place: Free Word Centre, London

Themes: Translation (of course!), dialogue, new initiatives, success, sharing ideas, the importance of readers (thanks to  Rachel Van Riel for a highly entertaining presentation that included telling us about the Which Book website, a site that helps you decide which book to read by theme, which has apparently been around 10 years old but which – to my shame – I had never come across. It’s fabulous. Check it out) music, media, digital, festivals, and many, many more.

Action: Workshops – on ‘Getting started in literary translation’ (this was mine and Nicky’s, and it was standing room only!); literary festivals; the media; funding translations (also a popular one, surprise surprise); education – this one had some rather shocking stats about the decline in foreign language teaching (shame on you, politicians); and minority languages, with Vietnamese poking its head up for possibly the first time this year. There was also much networking, heated debate, exciting discussion of new initiatives, an impromptu performance of a traditional English folk song by an ad hoc choir of translators (you had to be there), and some rather exciting canapes courtesy of the European Commission…

Nicky’s tea quiz proved popular (everyone likes cake – oh, and who was the winner, Nicky?!) and it felt good to be part of such a positive, buzzy event that seemed to have more newcomers this year than ever before – as Daniel Hahn put it as he scanned the packed-out lecture theatre in the morning, ‘There’s so many people here that I don’t know – it’s great!’ Roll on next year.


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.


This is the first of what will hopefully be many posts from Nicky and me about what it means to be translator in residence at London’s Free Word Centre. Hang on – translator in residence? Artists in residence, yes. Everyone’s heard of them. There’s Conrad Shawcross at the Science Museum, and Neville Gabie is documenting the transformation of the east London Olympics site over the course of sixteen months. Writers in residence? Yes, sure. Tony Parsons recently spent seven days at Heathrow Airport looking for material for a short story collection, and Alain de Botton was there before him (there’s an interesting BBC article about some of these residencies here).

But translators? Aren’t we meant to stay in the shadows, hide behind our authors/publishers, not get in the way? 

Well, not any more! In our time here at Free Word, Nicky and I hope to de-mystify translation, get people talking about words, books and language in new and unexpected ways, and to generally put translation (and translators) on the map. We also want to spread the word about our lovely hosts the Free Word Centre, which is a really great place for all things literary and bookish – please check it out!

Mine and Nicky’s residencies are a new and rather exciting initiative by Free Word and the Translators Association, which came out of the Global Translation Initiative and is funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. We’re going to be here for three months, and will be offering an autumn programme of translation-inspired events ranging from Chinese spice tasting, German accordion squeezing, Spanish YouTubing and speed book clubbing.

There’s a talk on the pitfalls of diplomatic translation, one on how we might better publish poetry in translation, several workshops and activities in schools, and a translation game in an East End market – check the Free Word website for more details, as well as following us on Twitter (@FreeWordCentre). And wish us luck!