Literary Translation Centre: The Makers of World Literature at the London Book Fair

By Jennifer Adcock

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With a full program of seminars over three days, each packed with dozens of extremely enthusiastic translators, to say that the buzz was palpable at Literary Translation Centre would be an understatement. From what I hear, this has been the biggest space allocated to the LTC yet, which has been growing steadily over the past five years. Sponsored by AmazonCrossing, funded by Arts Council England and the Foyle Foundation, and with partners such as the BCLT, English PEN, British Council, Free Word, Translators Association, Literature Across Fronteirs, Wales Literature Exchange, and Words Without Borders, the LTC provides a hub for translators. It is almost a mini-fair in itself, taking center stage in the making of world literature at the London Book Fair, which is second only to Frankfurt as a mecca for publishers, international rights sales, and current trends in the industry. Within this context, the LTC gives translators a tremendous boost; it offers fresh ideas to discuss, and an invaluable opportunity to meet and chat with other translators, as well as with publishers, agents, and editors, at the very handy area with tables and chairs provided for people to mingle. With Korea as this year’s LBF Market Focus, we learned that Korean literature is surprisingly underrepresented in the UK publishing world in comparison to other East Asian literature. This only reinforced the importance of passionate translators who will bridge world literatures together and act as champions of their favorite authors and books.

The seminars covered everything from Back to Basics Q&As on how to get started in literary translation, panels on various topics with publishers and agents, translators discussing different aspects of their process, ideas for facilitating translation workshops in schools, a Korean translation slam, and a presentation on the short list for the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

With plenty of publishers taking part in the discussions, it was useful to hear their perspective about the risks and joys involved in publishing translations, and the ways in which translated works have found their way into print—be it through brown paper envelope submissions, readers’ groups, or a recommendation from an agent. One of the main ideas that I took away from these discussions was Rebecca Carter’s “no shoulds” dictum—that is, when trying to get an author into print, saying that this is a really important author that everybody should read, isn’t really what will make a publisher pick it up. Rather, the emphasis needs to be on how and why this author will appeal to a UK audience.

Another fascinating aspect of the seminars was hearing about the translation process from established translators: what it’s like to translate the living, the dead, and the extremely hurried—that is, books that need to be translated within a very short turn-around, thus requiring a collaborative effort between two or more translators. In the seminar about translating living authors, translators discussed how it can help to have a cup of coffee with the author and really get into a trusting relationship whereby the translator feels they have the freedom to do their best to bring the text into the target language, even if this means making unexpected changes to what doesn’t work. But when it comes to translating the classics, is this a liberating experience or is it the complete opposite? In the seminar on this topic, I was particularly fascinated to hear about Oliver Ready’s new translation of Crime and Punishment and his way of approaching the text, really honoring Dostoyevsky as a master of language, seeing the translator as a detective seeking the clues for how to translate in the text itself, and aiming for energy and vitality at all costs.

In terms of translating texts that need to be delivered in a very short amount of time, co-translation can be a great advantage, though of course, never hazard-free. For something like this to work, it’s extremely important that the translators know each other well and feel confident that they will be able to have the kinds of conversations that need to be had when you are going to be, as Daniel Hahn put it, “living together in the same book for three months.”

Being at the LBF gives a wonderful insight into the world of publishing in general, but spending time at the Literary Translation Centre in this context really gives a sense of how, to paraphrase José Saramago, it is translators who create world literature.


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