Interview with Imogen Wood
How did you get into translation and how has your career unfolded?
I studied modern languages at UEA and hugely enjoyed the final year translation module. I can still remember the moment when I thought ‘this is what I want to do for a career’. I wanted to stay in Norwich so I applied for the MA in Literary Translation at UEA, which I finished back in 2003. I was lucky enough to find a publisher (Andersen Press) for the book I worked on for my dissertation, Traitor by Gudrun Pausewang. I’ve been working as a translator of literary and creative non-literary texts ever since, although it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve felt reasonably established. It takes time to build up contacts and I had a bit of time out while my children were small. Meanwhile, I’ve worked on books for self-published authors, non-fiction for a multilingual publisher in Prague, and all kinds of agency work and sample translations.
What have been your most enjoyable translation projects? Do you have a favourite genre?
I have absolutely loved working on Blue Night and Beton Rouge by Simone Buchholz for Orenda Books. She has a unique voice and the books fizz with energy. Every word seems chosen with care and attention and it’s a privilege to try to pull off the same trick in English. I’ve also just finished Zippel: The Little Keyhole Ghost by Alex Rühle, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (Andersen Press). It’s crammed with rhymes, puns and wordplay and was huge fun to translate. I specialise in crime fiction and children’s books and generally prefer entertaining, well-written fiction – what is now called ‘up-lit’, I believe.
Do you have a favourite translated work by someone else?
I tend to like books that are quirky or have a distinct voice, so I’ve loved Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos, tr. Rosalind Harvey, and The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain, tr. Louise Rogers Lalaurie, Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken. Recently, I also enjoyed Frank Wynne’s translation of Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger.
What advice or tips would you give to new translators?
Read! Take every opportunity to get to know fellow translators, authors and publishers, whether online or in person – join professional organisations and informal networks at all levels. Keep an eye out for all the emerging translator events and programmes, as well as summer schools, and make the most of every opportunity to hone your translation skills and improve your source-language writing. It’s also worth getting to know the markets and what’s being published in both languages.
In this issue we are celebrating the life and work of the translator Anthea Bell. What are your most defining memories of her?
I mainly knew Anthea Bell through her work, starting with Asterix as a child – it was one of the first series that I could read in two languages, and it really prompted me to think about translation and its challenges and joys. My personal highlight of the ‘Translate in Cambridge’ event in 2016 was the opportunity to hear her discuss her decades of experience translating Asterix. It was both a privilege and a welcome laugh at the end of the day; her depths of cultural and literary knowledge were incredible. Sadly, I was too slow to get a copy of the latest book for signing, though I did get to speak to her briefly and was amazed that she remembered a very brief email exchange we’d had two years earlier. It was also strangely encouraging when she posted on the Translators Association forum in response to my struggles with an author who was being rather unreasonable, and shared her own similar experience. I remember feeling that if such things could happen to Anthea Bell, they could happen to anyone!