Translation Day

Over the summer I came across a competition which I felt compelled to enter. It was to translate one or more prose pieces or one or more poems from Turkish into English. Though I’d never attempted literary translation and had only been doing technical translation (of academic papers) for six months I thought I’d give it a go.

It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed the challenge of the actual translation and of shaping it into a piece of English literature. It made me think about translation in a new way, and gave me some inkling into the complications that it can involve.

*Image from British Council website

Needless to say I was absolutely delighted to get an email inviting me, as one of the top 10 prose translators, to Translation Day last week in Istanbul.

So last Thursday I found myself standing awkwardly in SALT Galata. I wasn’t the only one a little overwhelmed by the setting of the first foreign investment bank in Turkey, now library (complete with bank vaults!) and cultural centre. The waiters were impeccable and the creases on their trousers would have cut silk. We arrived to tea and coffee and odd groups of two or three, smiling nervously, wondering how to start chatting and in what language. People had come from Bursa, Izmir and Ankara to attend.

After a brief introduction to the day we headed for the prose workshop or poetry workshop. The prose workshop was in a room with a view across the Golden Horn to the Suleymaniye Mosque. Sitting at the top of a horseshoe of tables was Maureen Freely. She immediately put us at ease and got us to introduce ourselves. There were 11 girls and 3 guys, of whom half were Turkish and half were a mix of American, British and me, the token Irish. (As my sister said, at virtually any international gathering there will be a token Irish person and sometimes, you’re it!) Most of the others were studying or had studied either English Literature or Translation in some form. Most were students, either under or post grad, with some English teachers and a few translators.

Maureen led us in a discussion of what literary translation is, how it differs from other forms of translation, and mentioned some theories on translation. Her own entry into translation was late and she felt her background as a writer helped her tremendously. We talked about the pieces we translated, with one in particular causing a great debate, much to Maureen’s amusement as to why the others didn’t inspire such passion. We could easily have talked for hours, as it was we ran over time. So many things were mentioned and I’ll write in more detail in the future on some of them.

Then it was lunch where we displayed our ignorance by deciding the brown things in the fancy baps must be köfte, only for the waiter to inform us down his nose that they were porcini mushrooms. Things were a lot more relaxed at lunch, though the presence of at least three photographers while trying to get your mouth around your sandwich was a bit uncomfortable.

After lunch there was a panel discussion about publishing and translation with Maureen, Clifford Endres, and Güven Turan, who had led the poetry workshop together. The panel was chaired by Amy Spangler who runs a literary agency, AnatoliaLit. The panel began with a discussion of how the panellists started in translation, moved on to the process of publishing, advice for translators and how it feels to be translated. It was informative to see the different attitudes to translation and being translated that all held. The possibly stormy relationship between author and translator was evident.

Then we had a break for the afternoon before a second panel discussion, open to the public this time, in the evening. Margaret Jacks, country director of the British Council in Turkey, talked about the London Book Fair in 2013, how Turkey is market focus and the British Council is working to support that (in the manner of an Anglican minister according to one attendee). The panellists were Maureen Freely and Güven Turan but this time they were joined by Murat Belge and chaired by Sirma Köksal. The topic was new developments in translation. Murat Belge began by explaining what comparative literature and world literature were and how they might save us all. The dominance of English, the slow increase in interest in translations and the need for good translations and good dictionaries were all touched on.

Maureen Freely with Young Translator winners, Derick Mattern and John Angliss
*Image from British Council Turkey Twitter stream.

After the panel ended we adjourned across the hall to the reception. Maureen made a speech about the Translation Prize. There were 259 entries from 10 countries. Of these 34 made the longlist and were invited to attend Translation Day, with 22 attending. On the longlist she said all were good translators, some were ready to work as professional translators, some were nearly there. Then she pulled the names out of the envelope, John for prose and Derick for poetry. While the winners were subjected to more photographs from all angles, the rest of us enjoyed the wine and chatted.

It was a tremendous day. I got to meet with other people with similar interests from a range of backgrounds; we all agreed we want to stay in contact. One thing mentioned was the importance of collaborators in translation, a support network to discuss problems and challenges with.

When I asked Maureen what a person coming without qualifications to translation should do to improve, she said “Take a creative writing course…”


Update February 2013: The free e-book of the prize selection is now available from altKitap Yansımalar/Art of Echo where you can read my translations of “Saman Kokusu” by İnci Aral; “Prensi Olmayan Masal Kitabı” by Fatih Erdoğan and “70 Model Aşklar” by Can Dündar.