Bernard Shaw Prize awarded to Sarah Death for Tove Jansson translation

The 2021 Bernard Shaw Prize has been awarded to Sarah Death for her translation from Swedish of Tove Jansson’s Letters from Tove.

The winner of the 2021 Bernard Shaw Prize is Sarah Death for her translation of Letters from Tove by Tove Jansson (edited by Boel Westin and Helen Svensson) and published by Sort of Books. The announcement of the winner was made as part of the Society of Authors’ annual Translation Prizes ceremony held online on 10th February.

The judges’ citation noted: ‘This translation was the standout contribution from within the shortlist for the judges. It is beautifully illustrated and produced, balancing general reader interest with scholarly value throughout its footnotes and index.’

The two runners up were Amanda Doxtater for her translation of Karin Boye’s Crisis, and Sarah Death, whose translation of Chitambo was also featured on the shortlist. The judges noted that ‘Death and Doxtater’s translation prowess proved inseparable’.

The prize is awarded for the best translation into English of a full length Swedish language work of literary merit and general interest, with the winner receiving £2000. Named after the author and dramatist George Bernard Shaw, whose Nobel Prize went towards a foundation for ‘the promotion and diffusion of knowledge and appreciation of the literature and art of Sweden in the British Islands’, the prize was established in 1991 and is generously sponsored by the Anglo-Swedish Literary Foundation and the Embassy of Sweden in London. It has been awarded triennially since its inception, but will be awarded biennially from now, meaning that the next award will be for 2023 (awarded in 2024).

Sarah Death has won the Bernard Shaw prize on two previous occasions, in 2003 and 2006, and was commended in 2015. This is also a third win for the late Tove Jansson and her publisher Sort of Books. SELTA offers its wholehearted congratulations to Sarah on her achievement.

You can watch the full prize ceremony here. And finally well done to all the translators who were featured on the shortlist for the 2021 prize as announced last November.

2021 in Review

Our now traditional round-up of the year from SELTA chair Ian Giles

Dear SELTA members,

What a weird year of ups and downs! It wasn’t all bad – indeed some parts were very good – but I doubt I’m the only person who will be glad to see the back of 2021 as the Christmas holidays loom large. Anyway, I’d like to begin by thanking you for another year of gott samarbete in SELTA.

Our membership figures remain strong – we end the year with a membership tally of 85, representing an increase of 11 against last year. This partly reflects our decision to admit our North American colleagues, but represents continuing growth in Europe too. It’s gratifying that even in these changing times, members value what SELTA has to offer.

Back in January, the possibility of meeting in person seemed a distant prospect as restrictions rumbled on for many of us. Nevertheless, we were able to meet via Zoom for a couple of informal fikastunds. I was also pleased that we were able to continue our track record of public-facing online events in the first half of the year. In March, we held an event focusing on the cross-currents between literary translation and other activities, drawing speakers from among our own ranks (watch here). In April, we were overjoyed when Nichola Smalley was included on the longlist for the International Booker Prize for her translation of Andrzej Tichý’s ‘Wretchedness’, and we held a virtual event with both Nicky and Andrzej to mark this achievement (generously funded by the Swedish Embassy in London). You can watch it here. Our digital spring meeting held in May attracted 25 members – surely a record for a SELTA meeting?

Despite misgivings, there was work going on in the background to prepare for an in-person gathering. After securing an eye watering amount of funding from the Swedish Literature Exchange to allow four authors from Sweden to travel over (all on refundable tickets!), we pressed on hatching plans for a day-long workshop in London in October. It was a real delight to welcome authors Susanna Alakoski, Eija Hetekivi Olsson, Mats Jonsson and Anneli Jordahl to discuss their work with members of SELTA and other guests (including two MA students from UCL). You can read the accounts of the day here. After a fruitful day, our authors travelled on to Bristol where they appeared in a public panel as part of the Working-Class Writers Festival, which you can listen to the recording of here. All this would have been impossible without the generosity of our funders, our embassy hosts, and the untiring hard work of my predecessor Ruth Urbom.

SELTA continues to maintain ongoing dialogue with our good friends at the Swedish Literature Exchange. Notwithstanding their considerable financial support for our working class literature workshop and the festival in Bristol, funding has also been made available to support a Swedish mentorship run through ALTA (with SELTA member Kira Josefsson serving as mentor), and a grant awarded earlier this month will also allow Henry Jeppesen to undertake a mentorship with Sarah Death. The Swedish Literature Exchange have organised several översättarsalonger over the year which have been well-attended, and I gather these are to continue.

Our colleagues at the Swedish Embassy in London also take an active interest in our work. Pia Lundberg (Cultural Counsellor) was delighted to welcome so many of us to the embassy in October for our workshop and she remains excited about the work that we do. We were also thrilled to finally meet Sofia Lundström, the all-round fixer extraordinaire of the embassy cultural section. Torbjörn Sohlström has returned to Sweden from his posting (where he has bought a bookshop!) and his new replacement, Mikaela Kumlin Granit, has settled into post. She too was eager to meet both authors and translators at October’s workshop, and we are confident of the embassy’s continuing support for our activities.

Indeed, the embassy (under the auspices of the Anglo-Swedish Literary Foundation which they administer) has truly shown its support for literature in translation. I am overjoyed that the Society of Authors is moving the Bernard Shaw Prize from triennial to biennial – this has been made possible by the generosity of the ASLF trustees. This means that once the 2021 prize is awarded on 10 February, we will only have to wait two years for the next award. This is richly deserved – around 50 Swedish books are published in English translation annually now, as opposed to some 10–15 annually when the prize was established.

In November, Swedish-translation-Christmas came early when the shortlist for the 2021 Bernard Shaw Prize was announced. On it were: Neil Smith for ‘Anxious People’, Deborah Bragan-Turner for ‘To Cook a Bear’, Sarah Death (twice) for Hagar Olsson’s ‘Chitambo’ and Tove Jansson’s ‘Letters from Tove’, and Nicky Smalley for ‘Wretchedness’.

In fact, 2021 feels like an outstanding year for SELTA members on the prize front. As mentioned, Nichola Smalley was longlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize for her translation of Andrzej Tichý’s ‘Wretchedness’, which was also the winner of the 2021 Oxford-Wiedenfeld Translation Prize. Sarah Death, Deborah Bragan-Turner and Neil Smith were all longlisted for the 2021 CWA Crime Fiction in Translation Dagger, with Deborah and Neil’s translations making it to the shortlist. Saskia Vogel and Alice Menzies were both nominated for the 2021 Pen America Translation Prize, with Saskia being shortlisted for her translation of ‘Girls Lost’ by Jessica Schiefauer. B. J. Epstein was shortlisted for the 2021 Kate Greenaway Medal for her translation of Sara Lundberg’s ‘The Bird Within Me’. Sarah Death and Deborah Bragan-Turner were both shortlisted for the 2021 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel, Sarah for Håkan Nesser’s ‘The Secret Life of Mr. Roos’ and Deborah for Mikael Niemi’s ‘To Cook a Bear’, and we were delighted that Deborah was named winner.

Swedish Book Review ‘i ny dräkt’ online goes from strength to strength. Editor Alex Fleming has managed not only to publish  2 full issues online at, but also to sneak in several smaller special issues marking events such as the virtual London Book Fair. SBR’s editorial team has also held two virtual public events this year, lending a more literary (rather than translator-y) focus to proceedings. Of course, our thanks go not only to the indefatigable Alex, but also to the team at Norvik Press who watch her back. Thanks are also due to Fiona Graham, who is stepping down in the spring as SBR’s reviews editor – her work over recent years in this department has been stellar.

SELTA’s new website finally launched properly in early January, offering a significant improvement on the old site and increasing the visibility of the organisation and its members. The SELTA Google group continues to be a valuable forum where members can ask questions and share information.

As yet, I don’t know what 2022 holds for SELTA and its members. However, we will be celebrating our 40th birthday (cue a midlife crisis?) as SELTA officially came into being on 1 January 1982. The committee is busy thinking of ways to mark this milestone appropriately. Other initiatives may include retrospectives in SBR and updates to SELTA’s official history. I don’t think I am spoiling anything by suggesting that clinking glasses and cake may feature too…

More generally, the committee plans to adopt a one meeting on, one meeting off approach. SELTA’s AGM will continue to be held virtually, enabling all members to democratically participate in SELTA’s governance, while our ordinary meeting held in the spring will be tied to the London Book Fair. Next year, this is scheduled to take place 5-7 April, and we cross our fingers for something closer to what we have been used to in the past. Whatever happens, I hope to see many of you either in person or in cyberspace in the coming months.

Gott nytt år,

Dr Ian Giles

Chair of SELTA

Four SELTA members shortlisted for the Bernard Shaw Translation Prize

Deborah Bragan-Turner, Sarah Death (twice), Nichola Smalley and Neil Smith are all on the shortlist.

The triennial prize, instituted in 1991 by the Anglo-Swedish Literary Foundation, is administered by the Society of Authors and awarded to translations into English of full-length Swedish language works of literary merit and general interest. The full shortlist is as follows:

Neil Smith for a translation of Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (Penguin, Michael Joseph)

Sarah Death for a translation of Chitambo by Hagar Olsson (Norvik Press)

Amanda Doxtater for a translation of Crisis by Karin Boye (Norvik Press)

Sarah Death for a translation of Letters from Tove by Tove Jansson and ed. by Boel Westin and Helen Svensson (Sort of Books)

Deborah Bragan-Turner for a translation of To Cook A Bear by Mikael Niemi (MacLehose Press)

Nichola Smalley for a translation of Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichý (And Other Stories)

Congratulations to them all. We are also delighted that from now on the prize will be awarded every two years thanks to an increase in funding.

SELTA’s translation workshop on Swedish Working Class Writing

SELTA members Sarah Death, Kathy Saranpa and Anna McGroarty and student guest Lily Stewart share their impressions of SELTA’s workshop on Working Class Writing held at the Swedish Embassy in London in October. The idea of Ruth Urbom, the workshop brought writers Susanna Alakoski, Eija Hetekivi Olsson, Mats Jonsson and Anneli Jordahl to discuss their work and its translation with members.

Photos by Ian Giles.

Sarah Death writes:

The recent SELTA translation workshop, held at the Swedish Embassy in London at the kind invitation of the cultural counsellor and her team, was the brainchild of former chair Ruth Urbom and brought to fruition by her hard work, with the help of Chair Ian Giles and the SELTA committee. The theme of the event was working-class writers and our four guests from Sweden introduced themselves and their work before we broke into author-led groups to take a closer look at the extracts we had prepared and the many and various solutions we had found.


I was part of the group that enjoyed a very fruitful session working with author and critic Anneli Jordahl, who has a long catalogue of titles to her name, both fiction and non-fiction. She is a critic and reviewer for the Swedish papers Aftonbladet, Expressen and Sydsvenska Dagbladet and has won numerous literary prizes.

As has become customary at SELTA workshops, those who had done the translation in advance – including members who could not attend – had sent in their work, and thanks to the organisers we had in front of us an anonymised array of English versions to inform our discussion. When a group of literary translators assembles to work on a text they have prepared, the discussions can be quite intense, detailed and niche, but having the author there always leads to more insightful and rewarding work, and Annneli was such an engaging collaborator.

We worked with her on an extract from her recent, book-length essay Orm med två huvuden (2019, Snake with Two Heads) in which she casts an appraising eye on her own background and its impact on her dual – and sometimes conflicting – roles as an author and a critic. For someone from her background to be accepted as a critic, she told us, it was a real struggle. The extract we tackled was from a section in which the young Anneli becomes a latchkey kid and discovers her appetite for books and the joy of libraries and solitary reading.

The first challenge hit us in the very first sentence. Anneli’s parents lived in a ‘Mexitegelvilla’, house of a type that has become pretty much synonymous with the optimistic and aspirational spirit of Sweden in the 1970s. The building material, ‘Mexitegel’ is a shimmering kind of white brick and the ‘villa’ is nothing like the Mediterranean image that this might conjure up for a British reader but simply a standard, free-standing Swedish domestic residence. Yet how to encapsulate all this and convey all those associations with a simplicity that comes anywhere near that of the single word in the original Swedish? None of our versions could really do it full justice.

Anneli’s father was an electrician and her mother worked in a restaurant. She writes of them as ‘pappa’ and ‘mamma’, which seems simple enough, but these words are perennially problematic for translators into English in terms of register and cultural connotations. Take ‘mamma’, for example. We discussed leaving it unchanged, but does it sound a little too much like a child’s exclamation? Eventually we concluded that all solutions had their drawbacks. ‘Mama’ has too Victorian a flavour, doesn’t it? Is ‘Mum’ too British and ‘Mom’ too American? Does ‘Mummy’ sound too childish, or too upper-middle-class British? Anneli gave us some interesting background information: in Sweden there were, and perhaps still are, regional variations. In Skåne, your parents would be known as ‘mor och far’, whereas in Dalarna they would be ‘mamma och pappa’.

Anneli’s mother worked for many years at ‘Stadshotellet’ (traditionally the leading hotel in a town) where her job description in Swedish was ‘kallskänka’. There is a great deal to unpack in this word before one can even think of trying to find an appropriate translation. Various dictionaries offered us the term ‘cold-buffet manageress’, which sounds like someone who takes bookings, shows people to their tables and makes sure the buffet platters are replenished; but the title also has that slight managerial ring. Anneli explained that in reality it was a job with quite a lowly place in hierarchy but requiring considerable artistic skills. It involved not only arranging all those eye-catching platters of smorgåsbord essentials but also constructing the smörgåstårta, the staple of summer Swedish catering: essentially a party-sized cut-and-share club sandwich, full of seafood and other layers, all held together with mayonnaise and beautifully decorated with unshelled prawns and fronds or flower-heads of dill. How could we render all this cultural context in English? In the end, reluctant to overload the sentence, we decided to make do with the rather underwhelming phrase ‘running the lunch buffet’.

Moving on to how Anneli was expected to behave as a child, we read in our text that her mother thought it safest in social terms for her largely to be seen and not heard, but – as was quite common at that period – she would sometimes be expected to niga, that is, to curtsey, to important guests. We had an entertaining interlude in which full, deep curtsey (called a hovnigning or court curtsey in Swedish, Anneli told us) was demonstrated by one of our number, but decided that for a young girl we would probably use ‘bob’ or ‘give a bob’, as long as we were sure the context made it clear what was going on.

In the next section Anneli described the gloriously indiscriminate reading of her childhood, everything from Asterix to Jules Verne – ‘från A till Ö’, as Anneli’s text put it, which in English surely has to become A to Z?  We were faced with putting the extensive lists into succinct English, and not cramming them to full of explanatory detail. One example was Vilhelm Moberg’s ‘Utvandrarromaner’, his quartet of novels (1949-59) set in the 1850s, when hardship and hunger forced waves of emigration from Sweden to North America. In these days when readers can look up anything online in a trice, is it all right simply to say ‘the Emigrant novels by Vilhelm Moberg’?

The discussion turned to the general importance of local libraries in both Britain and Sweden for educating and inspiring children. Many Swedish working-class writers have described their vital function in less-privileged childhoods, underpinning many a subsequent class journey. Anneli told us about a successful – and rather touching – modern-day initiative in a library in her own area. Children who are too nervous and intimidated to read out loud in class can go there to read to Book Dog, a trained dog who sits and listens as they read. The scheme has boosted the confidence of many young readers.

The perfect conclusion to our wide-ranging discussions was the group’s wholehearted applause for Anneli’s enthusiastic participation, and also for the fact that she now has the job of her dreams. When young Anneli wistfully enquired whether there was a job she could do in adulthood that would allow her to keep her nose in a book all day, her mother of course said no. But now, she jokes, the majority of her work as a critic and reviewer does indeed involve lying on the sofa, reading!


Kathy Saranpa writes:

On Thursday, October 21, around 20 participants, including authors and guests, assembled at the Swedish Embassy in London in a bright and pleasant room facing the courtyard. After hanging up our coats, signing in, disinfecting our hands, and putting on our masks, we were greeted most warmly by our hosts, Ruth Urbom and Ian Giles, and by a welcome table of coffee, tea and treats. We had a fully packed day ahead of us, and Ruth and Ian kept us on schedule in a very gracious and efficient manner. Ruth explained to us how she had happened to choose the topic of working-class writers, giving us a look at her own background as a log chopper’s assistant. (You’ll have to ask her for the correct term – and terminology was definitely one of the issues surrounding the day’s topic.) She had also noticed that there was a festival of working-class writers scheduled in Bristol on October 22, and worked behind the scenes to enable four Swedish writers to attend. What a terrific opportunity for us!

Susanna Alakoski introduced herself and her ‘klassresa’, another theme for the day, noting that she was 17 before she set foot in a library. Otherwise, those places were far too fine for someone like her. Her first story, ‘Pärs första fisk,’ was the result of her having found a fresh (?) cod, passing it off at home as edible and not eating the soup made from it in case she had to take care of sick family members. She spoke of her very difficult childhood and the struggles she had as a ‘finnjävel’ – another thread that returned with the next speaker, Eija Hetekivi Olsson. She grew up in a rough Gothenburg suburb, Angered, and brought home the grim reality of working-class families almost from the beginning of her remarks: The most segregated city in Europe, Gothenburg features a difference in life expectancy of 30 years between those living in the most affluent areas and those living in Angered. Eija never expected to live very long, so she began writing about her experience in letters to her two daughters – which became books.

After the introductions to these two authors, we split up into two groups. I participated in the session with Susanna Alakoski. The issues we worked on dealt primarily with vocabulary (skiftflicka: doffer? shift girl?; trådrullar: bobbins? spools, reels? and the like) but also tricky citation issues such as the folk song ‘spinn min flicka spinn’ and the quote from Merrie England. What do you do when you don’t have the original text – translate it yourself? We spent a lot of time also simply enjoying the fact that we were working with a real author in real time! It became clear that both professions require a lot of research, but also that translators and authors don’t always have the same priorities or the same amount of power.

We were served a scrumptious, generous lunch along with a well-needed one-hour break for some fresh air out from behind masks. Then the afternoon session began with Anneli Jordahl introducing herself. She explained that she had taken a translation exam once but failed miserably because she had stuck too close to the text (sigh. Weren’t we all there once upon a time?). So she expressed her admiration for what we do. Her “klassresa” began when she got the keys to a library – as a cleaning woman. But she had access to all of those books and, like her character in Ormen med två huvuden, she read indiscriminately – as she explained later, her parents did not hierarchize her reading for her. Next, Mats Jonsson introduced himself as growing up as the only child in his village in Norrland – his best friends were elderly people, who often told him stories, and he credits them for giving him a sense of narrative. He read many comic books as a child and found that this was a genre he could express himself well in – and that they weren’t just for ‘barn och debila’.

I found myself in Anneli Jordahl’s session afterwards. Our first stumbling block was a brick – ‘mexitegel’. How on earth do you express all of the connotations of this word without using a run-on sentence? Another tricky single-word conundrum was ‘skönt’, the word the main character uses after telling the reader that she’s a latchkey child (latchkey was a unanimous choice for ‘nyckelbarn’). Great? Nice? We agreed there was ambiguity in this word until you got to the next sentence. Do you make things easier for the reader, or provide the same degree of vagueness? Other words we talked about were ‘skönlitteratur’, ‘niga’ (which elicited a lovely curtsey from Annie Prime!), ‘ensamförsörjande’, ‘surminen’, and the quotation from Kristina Lugn about indiscriminate reading. We also had some general discussion about translation and writing – having a real-live author there made it difficult to stick strictly to the text. But I suspect that was just fine.

We reconvened after another coffee break and summarized the day. One of the students remarked that she had had no idea of the complexity of literary translation – but she did not seem scared away. Ruth Urbom thanked the Swedish Embassy, the Swedish Literary Exchange, and the authors themselves. When she first thought of creating this workshop, she had four authors in mind and then listed the ones she would contact if she couldn’t get her top 4. She revealed that her top 4 were sitting there with us. Every one of them had said ‘yes’.

As a new member of SELTA, I was simply blown away by the opportunity to compare translations with colleagues, and equally by the kindness, the humor and the skill they all displayed. I even got an ‘inside’ glimpse of what Brexit has meant in a chat with Ian, and some great tips for places to go on this first trip to London from Henry. I will definitely make this trip again for a future workshop.


Anna McGroarty writes:

At the end of October, I had the pleasure of attending the SELTA translation workshop on working class literature at the Swedish Embassy in London. This was my first SELTA event, and I enjoyed it immensely. I think everyone present was thrilled to finally be able to get together in person again. Having the opportunity to discuss translation choices, difficulties, and ideas with colleagues in person was a hugely rewarding experience. We were also incredibly lucky to have the authors of the books being workshopped with us on the day, giving interesting presentations on their works and backgrounds and participating in our discussions.

In the afternoon, my break-away group chose to focus on an excerpt from Mats Jonsson’s graphic novel Nya Norrland. As most of us had no previous experience of translating this type of text, we were all curious to find out more not only about the craft of translating comics, but also the process of writing and publishing them. We learned plenty from Jonsson who, in addition to having published several highly successful graphic novels, also spent many years working as an editor at Galago, one of Sweden’s largest graphic novel imprints.

Much of our subsequent discussion centred on the difficulties and peculiarities that a text of this nature presents for the translator. Jonsson made the point that the translation of a graphic novel is a whole other animal; one that arguably has more in common with subtitling than with ‘classic’ literary translation, chiefly due to the paramount issue of space. Unless it is possible to increase the size of the text boxes and speech bubbles (usually the task of the letterer, a further person with whom the translator may need to interact over the course of the translation process), the translated text needs to fit in the space allocated to the original in the corresponding text box. Given that text volume tends to expand in translation from Swedish into English, this creates an obvious dilemma, similar to that faced by subtitlers.

The group immediately noted that some tough decisions would have to be made. What needs to be retained to stay true to the original and tell the story, and what can be sacrificed? The need for the translator to be pragmatic becomes clear. Similarly, where in a traditional book, the translator might be able to play around with the structure to make the text flow well in English, the graphic novel translator does not have this luxury. The translation must correspond to the illustration panel in which the original text appears in for the story to make sense to the reader. Our group considered that while these issues impose certain limitations on the translator, there is perhaps also a freedom in being allowed to take more liberties with the source text to make the necessary cuts.

These issues aside, the drawings in a graphic novel add a visual element to the translation process and another layer for the translator to interpret in addition to the text. This has its own appeal for readers and translators alike and is part of what makes the format so unique and captivating.

Lily Stewart writes:

I was barely three weeks into my master’s degree studying Translation Studies at UCL when I was presented with the wonderful opportunity to attend SELTA’s annual literary workshop, joining Swedish authors and translators of Swedish literature into English. As a student of the Scandinavian languages and an enthusiast for literary translation in particular, this was a window into the profession that could not be turned down – and at the Swedish Embassy, no less!

In the morning, the authors Susanna Alakoski and Eija Hetekivi Olsson introduced themselves and their work, speaking especially on the theme of ‘arbetarlitteratur’ and of their personal ‘klassresa’ and how class had motivated and moulded their writing. With this context in mind, we then split into groups to discuss our translations of their work.

My group looked at Eija’s text; an extract from her acclaimed 2012 book Ingenbarnsland. Eija had related to us the influence of her own upbringing in the Gothenburg suburbs on her writing; coming from a Finnish migrant family, her mother a cleaner and her friends and peers with few prospects of advancement or even an average life expectancy. This background is very transparent in the text. The dialogue between the two girls in the extract is distinctively in the Gothenburg dialect, with Finnish influence and 1980s slang. This posed a challenge in terms of situating the characters in time and place for an anglophone audience. To relay the equivalent sense, we discussed how we could convey a non-standard working-class dialect without taking it to the extreme of, for example, peppering the dialogue with Geordie slang! Aside from the clear oddity of this approach, we would then be faced with the issue of whether we could make this work for a North American readership, in which case the ‘equivalent’ dialect would again have to be different.

Another point of discussion was how we could translate the humorous way the girls talk, with examples such as ‘E du go eller?’ rendered by one translator as ‘Are you off your rocker?’, but again lacking the distinctive humour that the Gothenburg dialect lends. It was suggested that where we must inevitably lose humour from one aspect of the text, we can compensate in other areas of our translation. The girls are raw and rude and we talked about their tone and attitude being important to preserve in translation, but also considered the question of how brash we want to be and the target readers would allow us to be. The mention of a character taking a 100 SEK ‘en hundring’ from their mother also posed a challenge. One clever suggestion was the translation of ‘a tenner’, which carries the same colloquial sense of ‘hundring’ and states the equivalent value, without going as far as to simply render it as the rough conversion of £10, which we all felt would take the setting too far away from Sweden.

Something which particularly struck me was the translators’ reactions to each other’s work and how much everyone seemed to relish the opportunity for collaboration and vigorous discussion which the workshop sparked. Translators were able to compare their work and decision-making processes, and as our translations differed, we discussed at length the justification of our choices and pondered how far a translator can fight to defend their choice. The direct communication with the translators was also invaluable, and it felt wonderfully empowering to be able to ask the author instantly what their intentions had been when we encountered a particularly tricky or ambiguous line!

I have taken so much from the SELTA workshop, and it has not only strengthened my desire to pursue Swedish literary translation but has given me a better sense of how to achieve this. What’s more, everyone I met at the event was so approachable, helpful, friendly, and inspiring, and I would like to thank Ian Giles and Ruth Urbom for organising the workshop and for being so accommodating.


Deborah Bragan-Turner’s translation of Michael Niemi’s To Cook a Bear wins Petrona Award

Congratulations to Deborah!

The Petrona Award celebrates the best Scandinavian crime novel of the year and in choosing Michael Niemi’s To Cook a Bear, published by MacLehose Press, this is the first time the award has gone to historical fiction.

In announcing the award, the judges said “The beautiful translation by Deborah Bragan-Turner lets the novel shine for English-language readers around the world.”

Poetry Book Society selects David McDuff’s translation of Tua Forsström

The Poetry Book Society has chosen SELTA member David McDuff’s translation of Finland-Swedish poet Tua Forsström’s poems as part of its Winter Selection to be sent out to its members this November.

Tua Forsström’s I walked on into the forest: poems for a little girl, translated by David McDuff, is the Poetry Book Society’s Translation Choice for Winter 2021.

“Her poetry draws its sonorous and plangent music from the landscapes of Finland, seeking harmony between the troubled human heart and the threatened natural world,” the Poetry Book Society.

Subscribers will receive the book as part of their poetry bundle this November. Read more about the author at the publisher’s website, Bloodaxe Books here.

2021 Petrona Award shortlist announced for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year

Congratulations to Sarah Death and Deborah Bragan-Turner!

SELTA members Sarah Death and Deborah Bragan-Turner have been shortlisted for the Petrona Award. Sarah is shortlisted for her translation of Håkan Nesser’s The Secret Life of Mr. Roos (Mantle), while Deborah is shortlisted for her translation of Mikael Niemi’s To Cook A Bear (MacLehose Press).

The winner will be announced on 4 November.

The full shortlist, with more details of all 6 shortlisted novels, translated from Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic, can be seen here.

SELTA literary translation workshop on 21 October 2021

Authors Susanna Alakoski, Eija Hetekivi Olsson, Mats Jonsson and Anneli Jordahl will be coming to the UK this autumn. As part of their visit, SELTA is organising a full-day translation workshop at the Swedish Embassy in London. (Covid permitting)

An important part of the day will be practical workshop sessions, where we will examine and discuss participants’ translations (prepared in advance) of brief extracts from works by the authors. This promises to be a very rewarding experience, with the authors on hand to answer questions and discuss their work. Source texts for the workshop will be sent out to SELTA members in mid-September. In previous years, participants in SELTA workshops have found these events to be stimulating opportunities to develop and hone their craft as literary translators. Materials will be made available for reading and translation well in advance of the workshop to all members of SELTA.

To get an idea of what to expect from the workshop day, you can read the reports on our previous author events held in 2014 (Children’s and YA literature), 2017 (Nature writing) and 2019 (Emerging voices). This year’s focus is on working class writers and the authors will also speak on a panel at the Working Class Writers’ Festival, which takes place October 22nd–24th in Bristol. For more information, see the festival website.

If you wish to attend the 2021 SELTA translation workshop, you can book your ticket here. The ticket price has been set at £20 to cover the cost of providing catering and refreshments during the day. The last date to book is 13 October 2021. Please note that a health policy is in place for this workshop event in light of current circumstances and that by booking you agree to adhere to all aspects of it. Read the policy in full here.

If you have any questions about the event, please contact the Chair by email at

Translators in the news

SELTA members Sarah Death and Ian Giles were both interviewed recently for blog posts.

Sarah Death was interviewed by The Book Trail for Women in Translation Month in August. The Book Trail blog looks at the locations in which books are set so besides a great interview with Sarah, you also get maps showing the locations of the novels, in this case, Hagar Olsson’s Chitambo (Helsinki), Ellen Mattson’s Snow (Uddevalla) and Selma Lagerlöf’s The Saga of Gösta Berling (Värmland), for Read the interview here.

In July, Ian Giles was interviewed by Cath Jenkins of Norvik Press. Read his interview on small publishers and the impact of Brexit on the publishing industry here.

Saskia Vogel wins PEN Translates award

One of 12 PEN Translates awards goes to fund Saskia Vogel’s translation of Strega by Johanne Lykke Holm. The book will be published by Lolli Editions.

Strega by Johanne Lykke Holm was nominated for the 2021 Nordic Council Literature Prize.

PEN Translates awards fund the translation and publication of books “on the basis of outstanding literary quality, the strength of the publishing project, and their contribution to UK bibliodiversity”. See this year’s titles here.