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.

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.

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.

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.

Swedish Book Review launches new site

SELTA’s journal Swedish Book Review has launched its new website.

SELTA is pleased to share some happy news in these difficult times: the long-awaited new online Swedish Book Review is now live! The new website address is:

Although the editorial team still have work to do in uploading SBR’s archive of material, which goes back to 2004, there is already an exciting collection of translated extracts, articles, interviews and book reviews from 2018 to 2020. The material for 2020 is all new and focusses on the theme of emerging voices in Swedish literature, including the debut authors who attended the SELTA seminar in Edinburgh last autumn.

Once more of SBR’s archive is in place, a new membership scheme will launch offering access to the full digital archive and all new issues, in addition to other member benefits. Membership of Swedish Book Review will remain part of the SELTA membership package in the same way that a subscription to the printed journal was in the past.

For the time being, stop by the new website and take a look!

Catch up on SELTA live event with literary agents

SELTA hosted a live virtual event with three guest speakers.

On 18 November, SELTA was delighted to be joined for a live event by three distinguished literary agents working in the Nordic region to find out about their pandemic year, and to gain a better understanding of what their work involves. Our invited speakers were Urpu Strellman (Helsinki Literary Agency), Judith Toth (Nordin Agency) and Sofie Voller (Politiken Literary Agency), all of whom represent Swedish-language authors and titles, as well as other Nordic writers. The panel was chaired by Alex Fleming (Editor, Swedish Book Review). The event was recorded and you can now catch up here.

The Symbiotic Relationship between Editor and Translator

In June 2019, SELTA member Tom Ellett attended a workshop run by the Association of Danish-English Literary Translators (DELT).

DELT, the recently formed association for Danish to English literary translators, organised a very successful (and welcome) event in Scotland in late June. Sponsored by the Danish Arts Foundation, the event took place at the University of Edinburgh and was hosted by the Scandinavian Studies section of the Department of European Languages and Cultures.

As professional development opportunities for Scandinavian translators are a rare occurrence north of the Border, I was sorry that a prior engagement prevented me from attending the first part of the event, a hands-on translation and editing workshop. By all accounts, this seems to have been a fascinating and productive experience, even for translators working mainly from Swedish and Norwegian rather than Danish.

I made it to Edinburgh in time for the second part of the event, a panel discussion on the symbiotic relationship between editors and translators. The proceedings were ably chaired by Kari Dickson, a prolific Norwegian to English translator based in Edinburgh, and there were three panel members: James Robertson, a Scots author, translator and publisher; Carolina Orloff, founder and editor of Charco Press, an Edinburgh publisher specialising in translations of Latin American literature; and Daniel Hahn, a writer, editor, translator from Portuguese, Spanish and French, and former chair of the Society of Authors and the Translators Association.

Kari Dickson got the discussion under way by noting that she loves both editing and being edited. The panel members agreed that they had learned from being on both sides of the editing process – both from having a fresh pair of eyes review their own work, and from editing the work of other translators and seeing how they had tackled various challenges.

Editor as beta tester

The consensus was that good editors do not try to impose their own style on the translation, by rewriting every sentence as they would have translated it, but make only those changes that are strictly necessary to eliminate errors and infelicities. Daniel Hahn drew a memorable analogy with the software development business, describing the editor as a ‘beta reader’. One of the best editors he had worked with had once told him (and I paraphrase): ‘All I’m saying is that I noticed this, and this, and this … and if I noticed these things, the chances are that other readers will too.’

A regular collaboration arrangement where two translators working in the same language pair review and edit each other’s work is perhaps the gold standard. James Robertson cited the example of his partnership with Matthew Fitt, his co-founder at Itchy Coo, an imprint publishing books in Scots for children and young adults. James considered himself prone to taking excessive liberties with the source text, which would be reined in by Matthew at the editing stage. Conversely, when Matthew as translator had taken an overly conservative approach, James as editor would encourage him to think outside the box.


Carolina Orloff remarked that editors were the invisible, unsung heroes of the publishing business. While translators as a profession had managed to win greater recognition for their work in recent years, it was still rare for editors to be credited. Daniel Hahn said this was why the TA First Translation Prize, which he had established in 2017, was to be shared between the translator and their editor.

On the perennial question of whether the editor needs to know the source language, the panellists’ opinions and experiences varied. Bilingual editors were naturally more likely to pick up on any misunderstandings of the source text, but might be more inclined to unnecessary rewriting to make the translation more ‘faithful’. Monolingual editors, focused wholly on the reader’s experience in the target language, might be more alert to infelicities resulting from source language interference.

In an amusing digression on the subject of editors’ foreign language skills, James Robertson mentioned that commissioning editors and rights agents from other European countries tended to be more receptive than their English colleagues to the idea of publishing translations into Scots – perhaps because they had encountered other examples of closely related but distinct languages in regions such as Scandinavia and the Iberian peninsula.

Pre-empt questions

Although the panel’s experiences of editing and being edited were generally positive, they also shared a few horror stories. Daniel Hahn said that, when he delivers a translation, he also sends a covering letter or email in which he explains his choice of voice, register and vocabulary, and his approach to any particular challenges the translation has thrown up. This helps to pre-empt some questions and overzealous editing, and may reduce the risk of being paired with an incompatible editor.

After an hour and a half of free-flowing discussion, it was time to vacate the room. The panellists and most of the 35 audience members adjourned to the adjacent hallway for refreshments, networking and more lively conversations about translation and editing.

DELT’s own blog post about the event can be read here.

Meet the Publisher – Finding out how Hachette publish books

In early July, the publishing group Hachette ran an afternoon session about how books are published. SELTA Chair Ian Giles was there and has written this report.

In early July, the publishing group Hachette hosted members of the Society of Authors who had previously been published by the group and its imprints (whether as authors, illustrators or translators) for an afternoon event on how books are published at its beautiful headquarters on the Thames, just round the corner from Blackfriars station.

Billed as ‘Meet the Publisher’, the session promised attendees that they would find out about all aspects of a typical book cycle and have the chance to ask plenty of questions, as well as networking with Hachette’s great and good afterwards. The participants included Hachette CEO David Shelley, Ruth Alltines (MD of Hachette Children’s), Jamie Hodder-Williams (CEO of Hodder, Headline, Quercus and JMP & Director of Trade Publishing), Nick Davies (MD of John Murray Press) and Diane Spivey, the group contracts director. Chairing proceedings was the SoA’s Chief Executive Nicola Solomon.

The panelists first discussed how a book is chosen. It was noted by several that although Hachette acquire a lot of titles (around 6,000 per annum), the vast majority of titles they consider are ultimately not acquired. However, there was an emphasis on the fact that acquiring titles was a dedicated, detailed group effort that involved multiple members of staff from a range of specialisms being consulted before a decision was made. In particular, the speakers were keen to emphasise that acquisitions were not solely sales-led, and that costing on projects was actually something that took place much later in the process. Instead, the greatest importance was on finding titles that fitted the list.

There was a focus on how rights were negotiated on contracts, with Diane Spivey stressing that contracts should always seek to cover all elements of payment and which rights were and were not being granted. One interesting nugget to come out of the discussions about contracting books was the discovery that the contracts team, at least at Hachette, are responsible for creating the metadata relating to a title. The resolve to include a translator in a book’s metadata consequently resides with the contracts team. More generally, the contracts team provide advice to acquiring editors who are unfamiliar with the process. In this regard, it would seem that no matter how virgin a buyer an editor is – even of translations – they should have suitable advice available to them in-house. There was also an explicit acknowledgement that an initial contract is always considered to be a draft and that there is room for negotiation over most issues, although Hachette has firm lines in the sand on certain matters and rights.

Discussion moved on to other elements of the Hachette operations, including details about its new distribution centre in Didcot, which cost a ‘high eight-figure sum’ to construct and is capable of distributing one million books every day. There was also an explanation of what Hachette does for older books in its lists, with a focus on enhancing searchability of titles and improving metadata so that customers can still find them and buy them.

There were a couple of questions from the audience relating to how the process works when applied specifically to translated titles. In general, dealing with foreign literary agents was deemed a rarity (and it was noted that many countries simply don’t have any), with publishers often choosing to look and see what their ‘partner’ publishers abroad were acquiring. None of the panelists had experience with translations, but they had consulted Katharina Bielenberg of MacLehose Press beforehand. The reported response was that many acquisitions were done on the basis of trust and long-term relationships with foreign publishers and authors.

MacLehose Press publishes about 30 books per year, and takes a cautious approach to acquisitions. Apparently, they frequently commission two or three reader’s reports on a title before buying rights, and will often commission a paid sample from a translator before finalising that decision too. Once again, the element of trust-based relationships was emphasised in the process of finding translators.

Other questions from the audience were interesting and diverse, including queries on whether existing children’s writers could make the jump to adult fiction (or vice versa) within the Hachette umbrella, promotional strategies for educational titles, and how to keep track of royalties on old titles where digitalisation of records might be wanting.

Soon time was up, however, and there was an opportunity for networking over a glass of wine in the lovely roof garden on top of Hachette’s offices. While the event was largely not translation-focused, it still offered a lot of insights into the workings of the industry that were helpful. Perhaps the most useful element was the discussion of contracts (both during the session and afterwards). Most pleasant was the humanising element of making the creators and the commissioners seem like normal people to each other. If Hachette (or another publisher) runs a similar event with the Society of Authors in future, I would strongly recommend that SELTA members consider attending.

PS from SELTA member Anna Paterson, who also attended:

Because I’m translating a book for one of the Hachette imprints, I was there on the day or, rather, afternoon/early evening. I thoroughly agree with Ian’s account; as he says, ‘the humanising element’ was important. The event seems to have been an initiative organised by the young and driven CEO. It is a pity that not many more of ‘The Creatives’ had taken the opportunity to meet ‘The Publishers’ on a slightly business-oriented terms than usual.