SELTA at 40: Kate Lambert

Kate Lambert joined SELTA in about 2014 but has been working full-time as a freelance translator since 1997.

When did you join SELTA?

About 2014 or so? In 2013 I went to the BCLT summer school to see whether I was any good at translating literature with people who translated literature. Everyone was welcoming and some of the other people there were SELTA members and they said I should join as an associate. It was the first indication I had that the world of literary translation wasn’t an elite club.

What kinds of things was SELTA doing when you joined?

The first event I attended was the children’s literature translation workshop in autumn 2014. I think the events where we get to compare translations with each other (anonymously) and talk about choices made in detail are really valuable when we tend to be working in isolation the rest of the time.

When did you join the committee and what is your role?

Six years ago. I think it was either the first or second meeting I attended. Ian was moving to be treasurer and that left a vacancy for the web manager post. I made the mistake of saying “what content management system is it based on and where is it hosted?” and the meeting promptly concluded that I knew more about websites than anyone else there and should take it over. For the first couple of years I couldn’t do very much as the old website was rather on its last legs but then we had a new one developed and I’ve been involved in getting that functioning, getting everyone using it and updating it. Doing this 40th anniversary project has been great fun and I hope the pieces by members give a picture of the wide variety of things that members translate and the way careers and the industry have changed over SELTA’s history.

Tell us about your career – where did you learn Swedish, how did you become a translator?

I went to UEA to study History with ancillary Swedish in 1986. The course was intended to give historians enough Swedish to read source documents in the original language (which was probably a bit optimistic) but everyone else learning Swedish was doing it for their degree and halfway through the first year I switched to joint honours making it a 4-year course with the second year abroad at a folk high school.  In my final year we had to do a dissertation and I lazily decided that doing a translation would be much less effort than doing a history project. I translated extracts from Torsten Ehrenmark’s Mina osvenska år, funny stories about being a Swede living in the UK, and I absolutely loved it. I knew this was what I wanted to do forever. I just didn’t know how you became a translator or if it was even a job really and no-one at UEA in 1989 mentioned it as a possible career. So I went to teach English in a Finnish hydroelectric power company on the Arctic Circle instead.

I taught English in Finland for four years in the end, one in Rovaniemi and three in Mikkeli, and although it was the early 1990s, in the days before the internet, my experience was very similar to Harry Watson’s in Sweden 20 years earlier. My mother used to send me cassette tapes of The Archers and I used them for listening comprehension because I couldn’t get English materials otherwise. I also had to write an entertaining weekly column about Finland “Through Foreign Eyes” in the local paper. In the summers (they didn’t pay me for the summers) I came back to my parents’ farm and went to the library to look at careers guides to find out how you became a translator. I found that there was a Swedish translation MA at the University of Surrey and that I couldn’t get funding for it so I carried on teaching English to Finns until I had saved enough money to pay my fees and my living expenses.

The Surrey MA was in economic, technical and legal translation from Swedish and Norwegian and was an excellent practical training course that convinced me I shouldn’t go anywhere near translating accounts or technical translation ever again. After that I taught on the same MA, teaching the legal module, had an in-house job for a year and then I went freelance in 1997. In the 2000s I spent 8 years working in partnership with a colleague and I miss having someone around to talk about work with. It also enabled me to give myself maternity leave three times without my business disappearing.

What are some of your most interesting translation projects?

Ebba Witt-Brattström’s Love/War, a divorce novel told entirely in dialogue with loads of quotes to look up. Others that stand out are the biography of Albert Bonnier, which involved a lot of history research and a Finnish YA novel about Basque whalers murdered in Iceland in 1615 which involved a lot of history research. I also enjoy the work I’ve done for museums, including an exhibition about sunken ships that included lost letters from Catherine the Great to Voltaire, diagrams of historic Dutch sailing vessels and diving logs, and auction catalogues filled with Swedish art and design. I enjoy getting the right voice for each varied project. Like being an actor but for introverts. And I have realised that although I veered away from my history degree, I still really like historical research.

How is the world of translation today different to when you started out?

I feel like I bridged the gap between the old world and the new! When I first went freelance I had one client who wanted my translation printed and sent on paper. The MA had taught us word processing and I was thrown by not being able to make any last-minute changes before sending the file because I would have to print the whole thing out again and miss the post. That client did retire shortly afterwards. But at the start most of my work came in as faxes and you put the fax sheets in a document holder and typed the translation in on screen. I remember a whole series of market research forms from Finnish farmers about their tractors that came in in the post bearing ominous stains, having been filled in in pencil in block capitals, looking as if the respondents had been leaning on their tractors at the time. (I know I said no technical but I have a father and a sister to ask expert things about tractors and I feel if Finnish farmers are cross about a part of their tractor that keeps falling off or think the dealer in Oulu is fantastic, the parent company should know about it in their own words).

When I started out, the translation was either faxed back or some modern translation agencies had modems which you dialled into via your computer to deliver the file electronically. I still really appreciate no longer having to spend hours checking I have typed in numbers and addresses correctly. When I worked in-house, my boss had the computer with the modem and The Internet and if I wanted to look up anything online, I had to write it down and then use his computer to go online while he was at lunch. For EU documents and anything scientific, I had to walk across town to the university library. It’s not that long ago but it feels like a different world.

Did your career trajectory change? Is it different now compared with what you expected at the start?

Originally (see above) I wanted to be a literary translator. In the 1990s I met a friend who worked in publishing and asked how you got to translate books. The answer was a) “Find a rich husband” and b) “Wait for Joan Tate to die”. This sounded a) depressing and b) callous so I kept going on my non-literary translation career. I definitely got the impression in the 1990s that literary translation was a closed shop that I had no hope of getting into. I concentrated on making my translation work as creative as possible, which included non-fiction books on tourism and architecture and marketing and advertising alongside the paper mills and EU and government reports. I like reports on interesting things. Although I have now translated published fiction, I like the mix of translation career I’ve got and the fact that it is never dull. And my publishing friend had a point in that it would have been impossible to survive as the main/single family breadwinner on literary translation alone. I earn a decent living from the mix I’ve got.

One new and unexpected turn that things have taken in the last couple of years is a sudden demand for English translations of Nordic knitting books, where I seem to be quite niche in knowing both Finnish and how to knit socks.

How has being a SELTA member helped in your career (if it has!)

I have been lucky enough to be mentored by both Ruth Urbom (for Finnish) and Sarah Death (for Swedish). Although these mentorships weren’t run by SELTA itself at the time, both my mentors are SELTA members and I benefitted hugely from their support, encouragement and advice.

Otherwise, it does feel like being part of a community. Of course we are in competition with each other but we also share information, support each other and pass on work that might not suit us but might be perfect for someone else.

 

Photo: cover of 15 Swedish embassies translated jointly with Stuart Tudball.

SELTA at 40: Julie Martin

Julie Martin joined SELTA in 2006. Here she talks about how she came to join SELTA and her career.

When did you join SELTA?

Some time in 2006 my elderly aunt, aged 90+, was admitted to St. Helier’s Hospital to have a pacemaker fitted. Tom Geddes’ mother-in-law was in the next bed and when he visited her, he kindly also talked to my aunt if she didn’t have a visitor.  When he mentioned that he was a Swedish translator, Auntie Helen immediately said that her niece would be interested to talk to him and asked for his details. As soon as she got home, she sat down and wrote me a letter on her trademark Basildon Bond notepaper, using a fountain pen of course, and sent me Tom’s details. So I rang Tom and he was very excited, especially when I mentioned that I had produced some translations of Swedish books that had been published (see below), he said that meant I could become a full member straightaway, which I did. At that stage I was actually a commercial translator, mainly of French and German.  According to my diaries, the first SELTA meeting I attended was on 20th November 2006 and I was thrilled to find myself in the Swedish Embassy.

What kinds of things was SELTA doing when you joined?

Although I had done a few stints in the translation department of the Council of Europe in 1971-73, and initially worked for the Interlingua translation agency when I first returned to England (from South America), I had never met any literary translators, let alone any translating Swedish, so I spent the first meeting or two trying to understand what people were talking about! I believe that at that time many of the members had started their careers in the British Library and had become full-time free lance translators when the Scandinavian Department of that institution was closed. As far as I recall, everyone had an opportunity to say what they were working on and I think people who had won prizes or commendations were congratulated.

Are there any events or things SELTA did in your time that you would like to highlight?

Over the years it is the ‘one-off’ events that stand out, such as the Lucia celebration at the Residence once or twice, an invitation to the Festival Hall (I think), when it was reopened after a refit and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra was invited to try out the new facilities. At one stage, when the Embassy was being refurbished, we had meetings in the University of London buildings, which was a bit of a nightmare to navigate, and unfamiliar territory to me. More recently SELTA has organised various workshops and I have attended one or two and met some interesting authors in the process.

Another memory is that as a member of SELTA I was invited some years ago to a ‘Linnaeus Evening’ celebrating his 300th anniversary I think, at the Royal Geographical Society. On 22nd March 2007 I walked into a room full of people, many talking Swedish, and did a double take when I spotted David Attenborough sitting halfway down the room. He smiled a very welcoming smile and with hindsight I suspect he was surrounded by Swedish conversations and would have appreciated an English speaker as an interpreter but I was so dumbstruck I panicked and turned the other way! I have been kicking myself ever since! The poster is still on my office wall!

Tell us about your career – where did you learn Swedish, how did you become a translator?

My degree is a Joint Honours in Modern Languages (French and German) from Manchester. The nearest I came to Scandinavian was Old Icelandic as my special subject in my final year! At the end of my degree course, I completed a post-graduate diploma in language studies at the University of Bath, which led me to work on an occasional basis at the Council of Europe and the EEC (as it then was) in Brussels, translating and interpreting French and German.

However, I met my first husband, who was Swedish, on a course in Münster, Germany and he was a teacher of English and German in Sweden, which is how I came to live in Sundsvall for about 4 years. I learned my Swedish speaking to my neighbours on Alnön and my husband’s colleagues at the comprehensive school where he taught, plus some entertaining conversations with my 10-year-old stepdaughter, who quickly realised she could tell me non-existent words and pretend they meant something! Her favourite was ‘gölp’, which she assured me meant a light bulb! I used to read her stories too, without a clue as to how to pronounce anything and this caused much merriment.

I’ve never studied Swedish formally, apart from a free introductory course for immigrants and a year with Swedish students at KomVux, Sundsvall, equivalent to the final year of mellanstadiet.  I did a little freelance translating work in Sundsvall and worked as a guide for the local tourist office, among other things.

Some of my most interesting translation projects:

Thanks to SELTA I have been contacted by various publishers for the translation of children’s books (most notably various series by Martin Widmark, published by Bonnier), self-help books, cookery books and ‘coffee table books’, plus lots of samples. However my favourite job was actually pre-SELTA – I was invited to submit a short sample translation taken from the book by Claes Grundsten which was selected as the Panda Book of the Year in 2001 by the WWF and on the strength of that sample I was invited to translate the whole book. It was called ‘Naturens Mästerverk’ and Claes and I wanted to call it ‘Nature’s Masterpieces’ in English but the publisher, Max Ström, insisted on changing it to ‘Our Magnificent Wilderness’. In 2005, Claes won the Panda Prize again, with ‘Äventyrets Stigar’ and Claes asked me to translate it. The publisher decreed should be called ‘Trek’ (which Claes and I didn’t like at all!) It was wonderful to sit here in my little office with all those beautiful scenic photos in front of me, almost like being on holiday.

Did your career trajectory change? Is it different now compared with what you expected at the start?

I never really thought about a career, I just love languages and seemed to have an aptitude, so I followed where fortune took me. Moving to Sweden with my Swedish husband changed my life dramatically, I had no concept of Scandinavia at all prior to that and of course there was much that was strange, living in Norrland was wonderful and I still hanker after the forest!

How has being a SELTA member helped in your career (if it has!)

See above! Being included in the directory has brought me into contact with Swedish publishers and authors, which has been very interesting and not something I had expected from the start.

How is the world of translation today different from when you started out?

The main difference is the use of so many electronic ‘aids’, when I started at the Council of Europe I think we used manual typewriters! Of course I can translate bigger volumes and copy and paste etc. with a computer but I never use translation software. The problem of getting some clients to understand that it isn’t just a matter of replacing each Swedish word with an English one hasn’t gone away entirely but on the whole I would say that people now are more aware of, and exposed to, other languages which makes life easier. I remember in the early days trying to explain what a translator does to people who have never met one before!

SELTA at 40: Annie Prime

SELTA’s Treasurer Annie Prime joined SELTA in 2014. In this interview she talks about the value of SELTA as an organisation and some of the exciting projects in her career so far.

When did you join SELTA?

 I joined SELTA as an associate member in 2014.


What kinds of things was SELTA doing when you joined?

 I recall some educational and networking events at UCL, the London Book Fair, and other literary hotspots in London. Beyond that, I barely remember any details because it was all very mysterious to me at the beginning. Members were discussing contracts and publishers while I was fresh out of university and hustling to find any paid work whatsoever.


When did you join the committee and what is your role?

 I replaced Ian Giles as treasurer in 2018. It’s my job to collect membership subscriptions, manage the accounts, apply for funding, produce annual accounts for auditing and present an account summary at the AGM.


Are there any events or things SELTA have done in your time that you would like to highlight?

 I enjoy all the in-person social and CPD events but couldn’t choose between them. It is always refreshing and illuminating to be able to talk shop with fellow translators, especially face to face.


Tell us about your career – where did you learn Swedish, how did you become a translator?

I got a smattering of Swedish for free, as it were, from my Swedish mother and the extended family we visited sometimes in summer. I found it very frustrating, however, to not be able to fully participate in conversations with my grandparents and cousins, so I decided to study it under my own steam as a teenager.

As an avid scholastic linguist, I did a BA in Modern Languages at Manchester University, but seeing as Swedish wasn’t available I focused instead on French, Russian and Spanish. When I came to study a Masters in Translation at UCL, Swedish was offered and I finally got the chance to study the language formally at the age of 25. The experience of solidifying a partially native language after many years of informal practice was satisfying indeed.

For my final MA project, I chose to translate and annotate an extract from the Finland-Swedish YA fantasy novel Arra by Maria Turtschaninoff. On completion, I proudly presented said translation to the author and her agent and was promptly offered a job translating a sample of her next novel. That novel, Maresi, managed to land me a three-book translation deal with British publisher Pushkin Press. I felt rather jammy about getting my foot in the door so early on; I guess I was in the right place at the right time! I have been working as a full-time literary translator ever since.


What would you say you specialise in?

 I specialise in young adult literature and children’s books. Though I do translate other things, and I have no intention of staying shackled within limits, I do find this work very enjoyable. Young adult fiction rivals adult fiction in artistry and intrigue, and often includes a sprinkle of magic, fantasy and/or humour, which adds some sparkle to my working day.


What are some of your most interesting translation projects?

 They are all so interesting!

I have worked on the modern reworked Moomin titles, which was a dream come true. And other children’s picture books which often require rhyme and wordplay. The Secret Life of Farts by Malin Klingenberg really tested my rhyming skills (and general comedic skills).

My translation of Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff won the GLLI Translated Young Adult Book of 2020, which was wonderful. And more recently I have been working with award-winning Swedish titles, such as Rhubarb Lemonade by Oskar Kroon and The Night Raven by Johan Rundberg, winners of the children’s Augustpriset in 2019 and 2021, respectively.


Did your career trajectory change? Is it different now compared with what you expected at the start?

No, I am actually doing exactly what I set out to do, which seems a bit too good to be true. The only difference is I am getting more and better work now than when I started out eight years ago.


How has being a SELTA member helped in your career (if it has!)

More than I can say, in more ways than I can count.

Other members have been endlessly generous with their practical advice and moral support at every stage of my career. A lot of the work I got early on was thanks to recommendations from other translators. SELTA members have boosted my confidence and encouraged me to charge appropriately, to demand certain contractual terms. On top of that, there have been so many invaluable networking opportunities…

There is strength in numbers. I honestly don’t know where I would have got in my career without SELTA. Though we are technically competitors, members support each other and lift each other up. It makes me proud of our association and our profession.

SELTA at 40: Ian Giles

Ian Giles joined SELTA ‘more than ten years ago’ and is currently our chair. In this interview he talks about the changes he’s seen, and made happen, over that time.

When did you join SELTA?

More than ten years ago now. A commission to do a literal translation of Strindberg’s Dance of Death for a theatre dropped into my lap thanks to Peter Graves during early 2012. Subsequently, Sarah Death wrote to me out of the blue to tap me up as a potential contributor/reviewer for Swedish Book Review, and to draw my attention to SELTA. She hinted that my commission might qualify me for associate membership. I sent off my application, and paid my fee at some point in the spring of 2012.

What were SELTA’s aims when you joined?

Looking back the minutes, my first meeting was the 2013 spring meeting – held on May 8th. It may have given me a rather disproportionate impression of the catering arrangements at these things since the former cultural attaché Carl-Otto Werkelid was marking his final meeting with SELTA and had laid on smörgåstårta. But the minutes seem to describe an organisation grappling with many of the same issues that we do today: a discussion on how best to communicate with members and engage them; how to manage the website; trying to tweak meeting content; wondering whether SELTA might meet virtually. There was the assertion that SELTA provided the benefit of ‘real people’. And a suggestion that we hold a rates’ survey. Plus ça change.

My own memories of the early days are that there was a fresh enthusiasm to transform SELTA from its past guise as a register of translators and exchange of news into something that offered a network and CPD opportunities to its members. The mention (shock horror) of winding up the organisation in the minutes of that meeting in 2013 were (surely?) a rhetorical device to bring out the positives. I’m very relieved that there’s been no subsequent mention in my years of winding up SELTA. Indeed, I’d like to think that many of the issues discussed at my first meeting have been addressed – membership is up; we do better at communications; and with our multiple events and workshops since then, we’ve even managed some adequate catering.

When did you join the committee and what was/is your role?

On 12 September 2014, Kevin Halliwell wrote to me: ‘As you may know, several Committee members will be standing down this year. I was wondering if you might like to step up to the plate, as it were, and help to run SELTA for a couple of years or so. I’m sure your input would be very useful.’ After a brief exchange of emails to find out what that would entail, I agreed to be nominated – and I was elected to the committee at the 2014 AGM. Little did I know that the ‘couple of years or so’ would extend to rather longer.

For my first two years on the committee, I oversaw SELTA’s website – but alongside that I was exploring ways to streamline what we did together with Treasurer Janet Cole. At the 2016 AGM, I remained on the committee, but moved to the role of Treasurer. I spent two years with my hands on the SELTA finances – with the main task I undertook being to switch banks and oversee our adoption of electronic banking. Until mid-2017, we had done everything by cheque.

In 2018, I was fortunately elected SELTA Chair unopposed (as part of the organisation’s long heritage of democracy) and I have been in that position ever since. SELTA Chair is very much what the holder makes of it, and while the Chair takes much of the glory when things go well, they also handle much of the grunt work that keeps the wheels turning. In the first four years as Chair, I’ve overseen a 2-day translation workshop in Edinburgh, the formation of a new website and branding strategy, the transition of Swedish Book Review to a digital-led publication, and the general fall-out of switching to being a hybrid organisation amidst the pandemic. Much like my predecessor Ruth Urbom, my aim is to leave SELTA better than I found it when I assumed the Chairship, so that successors will have the room to further improve the organisation while being assured that the basics work well.

Are there any events or things SELTA did in your time that you would like to highlight?

I think SELTA has arranged a number of great events for its members in my time on the committee – both in person and virtually. I particularly enjoyed our workshop held in Edinburgh in 2019, which was the first time in many years that SELTA gathered outside of London.

I spent around two years lobbying the Society of Authors to update the Bernard Shaw Prize from triennial to biennial, alongside tweaks to prize money and other criteria. This might sound trivial, but past SELTA committees have attempted to do likewise without success. This is a much-needed change that reflects the glut of great Swedish books being translated each year and honours the hard work of SELTA’s committees in the early 1990s who lobbied for the original establishment of the prize.

More generally, I’m thrilled that SELTA now has a Danish cousin in the form of DELT (the Association of Danish-English Literary Translators) and that we’ve been able to work together to offer various events that more broadly serve translators of Scandinavian languages as a whole.

Tell us about your career – where did you learn Swedish, how did you become a translator?

My anglophile Swedish mother came to the UK 40 years ago and has never left. Fortunately, we spoke Swedish at home when I was a child and most of it stuck. At university, I found German made me very unhappy, but that happily I was able to change my degree to Scandinavian Studies. This was followed by a master’s in Translation Studies focusing on Swedish, and then a PhD looking at the import of Scandinavian books to the UK. Alongside this, I was freelancing as a jack-of-all-trades translator of the Scandinavian languages to English. I was originally inspired to take up translation by my teacher Kari Dickson, and later Peter Graves, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Since finishing my PhD, I’ve made my full-time living from translation, so it hasn’t failed me yet…

What would you say you specialise in?

As a commercial translator, I do my fair share of annual reports and stuff for higher education, but one of my favourite niches is railway and aviation related texts. On the literary front, I particularly enjoy working with fiction that is gripping (it doesn’t need to be crime or a thriller, but it must encourage the page to be turned) and narrative non-fiction.

What are some of your most interesting translation projects?

I’ve worked on several things that I can’t describe on grounds of confidentiality, but which provided a fascinating insight into what goes on behind the scenes in the global literary rights market. The big deals don’t ‘just happen’ – there are people involved at every step of the way and translators are intrinsically important. The most fun I’ve had on a literary translation project was actually a Danish translation – the autobiography of a footballer and enfant terrible. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much on a job before. In the realm of Swedish, I have a soft spot for Ingrid Carlberg’s biography of Alfred Nobel – which is a great read and offers a variety of perspectives and voices that make for a particularly challenging job for the translator.

Did your career trajectory change? Is it different now compared with what you expected at the start?

I always assumed that as a grown up I would have to wear a suit and go to an office. I really dislike wearing a collar and tie, so I’m delighted at how things have turned out. The job is not what I expected at the start, but later elements of my career are what I’ve wanted and worked towards. I like being my own boss, and I like fixing people’s problems.

How has being a SELTA member helped in your career (if it has!)

Being a member of SELTA has helped me get a grounding in what is and is not normal among literary translators, and specifically for those working with Swedish. It’s provided me with access to great resources like Swedish Book Review and the human network and interaction it facilitates have been invaluable over the years. The occasional job also comes my way via SELTA’s website – enough to have covered the decade of subscription fees I’ve paid!

Being on the committee has made me more organised as an individual and has been a very useful way to meet a wide variety of people beyond the translation sphere, which leads to work and interesting opportunities.

How is the world of translation today different to when you started out?

When I started out, I had owned a computer for many years, the internet was well-established, I’d been on Facebook for years, and Swedish was already enjoying a golden age in English translation. In some respects, what we’re accustomed to now. On the literary front, I’d say the practical/technical changes are visible in the rise of agents, book streaming and audiobook platforms, shorter deadlines… In terms of what surprises me – I’m pleasantly surprised that Swedish remains a strong source language for English-language publishing. I increasingly hope that this is a trend that here is to stay rather than a flash in the pan. Another change that has somewhat surprised me is the rise of the public profile of The Translator via campaigns such as #namethetranslator and translators on the cover, as well as the emergence of emerging translators. I love the bigger and more diversified pool of people working as translators, although it also calls into question the sustainability of literary translation as a profession. In very general terms, I think publishing (and by extension literary translators) has never been under as much pressure from rising costs and inflation as it is today.

SELTA at 40: Sarah Death

Sarah Death joined SELTA in the 1980s and edited Swedish Book Review for many years.

When did you join SELTA? What kinds of things were going on when you joined? 

I joined SELTA a few years after its inception. Those were pre-Internet times and it was much harder to get hold of relevant information. Meetings made me feel like a tongue-tied newbie, but I appreciated the updates and visiting speakers, as well as the sense of community. The bi-annual newsletters were full of useful tips and briefings and the occasional embassy invitation to cultural and literary events felt like the icing on the cake. Established members would offer advice and occasionally pass on small jobs they could not fit into their schedules.  Taken as a whole, these things helped to keep me ‘in the fold’ and gave me the impetus to go on translating even when getting a proper foot in the professional door continued to seem a distant prospect.

The support of the Swedish Arts Council and before them the Swedish Institute were very much valued, opening exciting doors such as visits to the Gothenburg Book Fair or even – a particular highlight for me – the chance to attend a workshop with a Swedish author and other translators of their work from around the world. In my case the author was Kerstin Ekman and the workshop had several iterations over a number of years.

Did your career trajectory change? Is it different now compared with what you expected at the start?

My career trajectory within SELTA felt to me like a slightly odd one. After a number of years as an inexperienced emerging translator, I was somehow suddenly deemed to be an experienced one; it felt as though there was no time in the middle for any kind of consolidation. This was mainly because of the relatively small number of active members in the association, I assume, but it was rather disorientating nonetheless.

What roles have you had within SELTA?

I enjoyed my time as the reviews editor, deputy editor and later main editor of Swedish Book Review. Those were gigs that only very rarely brought in extra translation commissions for me personally, but they offered the chance to be at the hub of a network and be good touch with a range of translator colleagues and other contributors. Learning to be a good listener was at the heart of it. too; when you work with volunteers, keeping them on side is a vital part of the role.  I felt rather like a cross between an agony aunt and a spider in the middle of an international web.

In the core period of my editorship, 2003 to 2012, the SBR website was developing but the paper magazine still ruled supreme. The Swedish Arts Council handed out free copies from its stands at the Frankfurt and London book fairs. It was always a last-minute scramble to get the paper copies to Olympia or Earl’s Court on the eve of the LBF each spring.

How is the world of translation today different to when you started out? How has SELTA changed?

The world of translation today is a rather different one from the one when I first joined. A frankly rather niche translator group like SELTA is always going to be a slightly uneasy mix of mutual support and subterranean competitiveness. In those earlier days there was comparatively little work to be had but there is a great deal more work around now, for various reasons including the ubiquity of translation samples, the establishment and fast growth of the agent culture in the Nordic countries, and the explosion of interest in Scandi crime fiction and Nordic Noir.

Hand-in-hand with this there has been a very welcome expansion of options to help and inspire emerging translators, be they informal online forums and social media groups, formal mentorships, or anything in between. Among crucial drivers I would include the Translators’ Association’s widening professional development programme and the birth of the Emerging Translators’ Network. ‘Literary’ translators in many genres have come to enjoy greater visibility in the world of books and publishing and the general mood is noticeably more collegial.

SELTA has continued to grow and has put effort into developing an attractive, website which members themselves can help to keep topical. The recent step of admitting members resident in North America has also brought in new energy and new voices.

 

 

 

Photo credits: portrait and Sarah at work, John Death; photo with goose, Linda Schenck

SELTA at 40

SELTA is 40 years old in 2022. To introduce our series of interviews with members, we look back over our history as an organisation.

In April 1982, the Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association held its first Annual General Meeting. In November 2022, we will be meeting to celebrate our 40th anniversary. On the website we are celebrating by interviewing members – founding, longstanding and more recent – about their careers and what SELTA means to them. But first some history.

How it all began

SELTA has always had close links with and support from the Swedish Embassy in London and the first impetus for bringing translators of Swedish together came from cultural attaché Ove Svensson who joined forces with the Swedish Institute and held a conference of translators and publishers at University College London in 1978. In 1981, the next cultural attaché Terry Carlbom arranged a translators’ conference at the University of Hull and in November the same year ran a seminar which led to the setting up of the Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association the following morning. Original SELTA members who made that initial decision were Patricia Crampton, Tom Geddes, Mary Sandbach, Joan Tate and Laurie Thompson. Thomas Teal was also present but for practical reasons in a pre-internet age it was decided that the aim should be for US translators to form their own association and for the two organisations to work closely together. By the time of the first AGM in April 1982, SELTA had 9 full members and 3 associate members.

In Newsletter No. 3 in January 1983, the Secretary reported 36 members, 16 full members and 20 associates. Today, in autumn 2022, we have 82 members, 27 of whom are associates. In terms of fulfilling the aims of our predecessors, we’re not doing badly.

“The more members we have, the stronger the position we shall be in to influence publishers and cultural bodies, and the more we shall be able to do to spread awareness of Swedish literature, promote translation and provide information on current conditions and events in the field of Swedish-English translation.”

Newsletter No. 2 July 1982

Tom Geddes, founder member and long-term secretary/treasurer and also chair of SELTA, wrote SELTA the First 25 Years, covering SELTA’s history up to 2006, including such key events as the founding of the Bernard Shaw Prize for Swedish to English translation in 1991 and a description of SELTA’s book report scheme in which members wrote 434 (unpaid) one-page book reports between 1982 and 1996, 171 of them by Joan Tate. Reading the history, the report of the seminar in 1981 (available to members under Minutes on the Members’ pages) and the early minutes and newsletters provided by Tom, it is fascinating to see how some things have remained the same. Our Secretary no longer has to produce minutes and newsletters on a typewriter and put them in the post – in the accounts for 1983, £112.99 went on postage costs, which was slightly more than the £100 grant from the Anglo-Swedish Literary Foundation –  but issues raised at the first seminar included the amount of payments under the Swedish state subsidy scheme for translations of Swedish literature published abroad, the need to ensure the translator was actually paid, and concerns from British publishers at having to pay about £1,500 for a 200 page foreign title with a maximum print run of only 2,000 copies.

Joan Tate

On the bright side though, we are not currently “lamenting a decrease in the number of translations of literary works published from Swedish and other languages” as Joan Tate was in the early 1980s. At the time, hopes were placed in the rise of feminism as a potential market to be exploited. Nordic Noir was not yet on the horizon. “The continuing Stieg Larsson/Henning Mankell phenomenon” appears as item 9 on the agenda at the AGM in 2009.

Other things have changed. The arrival of the internet brought a website and an email group, giving members a useful channel for translation-related discussions. The first SELTA website was designed by Henning Koch in 2005 and was then managed by Peter Linton. The website was revamped in 2013 and gained a blog section, although getting members to write for it proved more of a challenge. We now have a Twitter account and this year members have been seen reading their translations on YouTube. The current website is the third iteration and went live in 2020 in parallel with a rebrand and a new logo. Instead of the Secretary keeping a record of members to send out to publishers looking for a translator, potential clients can now find us themselves and send a potential job to those of us who have opted in. Same aims, just a different way of achieving them.

Likewise, like the rest of the world, during the pandemic we got to grips with online meetings and ran webinars/online workshops and fikastunder to keep in touch remotely. The committee has since resolved to keep the AGM online to enable greater participation from our more far-flung members, especially in view of the vote at the 2020 AGM to open membership to translators in the US who meet the membership criteria.

In 1981 it was expected that SELTA would hold at least one conference a year. We meet twice a year, once online, but instigated by Ruth Urbom, we also began to run workshops with invited Swedish authors from 2014. See our News pages for reports on these. The News pages also carry reports on members who have won awards, including the aforementioned Bernard Shaw Prize.

In 2013 a discussion paper was issued to members on the future of SELTA, exploring whether the association should be wound up and whether in fact there was a need to meet up in person at all. Those present at the 2013 Spring Meeting decided to carry on, as it was felt that exchanges with real people and fostering a sense of community were still important. In 2022, winding up SELTA seems unthinkable. We are alive and well and still going strong and it is that sense of community that comes through in the pieces by members in honour of our anniversary.

SELTA officers past and present

President: Mary Sandbach (1982–1990)

Chair: Joan Tate (1982–1986); Tom Geddes (1986–1991); Patricia Crampton (1992–1996); Eivor Martinus (1996–2011); Tom Geddes (2011); Anna Paterson (2011–2012); Ruth Urbom (2012–2018); Ian Giles (2018–

Secretary: Tom Geddes (1981–2006); Peter Linton (2006–2010); Martin Murrell (2010–2012); Deborah Bragan-Turner (2012–2015); Nicky Smalley (2015–2016); Saskia Vogel (2016–2020); Alice Olsson (2020–

Treasurer: Tom Geddes (1981–2004); Janet Cole (2005–2016); Ian Giles (2016–2018); Annie Prime (2018–

The current committee also comprises Kate Lambert as Webmaster and Alice Menzies as Minutes Secretary, both roles that first appear in the minutes in 2009. Many more members have served on the committee over the years in other roles or as committee members without portfolio and the introduction of a requirement that two committee members resign every two years, although they can then be re-elected, has resulted in higher committee turnover and brought in new blood.

 

 Swedish Book Review

Our journal, Swedish Book Review has been part of SELTA’s efforts from the very start as this quote from 1983 shows:

“In more concrete terms, we have set in motion a number of projects which we hope will come to fruition in this coming year. The most exciting of these is the planned takeover of the journal Swedish Books under the editorship of Dr Laurie Thomspon and the control of an editorial board appointed by SELTA.”

SELTA Newsletter No. 3, 1983

Laurie Thompson not only took over Swedish Books, which was offered to SELTA by its then editors, he edited Swedish Book Review (SBR) from 1983 until 2002. A separate Reviews editor was appointed in 1996 and there were assistant editors in the early 2000s as well as the editorial board. Swedish Book Review continues to showcase Swedish writers, provide independent book reviews of new Swedish books and offer an opportunity for translators to have shorter translated extracts published. Below, Deborah Bragen-Turner writes about the challenges SBR faced during her editorship and the changes recently made.

 

Swedish Book Review:  the years of change

by Deborah Bragan-Turner

By 2015 Swedish Book Review had been thriving in print for 32 years under the inspired and attentive editorship of first Laurie Thompson and later Sarah Death. It continued very successfully to produce independent and impartial reviews and articles in English on recent Swedish books and authors, as well as highlighting older books. It continued to publish the work of established and emerging translators in extracts from an exciting variety of new books and classics. Subscribers continued to represent a very wide-ranging audience, from general readers, publishers and literary agents to academics and students.

However, the situation for translated Swedish literature was changing significantly. With the proliferation of blogs and online journals there was an increasing diversity of ways to find information about new books. The SBR website, which had been created in 1999 by Intexta Web Services and had provided an excellent way of archiving the majority of our content, needed to be updated to keep up with new technology and new ideas. Not only this, but the question of overheads and financial support was a constant concern. As the costs of producing and circulating a printed journal continued to rise, so too did the pressure on our chief sources of funding. While for many the prospect of losing the printed journal was unwelcome, it was clear that for SBR to continue we had to reach a wider audience and generate income ourselves.

After seeking the views of SELTA members, SBR and our publisher Norvik Press submitted a successful application to the Swedish Arts Council in 2019 to fund a new website on which to publish SBR as an online journal. We considered a number of web developers and chose Big Mallet, the company we thought would be the best fit. Big Mallet specialises in charities and not-for-profit organisations and understood the importance of our text-based content and the need for simplicity and clear, attractive typography. They helped us devise a new business model for SBR and ways of raising funds as part of the new digital presence. As the design phase of the project began, so too did the first national lockdown. Our many discussions of the broad design concept and the detail were in the form of emails and video and once the design was agreed, Big Mallet began the work of building the site. In September 2020 members of the SBR team together with two colleagues from Norvik press attended a first Zoom training session on the content management system.

The aim was to upload not only the eagerly awaited new issue for 2020, but also the material from previous issues available on our old website. Much of the earlier content existed in a form not compatible with new technology and involved reformatting over a thousand different files. Once some of the initial difficulties with input methods had been ironed out by the infinitely patient Big Mallet technical team, we started to work backwards, uploading content from 2020, while they refined the site and finalised the search function. In the late autumn of 2020 the new website launched with a campaign on social media to a very favourable reaction. The new editor, Alex Fleming took over at the helm and has exploited the new system to fill subsequent issues with compelling content, finding innovative ways of engaging with our readers. Work is still going on populating the site with more back issues and increasing our subscriber base. In his interview for SBR in 2020, Tom Geddes, who until 2019 had been a member of the SBR editorial board for 36 years, said he hoped that Swedish Book Review’s new digital future would be “a turn in fortune [ . . .] and well in tune with the times.” While no-one underestimates the work still involved, early indications are very positive!

SBR editors past and present

Swedish Book Review Editor: Laurie Thompson (1983–2002); Sarah Death (2003-2015); Deborah Bragan-Turner (2015–2020); Alex Fleming (2020–

Assistant Editor: Sarah Death (2000–2002); Neil Smith (2003–2010)

Reviews Editor: Irene Scobbie (1996–2000); Sarah Death (2000–2003); Charlotte Whittingham (2003); Henning Koch (2004–2010), Anna Paterson (2010–2015); Fiona Graham (2015–2021); Darcy Hurford (2021–

*****

Now it’s over to our members to tell us about their membership of SELTA, their careers, the varied range of things they translate and how times have changed in the world of Swedish translation since SELTA was founded. Some of our founder members are sadly no longer with us but we have these interviews and tributes.

Joan Tate (1922–2000). A Tribute. SBR 2000:2.

Laurie Thompson (1938–2015). A Tribute from his friends and colleagues. SBR 2016:1. In Memoriam by Marlaine Delargy. SBR 2015:2

Patricia Crampton (1925–2016). Around the World in Sixty Years. SBR 2008:2

*****

Tom Geddes provided this in-depth interview to Deborah Bragan-Turner for SBR 2020:1-2

Eivor Martinus, joined SELTA in 1982

Ann Henning Jocelyn, joined SELTA in 1982

Linda Schenck, joined SELTA in the mid-1980s

Sarah Death, joined SELTA in the mid-1980s

Harry Watson, joined SELTA in the early 1990s

Julie Martin, joined SELTA in 2006

Ian Giles, joined SELTA in the 2010s

Annie Prime, joined SELTA in 2014

Kate Lambert, joined SELTA in 2014

SELTA at 40 by Kate Lambert

Acknowledgements:

Thank you to Tom Geddes for writing the original history of the first 25 years, on which I have drawn for this article, and for providing original minutes and archive material from his time as Secretary, Chair, Treasurer and everything else.

Thank you to Alex Fleming, editor of SBR for permission to use the articles originally published in SBR and for opening up the articles in SBR’s archive.

Thank you to Deborah Bragan-Turner, former editor of SBR, for her contribution on the recent changes to SBR and the cover and website images.

The Swedish embassy image is by Allen Watkin and the SBR website image is courtesy of Nigel Smith, Intexta Services.

SELTA at 40: Harry Watson

In celebration of SELTA’s 40th anniversary in 2022, here we reproduce a piece by Harry Watson originally published on SELTA’s website in 2014. Harry joined SELTA in the early 1990s.

I was very interested to read the Karin Boye poem inspired by a visit to Linköping Cathedral in SBR 2014:2. I didn’t know the poem before. My introduction to Sweden, the Swedes and the Swedish language came from a two-year stint (1970-72) teaching English in Linköping for Folkuniversitetet (British Centre). I passed the cathedral most days, and remember attending a performance of Heinrich Schütz’s Christmas Oratorio there. At one time the wife of the cathedral dean was my student and our class met at least once in the pleasant surroundings of the deanery.

A few words about the life of an EFL teacher in Sweden in the far-off days of Olof Palme and Gunnar Sträng (the long-serving finance minister) might be of interest to SELTA members who have followed a more academic route into literary translation. Adult education organisations proliferated in Sweden, some of them affiliated to a particular political party. The Folk University was an exception in that regard, and prided itself on employing only teacher-trained native speakers as teachers of English. Each year between seventy and eighty teachers were recruited from all over the UK on one-year contracts which could be renewed for a further year (a longer stay incurred problems with the tax authorities!).

Where a rival teaching organisation was particularly well entrenched, the FU’s policy was to work with them rather than try to compete. So in my first year in Linköping, just after graduating from Moray House teacher-training college in Edinburgh, I was attached to TBV (Tjänstemännens Bildningsverksamhet), which catered mainly for white-collar workers and had links to Folkpartiet, the Liberal Party, if I remember correctly. But towards the end of my first year I was told to transfer to the newly-opened branch of Kursverksamheten vid Stockholms Universitet (KV). Stockholm University had had a presence in Linköping since 1967 (becoming Linköping University in 1975), and KV was its continuing education branch.

But my favours were spread more widely than that, with weekly visits to the neighbouring towns of Finspång (adult evening classes) and Mjölby (admirable gymnasium or high-school pupils staying on for me after the end of the school day). My occasional chauffeur to Finspång (I was and am a non-driver) was an Austrian teacher of German and French who freelanced as a part-time gamekeeper for local aristocrat Grev Douglas (a Swedish count of Scottish descent) and many a trip to Finspång saw us diverting into the local forest so that Norman could check his mink-traps. I took the Malmö train the few miles down to Mjölby and kept up to date with the news from Skåne by browsing discarded copies of Sydsvenska Dagbladet.

There was also a weekly session in Linköping itself with Allmänna Ingenjörsbyrån (consultant engineers), who would liven up the last lesson of term with bunting and a generous “carry-out” of starköl, and their diametric opposite, Husmodersföreningen, a sort of cross between the WI (WRI for Scottish readers) and the Townswomen’s Guild. And I mustn’t forget the delightful young ladies of Elsa Brändströms flickskola, the local girls’ school (do they still exist in Sweden?).

Trips out to Lunnevads folkhögskola at Sjögestad in the wilds of Östergötland were no fun in the depths of winter when I had to trudge through the snow for about half an hour after getting off the bus from Linköping. Then I would do mad things like singing folksongs to the young adult students, this particular establishment having a specialism in music.

By the time I returned to the UK in 1972 I was fairly fluent in Swedish, and decided to do the Newcastle University Certificate of Proficiency in Swedish. But when Professor Duncan Mennie, a pioneer of Scandinavian Studies in Britain, asked me what I was going to do with it, I was at a loss. Later, I discovered that it was possible to do a University of London external BA in just about any language under the sun, including the Nordic ones, as long as you had some previous knowledge and were able to prepare yourself for the exams with the help of reading lists, so that was my next goal, finally achieved in 1980.

So what to do with my brand-new and frankly useless degree in Scandinavian Studies? Just as I was toying with the idea of embarking on a Ph.D. on the historical novel in Sweden, I read an article in the Guardian by the literary editor, Richard Gott, in which he described a visit to Stockholm where he had met up with a group of Swedish writers who were complaining about the difficulty of getting translated into and published in English. One name I recognised was Per Wästberg, a writer whose books I had enjoyed once I had enough Swedish to understand them. I contacted him through the newspaper with an offer to do some translations for him, he responded with alacrity, and I was off and away. That initial contact led to further openings, and over the years I have translated several major biographies of figures such as Axel Munthe, Raoul Wallenberg and V.V. Mayakovsky for the likes of IB Tauris and Chicago University Press, as well as many articles for various arts journals such as ARTES INTERNATIONAL and OO-tal.

More recent translations include a biography of the Nobel family and their contribution to the industrialisation of Russia, in which Bloomsbury have expressed an interest, and a biography of J.G. Andersson, a Swedish explorer and geologist who was recruited by the new Republican government in China in 1914 to prospect for mines. In the event, Andersson developed an interest in archaeology and anthropology and ended up helping the Chinese to rewrite their prehistory. This translation still awaits a publisher.

I would like to have translated more fiction, but I have built up a relationship with Magnus Florin, chief “dramaturge” at Dramaten in Stockholm, former head of drama for Swedish Radio and author of a series of rather quirky little novels, some of which I have translated for Vagabond Voices, an independent publisher in Glasgow.

I count myself very lucky, especially as I had a day-job as well, right up to early retirement in 2001, and have never had to rely on translation for my living. To end on a downbeat note, I am not sure how anyone manages to do that, so many are the hazards and pitfalls of the translation trade.

 

Photos: Top, Harry Watson on his holidays (with socks). (1) View of Linköping from Harry Watson’s flat in Ågatan in the 1970s; (2) Harry in his teaching days in Sweden (before the smoking ban); (3) Cover of Harry’s translation of Magnus Florin’s The Garden; (4) Harry today. All photos provided by Harry Watson.

SELTA at 40: Linda Schenck

Linda Schenck joined SELTA in the mid-1980s and looks back at a translation career that began in 1979.

When did you join SELTA?

I have no idea when I joined SELTA, but I was not a founder member. Because I live in Sweden but grew up in the US, and because STiNA did not exist at the time, I turned to SELTA at some point (maybe in around 1985?) and asked if I could possibly join so that I could have more regular contact with other native English-speaking translators. I have lived in Sweden since 1972 and been translating since around 1979. Swedish Book Review, originally Swedish Books, was founded in Göteborg, where I live, and I was an early contributor, but not a founder member there, either.

Tell us about your career – where did you learn Swedish, how did you become a translator? What would you say you specialise in?

My American husband and I moved to Sweden in 1972 not knowing that we would be here for more than a summer. Languages have always been what I was good at, but I knew no Swedish when we first came. I taught English and worked with young people for several years before being accepted to an interpreting and translation course at Gothenburg University in autumn 1977.

So I have been translating since manual typewriters, carbon paper and Tippex were the way of working (and if you made more than a small mistake you had to retype the whole page). Ditto dictionaries, phoning institutions for help with terms, and writing letters with envelopes and stamps. I have followed the entire path from there to electric typewriters, early computers with magnetic cards, the advent of the World Wide Web, the internet, email zoom and so forth.

Did your career trajectory change? Is it different now compared with what you expected at the start?

My main profession from 1980 until 2013 when I retired was conference and court translation and interpreting, and most of my focus in terms of contributing time and energy to organisations went in that direction. But literary translation has always been where my heart is. I began translating literature in the mid-1980s, but only in my “spare time”. Sadly, literary translation has thus always been a sideline for me (though I have almost always been working on a novel translation), and only in the last decade have I been a seriously active contributor to SELTA and SBR.

What are some of your most interesting translation projects?

The three authors I have translated several books by, Kerstin Ekman, Selma Lagerlöf and Annika Thor are close to my heart, but I have enjoyed almost every project upon which I have embarked. This summer has included a new series of poems by Ingela Strandberg and an excerpt from Olivia Bergdahl’s memoir Vård och omsorg. I quite simply love working with words, puzzling over formulations, and not least answering questions about English for my colleagues who are translating into Swedish.

How is the world of translation today different to when you started out?

What I miss most about the “old” world of translation is being able to propose books for translation to editors with whom I have worked previously and being listened to. Today most editors seem to move on so fast there is hardly time to propose something new, and whether or not that book has sold at the book fair in Frankfurt seems the decisive factors. What I like most, beyond the translation process itself, is discussions with knowledgeable editors whose input is invaluable.

How has being a SELTA member helped in your career (if it has!)?

I was just thinking over breakfast how important it has been to me, over the years, to feel part of a “translators’ community”, i.e. SELTA and SBR in the UK and some other fora in Sweden. And I’ve very much enjoyed doing virtual readings for World Kit Lit month and Translators Aloud. It’s something I’ve really appreciated.

SELTA at 40: Eivor Martinus

Eivor Martinus is a founder member of SELTA and served as its Chair for many years. In this interview, she looks back at SELTA’s early years and at her career as a writer and translator.

When did you join SELTA?

I have been a member of SELTA since 1982.

If you are a founder member, how did the decision to form SELTA come about? What other SELTA names do you remember from that era?
Tom Geddes was the driving force then and without him SELTA would never have come into being or flourished later on. Although he is a very unassuming person he was deeply involved in every aspect of the association. He avoided taking the Chair but he was the actual ‘leader’ for a long time. It could occasionally mean the exclusion of other members but mainly because no one else offered their services – for several years. We had a committee but most of the members were rather passive.

During my fifteen years as Chair I made sure that the committee consisted of people who were allotted a special task. That made it easier to resign and hand over to the next person, in my case, the very competent Ruth Urbom.

Apart from Tom Geddes other colourful early members were Joan Tate, Patricia Crampton, Ann Henning and Laurie Thompson. Ann Henning and David McDuff also joined us during the first period, but I am not sure exactly when.

As Literary Translators we felt there was a lack of communication between us and the literary establishment. We were all working in isolation. The Cultural Attache became an early ally of SELTA and helped us with meeting room, subsidies and the handling of the Bernard Shaw Prize.

Joan Tate insisted that the Association should be about Literary Translators rather than Technical or Academic Translators. She thought there was a great divide between those who were employed by universities and people like her who struggled on a freelance basis. There were exceptions to that. Laurie Thompson, for instance, was a lecturer at Lampeter University and as Editor of Swedish Book Review he could use the facilities there to publish our magazine. There was no Internet in the early eighties so everything took so much longer than today.

Tell us about your career – where did you learn Swedish, how did you become a translator? What are some of your most interesting translation projects?
From an early age I had one foot in each country and my degree in English (specialising in Literature before 1800) and Litteraturvetenskap at Gothenburg University, which included World Literature, turned out a very good choice for my future career. I was broadly educated in Sweden but moved to this country before I was twenty, finishing my degree here.

I started out as a novelist, published one adult novel and four youth fiction novels before starting to translate. Since I was involved in the theatre and worked on fifteen productions with my late husband who was a theatre director it was natural for me to carry on translating and adapting drama.

Altogether I have translated fifteen Strindberg plays who have all been published and twelve of them have been performed either in England or the US. In the nineties I was commissioned to translate a number of Swedish classics for the BBC Drama Department: Hjalmar Söderberg’s Gertrud, Hjalmar Bergman’s Markurell i Wadköping, Pär Lagerkvist’s Barabbas and Ingmar Bergmans En Själslig Angelägenhet.

In Sweden I worked on English classics in my Swedish translations for various theatres: The Shoemaker’s Holiday by Thomas Dekker, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Stephen Lowe and Mad Forest by Carol Churchill.

In the eighties I also translated two Swedish novels: The Mysterious Barricades by Bengt Söderberg and My Life as a Dog by Reidar Jönsson. Bengt and I corresponded regularly during my work on his translation and when I got to a passage where Bengt had translated something from Racine I asked him in exasperation, what do you want me to do with this? He had been using his own translation of Racine but what should I do? I could not very well use an existing English translation. No, since I used my own translation, said Bengt, I suggest you simply cut it in your English translation. That led to one critic accusing me of neglect or, worse still, ignorance. But every move was endorsed by Bengt so I felt rather disappointed.

After my decade of drama translations for the BBC, I turned to biography and published two books about Strindberg and his women, a biography on Queen Filippa of Sweden-Denmark and a few more personal books, including one about Saint Birgitta and her daughter Katarina.

How has being a SELTA member helped in your career (if it has!)
I can’t honestly say that being a member of SELTA has helped me in my career. It is quite a lonely road but it has been fun meeting other wordmongers at regular intervals.

SELTA at 40: Ann Henning Jocelyn

In celebration of SELTA’s 40th anniversary in 2022, in this series of articles, SELTA members reflect on their careers and SELTA past and present. Here, founder member Ann Henning Jocelyn describes her translation career and looks back at SELTA’s early days.

Life as a Literary Translator

After an early debut as a playwright in my native Sweden in 1972, I relocated to London but found it hard to make ends meet working in London theatre. As assistant to legendary director Charles Marowitz, I received a weekly wage of 6 guineas. Permanent employment as a linguist at the London World Trade Centre gave a much improved, steady income, but left me hungry for more creative work. With my sights on literary translation, I contacted Swedish publishers and was soon given a sample to translate: an excerpt from an early crime novel written by an unknown author called Ruth Rendell. My sample met with approval and was followed by years of intense work translating English novels into Swedish.

In 1979, I was approached by Norstedts. Ingrid Bergman was writing her autobiography and needed someone based in London to help with research and translation, both English and Swedish, acting as a bridge between herself and ghost writer Alan Burgess. First of all, she wanted me to do a sample for her to examine. She rang up very early one morning to tell me I was unable to spell. I was shocked, but drew breath when she told me that my one mistake had been to spell Rossellini with only one “l”. Otherwise, she was delighted with my work and wished to meet me. This was the beginning of many months of delightful collaboration, including much editing, as her first husband, Aron Petter Lindström, kept objecting to her descriptions of him and threatened to sue us all unless the passages were totally rewritten. This led to some controversy over my fee, as Norstedts were only prepared to pay as per my contract for text delivered, notwithstanding months of extra work I had been made to put in. It took an intervention by Ingrid before I was paid a reasonable fee for the additional work. It taught me never to take on unscheduled work without first agreeing a fee for it.

Around this time, I started to translate more books from Swedish into English. I became a member of the Institute of Linguists and was elected Chair of the Translators’ Association, attending conferences in Kiev, Vienna, Amsterdam, Stockholm and London. Through the TA I also got to know well-established colleagues, such as Patricia Crampton, Mary Sandbach, Joan Tate and Eivor Martinus. We all faced the same problem of trying to persuade British publishers to take on Swedish books. More often than not we were given the standard answer that “Swedish books don’t sell”. Agreeing that something had to be done to convince the trade that there were indeed Swedish books worthy of publication, we started talking about taking joint action. Once we got leading academics like Karin Petherick of UCL, Laurie Thompson of St. David’s College Lampeter and Tom Geddes of the British Library on board, we were in a position to form SELTA: the Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association. Much help and support was given by the Swedish Embassy in London. Eivor Martinus and myself were even enabled to take a degree in English literature at Lund University, remotely via the London Embassy.

In spite of valiant effort by the members of SELTA, working on a voluntary basis writing reviews and doing sample translations for Swedish Books, published regularly and distributed to publishers, there were still very few books being accepted for translation, so I went on working into Swedish as well. In addition to Ruth Rendell, I worked with some leading English authors, including Kazuo Ishiguro, whose crystal-clear language was a pure pleasure to work with.

In the 1980s, I got married and moved country once more, this time to Ireland, where I started a successful career writing my own stuff. I had less time to translate but held on to Ishiguro. In 1989, I was contracted to translate The Remains of the Day, but had to give it up when I ended up in hospital for an extended period having my first and only child. This marked the end of my career as an English-Swedish translator.

In the 1990s, I became involved once more with work for the stage and over the years have had a number of my own plays performed, in Ireland and England, including the West End. In 1997, I was appointed Artistic Director of the Fourth International Congress for Women Playwrights, held in Galway. This led to work translating Scandinavian plays by authors such as Jon Fosse, Henning Mankell and Sara Stridsberg into English. With much practical experience of stagecraft, I realised I was particularly well suited to this work and so decided to specialise in dramatic translation. This work has evolved into original English versions. Working with composers on one libretto for opera and text/lyrics for musicals has presented huge challenges, which I find immensely rewarding.

Looking at the literary market, it has gone through a complete transformation since SELTA was formed, adding one Swedish mega-bestseller to another. Just how much credit goes to the indefatigable efforts by SELTA members over the decades is of course impossible to assess, but for a founding member it is a joy to note that we have come such a long way in these 40 years. Today no self-respecting British publisher would dream of repeating the line we heard ad nauseam: that “Swedish books don’t sell.” Even so, it is fortunate that we have publishers like Norvik and Quercus prepared to take risks and publish books not only based on commercial potential but also on quality.

The work of SELTA continues, now better organised and more effective than ever, and I wish the membership much well-deserved success in ensuring that many future Swedish books will find their way on to the international market, not to forget wonderful classics too good to be forgotten.