‘Translate at City’ Co-winners About Why the Summer Program Works, How It Could Be Better

Perween Richards and Emre Bennett took part in Translate at City summer school in London in 2016, back in the days when it was called “Translate in the City.” The two emerging literary translators were the co-winners of the summer school’s annual competition, sponsored by Comma Press:

The Arabic course will be led again this year by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, with a maximum of 15 students, and it’s set to open on June 26. Some discounts and bursaries are available, with information on the City University of London website.

What do you feel you got out of the Translate at City program? What does it bring that you can’t get elsewhere?

Perween Richards: I learned a lot from the workshops, and the level of engagement and discussion in the class improved my translation skills. The practical career advice, such as how to get into print, how to approach authors and publishers, writing reader reports and book proposals was invaluable. The program exposed us to a variety of texts; we covered novels, film scripts, young adult novels and journalism so it gave us a good range to work with.

The diversity of students who attended Translate at City gave us a new perspective on translating and how to approach a text. We heard from publishers, editors and established literary translators across all genres and languages. In addition to our wonderful tutor sharing valuable skills and techniques, we had a visiting translator who took us through one of his award-winning translations. The program also offered additional lectures in Poetry, Theatre and Crime Fiction translation.

Emre Bennett: The program gave me the opportunity to get together with other translators of different strengths, weaknesses, backgrounds and styles in order to learn the pros and cons of how I translate. Also everyone at the course was supportive and friendly which provided us with a safe environment to truly experiment with our translations. We looked at a whole range of different texts and were able to move from text to text at our own pace. Additionally, every day the program held a talk on a different aspect of translation and the translation industry. For me (someone who was new to the scene at the time) it was the perfect literary translation starter pack.

If you could add something to your best-of-all-possible-worlds Translate program, what would it be?

PR: It would be hard to pull off as most authors wouldn’t be available, but it would be interesting to hear from an author about the process of translation for them, their expectations regarding book sales, and the process by which their book was considered for translation into English.

EB: I agree with Perween that it would be interesting to see the whole translation process through the eyes of the author and learn some of the things that they like/dislike about having their work translated.

Can you describe the translation competition? How did it work? And what came of it?

PR: Comma Press offered us a choice from several short stories from two forthcoming books, ‘Iraq + 100’ and ‘The Sea Cloak.’ We were then asked to translate a short extract of our choice by a deadline and, if they liked the translation, then it would be used in the final book. I chose Our Milk by Nayrouz Qarmout, and I’m currently translating more short stories from that short story collection.

EB: Ra Page, the founder and CEO of Comma Press, gave the Arabic translators the opportunity to pick one of the Arabic short stories that he had brought with him and translate a sample of it to send him. If a translator impressed Ra with their translation they would be given the opportunity to work with Comma Press on one of their forthcoming titles. I managed to succeed in the competition and was given the story ‘Baghdad Syndrome’ by ‘Zhraa Alhaboby’ to translate for their forthcoming title ‘Iraq +100’. Comma Press provided a lot of support and insight at every step of the process and the book is now out and doing very well.

Has Translate changed your process as a translator (either in how you work or how you submit or interact with publishers/authors)?

PB: Translate at City has given me the confidence to submit queries to publishers and interact with authors. During the workshops, we were divided into two groups each day and we compared and discussed our translations. It was interesting to see how our individual understandings of the text often made for very different word choices. I think the level of discussion in the workshops makes you consider the text you’re translating from every angle, whether it’s choosing the right word or how much time to dedicate to one line and the importance of research and fact-checking. Translation can be very lonely sometimes and I think the program helped us establish connections and showed us how valuable support from other translators can be.

What are you working on now?

PR: I am working on a short story collection The Sea Cloak by the Palestinian author Nayrouz Qarmout.

EB: I am currently finishing off my master’s in specialised and technical translation from Arabic to English. I am, however, still looking for opportunities to translate short stories and will continue entering translation competitions after I complete my master’s.