The Image of the Translator – Past, Present, Future

Today, 30 September, is St Jerome’s day, aka Eusebius Hieronymus, aka the patron saint of translators. He was an extraordinary character in many ways. He was born in Stridon, near present-day Ljubljana, Slovenia, in c. 347 C.E. and died in 419/20 at Bethlehem, Palestine.

Having spent some years as a hermit, in the desert of Chalcis, he undertook most of his translation work when he was secretary to Pope Damasus I, and then later in the monastery he established at Bethlehem. He learnt Greek, Hebrew from a Jewish convert – while in the desert – and sought out original documents, including the copy of a Hebrew gospel alleged to be the original Gospel of Matthew. He was an outspoken advocate of Origen’s exegetical methods and translated several of his homilies – although in his later life he was to turn against Origen (185-245 CE).

Jerome’s culminating work was, of course, a revision of the Latin version of the Gospels on the basis of the best Greek manuscripts. Then, when in Bethlehem, between 391 and 406, he produced a Latin translation of the Old Testament on the basis of the original text.

The iconography of Jerome during the Renaissance varied, as can be seen from just these three very well-known examples: the rather affluent figure – dressed in a cardinal’s robe – portrayed by Antonello da Messina, the hermit rendered in all the agony of his suffering in the desert by Leonardo, and finally shown as a semi-clothed ascetic, in an engraving by De Barbari. Of course, there are plenty more images, and plenty more learned comments on them, too.

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Jumping forward a few hundred years, the importance of women translators in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has been highlighted by several recent studies. As many have noted, translation was one of the few fields open to women. It even allowed some to earn a living. Examples include Sarah Austin (1793-1867) and Lucie Duff-Gordon (1821-69): both worked from German to English. Lucie Duff-Gordon is even better known for her own work, Letters from Egypt, a notable contribution to the travel literature of the time.


Lucie Duff-Gordon

Just one more example from the late nineteenth century, Constance Black (better known as Constance Garnett), who was born in Brighton in 1861 (and died in 1946). She graduated in classics from Cambridge, but her interest in socialism led her into the circle of exiles from Tsarist Russia. She took up translation in the early 1890s, having learnt Russian from the revolutionary journalist Felix Volkhovsky. Garnett’s translation of Anna Karenina was published in 1901, and she made her second trip to Russia in the summer of 1904, immediately after completing War and Peace. As Rosamund Bartlett writes (author of ‘Tolstoy: A Russian Life’, and translator of ‘Anna Karenina), “arguments have raged for decades” over the merits and flaws of Garnett’s translation and those of the Maudes. “Having lived in Russia for so long, the Maudes had flawless Russian, as well as Tolstoy’s imprimatur, while Garnett’s less advanced linguistic skills were compensated by her greater literary sensitivity.” Anyone who’s read the Pevear & Volokhnosky translation, or indeed the one by Anthony Briggs (whose dialogue is probably insuperable), will know how Garnett’s literary English phrasing sometimes overrides Tolstoy’s meaning.


Constance Garnett and her son David, known as Bunny, mid-1890s.

And this brings me to the present and future: well, I can hardly produce pictures of today’s translators – in various states of (un)dress, seated in front their computers! (guilty as charged). However, I will say that they are extraordinarily well-trained, far more so than in the past. Nowadays, a masters in literary translation or translation studies is virtually compulsory before you can make a start as a literary translator. When I started in the late 1980s, I had a Ph.D., it’s true, but in history rather than in translation. So far, it’s served me well: my first book was for the great Bolognese historian and anthropologist, Piero Camporesi: The Fear of Hell was published in 1991. Since then, I’ve worked on other fabulous books, by historians, sociologists and art historians, not to mention endless articles and shorter pieces. My latest books (since 2014) include:

Antonio Foscari, Frescos in the Rooms of Palladio: La Malcontenta (1557-75). Lars Müller, 2014

Marzio Barbagli, Farewell to the World. A History of Suicide. Polity, 2015

Antonio Forcellino, Leonardo. A Restless Genius. Wiley, March 2018

Sandro Carocci, Lordships of the Mezzogiorno, Viella (still working on this one)

I’ve taught translation at University of Edinburgh for the past few years, which is both a pleasure and a privilege. Some of these young linguists – who are in their fourth year  – bring fabulously fresh insights and clarity to their work, even though for many of them, this is the first time they’ve done any formal translation – certainly at university level.

Together with other younger translators, whom I’ve met through the Translators Association, in London, or more frequently at ScotNet, the Scottish branch of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, they are the translators of the future: well placed to bring increasing numbers of translated works, from a wide range of languages, to fascinate, enthuse, and educate (in the broadest sense) readers here – of all ages.

Let’s smash those barriers and do what we all do best – carry words across cultures and build bridges that unite, rather than divide, the world.

The good news is that books, in all forms, are here to stay, and that the market is expanding – as are the different publishing models available. We’ve hardly even started on self-publishing for translators – either working for a self-published author or doing it for yourself. For a taster of what’s possible, try Tina Tenneberg’s article at Free Word.

What’s more, while Google Translate is improving all the time, it’ll be hard to replace the human translator!

Screen Shot 2017-09-29 at 20.30.25

(courtesy of Google Translate –

Happy International Translation Day, everyone!

Posted in Cultural history, Italian translation, translation, translator | Tagged , ,

A Tribute to Helen Dunmore. The Moment: Gone Forever, but also Here, Now

I was very saddened to read of Helen Dunmore’s death earlier this month and I wanted to republish this (rather long) interview that describes our meeting in Edinburgh, back in 2008.  I can still picture her sitting in the Signing Tent where we met for tea. It was raining, but then it was August at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

I now look forward to reading her latest novel, Birdcage Walk, with a great sense of poignancy.  As she neared the end of the editing phase, she added an afterword in which she acknowledged her approaching end because, she writes, the novel is “full of a sharper light, rather as a landscape becomes brilliantly distinct in the last sunlight before a storm”.

IMG_1269The following profile appeared in SOLANDER, vol. 12 NOVEMBER 2008, pp. 30-32.

(It’s long, but do persist – some real gems by Dunmore here.)

The Moment: Gone Forever, but Also Here, Now

Lucinda Byatt talks to HELEN DUNMORE

Passing showers at the Edinburgh Book Festival are such a regular annual feature that the extraordinary spirit of the occasion is barely affected. However, this year’s downpours were so persistent that a raft of yellow plastic ducks appeared overnight in one of the many puddles that swamped the immaculate lawn of Edinburgh’s classiest square, and a walkway between the marquees even carried the ominous warning “Do not use, these boards will sink”. On the afternoon when Helen Dunmore was speaking the rain fortunately held off for an hour or two – lucky for both the speakers and those listening because the thrumming rain can be deafening. I met her afterwards to talk about her latest book, Counting the Stars, and also to enjoy a wide-ranging discussion of her other books and her approaches to writing historical fiction.

Helen Dunmore’s engaging smile and tall figure make her instantly recognisable. She is a writer – not only of historical fiction – a children’s novelist and poet of considerable standing. I started by asking what drew her to write about such a variety of periods and countries? Zennor in Darkness, her first historical novel and winner of the McKitterick prize, is set in Cornwall after the outbreak of the First World War, while later works are set in Finland (House of Orphans) and Leningrad (The Siege, shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel award). A Spell of Winter, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 1996, is also set in England and spans the first few decades of the last century.

“I would say that all my historical novels have been written out of a long-standing fascination with the period, the setting and the people. That is, I have never decided that it might be interesting to write about a certain time or about particular characters, and then begun the research ‘cold’. Sometimes I can identify the moment when reading, study, travel and reflection coalesced into the knowledge that this was going to become a novel.”

I pointed out that her latest book Counting the Stars marks a complete contrast by jumping back to the late Roman Republic. Dunmore added that “in this case, it was when I realised that there might be a story behind the death of the pet sparrow that Clodia/Lesbia loved so much … and another story behind that, of another death. There were secrets there, and the beginnings of a plot.”

Counting the StarsHowever, for Dunmore, the starting point for any novel goes a long way back. There is a latency in the emergence of ideas that seems to be a fundamental part of her creative process. Dunmore first came across Catullus’ works at school. “I first read and translated his poetry when I was thirteen, when he appeared immensely adult, sophisticated and often puzzling. Now, as an adult who is much older than Catullus ever was, I see other things; a young man’s vulnerability as well as his brilliance, a love shaded by obsession as well as by passion, and a great poet who has influenced the way succeeding generations read and write about love.” Catullus, she adds, also forms part of a select group of poets and writers who succeed in perfectly conveying the spirit of their age, like Pepys and Donne.

“When I first read Catullus’ poems I knew relatively little about the historical context in which he wrote, or about the other great figures of his time, such as Cicero. One might argue that this led to a very pure, disinterested reading … However, in the novel I wanted to write about the world of Rome in the late years of the Republic, about a young man coming to the city to make his name and create a place for himself in a sophisticated, turbulent, often violent society. I wanted to write about a society where slavery was the normal underpinning of every transaction and relationship; where enormous wealth was expending itself in display; where Julius Caesar was rising to greater and greater power; and where a young man could write devastatingly obscene and abusive poetry about Caesar and yet be invited to dine with him.”

Republican Rome emerges vividly from her writing, but as Dunmore reminds me, the “art of the novelist is never to instruct or inform. What I try to achieve is to make the reader subtly aware of the society and the facts.” Indeed, she continued, “information has to be pared back to allow the narrative to be the driving force.” Or in this case, the twin narratives, because in Counting the Stars, there are two stories, a love story and a murder, that are closely entwined.

We then moved on to talk about the characters. Having researched the historical background, I commented that she manages to put it aside so that the characters could grow and change through the events that occur. The development continues even when her characters become isolated, as in A Spell of Winter where Cathy seems to grow in isolation, trapped in the crumbling house, or in The Siege where Anna and Andrei’s world shrinks around them. Elsewhere in Dunmore’s writings, I’d come across her comment that “From novel to novel the experience of character changes. The characters demand a different handling. And so the writer moves on.”

Returning to Counting the Stars, Dunmore told me that she

“was particularly interested in the character of Clodia Metelli. Cicero’s portrait of her in his ‘Pro Caelio’ speech is compelling, as much for what it doesn’t say as for what it does. Cicero attacks Clodia’s reputation with the full force of his eloquence; but even though his explicit purpose is to belittle and ridicule her, he can’t prevent her charisma coming through the lines of his speech. And there’s a social edge, too, because Clodia belongs to the patrician class, and Cicero does not, and he is always intensely aware of every gradation of rank and power. It’s intriguing to imagine Cicero and Clodia face to face, in private, and what they might say to each other then.

My own feeling is that the development of character is a slower process that even the writer may realise. Perhaps character is not such much invented as gradually apprehended. Long before I begin to write, my understanding of character is slowly forming. At first this can be very vague – a few notes, a sensation. I need to know much more than I’ll ever write down. I need to know this character in solitude as well as in relation to the other characters. The author is privileged, because we never really see other human beings when they are alone – and the reader will share this privileged intimacy.

I’ve experimented with exploring this sense of a character’s solitude in many ways, through interior monologue, through dreams, diaries, letters, and through the dozens of careless spontaneous things that we all do when we’re alone, and which are so deeply and privately part of us.”

The sense of place is incredibly strong in all of Dunmore’s novels: the colours, scents and atmosphere of a setting are beautifully evoked, and in many instances the place, or even a house in the case of A Spell of Winter, become protagonists in their own right. In Zennor in Darkness, Dunmore readily admits that

“the Cornish world is the third element of the novel. And again, this goes back into my own past and a more than thirty-year-old relationship with that part of West Penwith. The character of the place is as important in the novel as any of the human characters. Of course the Zennor and St Ives of Zennor in Darkness are imagined places as well as known and researched ones, just as the Coynes and Trevails are imagined characters, but also owe their existence to research and to personal experience. In creating the Trevail clan I drew on my own history of belonging to a huge extended family; I felt on sure ground in describing such a web of relationships, some intimate, some apparently casual but always underpinned by the sense of blood kinship.”

The SiegeI asked her about her use of changing narrators, a technique that she uses most effectively in The Siege where the narration slips from Anna to Marina, or occasionally to Andrei or an outside character, the only deliberate exception being the boy, Kolya. The effect is one that Dunmore describes as “modulating consciousness”, or the slippage created in the narrator’s voice as it moves from character to character, offering the reader a different slant on the same event. “As a writer and as readers, we are enormously privileged to have insight into their thoughts and motives. I am also fascinated by what a character doesn’t say or by a dishonest character … then the fun really starts!”

This brings us to the question of language. Dunmore highlighted the difficulty of finding the right tone of voice. “Part of creating a character is listening to a voice,” she said. But, in such a hierarchical society, for instance, she had to ask herself what kind of accent would slaves use when talking to one another, and would the language change between master and slave? How could she show these differences in English? In the end, Dunmore opts for the captivating, contemporary language that builds what she describes as a “layered reading”: “I want people to feel that these people live in the present moment, although their ‘mental furniture’ may be different.” Each character has his or her own vocabulary and register. To do this well, a writer needs to know a lot of intimate detail about a character and, in particular, their childhood. A perfect example of this is Philoctetes, the doctor, who uses a very florid, rotund phrases to reveal his Greek background and education, but yet in an emergency he becomes virtually monosyllabic and straight to the point.

I then asked her about the process of researching the background for her historical novels? “For me,” she replied, “the word ‘research’ is problematic, because it suggests a systematic if not scholarly approach to writing fiction. The long process of ‘finding-out’ which eventually results in the writing of a novel is complex and not always easily defined. Sometimes the word research is a good fit, but at other times it isn’t.” She then focused on the background work that preceded the writing of Zennor in Darkness.

“Long before I thought of writing it, I had read all the novels and short stories of D H Lawrence, as well as a lot of biographical material about Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, John Middleton Murray, Lady Ottoline Morrell and other members of Lawrence’s circle. I had also taken a special paper on Lawrence at university. For three years, as a girl, I had lived in Nottingham, and knew the area that Lawrence wrote about in Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow and Women in Love, as well as in many of his stories.

Zennor in Darkness is set during the First World War and deals with the period which Lawrence and Frieda spent in Cornwall. I had been reading the history and literature of the First World War since my teens: poetry, diaries, novels and letters. I found, for example, that Lady Cynthia Asquith’s Diaries gave an illuminating insight into Lawrence during that war, and also into the writing of Lawrence’s novella The Ladybird. Novels such as Irene Rathbone’s We That Were Young gave a compelling account of young women breaking tradition and leaving the home for war service, with a rather different approach to that of Vera Brittain in the better-known Testament of Youth.

The long, slow process of reading and brooding over material about the First World War was a matter of many years, not of months, and I could not have written Zennor in Darkness without it. I would describe it as formation, as much as research.”

Dunmore’s books are often described as sensuous, filled with exquisite descriptions of food, plants and gardens, clothing, furnishings, and buildings. These carefully selected details recreate the worlds her characters inhabit, and also help to form their personalities. I asked her how difficult it was not to succumb to the temptation to include too much research?

“To return to the present, palpable moment, to create the present tense, I have to make sure that my research is invisible as research. I must know what Lawrence saw when he glanced out of his cottage window, and what vegetables he grew. I must know how much fabric went into Clare’s skirt, and the formula for funeral announcements in St Ives. I must know what happened at Bodmin Barracks when men went up for physical examination; what the newspapers were saying about the progress of the war on a particular date in 1917; how flowers were packed for sending by post in wartime; what the sea sounds like at night in Barnoon Cemetery; what colour the walls were. But I must not know these things in order to describe them to the reader. I must know them so that I can find my way around the rooms of the past with my eyes closed, and only then will I be able to convey to the reader the confidence that he or she is in safe hands. I have not researched in order to impress the reader, or inform the reader, or tell the reader about the past; but to bring the reader into this moment which is gone for ever but also here, now.”

It is the compelling feeling of here and now that is such a moving component of all Helen Dunmore’s books. We are not onlookers, but rather participants, sharing the same present. She highlighted this by confirming that

“one of my chief aims in writing fiction is to give a sense of the present, palpable moment, uncoloured by hindsight. In Zennor in Darkness, the characters do not know that they are living through the First World War: there has been no second. They don’t know that there will be an Armistice next November. They don’t know, either, that the U-boat campaign on the Western Approaches has had a devastating effect upon food supplies in Britain, and is causing huge anxiety at the highest levels; nor do they know how this anxiety may affect their own lives. They certainly don’t know that Germany will be defeated, and must not ever seem like people whose present is coloured by certainty about the future.”

Elsewhere Dunmore takes this further by stating that it is “far better to follow Tolstoy’s example, as he lets his characters stumble around the battlefield without knowing either exactly where they are or what is happening. Instead they see everything feelingly, every fibre of their bodies engaged, their minds sometimes hectic, sometimes lucid, sometimes overwhelmed. They are defined by characteristic and often instinctive acts.” (1)

One last aspect of her writing that emerged from our conversation is the extent to which women writers can be pigeon-holed. Many critics have ignored the political content of Dunmore’s books, choosing instead to focus on women’s issues. All of Dunmore’s writing highlights political issues of the time, whether slavery or the tragedy of the war brides (“when Clare Coyne sleeps with John William, she doesn’t know that women up and down the country are breaking all the taboos of their upbringing and having sexual relationships with ‘best boys’ or fiancés home on leave”). Again, the story of Zennor in Darkness focuses on “how the First World War redefined the relationship of the State to the individual, and permanently altered the social fabric: for example the impacts of the Defence of the Realm Act of 1914 and of the Military Service Act of 1916 cannot be overestimated”. She uses this political focus to examine the nature of history and to explore the ways in which individuals as well as nations deal with their past. For example, the tensions between different versions of Finland’s history are central to House of Orphans, and are expressed through characters who cling passionately to their opposing beliefs.

When I asked about her next book, Helen Dunmore revealed that she is working on a story that is strongly connected to an earlier work: it is “something to do with the characters and the intimacy you create with them that makes you go back to them.” Any ideas whom she might have in mind?


1 Helen Dunmore, “Making it up”, (accessed 1 October 2008)

© Lucinda Byatt

Posted in Edinburgh Book Festival, historical fiction | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Meet Eat Drink Think

Robbie Bushe from University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Open Learning organised this great event at the end of February as part of the University’s Festival of Creative Learning. It was held in collaboration with one of Edinburgh’s newest and most innovative restaurants, The Food Studio, brainchild of Benedict Reade and Sashana Souza Zanella. The restaurant was started in November 2015 and has garnered praise and The List’s Newcomer of the Year award in 2016.

Meet Eat Drink Think was run on three consecutive evenings and the purpose was to highlight the contribution of Europe and Europeans to Scottish food and culture. Each evening four university tutors from the Centre for Open Learning gave short talks on various aspects of food and culture, and the menu served by Food Studio was inspired by the subjects of these presentations.

MEDT photo

Alongside me were Carina Dahlstrom-Mair, John Gordon and Pasquale Iannone.  Carina started the proceedings with a lovely talk titled “Light and Summer in a Bottle”, highlighting the importance of nature and outdoor eating to the Swedes. She also dwelled on the art of keeping everything simple, foraging and preserves, and what a splash of colour can do not only for your mood and your senses, but also for your health.

John Gordon gave a wonderfully informative talk on “Luxury, Taste and Politeness”, which explored the spread of coffee-houses and tea-houses in the early eighteenth century, but more excitingly also highlighted the fact that David Hume had been a good amateur cook towards the end of his life.  His recipe for Potage à la Reyne was served (or at least a variation of it was). John also looked at vistors’ impressions of Scottish cuisine, starting with Samuel Johnson and Tobias Smollett, before he examined a few recipes from a cookbook by Elizabeth Cleland (A New and Easy Method of Cookery, Edinburgh, first published in 1759) (Google Books: 1755).

My talk started in sixteenth-century Rome with food as performance (particularly the carver and other officials who engaged in a choreographed performance of table ritual), and then moved on to Catherine de’ Medici, the fork and the mistrust of the “Englishman italianate” that was generated in England in the late Elizabethan period. This all came under the title “‘Enchantments of Circes’: Why the Fork and Italian Table Manners were regarded with Suspicion”.

Lastly, Pasquale Iannone showed an entertaining audio-visual essay that explored Scottish and Italian culture through ice cream: “Identity Carved in Ice (Cream)”.  He put together clips from films such as Comfort and Joy (1984), Soft Top Hard Shoulder (1992), American Cousins (2003).

Comfort and Joy

Bill Paterson and Eleanor David in Comfort and Joy (1984)


This was a really creative and different form of collaboration, celebrating learning in an unusually appetising format and highlighting the extraordinary links that were forged in the past and are felt just as strongly today between us and our European neighbours.

UPDATE: On 16 March the Meet Eat Drink Think event won the Creative Learning Award given by the Festival of Creative Learning! To quote Jenny Hoy, Head of Short Courses at the Centre for Open Learning:

The Festival run an awards scheme alongside the programme which celebrates the variety of events offered and the skill involved in bringing them to fruition. I’m delighted to say that both of our short course events were shortlisted and went on to win despite some stiff competition from across the University



Posted in Cultural history, food history, Scottish history | 1 Comment

A talk on behalf of the Society of Authors at Publishing Scotland

Publishing Scotland held their annual conference last week and the Society of Authors were invited to give a short presentation. Given that I’m on the Scottish committee of the Society of Authors (SOAiS), Caroline Dunford and I went along. It was a great idea to involve us, although we did feel a little like the rabbits turning up at the foxes’ tea party! My best quote of the day is thanks to the Society of Authors (SOA):

“Authors remain the only essential part of the creation of a book and it is in everyone’s interests to ensure they can make a living.”

My second best quote was mine (modesty apart) – and it featured a bit on Twitter too (thanks to Alice Fischer and others!)

For translators, like authors, their name is their brand.


I’ve included some excerpts from my part of our joint presentation below, but first I must acknowledge my debt to the SOA and to Sarah Macintyre whose blog was a great inspiration for the part on illustrators and the hashtag campaign #picturesmeanbusiness

Publishing Scotland

Photo thanks to Merryn Glover

So here it is:

Seven Ways to work better with authors and translators (and sell more books)

Between us Caroline and I have come up with seven ways that we think publishers can work better with authors (and translators) and sell more books. So I’m starting off with the first four.

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-16-07-34I’m going to jump in at the deep end and talk about contracts, and for obvious reasons much of what I’d like to focus on is related to translators. In that sense, the contract is well down the path towards publication. A lot could be said about the many stages that precede it: the sleuthing work of finding suitable books to translate, reading them and preparing reports, gauging the feasibility of the project, the possibility of sourcing funds, and of course the key part, actually choosing a translator.

However, let’s leave all of that aside and go straight to the point. Contracts between publishers and translators have often been extremely one-sided in the past, that is the onus is entirely on the translator: mostly stick and precious little carrot.

The Society of Authors supports a vision of authors’ rights, centred on the author, and it campaigns to ensure that the implementation of that vision is not undermined by a concept of copyright which instead is centred on the investor.

The argument is that an investor-centred system of rights maximises the benefits for a minimum number of holders, whereas in an author-centred system of rights these benefits are more equably divided.

So, in the case of the translator, what rights are we talking about?

  • The moral rights are (or should be) unwaivable but they must first be asserted. With particular regard to translators, all translated books should contain that phrase in the copyright section.
  • However, more importantly, a translation is an original work, and given that it involves considerable creative effort translations are eligible for copyright – and have been since the nineteenth century Berne Convention (1886). Sadly, it is all too frequently taken for granted that the publisher will hold the copyright for an English translation, but things are changing. The reading public are growing more aware of copyright issues and readers have been known to check the copyright page.

Best practice would seem straightforward in this regard: Your translator should assert his or her moral rights, and should automatically retain copyright. Then, in a separate clause in the contract, she or he will license it back to the publisher subject to a straightforward negotiation regarding a reasonable percentage to be paid for subsequent exploitation of the work.

This is the more equitable vision of shared rights that the Society encourages. It also allows the translator and other copyright holders to benefit from the ongoing success of a publication – which sadly is not always the case.

Big as we all know does not always mean beautiful – let alone equitable. The largest publisher of fiction in translation is now Amazoncrossing. You might pull a face, but Amazon’s investment in this sector has been game-changing. Moreover, Amazon has also shown that it can mend its ways in one important respect: copyright.

potzch-hangmans-daughterThe author I’ve used here as an example is Oliver Pötzch, whose book The Hangman’s Daughter was translated by Lee Chadeayne.  Pötzch became the first translated Amazon Publishing author to sell over 1 million copies. In that book, published in 2010 Amazon acknowledged the translator’s moral rights on the copyright page but retained the copyright to the English translation – meaning that Chadeayne largely missed out on the book’s success. However, for Pötzch’s subsequent books, the Dark Monk series, Chadeayne has retained copyright – a lesson well learned, for the translator, but notably also for Amazoncrossing.

It is worth adding that many of the smaller, independent publishers have always set high standards in this respect, but I won’t name any more names!

Which brings me to where it is important to name names: This is closely linked to the first point on rights. The moral rights clause of a contract states that “X shall be recognised as the translator of this work”: this means what it says: The translator must be acknowledged as the translator everywhere, in publicity, in catalogues, and most basically on the book itself.

Almost without exception translations into English are now acknowledged on an inside front cover.

But on the outside front cover the story is rather different.

The situation has improved in recent years, but somewhere around 40% of books do not have the translator’s name on the front cover. Yet reader surveys show an overwhelming majority (up to 90%) of respondents who think that translators ought to be visible on the cover. As was mentioned in the case of copyright issues, readers’ opinions are a powerful motivator for change in this respect.

There is one more aspect about accreditation that needs to be touched on:  it’s that dreaded word. Metadata. It’s linked to two important Twitter campaigns: #namethetranslator and #picturesmeanbusiness promoted by the Society of Authors.

hashtag-picturesmeanbusinessTranslators – and illustrators – have been wondering why their names don’t show up with their books on Amazon, why reviews often list only the writers, and why radio programmes sometimes don’t credit the translator while discussing the English book! It often comes down to one basic thing… faulty or incomplete book data.

This affects translators’ careers in their loss of valuable name-brand recognition – for translators, like authors, their name is their brand. But it means publishers lose out, too. You lose what is becoming one of the most valuable things in book publicity – which hopefully will translate into book sales –, and that’s discoverability.

hashtag-namethetranslatorDiscoverability of the book, of the publisher, but also of the translator. My name was left off a book review in the Wall Street Journal a year ago, and although I did manage to contact the reviewer and editor afterwards, the opportunity had been missed. Who knows what might have happened if my name had been there, and if a reader happened to have been looking for a translator… that is the way future opportunities are made and lost.

The Society of Authors is working hard to change this. Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive, often ends a talk on this particular subject saying, “If there’s one thing you go away and do after this, make sure it’s improving your book data.”

Sarah McIntyre, a brilliant illustrator, recently visited Nielsen and two publishers in London to try to work out what was going wrong. The answer is that Nielsen can only work with what they’re given. The problem is down to publishers, who aren’t submitting full book data via their software systems.

So, making sure you improve your book data and the discoverability of your books will also give you massive kudos with your translators and illustrators. We are, as the phrase goes, all in this together. And one last point about discoverability: if you publish translated works please credit the translators on your own website – you’d be amazed, but some publishers don’t!

My last point is on fair remuneration. This letter written by the SOA a year ago makes the point clearly.


Earnings are falling fast, yet – as was said earlier – it is in everyone’s interests to ensure that creators and writers, in the broadest sense of the term, can make a living.

The key solution lies in protecting and equitably sharing those rights we’ve been talking about, and copyright in particular.

Let me briefly mention a piece of European legislation, the European Commission’s proposed directive to modernize the European Copyright framework, referred to as the Digital Single Market directive. Irrelevant you might think, but the SOA urges the government to continue to reflect European legislation in order to provide stability for the industry.

On the specific point of fair remuneration the draft legislation (Chapter 3) addresses the findings of that survey I just mentioned. Creators of all stripes were championed by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker (again September 2016) (scroll down – about halfway through his speech)

Artists and creators are our crown jewels. The creation of content is not a hobby. It is a profession. And it is part of our European culture. I want journalists, publishers and authors to be paid fairly for their work, whether it is made in studios or living rooms, whether it is disseminated offline or online.

All I can add is here, here!

22 February 2017, Lucinda Byatt ©

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