Erin Brady is a full-time professional translator living in Barcelona, who found herself in the industry after studying languages and creative writing at university.
How did you get into the field of translation?
I took a literary translation course at university for fun, and a couple years later I began doing translations part-time while I was working at a bookstore. I created an online profile and my language combination (at the time, French and Italian to English) fit the requirements for a project with Assimil. I found several more jobs through friends and acquaintances and realised that I really enjoyed the work and wanted to do it full time. After learning Catalan and Spanish and moving to Barcelona, I started finding projects in Spain, too.
If you’re working with a writer who has never had their work translated before, what advice would you give them?
I would tell them not to be afraid to share stylistic preferences or requirements with the translator, but also to be open to suggestions that the translator might make (such as adding a footnote, or suggesting alternative solutions for phrases that are ‘untranslatable’). Also, if it’s a longer project and you are working together closely, be prepared for some back-and-forth after the initial translation, so that you can both fine tune everything.
What’s your favourite translated book, and are there any books you wish you could have translated?
One of my favourites is The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal, which is about a little girl staying on a small island in Finland with her grandmother. I also enjoy reading the Harry Potter series translated into other languages because I like seeing what the translators have done with the names of characters and made-up places and objects. As well as being good language practice, it lets me indulge in some nostalgia and shows me how creative translation can get.
We are often criticised in the UK for being less open to buying books in translation. How do you see that evolving over the next 5–10 years?
I think that many people realise that by travelling, by learning another language and/or by reading or watching something originally released in another language, they can learn to think in entirely new ways. The number of friends I have who regularly read translated books and watch subtitled films seems to be increasing, and I hope this trend continues!
How does the process of translation change across varying genres? Are there any major differences?
In general, technical and contract translations tend to be straightforward and literal, while academic and literary translations require flexibility from both the original author and the translator. There is usually more room for creativity and sometimes more opportunity to get to know the client.
When copyediting a translated work, do you consider the novel first in its original language and then the translation, the other way round, or neither of these methods?
When I copyedit, I always start with the original piece open next to the translation on my laptop, because mistranslations are not always evident from reading the final text. After going through both versions once or twice, I review the translation on its own to check that the writing flows well.
How do you think proofreading differs across languages?
I always translate into and edit English, unless I’m working with someone else, but my editing style changes depending on whether I am proofreading for US, UK or International English. I assume this is true for other languages (for example, Spanish vocabulary can vary widely depending on the country, and there are regional differences in Italian). I would also imagine that different problems in proofreading translations arise from language-specific expressions and differences in grammar (word order, gendered nouns, etc.).