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Translator Focus:

NBG interviews the translator Jamie Bulloch

Jamie Bulloch Photo: private
How did you get into translation and how has your career developed? Have you worked closely with any particular publishers?
It had not been my original intention to become a translator, but when my attempts to secure a full-time academic career as a historian were thwarted I started to consider it as a serious option. My first commission for a literary translation was awarded on the basis of a sample I had been asked to prepare for the publisher. Since then I have been fortunate to be in regular work, enjoying good contacts with a number of publishers, including Atlantic, Peirene Press and MacLehose Press.

What have been your most enjoyable translation projects?
My wife and I co-translated two novels by Daniel Glattauer – Love Virtually and its sequel, Every Seventh Wave – both in email format, for which I translated the male character and she the female one. We then spent many evenings editing the text together until we were happy with the finished product. I’m currently working on Timur Vermes’ Er ist wieder da, a hugely entertaining satire on modern German life seen through the eyes of a resurrected Adolf Hitler. I have just finished the first draft and now my task is to inject life into the English text and render it as funny as the German original.

Do you get in touch with the living writers you translate?
To be able to translate a phrase successfully, you really need to be able to understand it down to the most basic detail. There is no better substitute for achieving this than consulting the person who wrote it in the first place. With Er ist wieder da, I actually had the great fortune to spend a week in Germany with the author and eleven other translators of the novel, working with languages ranging from Chinese to Macedonian. We sat around a large table and discussed the book page by page, addressing every query. It was quite an experience.

Do you tend to translate one book at a time, or have several projects on the go at once? What are you working on at the moment?
I will only translate one book at a time, but in the middle of one job you will frequently receive queries from an editor regarding a previous translation, so in that sense you can be working on a number of books simultaneously. As I mentioned, I am working on the Timur Vermes satire at present. In the pipeline I have another novel by Daniel Glattauer as well as Jörg Fauser’s classic Rohstoff, which has been reissued in Germany to great acclaim.

Which book(s) would you still like to translate?
One great book which I loved when I read it a few years ago was Kristof Magnusson’s Das war ich nicht, featuring a translator as one of the main protagonists!

Do you have a favourite translated work by somebody else?
I particularly enjoyed Umberto Eco’s Prague Cemetery and am sure that Richard Dixon’s fine translation had a lot to do with that. But – and I know that this is a very unoriginal choice – my favourite would have to be the Asterix books translated by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge. I remember the disbelief I felt when I discovered that these had not been written in English originally. They are prime examples of the confident, risk-taking, creative approach which all translators need to adopt if we are to convince the wider Anglophone public that foreign literature is worth reading.

What advice would you give to new translators?
For those trying to get a foot on the ladder, I would write to those publishers who do include translated literature in their lists, and offer to become a reader for them. The pay for this will be virtually non-existent, but it will establish contact between you and commissioning editors, and you might just be in the right place at the right time when one of your favourable reports on a book arouses some interest. Likewise, I would offer to produce sample translations. There are many instances where a publisher buys a book and only then embarks on the quest to find a suitable translator for it.

Interview with Jenny Watson