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Translator Focus:

NBG interviews the translator
Jamie Searle Romanelli

How did you get into translation and how has your career developed?
I discovered German literature in my early teens, thanks to an inspiring teacher who kept me supplied with off-curriculum titles. As I read on, I became increasingly aware of how few made it into English translation. Later, while working as a translator at Reuters, I began to research UKbased initiatives promoting German literature. I contacted NBG and was invited to write a readerís report by the editor at the time, Rebecca Morrison. She became a friend and mentor, recommending me for many projects over the years. I then did a part-time MA in Anglo-German Cultural Relations alongside working at the German Welfare Council.

I fell increasingly in love with translation, taking part in summer academies at the BCLT and Literarisches Colloquium Berlin. In 2011, I was granted a BCLT/ TA Mentorship with Dr Lyn Marven. My first full-length commission for a UK publisher was a co-translation of Frank Schätzingís Limit with Shaun Whiteside and Samuel Willcocks. Shaun and I went on to do Florian Illiesí 1913 together, which became a Sunday Times bestseller. Over the last few years Iíve translated novels for publishers including Harvill Secker, Quercus and Little, Brown, and am working closely with Frisch & Co on a series by Andreas Maier.

What have been your most enjoyable translation projects?
I recently translated Sirius by Jonathan Crown (out later this year with Head of Zeus), which was full of delightful challenges. I also loved working on 1913. Co-translation is something Iíd recommend; itís a great way to gain experience, and benefits both the emerging and established translator in different ways.

What are you working on at the moment? Do you tend to translate one book at a time, or have several projects on the go at once?
Right now Iím working on a new translation of a Kafka short story, to be published by Deep Wood Press as a letterpress edition with intaglio prints, and The House by Andreas Maier for Frisch & Co. I prefer to immerse myself in one book at a time, but there are always shorter projects and edits interspersed.

You are currently living in Brazil Ė what effect, if any, do you think living in a country that speaks neither your source nor target language has on your translation work?
In terms of my work routine, surprisingly little has changed: I remain immersed in German throughout the day, and speak English with my Brazilian husband. The Internet, Skype and e-books allow me to read, listen to and speak English and German on a daily basis. We live in Santa Catarina; once heavily colonised by Germans, there are a surprising number of native speakers. My fluency in Brazilian Portuguese is growing steadily; I would love to translate from it once I feel at home with the literary landscape.

What advice would you give to new translators?
Seek out initiatives supporting emerging translators, such as the ETN, the BCLT summer school and its mentorships scheme. Enter competitions, submit short translations to journals, and when you feel ready to take on a full-length book, approach a more experienced translator whose work you admire and suggest a collaboration. Get to know the UK market Ė my years working as a bookseller and doing internships with publishers were invaluable for discovering how publishing works from a different perspective.

Jamie Searle Romanelli
Photo: Lindsay Müller
And whatís next?
Iím currently setting up the TA Diaspora, a network for literary translators who work into English but live outside English-speaking countries. More information can be found at
Interview with Alyson Coombes