My languages

I’m a British translator, born in Glasgow, raised in Leicester. As a literary translator, your strongest asset is your expert command of the language you write in, and for me that’s my first language, English. But I’m multilingual and multicultural, with many places I call home.

I’m half Indian, a little bit Portuguese, with family in Quebec, France and Norway, but for various reasons (and because I love a challenge) I chose three other languages to study to a professional level: German, Russian and Arabic. I’m also a language learning addict so have dabbled in others over the years, too.

People often ask me how I came to have such an unusual mix of languages, so here’s a potted history of my relationship with them.

German

I started learning German at school when I was 12 and, because we had family friends in Dresden, I quickly fell in love with the language and was more intrigued by it than French which I started at 11.

I am indebted to my excellent teachers at A level who pushed us to read widely. The first literary texts I read in German were Die Verwandlung by Franz Kafka and the plays Draußen vor der Tür by Wolfgang Borchert, Andorra by Max Frisch and Der jüngste Tag by Ödön von Horváth (which we performed in German. I am a terrible actor).

This was enough to get me hooked and I applied to Oxford University to study German and Russian language and literature, where I spent the next 4 years reading as close as possible to every German classic from Schiller and Goethe through to 20th century classics from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. I lived in Dresden during my 3rd year, where I taught English as a foreign language while trying my hand at freelance translation. I completed the MA in Translation and Interpreting at the University of Bath in 2004.

Most of my book translations are from German: I’ve translated or co-translated 13 German books at the last count. My translation of Ulrich Raulff’s Farewell to the Horse was shortlisted for the 2019 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize.

Russian

I was lucky enough to start Russian at sixth form and I passed the GCSE at the same time as taking my A levels. I then studied Russian and German at Oxford, and on various visits to Russia I worked as an English teacher at a Further Education College in Moscow, taught at Oryel State University for one semester, and volunteered at a rural fostering community called Kitezh for one summer. My first book translation was a Russian text on child psychology by the founder of Kitezh community of foster families.

I’ve been reading Russian literature since 1998 – over half my life. I don’t remember precisely, but among the first texts I read in Russian were the Soviet novel Обмен (The Exchange) by Yuri Trifonov and Pushkin’s Медный всадник (The Bronze Horseman). I spent the 4 years at Oxford reading as much as I could of the Russian classics, starting back in about the 10th century for the medieval paper.

My first solo full-length book translation from Russian was The Raven’s Children by Yulia Yakovleva (Puffin, 2018). I recently translated the first of Yakovleva’s adult crime series, Punishment of a Hunter, for Pushkin Press. This is my 5th published book translation from Russian, including co-translations.

In an effort to bring more children’s books and YA into English translation from Russian, I recently co-founded Russian Kid Lit blog with Maria Kozlovskaya Wiltshire and Ekaterina Shatalova.

Arabic

After training as a professional translator and interpreter of Russian and German in 2004, I then did a U-turn and joined the UK civil service as a linguist, where I immediately retrained in Arabic. I completed an intensive course taking me to degree level in 2 years, with short study trips to Oman, Jordan and Egypt. I worked for 4 years as an Arabic translator and researcher, and gradually started reading Arabic literature in my spare time.

I was lucky enough to be mentored as a literary translator by Professor Paul Starkey in 2013 (BCLT literary translation mentorship) and began to publish samples and short stories from Arabic, experimenting with a range of authors’ styles. I passed the notoriously difficult CIOL exam that year too and was awarded a Diploma in Translation from Arabic. I have since taught Arabic literary translation and been an examiner for the Diploma, as well as mentoring other emerging translators from Arabic.

The first Arabic novel I read, in 2005, comparing the Arabic with Ahdaf Soueif’s translation, was I Saw Ramallah (رأيت رام الله) by Mourid Barghouti – a challenging first read!

My first published book-length translation from Arabic was The Bride of Amman by Fadi Zaghmout and my most high-profile translation to date was The Crossing by Samar Yazbek, which I co-translated with Nashwa Gowanlock. At the last count, I have translated or co-translated 7 books from Arabic. My co-translation with Sue Copeland of Palestinian author Ahlam Bsharat’s Trees for the Absentees was shortlisted for the 2020 GLLI Translated YA Prize and the 2020 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.

I’m particularly keen to translate more children’s books from Arabic and I help promote these on a blog I co-edit with Marcia Lynx Qualey, ArabKidLitNow.

Other languages

I have taken courses, can read basic texts and can just about get by as a tourist in French, Italian, Maltese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Ukrainian. Why these languages? I’ve worked as a TEFL teacher in Italy and Spain, regularly visit family in Norway and France, and I played capoeira and samba for years, often with Brazilian teachers who spoke no English.

I’ve only had very brief visits to Malta and Ukraine, but Maltese and Ukrainian are close to Arabic and Russian respectively. I hope to be able to translate from them eventually, but I’m not quite there yet.

I’d also love to explore Farsi, Hebrew, Hindi and Urdu – one day!