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 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 school 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 contemporary fiction from Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

I have lived and worked/volunteered in Dresden, Hamburg, Bad Schmiedeberg, Paderborn and Vienna (where I did a two-week internship at the UN).

I started translating German on a freelance basis while still studying at Oxford, and I completed the MA and PG Diploma 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 11 German books at the last count.

Russian

I went to boarding school for sixth form on a scholarship, driven by family circumstances and an obsession with learning Latin (aged 15, I took a Latin evening class for 2 terms where I was the youngest student by about 50 years). In the first week of term I swapped Physics A-level for Classical Civilisation and Latin for Russian GCSE. An inspired last-minute decision that I have forever been glad I made.

I’ve been reading Russian literature since 1998 – over half my life. I don’t remember precisely, but I think the first novel I read in Russian was Obmen by Yuri Trifonov, one of the first year set texts that I read during my gap year, as I anxiously prepared for Oxford. I had a place to read Russian post-A-level (they didn’t offer an ab initio course back then), so I spent my gap year teaching in Moscow and slogging through the first year set texts, trying to make the leap from GCSE to A level before I started.

On my 3rd year abroad I taught English at Oryel State University for one semester and volunteered at a rural community called Kitezh for the summer. My first book translation was a Russian text on child psychology by the founder of Kitezh community of foster families.

I translated my first full-length Russian novel in 2017: The Raven’s Children by Yulia Yakovleva, published by Puffin in 2018. I’m currently translating the first of Yakovleva’s adult crime series, for Pushkin Press. This is my 5th 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 18 months, 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 made the most of my BCLT literary translation mentorship with Professor Paul Starkey in 2013 to publish samples and short stories from Arabic, experimenting with a range of authors’ styles. I passed the notoriously difficult IOL 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.

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 Dutch, French, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese and Spanish. Why these languages? I’ve worked as a TEFL teacher in Italy and Spain; spent a month in the Netherlands on a translation internship; regularly visit family in Norway and France; and have played capoeira and samba for years, often with Brazilian teachers who spoke no English.

One day I’d love to explore Farsi, Maltese, Ukrainian, Hebrew, Hindi and Urdu. But they might need to wait a while; I’ve got enough on my plate for now!