An Interview with Laura Watkinson

The team at the Big Book Project were lucky enough to be able to ask translator Laura Watkinson some questions for the blog! Here are her answers!

Describe your job in less than 10 words.

Translating into English, mainly from Dutch, mainly for children.

Why did you choose to get into translation?

I studied languages, love travelling and living in different countries, and am a keen reader. Translation as a career always appealed to me.

Why did you pick Dutch?

I live in Amsterdam, so have contact with the language and literature on a daily basis. I’m lucky that there are so many great books written in Dutch.

How is it when you translate a book and allow others to read it?

That’s probably the best part of the job – being able to share stories I love with readers who wouldn’t have come across those stories otherwise.

What types of books do you generally translate?

My focus is on literature. I translate a wide range of books, from picture books to graphic novels, books for children and young adults, and novels and nonfiction. I also translate children’s books and graphic novels from German and Italian – and I always translate into English, as that’s my mother tongue.

What’s been your favourite book to translate?

It changes, depending on my mood and what I’m currently working on, but one of my favourites is Tonke Dragt’s The Letter for the King, published by Pushkin Press. It’s a Dutch children’s classic about a young would-be knight and his adventures. Originally published in 1962, it’s been voted the best Dutch children’s book and it really should have been translated into English way back in the 1960s. I’m so grateful to Pushkin for publishing The Letter for the King and its sequel, The Secrets of the Wild Wood. I’ve just finished translating another classic by Tonke Dragt for Pushkin, De Zevensprong, which they’ll be publishing as The Song of Seven. I recently went on a little pilgrimage to the area of the Netherlands that inspired the book and which was used in the television series. And, of course, I had to get a photograph taken at the seven-armed signpost that’s an important part of the book.

How is living in the Netherlands?

I live in a tall, thin house on a canal in the centre of Amsterdam, and I love just sitting and watching people and boats go by and eavesdropping on conversations beneath my window. It’s big enough to be a lively city; there’s always something going on. It’s also small enough to be able to go everywhere on foot, which I love. The country is easy to travel around as well, with plenty of lovely old towns to visit. I’m happy here.

What has been the most successful point of your career?

I live for the small victories. I’m delighted every time I find a translation solution that I think works well. I’m also happy every time I type that final edit and submit my work to the publisher. Perhaps the best moment, though, is when the printed books arrive in the post. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Any advice for those who are interested in translation or Dutch?

As a freelancer, I think it’s important to be part of a network for advice and support. I’m a member of the Translators’ Association, which is part of the Society of Authors, and their online forum is fantastic. The Society of Authors also offers a contract-vetting service, which is invaluable. You can’t join the SoA until you’ve published work or have a contract, but for newcomers I’d strongly recommend joining the Emerging Translators’ Network, which has a very active online forum with kind, enthusiastic and welcoming members. Another important source of information for literary translators is the British Centre for Literary Translation. They run fantastic summer schools for literary translation. I’d also recommend the Translate in the City literary translation summer school in London, with workshops led by talented, experienced literary translators.

What’s next for you?

My translation of Anna Woltz’s A Hundred Hours of Night is about to come out with Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic in the U.S. It’s a fantastic YA novel set in New York as it’s battered by Hurricane Sandy. I’ll soon be working on the edits for Tonke Dragt’s The Song of Seven (Pushkin Press) and pressing on with my translation of Otto de Kat’s The Longest Night for MacLehose Press, which I’m excited about.

In the immediate future, I’m off to the children’s book fair in Bologna, Italy, where I’ll be meeting up with other people who are super-enthusiastic about children’s literature. It’s a great place to find inspiration and fun new projects!

Laura’s website is here and she tweets as @Laura_Wat


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