" When you’re faced with a novel, how do you actually do it? I call the translation process 'finding a voice'—there’s a point in the translation where I suddenly feel very confident and I know what the mood should be, I know what the characters should say and I know what the register of language should be. It can take quite a while to reach that point. I usually flounder until well over half way through. And then something clicks, the book begins to inhabit me, everything gels and I know what feels right.
" This is the way I work: first of all I read the book and try to absorb it and get an overall sense of what kind of language I’m going to be dealing with, what kind of problems I’m going to need to think about. These concerns lurk at the back of my mind. I mull them over constantly, when I swim my forty lengths at the pool, or when I’m cooking dinner. Once I start work, I need to get the first draft out of the way as quickly as I can. I tend to work fast, I don’t worry about the problems. I don’t make decisive choices at this point. When I hit a tricky patch I type in the French and then put three, four, five alternatives, or a note to remind myself that I’ve got to do some further research. But I crash on. I set myself a daily target, and I need that structure. Once I’ve done my first draft, I print out the translation and revise it. At that point I still have the French close to me, and I double check everything and make sure that the text is all there, and that it actually says what the French says. And for unresolved problems I go back to the French to see if there are clues that I’ve missed, and usually there are. I amend the file, often making further improvements as I type, and print it out again.
" And then I read the translation through as an English text, knowing it’s all there, that it’s 'faithful' in terms of saying as closely as possible what the French says. This is the point that I call 'finding a voice'—the translation has to stand on its own as an English text, it has to work, it has to be coherent and cohesive. At this stage I make quite radical, bold changes, because by now I’m much more confident, I 'own' the text. Then I print it out again and give it another read through, to make sure the voice is consistent. Then the manuscript goes off for copy-editing and there are suggestions to be incorporated. At proof stage I very often make some minor changes as well, a last-minute solution suddenly occurs for something that had been bothering me.
" My overall strategy is governed by the view that as a translator you are first and foremost a reader, and you can only convey your reading of that book. There is no right, objective or single translation; you’re a reader, you are different from any other reader, and your translation is your reading of that author. I think that’s something that translators have to come to terms with. Your choices are inevitably going to be subjective, your vocabulary is a personal vocabulary, you dredge it up from all sorts of hidden depths. It is different from anybody else’s vocabulary. And you do the best job you can, you try to be as sensitive as possible to the author’s idiom, choices, moods, etc., but ultimately it’s one reading of the book. And it’s not necessarily the only one, or the best one, it’s just your reading."
From Translators in Conversation: literary translator from French to English Ros Schwartz in dialogue with Nicolas de Lange, English translator of novels from Hebrew, including those of Amos Oz. Via Wood s Lot and Context, a journal of the Dalkey Archive. I've attended a couple of translation workshops in London with Ros. Her translations include many novels from francophone North Africa and, jointly with Amanda Hopkinson, a terrific series of French crime novels by Dominique Manotti. She has the gift of writing and talking lucidly and inspiringly about her work.