Spotlight on Literary Translators is a regular feature here at Intralingo. The aim of these interviews is to get the word out about our profession and the works we bring into other languages. The insight the interviewees provide is also sure to help all of us who are aspiring or established literary translators. Enjoy! 

Spotlight on Literary Translator Anne McLean
By Lisa Carter, Intralingo Inc.

Lisa Carter: What language(s) and genres do you translate?

Anne McLean: I translate fiction and literary nonfiction from many varieties of Latin American and Iberian Spanish.

LC: How did you get started as a literary translator?

AM: I happened to notice an ad for a “one-year MA in the theory & practice of Literary Translation” in a newspaper when I had just moved to England, back in 1996, and was looking for a job. And – having spent a fair bit of time in Central America and Spain, and a lot of time reading, and having worked in bookshops, taught English and worked at various other things over the years – I read the ad a few times and thought: I wonder if I could do that.

I had actually never attempted to translate any real writing before doing that course. For the first assignment I translated an excerpt from Octavio Paz’s essay “Traducción: Literatura y literalidad,” literally: “Translation: Literature and Literalness,” but perhaps more accurately: “Literary and (or maybe even versus) Literal Translation,” which I think got me off on the right foot.

It was a very innovative course, founded and run by Peter Bush, who invited other practicing translators and publishers and editors to come and give guest lectures or Q&A sessions, and encouraged us to attend readings and literary festivals. So, not only did we get hands-on experience, we were introduced to people working in publishing and literary translation, which was enormously helpful.

LC: What do you love most and least about this work?

AM: I love all the creative aspects of this work: the writing, puzzling out nuances and shades of meaning, and trying to recreate the music of my favourite authors’ prose, finding English voices for their narrators and characters.

What I like least is the business side, having to negotiate contracts, which are written in a language I have no affinity or patience with.

LC: Can you tell us a little about a recent project?

AM: I’ve been doing a lot of co-translating lately and last year I translated a story by a very talented young Spanish writer called Daniel Gascón with a very talented young translator called Lucy Greaves. The story’s called “Foreigners” and can be found here.

I was looking for something on an old memory stick the other day and I came across a translation of one of Daniel’s early short stories that I’d done for a workshop, which is sort of mentioned in the above story, though fictionalized. Anyway, it was quite exciting to find something I’d translated in 2001 and to find it pretty readable.

Anne McLean studied history in London, Ontario, and literary translation in London, England. After a decade and a half in the UK, she now lives in Toronto, where she translates Latin American and Spanish novels, short stories, travelogues, memoirs and other writings by authors including Héctor Abad, Julio Cortázar and Enrique Vila-Matas. Two novels she translated have been awarded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize: Evelio Rosero’s The Armies in 2009 and Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas in 2004. Last year, The Sound of Things Fallingher translation of El ruido de las cosas al caer by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

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