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 Peter McCambridge
LC: What language(s) and genres do you translate?
PM: I translate from French into English. In theory, I also translate from German into English, but I haven’t read anything that I’ve completely fallen in love with in German recently. I live in Quebec so it’s also easier to focus on things here.
I would automatically say that I translate literary fiction, but looking at my C.V. I see that I’ve translated the biography of a candidate running to be the next mayor of Montreal (The Orphanage by Richard Bergeron), a hardboiled novel (I Hate Hockey by François Barcelo), a piece of young adult historical fiction (The Adventures of Radisson by historian Martin Fournier), and a history book (The History of Montréal by Paul-André Linteau). So it’s been pretty varied! The one common theme is that they were all really well written in the original French and a joy to translate.
LC: How did you get started as a literary translator?
PM: I like the way you put the question. It’s not so much “When did you decide you wanted to translate well-written fiction for a living?” but “When did someone eventually let you?” I decided I wanted to be a literary translator when I first read Bestiaire by Eric Dupont. It was the book for me and as soon as I put it down, all I wanted to do with my life was translate it. It sounds a bit grand when I put it like that, but it’s true. I’m still waiting to translate it, though, and I’ve since added translating Dupont’s La fiancée américaine to my life’s ambitions. I recently won the John Dryden Translation Prize for translating the first chapter of Bestiaire, but I’m still waiting for a publisher to love it as much as I do.
LC: What do you love most and least about this work?
PM: When I first met Eric Dupont, he told me “The wheels of publishing turn very slowly.” If I had a big sign above my desk, that’s what it would say. So in a perfect world, I would have a hotline to all the publishers and they’d all say yes within 24 hours. But working to get your name on a contract is part of the fun. And once I have my translation finished, I kind of wish the wheels of publishing would slow down a little so I had more time to proofread and correct and reread everything again one last time when it was less imprinted in 16 point Times New Roman on my mind before it all went to press in so much of a hurry.
LC: Can you tell us a little about a recent project?
PM: Every project is different, and that’s part of the fun, too. I’ve had to translate really tricky puns in Barcelo, learned a lot more about New France in Radisson, and worried about translating street names for the history of Montreal. I recently went to an excellent translation conference in Quebec City and left it feeling inspired to read more of what I translate (novels and tourism texts) in English and to talk over translation dilemmas more with colleagues. I think I’d like to translate a novel as a joint effort one day.
LC: Peter, such a pleasure to hear more about you and your work. Thank you!
Peter McCambridge is a literary translator in Quebec City, where he talks to his wife in German and his children in French. He recently co-founded ambos, an online magazine of Quebec literature in translation, with friend and colleague Pablo Strauss.
Dear readers: Please leave any thoughts or questions for Peter in a comment!