New Books in German has since 2011 run a programme of training emerging literary translators (54 so far!) from German to English. Sadly in 2019 they decided to discontinue the programme, but we run this interview with ETP 2019 graduate Catherine Wolterman in the (perhaps naive?) hope of encouraging other cultural bodies to trial such a scheme, to support the translation of literature, including writing for children’s and young adults, from their languages.
What is (was) the NBG ETP scheme and what did you hope to get out of it?
The New Books in German Emerging Translators Programme is a competition for translators working from German into English who are taking their first steps in literary translation and have not yet published a book-length translation. Applicants translate an excerpt from a German-language novel, in our case Mahlstrom (Maelstrom) by Yael Inokai (Rotpunktverlag, 2018), and six finalists are then selected to participate in the programme. Each finalist is then commissioned to translate a sample from one of the German-language books set to appear in the next issue of New Books in German.
I applied for the programme for two reasons: firstly, I got swept up in the excerpt from Maelstrom and knew I would enjoy translating it. Secondly, the programme sounded too good to miss. Finalists were invited to a translation workshop at the Goethe-Institut, which had been running successfully since 2011, and this year, for the first time, there was a second day involving visits to various publishing houses and the opportunity to meet editors with an interest in translated fiction.
What text(s) did you work on? Did you choose them or were they allocated to you?
The texts were allocated to us and, having expressed an interest in children’s and YA literature in my application, I was really pleased to be given an excerpt from Matthias Morgenroth’s YA novel I Can See U (published by Coppenrath Verlag, 2019) It was so much fun to translate! The other five translators were all allocated very different texts, making for six fascinating and contrasting discussions at the workshop.
What sort of training and support does the scheme give? In what ways has it helped you access a career in literary translation? Do you feel you know more about and can work more effectively in the publishing industry? In what ways?
The translation workshop with Shaun Whiteside and Alyson Coombes on the first day was a fantastic opportunity for each of us to ask questions about our translations and to gain feedback from one another, as well as from the more experienced translators present. We also had the opportunity to meet Charlotte Ryland, Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin, giving us the chance to find out about New Books in German and the Translators Association and to hear more about what a successful literary translation career might look like.
The day spent visiting publishing houses was truly eye opening. It gave us all an insight into how things work in the worlds of acquisitions and editing. We were advised that the best ways to gain visibility as translators were to attend networking events, complete readers reports and make ourselves available for sample translations.
Has the scheme led to any published work online we can link to?
My translation of Matthias Morgenroth’s I Can See U, which I completed as part of the ETP, is available online.
Since finishing the ETP, I have also completed a number of fiction and non-fiction sample translations of various children’s and young adult books. Before taking part in the ETP, I would not have known where to start approaching publishers about sample translations.
What are your favourite German children’s books in translation? What age/who would they suit?
My favourite German-language children’s book is the well-known Vom kleinen Maulwurf, der wissen wollte, wer ihm auf den Kopf gemacht hat by Werner Holzwarth, illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch. It’s the story of a mole who pops out of the earth one morning, only for another animal’s poo to land on his head. He then sets out to find out which animal is responsible for this foul play. Along the way, he finds out a lot about the size, shape and consistency of different animals’ faeces. It’s been translated into 27 languages, including into English as The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business (unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out who translated it). It is suitable for ages three and up.
Catherine Wolterman is a teacher and German-English translator with a Masters from the University of Leeds. She is currently working in the early years sector while taking her first steps in literary translation. She is also one of the co-founders of York’s new German Saturday School.