Rachel Rankin is a poet and translator based in Edinburgh. As part of the Emerging Translator Mentorships Programme, Rachel has been working with notable translator and author, Don Bartlett, and an extract of her work has been published in the 2019 Emerging Literary Translators Anthology. Recently, she received the prestigious Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award 2019 for her poetry.
Tell us a bit about your recent Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award!
Oh, the New Writers Award! I still have to pinch myself. I applied for this back in July 2018 and promptly convinced myself that I wasn’t going to get it, that it’s such a prestigious award, that the poems I submitted weren’t my best and that I’d just focus on writing a really good application for next year. Imagine my surprise when I got a call from the Scottish Book Trust while I was on the bus, telling me I’d been chosen! I screamed, though thankfully I was the only one on the bus! The award consists of a cash prize, a week-long retreat in beautiful Moniack Mhor in the Scottish Highlands, and a mentoring and professional development package, all culminating in a showcase in January 2020. Knowing that the Scottish Book Trust have chosen to invest in me is so humbling and so validating, and I am simply buzzing for the year ahead!
Could you tell us a bit about your experience so far of taking part in the NCW Emerging Translator Mentorship Programme?
My experience of taking part in the mentorship programme so far has been truly life-changing. I had written off being a translator years ago. Afterwards, I realised that this was because I was looking at translation as more of an algebraic equation to be solved as opposed to an exercise in creative writing. So, I changed my outlook. One of the first steps I took was to apply for this mentorship, which I was fortunate enough to be chosen for. Don, my mentor, has been absolutely wonderful. We have worked through a variety of texts and styles, from children’s literature to crime, and he has been a wealth of knowledge and advice regarding all things translation. I got to travel down to Norwich for an Industry Weekend at the beautiful Dragon Hall, and I am also travelling to Oslo soon in order to attend three days of talks and events as well as meeting some of the Norwegian publishers. I have gone from knowing absolutely nothing about the world of literary translation to being more confident and more aware of everything. I have started to build up a steady stream of translation work, which would have been unthinkable just a year ago. None of this would have been possible without this mentorship and I can’t thank Don and the NCW enough!
I believe it’s possible to find ten minutes every day where it’s possible to get something written…
Do you ever find it difficult to balance full-time work and writing?
At the moment, this is not too much of an issue as I don’t have a standard full-time job. As well as translating, I work part-time teaching Norwegian at Edinburgh University and I also work as a tour-guide. This generally means I work a couple of hours here, a couple of hours there, over a mix of afternoons, evenings and weekends. On one hand this means that I am always busy, but on the other hand it means that I might only be working for two hours on a Wednesday morning, for example. I therefore have a lot of time in between my jobs to scribble something down. I did have a nine-to-five office job for a while, and this did make things a bit more challenging, but I tended to try and write whenever I could: on my lunch hour, on the train into work, before bed. I also used the weekend as much as I could.I believe it’s possible to find ten minutes every day where it’s possible to get something written, and ten minutes of writing is better than no writing at all!
How much would you say your writing has developed over the past few years?
My writing has developed drastically over the past few years. I have always written but around seven years ago I got involved in the spoken word scene in Edinburgh. This was enjoyable for a while but I soon realised that I was starting to write gags for laughs and audience reactions. I wasn’t writing the kind of thing I enjoyed or was proud of. I then turned away from spoken word and started reading a lot more poetry: collections, anthologies, literary magazines, etc. This spoke to me and what I wanted to achieve in my writing more. As a result I decided to study for a MSc in Creative Writing. I took some years out to save up and also managed to get some funding. I threw myself completely into my creative work and I graduated with Distinction last year. I still love getting onstage and performing my work – I find the live aspect of spoken word incredibly exciting – but when I look at what I am writing now compared to what I was writing seven years ago, there is a world of difference between them.
Allow yourself time to not write, to take in the world and let your brain recharge.
Any advice for aspiring writers out there?
People are going to criticise your work but remember it is exactly that: your work, and not you as a person. And also, don’t be precious about your work. If you absolutely adore one line in your poem but ten other people are saying it doesn’t work, it probably doesn’t work. That’s not to say throw it in the bin forever – keep it to the side and use it for something else! Don’t strive for perfection, especially not in early drafts. I like to put a huge cross through my page before I start writing so that the page is already “ruined”, therefore it doesn’t matter what words come tumbling out afterwards. Lastly, writing can be difficult and stressful and at times it can seem impossible. Allow yourself time to not write, to take in the world and let your brain recharge. I took a six month break from writing after I finished my post-grad because I had absolutely nothing left inside me. Afterwards I felt ready to get started, and more importantly, the idea of writing was giving me joy instead of stress. Forgive yourself, be kind to yourself, and enjoy yourself!
Photo cred. Rob McDougal