Two Ladies Dancing the Tango
Atar J. Hadari, Kari Dickson and Ruth Clarke on their experience at Cove Park

In October, Writers’ Centre Norwich partnered with Cove Park, Scotland’s International Artist Residency Centre, to offer a one-week residency to twelve literary translators.

This programme was supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.

Our second installment of blogs and creative work reflecting on the experience come from Atar J. Hadari, Kari Dickson and Ruth Clarke.

Two Ladies Dancing the Tango

by Atar J. Hadari

Two ladies dancing the tango,

One twenty five the other getting on

For seventy but feeling the cold air

Light as a feather she glides round the parterre

And the small speaker

Chirps out castanets

Chirps tinny guitar arpeggios from Southern Spain

And just for a moment time settles

The old and very nearly timeless in their steps

Which wheel and turn a tango into a Highland set.

Outside the cows chew on heather,

The submarine rises from loch water,

The gold is on black bay

But two translators are past care,

They dance as if Spain is forgotten

And there is just Scotland, only that music now beating here.

A Day at Cove Park

by Kari Dickson

Waking up was a luxury. The darkness, with no light pollution, was dense and velvety and enveloped me in the warmth of my bed. And I lay there and relished the thought of the day ahead, with no obligations, interruptions or distractions other than those I chose myself.

As I was sharing my pod, I slipped into the kitchen as quietly as possible, to make some coffee and porridge, and then settled at the table to read. From here I watched the sun rise over the loch, saw the lights coming on in the other pod and cubes, the first people venturing out, the cows, the birds, the boats on the water. And I stayed here pretty much all day, working my way through the first edit and proof of a translation. I wrote down anything I wanted to look up on a piece of paper and went up to the main house, where there is wifi and phone coverage, on average once during the day. Sometimes it was to have a cup of coffee with the others, and then go on the internet. Other times, I’d come into the main building and there would be five or six translators there working, reading, making food – but the stillness was pervasive and not to be disturbed. Some days were broken up by a trip to the shop. The ethos of Cove Park was described to me as ‘benign neglect’ – they provide a space for people to do what they need to do to be creative, with no emphasis on outcomes or results. The first day we were there, we were all a little jittery and perhaps felt the need to justify our existence, but quickly, everyone settled into their own rhythm and thrived on this lack of demands. From my place at the pod table, I saw the others go up and down from the main house, alone, or in groups, heading off for a walk. Occasionally there was a visit from someone trying to avoid confrontation with one of the Highland cows that roam the site.

everyone had a voice and everyone had a say

My co-podee chose to work up at the main house, so I there I sat at the table, all day, with the occasional jig to shake things up. But so much peace. And then dusk came, and the bats came out to play and I was gladly distracted. My co-podee returned and we made food and drank wine and talked and laughed. And danced. And then we gathered our thoughts and coats and made our way up over the slippery bridge towards the bright lights of the main house, where we all gathered for our evening session. More translation talk, more wine, more friendship, more laughter. We talked about language, we talked about problems, we talked about imposter syndrome, we talked about more ways in which we could talk about translation with people who aren’t translators. We read to each other in our other languages and in English. And everyone had a voice and everyone had a say.

And when the time was right, we tidied ourselves away and walked back down over the slippery bridge, under the stars or in the wind and rain, and said our goodnights. And then there I was again, in the dense warmth and dark. At the end of a good day. Looking forward to the next.

Never have I worked so hard, and been so relaxed. Such a joy to spend a wonderful week with wonderful people. I will definitely be going back.

With a big whoop and thanks to the Writers’ Centre Norwich and Cove Park.

Cove Park

by Ruth Clarke

Cove Park is breathtakingly beautiful. The artist’s centre, where we were lucky enough to be working, sits atop a hill overlooking Loch Long and its ever-changing microclimate. Watching the weather would be a day’s work in itself. But we were here to translate.

The translator’s life tends to be a solitary and sedentary one, so it was a real treat to find ourselves hiking through the stunning Scottish countryside, admiring the sunlight streaming down on the water (or the atmospheric mist, at the whim of the aforementioned microclimate), discussing the trials and triumphs of our very different careers. Perhaps there was something in the cold Scottish air, but as the band of twelve quickly bonded, we realised that this was no ordinary group of colleagues. There was no professional competitiveness, no-one was wearing their networking mask – we weren’t even wearing make-up – we were being ourselves, talking openly about our insecurities, and shouting about each other’s achievements and admirable qualities.

Every night brought engaging, passionate discussions, but my favourite featured readings from as many as sixteen different languages. Sitting around the fire, we listened to poetry, prose, drama, and even a new reworking of the Bible. Translators are wonderful storytellers. They also can’t help but be fascinated by language, and ask endless geeky questions about how languages work, and how they compare. We marvelled that a Korean speaker could recognise a word in Bengali; that Portuguese looks like Italian but sounds like Russian; that one language should make it easy to conceal a character’s gender, where it might be impossible in another; that our personalities really do change slightly to suit the language we’re speaking.

Translators are wonderful storytellers

Since establishing The Starling Bureau, I’ve been delighted to see the personal benefits of collaboration and the enthusiasm within the translation community for finding more ways of working together and combining not only our translation skills, but also those from other areas. And it turns out that translators’ talents know no end: gluten-free baking, whisky tasting, concealing a giant surprise birthday cake, playing the spoons, highland dancing… Exceeding expectations in true Cove Park style, the last night’s potluck dinner brought out all these hidden talents and more. It was a joy to share them along with the food, music and dances of our adopted cultures.

At the end of our stay, we’re all fired up by either finishing projects or finding new ones. There is a galvanising property to working with or around other translators, and I am hugely grateful to Writers’ Centre Norwich and Cove Park for introducing me to such strong, supportive and inspirational new friends. We all benefitted from the time and space to get to know one another and to learn something about ourselves, a little souvenir of Cove Park to take back to our solitary, sedentary translator lives.

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