Watch this panel discussion between translators Anton Hur, Slin Jung and Clare Richards about collaborating in literary translation.
This panel discussion took place in partnership with the British Centre for Literary Translation at Dragon Hall, on Wednesday 26 July, as part of the 2023 BCLT Summer School Programme.
Translation need not be a solitary art. In a discussion moderated by Paige Aniyah Morris, translators Anton Hur, Slin Jung, and Clare Richards discuss many methods of collaboration in translation, including co-translating, workshopping, forming translator collectives, and giving and receiving mentorship.
This event was a partnership between NCW and the British Centre for Literary Translation, supported by Arts Council England.
Kate: My name is Kate Griffin and I’m Associate Head of Programmes, here at the National Centre for Writing. We’re delighted to be hosting the Meet the World event as part of this year’s BCLT Summer School. I would like to welcome our panel this afternoon. Anton Hur, Clare Richards and Slin Jung, chaired by Paige Aniyah Morris. I’ll introduce Paige and she’ll introduce the rest of the panel properly.
Paige Aniyah Morris is an award-winning writer and translator from New Jersey, who divides her time between the US and Korea. We’re delighted that this month she’s in Norwich in residence in the Dragon Hall Cottage, which you might’ve seen out in the garden, ith the generous support of LTI Korea, so thank you to them. During her residency, she has been working on her co-translation with Emily Yea Won, of Han Kang’s forthcoming We Do Not Part. And now, I’ll hand over to Paige.
Paige: Thank you so much, Kate, for the introduction and thank you everyone for coming to today’s event. This is a panel called Translators with Luv: Collaboration in Translation, and I’m really honoured to be in conversation with our guests today. I’ll ask them each to introduce themselves first. We’ll start to my right.
Clare: Hi, my name is Clare Richards. I’m a translator from Korean. I’m also an editor and very occasionally a writer. I’m really pleased to be part of this panel with such esteemed translators. And I’m really looking forward to the conversation.
I was mentored by Anton three years ago as part of the National Centre for Writing Emerging Translators Mentorship. And the book that I worked on with Anton, as part of that mentorship, was published last month. Kang Hwagil’s Another Person was my first novel translation. And, of course, I worked on a BTS book as well, with Anton and Slin, as you all know. Thank you.
Anton: Hi, I’m Anton. For the benefit of the YouTube audience, I guess I have to introduce myself. I’m a translator as well. I’ve translated some books that I can’t remember right now. I also write and I have a book in Korean coming out this year, at the end of the summer. I also have an English language novel coming out in the States next July. I worked on the BTS book, Beyond the Story, together with these two divas. It was a great honour and a thrill and I’m eager to be talking about it today.
Slin: Hi, my name is Slin Jung and I’m a translator based in Toronto. It’s really such an honour to be here, not just on stage but to be among these incredible, distinguished translators. I suppose, my published works would include: The Gwangju Uprising, which is a historical book about the democratisation movement in South Korea in 1980. I also contributed to The Age of Doubt, which is a short story anthology by the Korean writer, Pak Kyongni. And of course, I collaborated with these two incredible translators on the incredible BTS book. Thank you so much.
Paige: Again, it’s a huge honour to be in conversation with these three translators, whom you all probably know as the co-translators of the best-selling book in the anglosphere at the moment. So, of course, today we will talk a bit about their collaboration process for that project and some other projects as well. To start off, I’d love to know more, and I’m sure everyone would, about the collaboration on the BTS book and what that co-translation process looked like for all of you. Maybe we can start with Anton.
Anton: So, what I want to really emphasise for all the translators in the audience, is that translation is inherently collaborative. No one can go at it alone when it comes to translation. And today we hope to show you all the different kinds of ways in which collaboration exists in translation. But fundamentally, translation is going to be collaborative because you’re not producing your own text. You’re collaborating with the author. Even if you never meet the author; even if the author is dead, you are collaborating with their text and therefore, fundamentally, translation is a collaborative endeavour.
Quite often you will encounter translators who want to do the job because of the solitude and because they don’t like hanging out with other people. There are many elements of that. But literary translation, in the very least, is an extremely collaborative enterprise where you will need to work with your author; your author’s rights holders; your author’s agent; your editor, or several different editors because you’re submitting to more than one place; your editor’s marketing team. And then to the readership that exists outside of the publishing sphere, because quite often your author will not be able to promote their own work in the target language. Therefore, you end up doing quite a lot of that work. So, collaboration is inherent. It’s in our blood.
We do workshops as well. We’re doing a workshop right now at the British Centre for Literary Translation Summer School. Co-translation should be a very natural thing for translators to do and indeed there are many books that are co-translated. Before last year, if you were to tell me what it’s like to have worked on the one book previous to the BTS book that I’ve work on in co-translation, I would’ve told you that it was like going to work every day in Hell with Satan. It was a horrible experience. I think the worst of my career. After that, I decided I would never co-translate a book ever again.
But then I decided to do it for World peace. Let me explain. I have an author, Gyeong‑suk Shin, and there’s a Japanese author named Yuko Tsushima, and they are friends; they have a book of correspondence between each other. They wrote letters to each other and there’s an entire book that exists for it. I really want to translate this book. I could translate from the Korean translation of the Japanese letters, but this is such a great opportunity to bridge the historical divide between Korea and Japan and to showcase and highlight to the world that Koreans and Japanese people can be friends. Yuko Tsushima’s previous translator, Geraldine Harcourt, translated four or five of Tsushima’s books. I was friends with her, but then she sadly passed away. Some years passed before I began wondering that Yuko Tsushima must have another translator by now; she’s such a major writer. And through the Japanese translator community – thank you Japanese translators – I managed to get some embargoed information at the time, which was that Lisa Hoffman-Kuroda had taken on the mantle. I immediately messaged her, and I said, “Lisa, we must do this for world peace”. She came on board, and we are now very close to getting a deal.
She did so much work for it and, really, that book would not be possible without Lisa Hoffman-Kuroda. I always think of it as Lisa’s book. Even though there are two authors and two translators on it, I think “this is Lisa’s book”. It wouldn’t exist without Lisa.
Similarly with this BTS book, this translation would exist without Clare and Slin. It just would not. It’s very difficult to hire a Korean literary translator because there aren’t that many who can translate on a certain level when it comes to Korean literary translation. 80% of the people who can, are in this room right now. So, if a bomb drops on Dragon Hall, Korean literary translation is quite screwed.
I knew everyone that had got this contract and the terms were like: “You have to translate the book in a month. The book has not been completely written yet. You have to sign NDAs, of course. You cannot tell anyone that you’re working on this. Also, you have to drop everything you’re working on right now and work on this book.”
So I’m thinking, what Korean literary translator who has the chalks to do it, who among them does not have a book that they’re not working on right now, who among them can drop everything in the next month and also deliver. And, this is very important, also not be flaky. There are so many flaky translators. If a translator is flaky then I can step in and just do the work myself, but the nature of this project mandated that that would be impossible.
On sale at the back, there is the Iyagi series this is 8 Korean authors, and 7 Korean translators. The reason why there are not 8 Korean translators is because I tried and tried to find another translator for one of them, but I could not find anyone who was free. This one was doing that Gwangju book and this one had already done a chapbook book and this one had also done the chapbook book. So, I was thinking I’ve run out of the people in this room, basically, at the time. So said I have to do it myself, and I did it myself. I’m sure people are going to think, I translated two stories on my own because I wanted to give himself an extra job. Believe me, I did not need more work. It’s very hard to find translators.
So, for me, I can do this work only if I can have at least two translators. And I thought of Slin and Clare. Slin because she is one of the most perfect translators that I’ve ever encountered. In a workshop she once submitted something where I had no comments. Not even any punctuation mistakes and I had to give it back to her and say, I know it looks like I didn’t read it but it’s because it’s too perfect. So, I really did read and appreciate your sample. And Clare, of course, she is super professional. She’s the opposite of flaky. If Clare says she can do something or that she will do something, she will do it. Clare’s just said that she was my mentee, and I was her mentor, but I learned a lot from Clare as we worked together. She taught me how to really think in terms of discrete units of time and to write everything down and make everything systematic so that it’s not such a mess in my messy brain. So Clare is responsible for dramatic improvements in my practice. Everyone else was in graduate school or applying to graduate school, or I didn’t trust them. Or they were not well.
You guys really have to take care of your bodies. Because translators get sick all the time with repetitive stress injuries. I know so many translators who have repetitive stress injuries. It’s no joke, because you can’t work for over a year. It’s really no joke. We’re not active, you know. We’re not walking around. So, you guys really have to take care of your bodies. I once taught this student at Grad School who was a yoga instructor. And she was the best translator. Apparently that’s what it takes.
So thankfully, the other thing was I needed to have worked with them previously to know that they’re good at their job and also that they can trust me because I was not allowed to tell them what this book was. I can only tell them, “Hey Slin, there’s this book and we have to translate it in a month from now. It’s 500 pages. And it’s also not written yet. Do you want to hang out?” And Slin was like, “Hmm, okay.”
They both basically allowed me to push them off a cliff. And we could do that because we had worked together. So they had faith that if Anton Hur pushes them off a cliff, then somehow they’ll be able to fly. And I had faith in them because I’ve worked with them; I’ve collaborated with them previously in workshops and mentorship programmes, and so on. I knew that these were the best and they’d be totally able to survive a cliff fall. Then just go soaring into the air.
So that was how we got to collaborating. I remember it was so stressful because the delivery of the chapters was staggered. I was thinking if this is going to come in on time and this. Then we would be reading each other’s translations for editing and unity of voice. I would be reading Slin’s translation thinking it’s so perfect that it’s therapeutic. All the stress would be melting away as I would read Slin’s and Clare’s translations. I’d think this is the way that it should be done.
That would not be possible if we were just thrown together in a room and that often happens with translated editions. I think that’s what happened with other language editions of this book. But we were ready. We were ready to just link arms and jump off the cliff together. That’s what we did and here we are today.
Paige: That it such a wild and really insightful story into a kind of behind-the-scenes look at Beyond the Story. I’m curious to hear a bit from Clare and Slin as well. You also have done a lot of co-translation or collaborative translation. How would you say that those processes compare to your experience working on the BTS book?
Clare: Anton said a lot of the things that I was thinking. Exactly as Anton said, translation is inherently a collaborative process. If I think about the work I’ve published, even if it says translated by Clare Richards, it’s not just translated by Clare Richards. It’s also translated by not only the people who looked at drafts of my manuscript, but all of the people that have given me feedback and all of the other translators that have given me feedback over the years. It is a product of all of that. As Anton said, a product of that is also trust for the translators you work with. When Anton called me out of the blue one day and asked if I had free time these days, I was like, “What do you mean?” He just said, “Do you want to work on this book? It’s not finished, I can’t tell you what it is, it’s 500 pages and we have to do it in a month.”
I think if it was anyone who I didn’t trust completely, I would say no way am I doing that. But because I trusted Anton, I knew that I could go ahead with this and that, whatever happened, as co-translators we would stick together. When I found out what the book was, that was a huge shock. It was hugely overwhelming because I wasn’t sure if I could do this. What if something goes wrong? All of those thoughts go through your head all at once. But I knew that if Anton had faith in me then I could do that. I also knew that Anton would stand up for us as well. You imagine all the eventualities in your mind but if there was a problem with the rights holders or if someone had criticised us, I knew that Anton would stand up for us. Knowing that really put me at ease.
And I think having that trust is so important, like Anton said. Actually, I remember when Anton said we should do a panel at BCLT about co-translation and my first reaction was what would be talk about. The reason I thought that was because while working with Anton and Slin, there were literally zero problems. It was such a smooth and easy process. There were many difficult things about the project, but in terms of working with Anton and Slin, I have nothing bad to say about it. It was a really positive experience.
I think because of the limited time we had to work on the project, we each had to do our respective portions of the book. We were there to support each other, but we had to just trust each other to each do our own part of it because there wouldn’t be loads of time for discussion. In an ideal world, we would have months to work over it and then we could workshop each other’s translations and think maybe we should all do it this way or that way. There wasn’t time to think about it like that. So trust was really the key thing. The co-translation bit was really just a fantastic experience.
Slin: Really, Anton and Care have said pretty much everything that I have wanted to say. But I guess to add to that, this trust wasn’t built up over night. Anton and I have worked together, and we’ve looked over each other’s manuscripts for years. And although I’d never met or worked with Clare before, I could trust her because Anton was vouching for her. Because we’ve had these years of trust built up, from diligence and really genuine and good work, I was able to take the plunge and say, you know what, I don’t know what this project is; Anton is not telling me anything, but I’m going to do this. He’s not going to waste my time with something irrelevant or bad. We’re really going to do this together and I’m going to throw in my lot with him. And with Clare, whom I’ve never met before.
Paige: Thank you so much for sharing more insight into your experiences and collaborating with each other after many years or for the first time. I know there is a lot of history of workshopping and working together over the years. So, all three of you are a part of larger networks of translators, as difficult as it may be to find a Korean translator in the moment. I’m curious to hear more from you all about your experiences in your collectives, groups, and workshop spaces and about any kind of community of translators that you consider yourselves a part of. Could you speak more to what role those communities play in your translation process? We could start with Slin.
Slin: I guess the elephant, or the tiger, in the room would be the Smoking Tigers. It’s a collective of Korean literary translators that was actually founded right here in Norwich. I believe it was 2017 that during this summer school, Anton, Sophie Bowman and Sung Ryu, some of our members, were here and they heard a talk by Stirling Bureau I believe, which really inspired them to say maybe we should have one of these collectives for our language group. And, the thing is, I feel in the past few years, a lot of people have come to see us as sort of the Avengers of Korean literary translation. As if we’re superheroes. That’s very flattering. It’s also hilarious, but very flattering.
At the same time that’s not really the point of our community. When we first started the Smoking Tigers, we barely had any books published under our names. We were just a group of translators who really wanted to help one another. We’re all just really passionate about literary translation and we were just holding workshops, hanging out and going on trips together even, simply because we liked each other.
So, what I really want to emphasise is that we weren’t founded to save the world of Korean literary translation. This is something that any group of translators can do. Yes, any of you. It’s not about prestige and it’s not about being an elite circle of translators. It’s about being there for one another. No matter what level of translations you feel that you’re at. No matter where in your career you are. You learn from the people who came before you and you learn from newer translators who are just getting started. And it has been such a wonderful community for me personally, being part of the Smoking Tigers. As someone who was just starting out in translations when the community was founded, now I’ve been published three times. And all along the way I’ve had the support of so many people from our little community. I think that’s something that anybody can provide for another person.
To get into more specifics, the Smoking Tigers doesn’t have a regular workshop, schedule or format, but we do tend to keep to certain principles when we do our workshops. We try not to nitpick and when we give feedback, we start with the positives: what I liked about your manuscripts, what really stood out to me, what really made an impression on me. And we talk about those things before we get to the things that could maybe be improved. This is usually done in large groups, but we also do individual manuscript exchanges between two or three people. Myself, Ju San and Sun, the three of us also have a mini community. I don’t think we told Anton.
Since we’ve got to know one another’s style so well, we have a mini community where we do regular manuscript exchanges and sometimes these aren’t necessarily for publication. We do this to practice. For example, we challenge one another to manuscripts that we know are going to focus on the weak points of the person we are challenging. For example, I have a preference for contemporary male Korean writers, so one of my friends, Sung, challenged me to an excerpt of a story by a Korean author named Park Wan-suh, who is a lady who was born in 1931. That was a very big challenge for me. And for my part, I challenged Joosun, who is very good at capturing the tone and texture of her work, to working on a section that’s very plain in tone and texture but it’s all about weaving all kinds of terminologies into coherent prose. And then Joosun, in turn, challenged Sung, who is very good at beautiful sentimental prose, to doing an action scene with explosions, gunshots and knives. And the three of us got back together over Zoom and we talked about our experiences. It was incredible how much better we were than we thought at these aspects of translation that we thought we couldn’t really do.
At the same time it was really moving to see just how well we knew one another’s styles. And by building up these experiences we were able to really effectively challenge one another and help each other grow. This is the kind of experience you can only really get once you’ve developed a community that has been together for a long time and that is really committed to growing together.
So again, the Smoking Tigers is sometimes seen as the avengers. But if we are superheroes in any way, it’s in the way that we are a diverse group and we are committed to always helping each other. To be there for one another. And it’s just because of one another. It’s not because we have superpowers. It’s because of our commitment and our friendship. Thank you.
Paige: That’s really wonderful to hear. I know the Smoking Tigers are an inspirational collective to Korean translators and probably many other language translators as well. I know for a lot of emerging translators, myself included, it can be really hard to take that step, like Slin said, and start those communities and those groups. Especially if you’re translating from a language that’s not as popularly translated or if you’re an unrepresented translator yourself. So, I’m curious about how you managed to overcome or take that first step and find those communities. As well as maybe the role of mentors. You were talking earlier about mentorship and that dynamic. It’s not just one person teaching another but it’s learning from each other, the way that a collective works. I’m curious to hear what role mentorship, either giving mentorship or receiving it from others, has played in your translation careers. Maybe we can start with Clare.
Clare: As I’ve mentioned, I was mentored by Anton as part of the Emerging Translators Mentorship three years ago. I don’t want to embarrass Anton, but that was the biggest turning point in my career. There were so many people that have helped me in my journey to become a literary translator, but Anton was the biggest figure within that. And I know Anton has helped so many other literary translators and will continue to help so many other literary translators. Anton is always so generous with his advice and his time. That’s because he’s a generous person but you also get so much back. I’ve had that experience as well through giving my time to other translators. You get so much back from it. You don’t do it because you’re thinking of them giving something to you and you’ll get something back from them later. But actually, you learn so much. So, if I’m reading a friend’s manuscript and I’m giving edits or suggestions on their translation, I’m learning so much at the same time. And naturally from that you build friendships as well. I’m not the most extroverted person but I’ve naturally developed such good friendships with other translators through that process. And that has been wonderful.
In terms of the mentorship, it was really very important to me personally. Because being autistic, I really value structured support. I knew that I really wanted to be a literary translator. I knew, for various reasons that’d probably take too long to explain, that it would be the ideal career for me. And I struggled for years with so many other jobs and ordinary workplace environments that made me burn out and made me really physically and mentally ill. I really wanted to get into this field of literary translation. But as you all know, it’s a very opaque field. It’s very difficult to break into. There are so many things that you need to know but it’s not like you can go and read just one document and you’ll know how to become a literary translator. There’s so much inside and so many processes. And particularly for me, that was so overwhelming. That’s why I really wanted to apply to the mentorship to be able to have consistent and structured support. That meant so much to me and that really helped me.
Actually, when I think back on it now, it wasn’t necessarily so complicated. But having someone there along the way and take me through each of the processes meant that I wasn’t overwhelmed and meant that I could do it. So, I would really encourage anyone who’s an emerging translator to apply for that scheme because it’s wonderful.
And more communities develop from that as well. Communities with the other mentees who I remain good friends with. For example, Paige runs a Discord channel for Korean translators and that’s a really wonderful space, rather than a regular workshop that’s just a space where you can go and ask questions and talk. That’s so nice as well. It’s a different kind of collaboration. Even if it’s a random conversation about what K-drama we’ve just watched. That’s always so lovely as well. When people want to get feedback on their manuscript they can post it in there and ask all sorts of questions. Or when there’s some kind of strange reference that comes up in a text that you’re translating, you’re guaranteed that someone will be able to give you some helpful feedback.
Then inspired by Paige, I also set up my own Discord channel for deaf, disabled and neurodivergent translators. We always welcome new members so if anyone is interested, please get in touch with me on twitter or come talk to me and I can send you an invite link. That’s one thing about Discord, that invite links expires and so you can’t just post it somewhere. You have to go through this process of asking someone to invite you. But it’s a completely open community. We’re not trying to be secretive.
Through these, things emerge or you start a mentorship and you build these other communities. I would really encourage it, even if you connect with just one or two other translators, particularly in your working language pair. They will be able to introduce you to other communities as well. That is the biggest part, I think, in becoming a successful literary translator.
Paige: Thank you so much, Clare, for that answer and also for mentioning online spaces for being really huge for emerging translators these days. Same here, if anyone is interested in my Discord server, or Clare’s Discord server, come chat with us after. That sounds very Gen-Z as I’m saying it.
In addition to the online communities, I’m curious if any of our panellists today have other resources that they would recommend or places to point out for translators who are interested in maybe seeking out mentorship or seeking out collectives, workshop spaces or co-translation opportunities. Any resources you’d like to mention?
Anton: So I asked Paige to ask this question because I assumed that by the time she asked it, I would have those resources set up on a page. Things have been happening. So, I’m very sorry that I don’t have a list of resources for that.
But I just want to echo what Slin and Clare have been saying. Especially because I run the Smoking Tigers website and we get a lot of inquiries from emerging translators. We’re just a website with friends. We’re really not a big deal. It’s just that we happened to start together at the same time. So, for me, I really want to encourage all of you sitting here and the people also watching, who are translators, to create translator communities of their own. It could be language specific like Paige is doing. Or it could be around a certain theme, like deaf, disabled, neurodivergent which is what Clare is doing. It could just be a bunch of people that met at BCLT. We have nothing in common and we weren’t even in the same strand. But you know, we vibed and so we just put a website together so that we can post our samples.
We meet regularly on Zoom. You all know how to Zoom now. Thanks to the pandemic. There’s technology available. Daniel Hahn, I think it was him, who introduced me to Doodle. Because I’m actually in more than one collective. I’m in a collective called BITNA. Clare and I are in BITNA. In BITNA we basically met at BCLT 2020. The first online BCLT Summer School. We decided to just keep meeting and we would meet every month during the pandemic. We live all around the world. We live in Indonesia, Singapore, Korea. There are all these neat, handy technologies available for us to do workshops and to just talk.
Oh, I do have the workshop resource up. I forgot. If you go to SmokingTigers.com we have a blog and in that blog it’s says Smoking Tigers Translation Workshop Guidelines and we follow those. You don’t have to follow those. They’re guidelines. We’re not going to come to your house and slap the keyboard out of your hands. They’re guidelines and these are just the rules and procedures of workshop that we have found to be the most conducive to discussion. They could be applied to multilingual workshops as well. So SmokingTigers.com, go visit that.
Should I mention the mentorship thing now or? Do you think?
Paige: Please do.
Anton: Okay. The mentorship that Clare has been talking about, that’s actually the National Centre for Writing, right here. The National Centre for Writing Emerging Translators Mentorship Programme. It’s like a translator mentorship programme that has a structure. You have to apply for it and they only pick one person per category. But it’s really worth looking into.
We also have a bit of an announcement to make. After three years, I am finally stepping down from the post of Korean Literary Translator Mentor, to make room for the next mentor, who is Clare Richards.
Paige: Any words from the next generation of Korean literary mentorship, Clare?
Clare: As I was saying earlier, when Anton asked me to do the book, I wasn’t sure if I could do it. Then I thought to myself if Anton has faith in me, then I can do this. It was similar for when Anton asked if I would consider being a mentor. Again, I wasn’t sure if I could do it. But actually, when I thought about it, Anton has faith in me and it’s also something that I would love to do.
So as part of anyone who applies, the mentee will also have some support as well directly from Anton. So don’t worry, you won’t be missing out. You’ll still have his wealth of knowledge and expertise.
Paige: Thank you so much. So many exciting announcements and opportunities. Again, everyone is encouraged, and this is not an advertisement or a plug, to check out the Smoking Tigers website. And also keep an eye on the mentorship scheme from the National Centre for Writing in the future.
As well as the Iyagi series that was mentioned at the top, there are books available for sale at the back. That was another collaboration in translation that took place. So, there are lots of way to collaborate and to see how collaboration has been done and get involved yourself.
I think that was really insightful and great to hear from all three of you about your experiences. We’re going to take a short break just for people to use the, not restroom, but loo. To use the loo, to stretch a bit, and to check out the bookstand in the back. When we return in about three to four minutes, by 3pm, we’ll open it up to audience questions. So also take some time to think of what you might want to ask our panellists. Thank you.
Q1: Hi. I was interested to hear about the more practical details of how you worked together. I understood from what you said that you worked on sections. You each did a section separately. I wondered if you had decided from the outset how you were going to work together or how you were going to deal with the coherence of the text as a whole. Was it something you were in constant contact about, or did you decide to just do your first draft and then address issues of consistency at the end?
Anton: That’s also connected simply to the fact of how long we’ve worked together and because I had an idea of what it would sound like; what Slin would sound like and what Clare would sound like. And they had an idea of how I would sound. So, the way that we did it in a very technical manner is we have a month to translate – I cannot over emphasise how absurd that schedule is in our industry. A book takes at least a year and half to come out after submission of first draft. So, it takes basically two years for a book from translation to publication. For us, it took four months. The absurdity of the situation made all of our normal practices completely moot. I basically had to become a translation dictator. I had to be the Pak Kyongni of translation, saying this is what we’re going to do.
The rights holder also had some guidelines that we were supposed to follow. Some of the guidelines said things like, please use politically correct language. And I am so woke. So, we had some guidelines like that. But for the most part, because of the little time that we had and the way the manuscript was delivered to us, which was in chunks, I could not have one translator translating and then the rest just spinning their wheels. We had to divide that chunk into three; divide the next chunk into three and then divide the next chunk. Well, the last chunk was just me. So basically, the way that we did it is by chapter. It we Anton, Slin, Clare, Slin, Clare, Anton, Anton or something like that. And for consistency, that was basically my job. I had to read over everyone else’s work. Slin read over my chapters as well. Very generously. I don’t know, she’s just more efficient than us. She was just done.
So, there were those things that we did for consistency. The thing about translation – my belief in translation – is that if the author’s voice is strong enough then it will shine through different translators. Kyung-Sook Shin is my author now, but she had three different translators before me. I don’t know how different she is across her four translators. There are variations of course, but I don’t think it’s that’s dramatic. I think, all four of us, we trusted our author very much. And we trusted our ghost writer. But mostly the voice of BTS. With the direct quotes we tried to be as conservative as possible. And I think having this mandate that we were going to do it as conservatively as possible, especially for the BTS direct quotes, helped in it being consistent.
I think it was Laurence of Olivier who would be doing a play in the afternoon and a play in the evening and they’re two completely different characters. How do you switch characters in a day? I think he was said that in the walk from one venue to the other, he let the walking do the work or something like that. And I think it’s the same for readers. It’s not like mid-quote from Anton, suddenly Slin appears. That’s not the way that it’s structured. Because there’s a clear chapter ending, the reader is ready for the next thing. They’re already resetting in their minds. I feel like readers learn how to read the book. Whatever book we’re translating, they learn how to read it. So, I think that also helped a lot. And also just the fact that BTS fans have been really generous and very excited for the book. I think they have been very generous and forgiving of whatever translation flaws that there are. So, we’re very grateful to them.
Paige: Thank you for that question. Are there any others? Just raise your hand and a mic will find you. One up here.
Q2: Thank you. I have a question that’s both a quite timely, I feel, but also relates directly to that insane schedule and the time pressure you were put under. Were any of you ever tempted to try using MT or AI tools at all?
Clare: No? Actually, Anton might have something to say about this. It’s always a big encouragement because Anton is regularly talking out on social media about all the reasons why AI will never be able to take over literary translators’ work. So maybe Anton can say something there.
Anton: From the research that I’ve done, if you look at machine learning models, the important thing is that you need high quality data. Properly labelled data. Where are you going to get that data from? Again, 80% of the Korean literary translators of that calibre are in this room. Are they going to somehow clone 1000 Slin Jungs and have her sitting in front of computers labelling this is good data and this is bad data? That’s not going to happen. I feel like machine translation is really overrated. But more than that, it’s because we signed NDAs. We cannot give our client’s texts to free machine translation or even paid MT software. That would be a huge breach of contract and I have a very expensive law degree. Yeah, I’m not going to fall into that trap.
Q3: I have a question about translation collectives. I’m in a few but as the months go by, less and less people show up. Or people are just busy with other things. You said in your collective you met every month during the pandemic. I’m just wondering what’s your advice to keep the conversation alive. And keep everyone still passionate about it.
Slin: We didn’t every month in our case. But we reached out to each other because we’re friends. Because we had that basic relationship as a basis for our professional relationship, we were able to just reach out to each other in a casual manner and say, “Hey, how are you doing? What are you working on right now? Do you want to try workshopping it?” and that casual interaction, even just reaching out to say hi that has nothing to do with actual translation, is really helpful for building that foundation, that structure that enables further workshopping without this relationship being dropped into nothingness because you have not really done anything for a while.
Q4: I guess this goes back to what you were describing, Anton, as to what you thought you learned from Clare during the mentorship. I know you said that with this project, given the timeline, your normal processes didn’t necessarily apply. But were there any time related approaches that you’d adopted from Clare? I feel like you should probably set up a workshop just on that aspect of literary translation. I’d love to take it. But I’m just wondering, practically and logistically speaking, were there ways that you created containers or sorted out the chunks of translation that worked really well for you?
Clare: This required me a lot more than I would usually work in a day. I was probably doing about double the translation that I would usually do in any one day. Usually, my daily schedules are very similar each day. I will translate for three hours in the morning, usually about 5-6 pages. In the afternoon I’ll do my editing work. The first part of that schedule is editing what I did the previous day and checking it against the source. Then I will be doing other editing work or whatever else I need to do. For the BTS book, is was just working doing the same thing, but working much longer hours. The only way, at least in my case, that I could get this done was by sticking to that schedule every day and by doing 10 pages of translation every day. It’s very exhausting. That is definitely not a sustainable work pattern. There are times in your life when you have to work more intensely. But for me, sticking to a schedule is no problem because I love routine. I love to have specific goals each day and complete them.
Anton: The major thing that I learned from Clare, is to work backwards. If you have an objective, then you should have an action plan that follows that objective. Instead of vaguely stumbling about. I’m just a very messy person so I’m always vaguely stumbling about. But Clare was my first mentee for the NCW, and I can’t introduce chaos or infect her with my chaos. So, in the process of mentoring someone, and this is how she works too, it forces you to be more organised.
There’s this academic that I know, she has a three-year-old baby, and she got this tenure-track job in Princeton. I asked her how she did it, and she said when you have a child you focus more. That is one time management method that I’m not going to try. But when you’re responsible for someone else, in that sense, you’re like, “Okay I have to do what Clare is doing. I have to create. We have an objective.”
Our objective was for Clare to get the first book contract among her cohort. It’s not a competition, but it kind of also is. And she won. So that was the objective. And we were working backwards. So, for this, we need to achieve this and achieve these things. What do we need to do to achieve these things? How much time would each chunk of thing take? Then by the end, we would have a master plan and we would follow that. Because having these action plans really helped Clare. And eventually I brought it into my own practice. I now have a whiteboard where I write all the books that I’m working on. I use bullet journal. The bullet journal method. If you go on YouTube and search “bullet journal”, it forces you to write everything by hand and it slows down your thinking so you can organise everything. It’s really cool. Those are the 2 things that I do. I would not have been able to do that without Clare. And I would not have been able to produce all this mountain of work without having mentored Clare. And that’s the truth.
Q5: Thank you all so much for talking about the process of this. Clare, you had mentioned the word “sustainable”, which leads me to the thought of a sustainable career. Particularly as, I think, literary translation is often looked at as a passion project, so you’ll do it for as little monetary compensation as possible. So, I’m wondering if you could talk, particularly as this is a book about an internationally famous band and coming out of a major publisher, how do you sustain yourselves in the economic sense?
Anton: Well, I asked Slin and Clare how much they were willing to do it for. Then I went to Flat Iron and I asked for twice what they had asked for. Then we got it.
That’s a very good question, of course. It’s a question that we’re all asking. It’s different for every language combination. There is a lot of freelance translation work for Korean and English translation. Not in literature, there’s very little there, so most translators do both. While they do a book, they also do other kinds of translation and simultaneous interpretation. It’s a very sought after skill and language combination. So, for us it’s a bit of a different. In 2017 though, when I went full-time – I very deliberately define full-time as not just translating books but anything to do with literary translation and that included teaching – I did teaching gigs.
Now this is where collaboration becomes very important, and being part of a community of translators becomes very important. What is that book called? “What colour is your parachute?” It says something like, “70% of the world’s jobs come from referral”. So, for better or for worse, networking and being in a community is really important. With my mentees, we share editors and we work together on pitches. Sometimes I’ll get a book referred to me, asking me if I would like to translate it. There’s a lot. So with that spillover, I would think about translators who might be appropriate and think of someone and I’d give it to them. But if I don’t know that you exist and I’ve never seen your work, then I can’t do that for you. So, maybe reach out to a translator who is known for getting a lot of work and who is helpful to other translators. That might help, as well as being in BCLT Summer School Programme. That’s what makes being in this programme so really helpful, because that also happens. Being in a translator collective. I manage the Smoking Tigers email and it was this week or last week that someone came looking for Slin. That was a major book.
So much relies on these chance network events. Publishing is very insular, for better or for worse, but mostly for worse. And for now, the game that you have to play – it is a game and you do have to play and I feel very reluctant saying this in public and going on the record saying this – is try to position yourself as well as possible so that you are ready when that work comes to you. Because if you have emerging translators who are like, “I’m not sure if I want to be a literary translator but I want to try it out” and then you give them a deadline and they’re say, “that deadline is too whatever for me”. You really have to be ready to receive the work and project the fact that you’re ready.
When I was picking my mentees, they were of course the best translators, but they were also the most ambitious. I knew I didn’t have to lecture them on professionalism or having certain attitudes. They were ready to work. And that quality is rarer than you think. The people sitting here are rarer than you think. People say there are so many translators and there isn’t enough translation work, but I don’t know. There are a lot of translators, but it’s very hard to find translators of a certain quality. That’s where it’s still pretty rare to see someone who combines all of those professional qualities, including an advanced understanding of both languages. So just remember that you are a rare quality. Be extremely professional. And be open to accidents like things happening to you where you might get an opportunity and use it.
There’s a great like from Pose – the TV show Pose – where Mother Blanca says, “there’s no point in getting a job if it doesn’t get you another job”. And that’s kind of the way you attack it. Leverage what you’ve done for the next job, then leverage that for the next job and the next job. Then eventually you’ll look back and you’ll see you’ve done 10 books.
Q6: In the context of collaborative translation, and when you workshop and develop the translation, do you think you sometimes assume the role of editor in some places and take away the burden?
Clare: I think it depends on the setting. I think in a workshop setting, as Anton said, avoiding nitpicking is important. I think when you’re workshopping, you want to be having discussions about certain things. I think there’s definitely a real benefit to editing each other’s work. But that probably takes place less in a workshop setting, and more when you’re swapping or sending each other texts when you can correct the typos and do the nitpicking at the same time. I think doing those two processes in tandem is really helpful too, because you both have those deeper discussions about topics such as: I love this thing, why did that person choose that thing?
I was talking to Anton yesterday, saying it’s hard to say anything because everyone’s translations are so good. It’s hard to say something. Then we talked about it and Anton said we can point out the good things. I thought about it, and I realised that when we’re pointing out the good things, we’re having a discussion about why this works and we think about it more. Because when we’re translating, often we say, “this just sounds right”. But then when we go into workshop, and we think about why this sounds right. And that’s a really interesting conversation to have. So, I would highly recommend doing both the one-to-one text swapping and editing alongside the workshops.
Paige: Alright thank you so much everyone for your attention and your questions.
Anton: I’m so sorry, but I promised Paige that I would publicly embarrass her.
Paige: I thought he would forget about that. I don’t know what this is. I’m terrified.
Anton: The three of us got a little present for you. And it’s a little Confucian scholar. Because Paige will be starting at Sungkyunkwan University on her PhD programme this fall. And it’s a Confucian institution.
Paige: I love him, oh my gosh. I thought we were all winners hearing this discussion, but I’m the true winner. Thank you so much. I’ll be excited to keep on working on the Korean literary translation sphere’s rescuing if the Avengers will not do it.
Thank you again to our three panellist for all the insight you shared and for generously giving your time, experience and answers. Again, if anyone wants to come up and chat after, we would mostly be open to that. You can also mill about and check out the Iyagi series that’s available at the bookstand at the back. And maybe check out other books available on the bookshelves and the bookstores around Norwich if you’re going on the tour. Thank you again.
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