Translator: Redefined

While the number of books published in translation in the United Kingdom remains low—research by Literature Across Frontiers, a platform for literary exchange, translation and policy debate produced an average figure of 3% over the past 20 years—the success of the likes of Karl Ove KnausgårdElena Ferrante, and Han Kang is catalysing interest towards books written in languages other than English. The number of literary translations grew by 66% between 1990 and 2015, LAF says. Among the most popular source languages were Swedish, Norwegian and Dutch, alongside Arabic and Japanese. These figures conceal the fact that out of the world’s thousands of literary cultures, only a few ever achieve any level of representation in English. For those who translate from these under-represented languages, it is an opportunity to act beyond the traditional boundaries of a translator.

Mo Yan’s 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature win has yet to ease China’s big break on the Western literary market. “There is a huge canon of contemporary Chinese literature that no one in the United Kingdom has ever heard of,” says Nicky Harman, previously a teacher of translation at Imperial College London and a full-time translator of Chinese since 2011. “I have the privilege of pushing open the window.” Harman is one of the Chinese into English translators who set up Paper Republic, a website that promotes Chinese literature, in 2008. Continue reading

Website users invited to join the team at Cambridge University Press

It’s time we finally moved on from top-down website design and put the end user first, said Vicky Drummond, Head of Web Marketing, and Jenny Mathias, Global Marketing Director, both from Cambridge University Press (CUP), at the London Book Fair on 12 April. CUP is set to launch its new platform, which will combine the existing journals and books sites, this summer.

“We’ve had an online presence for 20 years now, but splitting 19 million pages worth of content over two platforms based on the format of the data—which isn’t relevant online anyway—simply doesn’t cut it anymore. Cambridge Core allows us to group content around subject areas but should also improve our search engine visibility.”

user centric

Vicky Drummond, Head of Web Marketing at CUP

In the new platform design, built entirely from scratch, all decisions are justified with end-user needs. To understand the users’ site journeys and preferences the team ran a global survey which included 50 face to face interviews. They identified four user personas: researcher, librarian, student, and author, who effectively guided the creation of Cambridge Core. “Persona-driven development allows us to put the user at the heart of what we do, and operate from facts based on research instead of guesswork. For example, our data shows most users are too impatient to perform searches on the site, which means we have to give them a clear path forward from the arrival page. Equally, we need to know what data they want when they do decide to make a search,” Drummond says.

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More adventures from afar

While I was at it, I decided to go for two other short stories from Joseph Conrad. It was actually enjoyable to read fiction of which I had no preconceptions at all—usually when choosing a book I make my decision based on what I assume the story will be like.

Conrad himself apparently held An Outpost of Progress (1897) in higher regard than Heart of Darkness. It’s a much tighter story, taking place in just over 20 pages, and restricted both in terms of place and characters. Two white men, Kayerts and Carlier (presumably Swiss), are brought by steamboat to a tiny trading post by the river Congo, where they join a Sierra Leonean man called Makola, an assistant to the previous station chief who has tragically died of fever, or possibly too much exposure to the sun. Kayerts, the new station chief, and Carlier, the second in charge, are tasked with participating in the ivory trade, and generally improving the station in the hope that it’ll one day be something grander:

“In a hundred years, there will perhaps be a town here. Quays, and warehouses, and barracks, and—and—billiard-rooms. Civilisation, my boy, and virtue—and all. And then, chaps will read that two good fellows, Kayerts and Carlier, were the first civilised men to live in this very spot!”

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Fear and loathing in the Congo

Surprise! Instead of finishing one of the items on my now-reading-list, I decided to go for a little amuse-bouche and read Joseph Conrad‘s novella Heart of Darkness instead—not that there is very much amusing about this story.

Heart of Darkness (1899) is a real blast from the past for me. It was one of the set texts for a module I took as a first year student back in 2007–2008. I didn’t get very much out of it then, mostly because I was fresh from school and unaccustomed to reading fiction of this level in English. Because of that, rereading it was really experiencing it properly for the first time.

The story is of course so well-known. It’s recited in first person by Marlow, a seaman and explorer, who tells to his fellow sailors, perched on the deck of the cruising yawl Nellie in the Thames, of his nightmarish adventure in the Congo. Marlow, who wants to see for himself the enthralling river Congo, which on the map, unexplored and empty around its banks, resembles

an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land.

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Map showing David Livingstone’s travels in Africa (1873)

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Online drives new attitudes towards free in publishing

Publishers must stop looking at free as a threat to their business, industry experts urge. The cost of creating content remains high, and publishers still fear losing the money invested in the production process. This is a mistake, says founder and CEO of Accent Press, Hazel Cushion. The Wales-based independent publishing house, set up in Cushion’s living-room in 2003, has thrived on content offered for free.

“We decided early on to focus on low production cost e-books, which hardly anyone did then. Our first success story with free was Christina Jones’s Tickled Pink. We acquired and re-jacketed the novel, which was 8 years old, and offered it for free on Kindle.” The chick-lit novel was marketed aggressively in July, the prime time for light holiday reading sales. Accent Press took advantage of Amazon listing free and paid e-book downloads in the same chart, a practise the company has since dropped. “Tickled Pink shot up to number two on the combined downloads list with 17,000 dowloads, then took over Fifty Shades of Grey to become the most downloaded book on Kindle.” Continue reading