Grazie a Amneris Di Cesare per l’intervista! (Translation in English below.)
Today we have the opportunity to meet Lori Hetherington, a familiar figure at EWWA events and the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera. Amneris Di Cesare conducts the interview.
- How did you become a translator? When did you decide to enter this profession? I got started more than twenty years ago when I began doing linguistic revision of scientific articles for some professors from the University of Florence and, a short time later, other professors asked if I could translate their works for publication in international journals. For many years I worked primarily in the scientific field, but I almost never got a chance to use interesting adjectives! My parents were both journalists and I have always loved writing and reading almost anything I can get my hands on. After many—I think probably thousands—of pages about scientific discoveries and experiments, I began to approach fiction and creative nonfiction translation and now the majority of my work is of this type.
- Do you work for a particular publisher? No, my translations are from Italian to English and I work mostly with independent authors who want to reach English language readers.
- What sort of qualities does a person need to be a translator? Is it necessary to have a university degree or special qualifications? I’d say there are two essential qualities: you need to be able to write your native language well and you need to read a lot. A university degree or other professional certificates may be requested by a publisher or editor or can help you have greater knowledge about the tools used in the profession, but they’re not mandatory in order to translate well.
- What kind of books do you translate? Do you focus on one particular genre? I like to translate the genres that I love to read, in other words women’s and literary fiction, historical novels, creative nonfiction, and a bit of romance.
- Is there a standard method for translation or does each translator develop their own personal approach? How do you approach a translation? Each translator has their own. It’s the final result that counts! When I’m presented with a new project, I first read the text several times from various points of view in order to enter into a sort of synergy with the voice of the author. Then I create an initial draft of the translated text, staying as close to the original as possible, giving very little attention to the structure of the sentences. In this way I transfer the original author’s precise words into English. And finally, I turn my attention to revision, working in layers until I’m satisfied with the new English version.
- Who was the first author you translated? In the beginning I translated authors’ proposals for publishers or literary agents—the standard “first three chapters plus synopsis” requested by most of them for submission. It was a great way to understand better what works (or doesn’t) in the English-language market.
- What translation project have you enjoyed the most? That’s like asking a parent which of their children they love the most! I have loved every project in a different way. If I didn’t feel close to them, I wouldn’t take them on in the first place.
- In order to translate a literary work, does a translator need to have the skills of a writer? The job of the translator is to rewrite the book in another language: the original author creates the story, the characters, and the setting but only in one language. The translator is driven by the author, but the translator has to choose what path to take.
- What elements come into play in determining the quality of a translation? The translated text needs to seem as if it were “born” in that language but the original author needs to be able to recognize it as his or her own child, at least in theory since the author is not always proficient in the language of the translation. The reader should be unaware of the hand of the translator.
- Is it more important for a professional translator to know the source language or the target language? One of the rules of the profession is that you translate toward your mother tongue. In other words, you translate a foreign text into your own language. I may be able to write more or less correctly in Italian but, even though I’ve lived in Italy for thirty years, I will never have the fluency that I have in English. In addition, by living in the country where my target language is spoken, that language is an integral part of my being on a daily basis, which helps my understanding of the nuances runs deep.
- When you are faced with a text to translate that is lacking in quality, what do you do? Have you ever refused a work for this reason? A good translator refuses a project that they feel they’re unable to do well. It may be because it’s a genre for which they don’t have affinity, a project that requires more skill than they have, or a text or author they don’t completely believe in. The quality of the source text is important because translation brings every tiny defect in a manuscript to the surface. The translation phase is not the most suitable moment to do major editing.
- Is it possible to make a living as a translator in Italy? Most of the translators I know translate a wide range of texts: websites, publicity or technical texts, magazine articles, books. A person can make a living in this profession by diversifying the types of texts they work on but, at the same time, creating specialization in terms of areas of expertise.
- Do you have interaction with the authors you translate? Do you ever ask an author to clarify aspects of his or her text? That’s when I do my best work! I like to work as part of a team and so when I consider taking on a project one of the questions I ask myself is whether I’d be able to work well with the author. For some translators the act of translation is solitary and they do their best work mostly on their own. I prefer it to be a collaboration.
- What book are you translating now? As usual I’m working on several projects, although each one is in a different phase. I’m working on the final production phase of a self-published book with authors Elena and Michela Martignoni entitled ‘The Lustful Youth of Rodrigo Borgia’. I’m nearly finished with the first draft of the first title in a romance series by Elisabetta Flumeri & Gabriella Giacometti, and I’m about to start on a project with an Italian chef who lives in the USA and has started a foundation to help disadvantaged children and families. This latter project is quite unique as it will require me to do translating, editing, and ghostwriting.
- Are there specific things an aspiring translator should do if they want to break into the field? What advice would you give them? I would advise them, first of all, to consider themselves an entrepreneur and to jump in with both feet. Attend workshops, book presentations, go to libraries and bookshops, enroll and actively participate in associations, such as EWWA, travel abroad. Practice every day like an athlete who’s training for a competition. Read constantly, join authors’, translators’ and/or readers’ groups on Facebook. When you have a passion—and to be a good translator you have to be passionate about your work—everything you do is linked, in some way, to that passion.
- With the advent of self-publishing, amateur or “do it yourself” translation is becoming more widespread. What do you think of translation platforms such as Babelcube and nonprofessional translations? Self-publishing does not necessarily mean “do it yourself”. It’s important to make one thing clear. With the tools available, anyone can self-publish any text and if the final product satisfies them, great. However, professional self-publishing of professional writers means engaging other professionals in order to offer a high quality product. There are extremely few authors (in other words, practically none) who are able to do everything—editing, cover design, formatting, promotion—themselves and in a professional way. Most indie authors identify where they are weakest and invest their resources appropriately since the help of professionals can be expensive. An I’ll-do-it-all-myself approach generally doesn’t give optimal results. With regard to platforms such as Babelcube, I think they can satisfy the needs of the first group of people I mention above.
- Thanks to both ebooks and self-publishing, increasing numbers of readers in Italy are looking to get their hands on foreign titles translated into Italian. Many small Italian publishing houses are, as a result, forced to turn to translators to get published novels onto the market as quickly as possible. However, it’s a costly endeavor and sometimes the smaller houses can’t afford it. What do you think about the increasing number of amateur and/or part-time translators who work with small publishers for quick translations? And, in your opinion, how will this phenomenon evolve over time? You’ve pushed one of my buttons! I know experienced translators who have been approached by publishers offering shameful contracts. Translators do not live on air alone and they have to pay their bills and buy diapers for their children just like everyone else. I believe that if a publishing house wants to give readers a quality product, they have to recognize the professionalism of translators: in economic terms including a percentage of royalties when appropriate, with adequate recognition and attribution, and by providing sufficient time to do a good job. Furthermore, if readers find translated texts that are poorly executed and/or the translator’s name does not appear on the title page, in my opinion they should stop buying that publisher’s books. I understand the difficulties faced by small publishers but the entire industry is undergoing great evolution and I think they need to be willing to make changes if they want to survive.
Thank you, Lori. Thank you for your stimulating questions. I hope that I have offered your readers a new way of seeing my profession.