The stories so far…

The jumping off point for my research has been building up a corpus of literature from Denmark that has been published in the UK since 1990. The ‘big breakthrough’ text in this field was Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (1993), which is why 1990 is as good a starting point as any (for now… as with all things, this may change!). To research this I used the British National Bibliography (searchable via the British Library website) and the UN’s Index Translationum, cross-referenced with online resources such as GoodReads and Amazon for bibliographical data, and – more recently – the database on DanishArts.dk.

So now I have a lovely spScreenshot 3readsheet with the following information about each text: title (in the UK), author’s name, year published in the UK, original title (in Danish), year published in Denmark, name of UK publisher, translator’s name. I have found 48 texts so far (1990-present). To make the data more accessible, I made it look pretty using an online timeline tool called tiki-toki.com (see screenshots)

Sadly tiki-toki’s search function is a bit glitchy, as evidenced when I tried to demonstrate how neatly it highlights texts translated by a particular translator (it found one result but there should have been six, and six were on the timeline!). That aside, it provides a lovely visual reference and starting point for adding more and more layers of data. Next, for example, I could tag the texts depending on what might be significant – for example ‘large publisher’ vs ‘indie publisher’, or ‘Nordic Noir’ (crime fiction) vs other fiction, to Screenshot 2see if there are any patterns. I have only included literary fiction novels, I have excluded children’s books, poetry, non-fiction, and other media such as films and TV (even though it’s the TV shows shown on BBC4 that Denmark is well known for right now: The Killing, Borgen, The Bridge). So I could add some of these. It should also be beneficial to add other key texts from Scandinavian literary canon such as Wallander and Stieg Larsson’s trilogy. So alongside researching other aspects of my project, I will be adding to and making use of this timeline, guided by where my research takes me. (Ideas and thoughts about using this as a reference tool much appreciated, please reply below!)

For the first month, I found time to do this around the baby (among other aspects of my project, to be blogged about soon) by delegating childcare to my partner, my mum, friends, and a great local workspace/crèche, allowing me a random assortment of evenings, weekends, a few hours during the week, and occasional full weekdays. I’m grateful to friends who have been able to spend time with the baby in our flat while I nip into another room and write some emails, do some organising, or even manage some reading. It’s difficult to concentrate if I’m in the next room and I can hear her so I try not to plan anything ‘big’ for these occasions. I like working at the university library when I can – it may seem an odd choice to commute into central London when I could just work anywhere with internet access, but uni provides a great studious atmosphere and I treat it like I’m going to work. (Also there’s a Pret nearby and I’m a sucker for Pret!)

The workspace/crèche is our only “paid” childcare option so far, and my main observations are that it’s great, there should be more spaces like it, yet it seems to be under-utilised as it’s often pleasantly quiet! It works best for 2 or 3 hour stretches, any longer and the baby would be too tired or it’d clash with a mealtime and that seems like too much hassle. I find I can treat the workspace a lot like the library: it makes me feel like I’m “at the office”. If the baby was even a couple of months younger I don’t think this option would work, I recall she was very clingy (understandably, developmentally speaking!) around 7-9 months old, for example. As she gets older our decisions about childcare will adapt to suit her, us as a family, and my workload.

IMG_20131023_090129I make it all sound terribly tidy, but it has been difficult to adjust and make the right decision for us about childcare (fitting in with our finances, commitments, and values). I am getting used to studying in a new way. I’d love to have huge swathes of time in front of me when I sit down to work and I always imagined (pre-baby) that I would somehow treat a PhD like a full-time job, clocking on and clocking off and feeling a sense of accomplishment after a full day’s work (I know someone who more-or-less did this using the British Library as her “office”, so it’s not so farcical to envisage, honest!). Now I don’t have that luxury, nor much flexibility if I’m having an “off day” – I still need to crack on and make use of the time I have allocated.

As someone who hadn’t spent any time around families with small children before having one of my own, I didn’t quite fathom the fact that you can’t do very much else if you are looking after a baby. Okay, admittedly with the advent of smartphones you can read your emails and check social media while they are playing(!). But you can’t find enough time to concentrate long enough to write a professional-sounding email (especially not in another language!), you certainly can’t make or take a professional phone call, you probably can’t meet up with anyone without a child for a chat about anything serious, and you can’t read.

A sure sign of a non-parent is the question “but can’t you work during her naptime?”, and it’s forgiven as I might have assumed the same thing before. Nothing is guaranteed about baby sleep, and that’s what makes it an awful time to try and concentrate on some work (especially serious reading!). For a start, a nap might last half an hour or two hours, so it’s difficult to know whether to risk getting stuck into something if you might be disturbed at any moment. In addition, until very recently the baby would only sleep during the day a) in the pram [while we were out], b) in the sling, or c) cuddling on one of us. We couldn’t move her into the cot for the very high likelihood of waking her and having a grumpy, tired-yet-wide-awake baby to contend with. Thankfully now she mostly will nap in the cot, but it is impossible to “rely on” a nap – there are patterns, but babies are not predictable or consistent, which rather prevents me making plans to do something in particular “during her naptime” as I have no idea when, where, or for how long this might be!

[If you have read this far, I would love a comment below, just say hello! Nice to know who my readers are as I’ve only just started…]

Wonderful Copenhagen

I am just starting a PhD in Danish-English Translation Studies, looking at the contemporary marketing and reception of Danish literature in the United Kingdom. Rather than write a blog post about everything I’ve done so far, I’ll start with what’s foremost in my mind right now – my recent trip to Denmark.

Borgen

Borgen

Last week I attended the Copenhagen Book Fair (BogForum), and took part in the translators’ programme (oversætterbesøgsprogrammet) hosted by the Danish Agency for Culture (Kulturstyrelsen), who are funding my PhD studentship. I am not a literary translator – although it is an area that interests me, and I have done some commercial translation – so I wasn’t sure how I’d find the whole experience. As it turned out, the visit was incredibly beneficial, in many ways.

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Primarily, I enjoyed meeting translators from different parts of the world. We all conversed in Danish (though it soon became apparent that nearly all translators who speak Danish also speak English! For some reason this had never occurred to me). It was really good to dive straight into speaking Danish again, it feels very natural when in Denmark and of course it’s so hard to keep it up when at home in London. I haven’t spoken Danish regularly in, well… probably since my final year of my BA in 2008, despite the MA in Translation Studies following straight after! It was also an excellent opportunity to meet and talk with Danish-English translators as many of them have worked on the titles I will be discussing in my research.

Politigården

Politigården

The programme featured some excellent events, including pitches with Danish publishers and literary agencies (great insight for me as someone who is not very familiar with the publishing industry), a meal at Christiansborg (the Danish parliament aka Borgen), a tour of the central police station (useful for translators of crime fiction but open to all participants!). Everyone involved was incredibly warm and welcoming, it was lovely to meet people from Kulturstyrelsen so soon into my research. I have been tasked with setting up a more formal Danish-English literary translators’ network, so I’m glad I had some useful conversations with Danish translators from Germany and Russia who coordinate similar networks. I was also able to have a rather lovely lunch meeting with one of my PhD supervisors (who currently lives in Copenhagen).

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The BogForum was fascinating. I’ll qualify that by saying it was the first book fair I’d attended! But I observed that there were many more families and little children than I’d expected, and it was clearly a cultural event not just a commercial schmooze-fest. It’ll be interesting to contrast it with the equivalent in London and maybe other places in future. To see a literary culture flourishing in a country where bestselling paperbacks cost at least double the average price in the UK is really something.

I must admit I was nervous before I went. The baby has only just turned one and we’re still breastfeeding – thankfully only once or twice a day, but we still had to think about the practicalities of that. We jumped straight from me never having left her overnight to being away for 4 days/nights in a row! But we were both fine, of course. In fact, the hotel was lovely and I rather relished being able to wake up at a time of my choosing to a breakfast someone had made for me and being able to potter around doing my own thing. I also wasn’t sure if I would ‘fit in’ with the events as a PhD student (as opposed to a full-time literary translator), but my fears about that were soon allayed.

So, I emerged at the end of the trip feeling both happier about my linguistic aptitude and very ‘at home’ in this area of research. Incredibly grateful for the financial and practical support from Kulturstyrelsen too. Now I just need to keep up the momentum!