Sustainability of positivity – on hoping the bubble won’t burst

Not long after my fantastical conference trip to Canada, I spent a week in Denmark for research and some serious future planning for the translators’ network.

Since returning from my trip to Canada I’ve been on an absolute high. It boosted my perception of my own progress with the thesis, but also made me feel connected again to the field. Working from home can be a lonely place. It’s good to get reassurance that you’re studying something interesting and relevant (or, more importantly, that other people find it interesting and relevant!). Since the trip I’d also had a positive supervision meeting in which the whole thesis structure looked to be taking shape; scarcely imaginable to me nine months ago when I returned from maternity leave.


The week in Denmark this month was full of meetings – including two interviews, and the translators’ network meeting (which was the primary motivation of the trip) – and a full day’s library visit. With a “whole week” to myself I’d also pencilled it as a solid writing opportunity – I mean, all that time alone, away from the kids, what else could I possibly do? Turns out that was brightly optimistic. A full week is rather shorter when you factor in travel time and looking after yourself (meals, fresh air…). Every day had one thing planned and to my surprise the rest of the time filled up. But still, I felt so positive, to be “doing” research and “being” there in meetings. Doing and being. Not exactly living my regular life with the PhD around edges.

The comedown, of course, is that now I can’t hide from myself and my work under the guise of being busy “doing” research or “being” present. The trips are an amazing privilege – admittedly with bonus fun thrown in – but they create work: writing up my conference paper and finding somewhere to publish (well, tentatively…), interviews to transcribe and their content to analyse and integrate into chapters, notes from reading to add to chapters and more reading to start as a result of that reading, and a reassuringly long to do list following the productive translators’ network meeting. But the action stops and the fear of the blank page before me gets ushered in. Where will I find time and focus again to write? Around the kids, the nursery runs, the household, preschool summer holidays, my eldest starting school in September (wail!), adjusting to my partner’s new pattern of working from home more/away from home less…

The Fear today is prompted too by me receiving my final stipend payment from my studentship. I’m in my writing up phase and there is no money or job on the horizon. I have to make the last few years worth it. The countdown is on to submit a coherent 90,000 word document within a year!


Why taking my baby to a conference is different now

My “baby” is now nearly 2 and a half. Gulp. That is probably the main reason taking my “baby” to a conference is different now (so you can stop reading here if you like). In fact, I didn’t really take her along to the conference as such at all!

At Edinburgh station - travelling light!

At Edinburgh station – travelling light!

I attended a Nordic conference for research students and postgrads in Edinburgh in February. As I’ve said before, we don’t use a typical full-time nursery, so initially the plan was for me to travel and attend the conference alone while my partner took annual leave from work to take care of the toddler at home in London. But then a good friend with a little baby (3 months old!) decided she’d attend the conference as well as a delegate – inspired no doubt by my success when I attended a conference in another city with our (exclusively from-the-breast-fed) 4.5 month old! The conference in Edinburgh coincided with the holiday available to her husband, so the plan was for him to take the baby while she attended sessions. Our friends have more flexibility with their baby as they are mixed feeding (definition for non-parents: bottles of formula alongside breastfeeding) which meant the mum-delegate was able to attend the conference in longer stretches away from her baby.

Why taking my toddler to this conference was so different from my previous experience taking a little baby:

  • The journey was FUN! Well, fun might be overstating it, but the 4 and half hour train ride either side was pleasant enough. The four/six of us chatted and read and looked out at the view. We had snacks. We had toys. Two things stick in my mind about driving to the conference with a baby in 2013: 1) stopping and feeding in a dreary service station car park and worrying whether I was doing the right thing by going at all; and 2) missing the motorway junction for Norwich which meant a rather convoluted route to get back on track, which made us all stressy.


  • I barely saw her! So in a way, I did attend the conference on my own. I attended all the sessions I wanted to. I could freely chat to people in the coffee breaks and at lunch. I tried to get the most out of the event for the benefit of my studies – that had to be the point of us spending time there. My partner and our friends got to see Edinburgh and pop to a museum, whereas I didn’t go out beyond the remit of the organised seminars and conference dinner. This time I wasn’t known by all as the person with the baby. I’d spent every break at the first conference breastfeeding ostentatiously(!) so – whether I liked it or not – I was soon identified as the delegate with a little baby. It was admittedly a good icebreaker and made me rather memorable, but this time being a speaker on the first panel with a slightly unusual format of presentation was the icebreaker, and I much preferred that!


  • I felt more like me! Four and a bit months into first-time parenthood is not me. I was shell-shocked, sleep deprived, hadn’t had an academic conversation for months, let alone attended seminars or even read a book. I was still adjusting and – in hindsight – so far off feeling like myself. Sixteen months into a PhD is me. I felt happy with my presentation (very glad I went on first and got it out of the way!) and I was keen to talk to people and learn. I got to chat about research and meet new people and not constantly wave a baby in people’s faces. (I’m not sure I even got much better sleep though this time round as we stayed in dead central Edinburgh and I was only blessed with earplugs for our last night away!)

My two experiences of taking a child to a conference have been very different, mostly for practical reasons relating to her age and related needs. Given my experience this time, despite it being very positive, I probably wouldn’t drag my partner and child along to a conference again, even (or especially) in an exciting new place, because I’d get so little time to enjoy the visit with them! We spent the most time together on the journey and in the evenings. By extension, because I was with them (and our lovely friends, to be fair), I didn’t arrange to meet anyone else I know who lives in or near Edinburgh as there wasn’t a minute to spare. And I missed out on visiting a few places I probably would have gone to if I’d been kicking around on my own with time to fill. But I still attended a fantastic, welcoming conference and had a great trip as a little family with some good friends.

Social networking and new motherhood

I’d like to take a moment to talk about the fantastic ability of women – and it is women – to network and support one another through a time of massive change as life gets busier and more pressured.

My partner and I moved from North London to Tooting when I was 7 months’ pregnant. It was an odd time to start getting to know a new area – I waddled around in the September sunshine with no indication of how much my map of the world was about to change. I had no idea that I’d want or need local mum friends, I was oblivious to how much support you crave when tirelessly looking after a little child.

When I had a little newborn, my world got smaller for a while. I went for a walk with the pram around the streets nearby, maybe for a couple of miles, but never too far to get back home comfortably. The occasional trip further afield was a mission requiring expert planning. For the sake of getting away from my own four walls, I explored many an accessible local cafe to sip coffee (often decaf as I was still unduly worried about how much caffeine was transferred through breastmilk!), but feeding in public alone still felt like the stuff of nightmares.


Meeting new people on very little sleep seemed like a bad idea, so for a while I stuck with my own company and met up with (child-unencumbered) friends from my Life Before Baby. Those friends who met up with me during that period are still extra special to me.


At the time of moving down, I found a local Twitter account called @tootingbaby – perfect for our new baby-related adventure in SW17! I soon discovered @tootingbaby has a website with a calendar of local playgroups and events for babies and toddlers, and a private Facebook group. After dipping my toe, the best thing for me about Twitter during all the sitting around breastfeeding (day and night, night and day) was being able to gradually follow more and more local people and businesses. I began to feel like I was getting to know this new area all from the comfort of my bed at 3am! A few local restaurants opened around the same time of our move down (late 2012) so it was great to see their online and physical presence develop – I felt like I was part of the community straight away by being up to speed on what was going on outside.


I joined the aforementioned Facebook group and before long regular weekly meet-ups were being arranged for mums on maternity leave with babies born in Autumn/Winter 2012. We met and ate cake and made small talk with heavy eyelids about how little sleep we were getting and how feeding was going (breast or not) and who we were before this all kicked off. It became a lovely, loose-knit group of women who initially only had in common the area we lived in, our new role as mothers, and our keen use of a social network! Now, coming up to two years on since joining the Facebook group, I count the local mothers I see most often as some of my closest friends.

After all my exploring – and grateful for the support it had offered me – I offered a Google map of baby-friendly local cafes to the Tooting Baby website. This had the unintended consequence of being asked ever so kindly to be an administrator for the website, as @tootingbaby now had her hands full with two babies and a demanding job! I started in Autumn 2013 – at the same time as starting my PhD. It feels like a hobby in comparison with everything else, and I really enjoy being able to contribute to the community like that.

It grates when people dismiss Twitter and Facebook as narcissistic shouting into the ether – sure, it can be that for some people, but networking on social media gave me a massive sense of community in a new area as a first time mother, and it has directly provided me with the opportunity to make new friends and get support for our new family.

A report from the city that never sleeps

I went to New York for the first time this week. I had been dreading the 7 hour flight but in the end it was fine. I got up to stretch my legs a few times, drank LOADS of water, they serve food as various intervals so that keeps you occupied, and I read a bit (though not as much as I’d planned – I foolishly thought I’d have time to study but no chance!). Travelling overnight on the way back was a poor decision, though – there was no way of sleeping properly, but at least I could nap when I got home. I’d been warned of a potential one-and-a-half hour wait at immigration on arrival in the US, but through a combination of a morning flight and it being a national holiday, the whole process took well under an hour. The immigration officer told me “you’re all set” as he let me through, kicking off an adoration for all the little American phrases I heard which took me by surprise.


The view from my hotel window (the distinctive tower is the Chrysler Building)

I soon checked into the hotel and WHAT A VIEW! And what a privilege. I was in a huge room on the 36th floor. Of course I made the most of this by barely sleeping (kept waking up, woke up at 5am both mornings, didn’t reset my body clock at all as it was such a quick visit!). They provided optional ‘fit kits’ for healthy types so I actually took them up on the offer and did some weights every morning. I’m unhinged…

Some excitable observations:

The Sights

I found it very easy to get around New York without internet access on my phone, I used a little pop-up map (and the grid system makes it easy to just walk for a certain number of blocks certain you’re heading the right way). I felt very at home as a Londoner, I walked everywhere and didn’t mind the crowds. As soon as I arrived at Penn Station in Manhattan, I was hit by the 30 degree heat and raced for the comfort of air-con in the huge Macy’s opposite. I had a wander around the Macy’s themed souvenirs and wasn’t best impressed, overall the World’s Largest Store aspires to be Selfridges but ends up feeling like a Debenhams.


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Grand Central Station – it’s really interesting that such a stunning building is still being used for its intended purpose. People were queuing at the lovely ticket office windows, although there were also lots of tourists like me taking photos. The most fascinating thing for me was the combined use of this public space with corporate consumerism – a whole two balconies were being used as an Apple Store complete with Genius Bar, though you were welcome to just wander around it all being nosey. It was well integrated and not too dominant, I only realised it was an Apple Store when I actually got up there, from afar it could’ve been a very laptop-y cafe!

I went straight to see the Rockefeller Center on the same afternoon I arrived – I felt on a high the whole time I was there pottering around as I had the 30 Rock theme in my head (I love 30 Rock. Sadly they didn’t have much merchandise for it in the NBC Shop as it’s old hat by now!). On the off-chance there wasn’t a queue, I went to see if I’d be able to go to the Top of the Rock that afternoon (I’d heard you had to book a timeslot, very busy, etc) and – to my delight – I could buy a ticket and go straight up! It was admittedly 5pm on a sunny Memorial Day, I have since been reliably informed that all Americans would have been at a barbeque(!). The view was amazing – I could see sunbathers in Central Park, a spectacular view of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty in the distance – it really did look like I was gazing down at a map, especially with the grid system to the streets so the buildings all looked like they had been neatly lined up.

Manhattan as viewed from the Rock IMG_20140526_172852

People had told me not to bother with Times Square but I found myself wandering around in that area so popped to take a look, it was just crowded and chaotic and not particularly impressive, as predicted.

The main Public Library building was well worth a visit – it’s a beautiful building inside, and outside it’s based in a lovely little park which hosts events like outdoor theatre. I enjoyed a fascinating and beautifully laid out free exhibition – the ABC of it, why children’s books matter. New Yorkers roll their eyes and say, that’s still on is it? but for a first time visitor I was extremely glad to have caught it, it was lovely!


NY Public Library

Lots of classic kids books, even a bit about Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales for us Scandi enthusiasts. The shop was excellent, too – I bought some souvenirs here including a lovely book for the baby, rather than in Macy’s where the only souvenirs were tacky!


the High Line

I walked all along the High Line – a park converted from a former railway line – and ended up in the meatpacking district and Chelsea Market. The High Line was beautiful, even on a breezy grey day. I loved the juxtaposition of the cultivated greenery with the industrial buildings and in places the remaining train tracks, it was cleverly done. The meatpacking district, especially when viewed from above (standing on the High Line) reminded me of the Spitalfields Market area in East London, all industrial units which have been regenerated into trendy and expensive clothes shops and the like.


High Line sign & assorted Americana


Signpost in Chelsea Market

Chelsea Market was fun – lots of foodie shops and stalls, I had a delicious rice paper wrap from a vegan sushi place (one of the top ten vegan sushi restaurants in the US, it said – are there more than ten?!). It was very ‘New York’ – as well as vegan sushi you could find mini donuts with your choice of a selection of flavoured sugars, a ‘dairy bar’ with yogurt, ice cream, milkshakes, cupcakes of many varieties, a loose spices and tea stall, and Vietnamese sandwiches.

Later I walked around some of Central Park even though by now it was a bit grey and chilly, just to say I’d been there. It is really lovely, loads of different parts within it such as a huge lake and undulating hills and pretty arches/bridges.


Central Park


London is ridiculous for the number of chains on the same street, you can stand in some spots and be within sight of three Prets for example, and wherever you walk you’ll find a Costa, Starbucks, Caffe Nero, or an indie coffee shop or three. On the way to my meeting I walked a good twenty minutes between my hotel and the Consulate and didn’t see one Starbucks, in fact I kept walking in order to find somewhere for a decent caffeine fix. There are however lots of delis and shops where you can pick up a watery black ‘drip’ filter coffee. The reason for free coffee refills in diners is that this coffee is weak and insubstantial. The UK’s penchant for espresso-based coffee has clearly not caught on in New York, and it got me wondering whether if someone opened a competing chain to Starbucks and had one on every corner, whether they’d make millions. Maybe not – even Pret in Manhattan has a selection of drip coffees for people to pour themselves, they’ve customised their offering for the market I suppose. I missed a good flat white – although it was far too hot on the first two days for hot coffee, iced coffee is the way to go!


One of the best foods New York has to offer! I had a couple, an everything bagel (‘everything’ being everything savoury like poppy and sesame seeds, onion, wholewheat) with a schmear of scallion cream cheese but I should have branched out and tried more, one for every meal would be about right I think. Next time (please let there be a next time!) I will have honey and pecan cream cheese on a cinnamon bagel. I really should stop planning my meals so far in advance…

The Subway

…is dirty, smelly, and difficult to navigate – I know, I’m already a confessed London Transport fanatic, but you realise just how amazing the tube in London is after using the New York subway.


I foolishly found myself too exhausted and far away to walk back to my hotel on the last afternoon, so needed to top up my Metro card using the remainder of my cash in order to make one journey. There are far too few ticket machines, and they all use an old technology form of touchscreen which is maddening (hit the screen a few times, it registers the wrong number, start again…), and they often reject your perfectly adequate dollar bills! Thankfully despite the queue forming behind me for the only machine of the three accepting cash(!), no one was huffy or rude (an impossibility if the same scenario had occurred in London!), in fact the man behind me exchanged my faulty dollar bill for quarters and blamed the machine. All the lines and many of the stations are numbered, so that must be annoying if you have dyscalculia or any problem remembering numbers (‘was it line 4 to 33rd Street or line 3 to 44th Street?’). This is why people take taxis, I guess!

‘im indoors

I kept in touch with my partner online from the hotel, we just chatted briefly via messenger. The time difference meant we couldn’t catch up at the end of my day (the UK is five hours ahead) but it was nice to still have that connection during the day. He was spending four days at home covering childcare for the duration of my trip. He insisted I shouldn’t micro-manage by planning him things to do while we swapped roles (I’m usually at home doing most of the childcare, around my studies) – “on principle you shouldn’t have to help me, I should be doing this without us reverting to stereotype of the useless dad who needs to be told what to do” – but in the end I did make some successful suggestions, including toddler soft play at the leisure centre, a couple of hours at our combined childcare/workspace for a well-earned break, a few easy meal ideas, the regular childcare swap at home with another mum friend.

The purpose of my trip

I spoke at an informal meeting of translators (of Danish to English) at the Consulate General of Denmark, invited by my funders (the Danish Arts Foundation), on the work I’d been doing on establishing the network for Da-En translators in the UK/Europe. The meeting went well, I think, although perhaps everyone was left with more questions than answers (should there be two networks or shall we combine networks?) and was followed by a fantastic dinner at the official residence of the Danish Ambassador of the Consul General, a penthouse on the 76th floor of NY by Gehry overlooking Brooklyn Bridge and the World Trade Center – absolutely stunning views, as you might imagine!







It was a lovely group of people to spend the afternoon and evening with, speaking Danish and talking about translation, books, and New York.

An amazing privilege, quite unreal the whole thing. Now my legs ache from walking so much!


Three ways having a baby helped prepare me for a PhD

I’m only six months into my PhD so I’m still just getting started and I’m sure I have very little authority to talk about what doing a PhD is really like. In two years I’ll probably have a different viewpoint! But I wanted to jot down a few thoughts I had about how studying for a research degree and having a baby utilise the same skills.

1. Taking each day as it comes

I am a planner. My calendar is full up weeks in advance and I love looking at my agenda for the week ahead. Having a baby turns this on its head slightly. In the early days you are waking and sleeping in fits and bursts and cannot see beyond the next feed. When someone tells you something is happening next week it seems a lifetime away. When well-meaning but unhelpful people say “it gets easier in three months”, it seems like an absolute eternity and you sink into a pit of despair (well, some of us do).

baby reachingBut you soon gain perspective and learn to roll with it. You have to just change the pace and your expectations and wake up each morning to a new day. It doesn’t mean not planning things (I look back at my calendar for the first few months of her life and I did a remarkable amount!), but it means not thinking too far ahead and panicking yourself, not overwhelming yourself with the huge To Do list of everything that needs to be completed in the next few weeks, months, years. Focus on the most important tasks right now. If you’re having a bad day today, tomorrow will be better.

2. Organising your time

As a heading this seems to contradict the previous point, but bear with me. On maternity leave you soon get into a rhythm of “something to do in the morning”, “something to do in the afternoon” and somewhere in the mix, “nap” and “eat”. You divide your day into segments, an activity here, something from the To Do list there. This works remarkably well when studying, too. A few hours this morning on this activity, a few hours this afternoon on something else. Reading, writing, planning, researching, meeting, admin. For me, this has also involved planning flexible childcare and activities for the baby, not telling myself I’ll work ad hoc but knowing when I’ll actually have time to study (even if it never feels like enough!).

3. Gaining confidence

Admittedly, a large part of my confidence in speaking to new people or giving presentations comes from my work background, and I learnt a lot in the years I spent doing a business-to-business sales role. Yet a huge part of my newly-found everyday confidence comes from having had a reading

I made a push to meet new people in a new area a few months after I gave birth (we moved when I was 8 months pregnant, and I didn’t do antenatal courses). When you’re struggling with physical and mental exhaustion and a demanding being fully dependent on you, you lose inhibitions as you gain confidence to meet her needs (“I won’t feel self-conscious about breastfeeding in this cafe, she needs to be fed”). You empathise with other new parents (mainly women) who are in the same boat as you, soon fostering a small (shell-shocked) supportive community of strangers. So you gain confidence in your ability to “network” (for it is networking, but not recognised as such), make conversation with all sorts of people you otherwise wouldn’t have encountered, and find common ground – all incredibly useful skills!

Secondly, looking after a baby is such a challenging learning experience. At the start you have little confidence in your own abilities as you struggle to get to grips with everything from square one. (Not unlike studying I suppose.) Returning to the familiar after the all-consuming period of early motherhood, even if it’s a new position – i.e. the PhD was new to me, but studying or working was not – gives you a burst of self-belief: I can do this, I’ve done it before. I know how to give a presentation, use various technologies, find something in the library. I’m damn well going to make the most of this opportunity.

I’d love to hear any other insights or thoughts on this topic!

Taking a baby to a conference

Or: How to have a baby and keep one foot in academia

In April last year I attended the Nordic Translation Conference at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. More precisely, I was a delegate and my partner and 5 month old baby came too!

I’d been doing occasional freelance translation jobs so I was keen to keep in touch with the industry. I didn’t know at this stage that I would be heading back to uni so soon but I hoped it would be on the cards in future. This particular conference takes place only every 5 years so I knew I’d be kicking myself if I decided from the off that I couldn’t go just because I had a little baby.

The baby was exclusively breastfed, when she demanded it – this means she only consumed breastmilk (babies start solids at 6 months old, and milk is still their primary food source until around 12 months in any case). She had never taken to being bottle-fed (not that we tried very hard) so she needed to go wherever I went, and vice versa.

Before registering to attend I emailed the organisers to see how amenable they were to my idea of bringing the baby and also contacted a former lecturer who’d had a baby during my first degree, keen to see if she or anyone she knew had been in a similar position. Deep down I felt strongly that having a baby should be no impediment to participating, but theory and ideology do not necessarily translate into practice. I was realistic that my expectations might not correlate with what’s normally accepted at these events, so I told myself that if I got any hint of the organisers trying to put me off then I would just not attend, it wouldn’t be worth the stress.

As it happened, my former lecturer and the organisers themselves were incredibly positive and supportive! The organisers even insisted I let them know if they could be of any assistance during the event. In the end, a few attendees with older children brought them along, too (although this was not apparent to most delegates as they were being entertained elsewhere).

Accommodation was available on the university campus, which made everything much more straightforward. We booked a family room which would fit the travel cot. We rented a car – the amount of stuff you need to take for a couple of nights away when you have a baby is ridiculous! – and the drive from London to Norwich was surprisingly smooth. For a journey of that length with a baby that young it was inevitable we’d have to stop once or twice, but I still made it in time for registration on the first afternoon.

The venue was perfect – it all took place in one building, with seminar rooms and a lecture hall, and one coffee area for use during the breaks. For the first two sessions, while my partner was unpacking us into the campus B&B, I had the baby with me. As babies go, she is fairly quiet and contented, but in a well-attended seminar session, I was suddenly all too aware of her chattering and babbling – we’d never been in a scenario like it before. So for one of the sessions I kept stepping outside with her, which in hindsight was probably more disturbing than just staying put and sitting at the back with her would have been. But I felt self-conscious – I had never seen a baby in a professional context like that, and I didn’t know what people might expect. After all, they had spent the time and money to attend as well. During the break after this session I breathed a sigh of relief when another delegate approached me and cooed over the baby, saying how lovely it was to hear her happy burbling during the session!

For the next couple of days of the conference, my partner and I agreed that he would take the baby while I attended sessions, and I’d feed her in the breaks – but if she communicated that she needed me while I was away, he’d text me. In the end, I didn’t have to leave any session early… by a quirk of fate she was happy with our plan! From my partner’s perspective, there wasn’t much to do other than walk around with the pram (UEA’s campus is to be commended on being very pram/wheelchair accessible!), occasionally stopping back at the conference break area or going back to the B&B room. He couldn’t drive anywhere or get the bus into Norwich as that would risk taking her too far away from me.

It was excellent to be able to focus my mind on something not baby-related for the first time in 5 months, and I enjoyed livetweeting some of the sessions (#nordictranslation). I even attended the evening meals to socialise and catch up with attendees I already knew from my degree (the world of Nordic translation is rather predictably pretty small!). It was so uplifting that despite having a little baby so dependent on me I could still be participate as myself (the translator, academic, whatever, but not “just” a mother).

Breastfeeding didn’t pose any problems. I just found space in the coffee break area, even chatting to fellow delegates while doing so – hopefully doing my bit for normalising breastfeeding in public! After all, the baby would not have got fed at all if I hadn’t done it this way, and I wouldn’t have been able to attend if I couldn’t bring her.

Of course, I am lucky in many regards. My partner was able to take annual leave. The baby was going through a lovely phase of sleeping very well overnight, and still napping a couple of times in the day. She wasn’t yet crawling (she started that at 6 months) so she was happy being held or sitting in the pram (once babies start moving around they are less content with this!). As someone else put it, having a 5 year old running around would’ve been much more disruption, so it was a perfect time to attend. It can’t be played down either that if you’re looking for a family-friendly discipline, Scandinavian studies is probably one of the best. My story would have been very different in other disciplines, I’m sure.

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I will (hopefully) never know if any delegates felt uncomfortable or irritated by the presence of a baby, but blissfully we only detected good vibes from those who did engage with us. I met some lovely people and made some great contacts – a baby is a good icebreaker!

I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on babies in academic settings like this, please add a comment below. And do let me know in the comments if we met at this conference, it was a really friendly event!

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.



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.


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.



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).


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!