Michele Hutchison is a former publishing editor, now a full-time literary translator. She is the co-author of The Happiest Kids in the World (Doubleday, 2017) and blog with the book’s co-author Rina Mae Acosta.
How did you get into the field of translation?
I used to be an editor. When I moved to the Netherlands, I started working part-time in publishing and part-time as a translator. Most of the jobs I was offered were part-time, as that’s the most typical model here. These days I’m a full-time translator, though I also still do some editing. I also recently co-wrote a book.
If you were working with someone who has never had their work translated before, what advice would you give the writer?
If they are working with me, I’d reassure them I don’t take on projects unless I have some affinity with the writing and storytelling. Leave the translation work to the translator and trust them. And then let the editor do the editing – don’t try to take that on yourself, it’s a thankless task! Do be available to answer any questions the translator may have.
What’s your favourite translated book, and are there any books you wish you could have translated?
I don’t have one favourite book but many. I really enjoyed translating La Superba by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer because it was both challenging and satisfying. My next translation to be published will be The American Princess by Annejet van der Zijl. It’s an evocative biography of an interesting woman whose life spanned the great social changes in America last century, a rags-to-riches tale, inspiring and well written. AmazonCrossing are bringing it out next January. I wish I could have translated Willem Frederik Hermans, a classic Dutch writer, but more senior translators got there first.
We are often criticised in the UK as being less open to buying books in translation. How do you see that evolving over the next 5–10 years?
I have no idea. There seems to be a lot of polarisation though, post-Brexit. Perhaps there will be clusters of people becoming more vocal in their support of not just translations but also of learning foreign languages. The way things are going, supporters are going to need to get more politically active.
How does commercial translation differ from literary translation, and which do you prefer doing?
I enjoy translating plot-driven novels because it’s easier to achieve ‘flow’ when translating them. I find myself carried along on the suspense and pace of the writing. When you’re doing a literary novel it’s like chipping away at a rock face; sometimes just a word can take ages and ages to get right. It’s nice to do a bit of both and keep the work varied.
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