I had wanted to do the BCLT Summer School for years, and particularly since gatecrashing the lovely German group at the Millennium Library in Norwich way back in 2012, and again in 2013, and hearing what fun they were having. And finally, finally, things worked out with holidays, and the boys able to have a week with Granny and Grandad, (to whom many thanks!) to make it possible to attend.
To have a week away from routine, if not, in my case, from home, working on a collaborative translation of an amazing text, with the author on hand to explain context and intentions and whether or not this particular word has a deep significance, uninterrupted and with the stimulation of working with other lovely translators… Bliss! Of a very intense and slightly nerdy sort.
We were based in the Enterprise Centre, UEA’s newest building. It has thatched walls and roof, and slightly space-age lighting that won’t do what you want it to because it’s so energy efficient, and walls you can write on, and super-whizzy rolling chairs and tables. All of which is apparently strangely conducive to creativity, because by the end of the week, we had produced a translation we were all proud of.
The German group were working on two extracts from Rasha Khayat’s debut novel Weil wir längst woanders sind, which we gave the English title of Because We’re Elsewhere Now. It’s the story of an inseparable brother and sister, Basil and Layla, who are half-German and half-Saudi, whose childhoods and adult lives are split between these two very different cultures. Layla has gone back to Saudi Arabia and is intending to get married and settle into that very traditional culture, which Basil sees as backward. He can’t understand her decision, and this is driving a wedge between brother and sister. Basil travels out for the wedding, determined to regain that closeness.
The extracts we translated, with the expert assistance of the lovely Katy Derbyshire, our tutor for the week, are taken from two different chapters. The first is the opening of the novel, where Basil and Layla see snow for the first time in Germany. The second is after Basil’s arrival in Jeddah as the wedding preparations begin, and he meets his future brother-in-law Rami for the first time. There are interesting parallels between the two sections in the idea of never quite being at home anywhere, and Basil’s outsider view of both cultures.
The week finished with a celebratory afternoon of presentations, hearing the other groups’ work and presenting our own at Dragon Hall in Norwich – a far cry from the Enterprise Centre, this ancient building also blends the old and the new in exciting ways. I was so excited to finally go inside, having walked past many times, and it certainly lived up to its billing, even if a canapé reception didn’t quite equal dinner to lots of peoples’ minds.
All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable week, and highly recommended whether as a way into literary translation for those starting out, or of challenging and stretching yourself and your practice for those of us a little further on in our careers.