After reading this news I felt curious to learn more about his opinion about participating and winning the prize so I prepared a few questions which he kindly replied below:
Q: What motivated you to enter the Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize? Was this the first time you have ever participated in a translation contest?
A: Yes, this was the first time I’ve entered a competition, though I’ve done an MA in translation studies and studied interpreting, so I’ve had my translations critically appraised many times.
I really just wanted to try something different. Actually, I wanted to take the opportunity to try translating in a different way – to try playing with different voices and styles, then to try editing something together to find the best possible version. But in the end I just didn’t have the time. Work was frantic over the summer, so I ended up just doing a single draft, then revising it. It was great to win, but I didn’t get to try out a new translation practice in the way I’d hoped.
Q: Would you define yourself as a literary translator? Will you add this as your specialty?
A: Not at all. I’m not yet convinced that I’ll steer my career in that direction. I really like being a commercial translator! I find enormous interest and value in translating technical, academic, legal and business documents.
But I do find the challenge of literary translation interesting, and I’ll be trying some over the next six months. Part of the prize is that Nicky Harman, a very experienced Chinese>English translator, will mentor me for that time, and help me to develop my literary translation skills.
Q: How long did it take you to translate the story and what did you find most challenging about the text?
A: I did the initial translation fairly quickly. It was about 3000 characters long, so it took about a day. I then revisited it later to edit, but I never got to do the alternative drafts I’d wanted to try.
The hardest part was the cultural references. In the first few lines there’s a reference to qigong masters, with an assumption that the reader will have read Chinese fantasy novels. The story also mentions go, a Chinese chess game. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to handle these elements.
Q: How do you think this huge achievement will affect your career? What are your future plans?
A: Just wait and see, really. I’m in the fortunate position of having a job that I very much enjoy, and the flexibility to try new things. I’ll try a little literary translation. If it suits me, I’ll work on doing more. If not, I can go back to the contracts and research papers that make up my day job.
Q: What piece of advice would you give your fellow translators regarding their profession?
A: Try new stuff! There’s always a worry about doing a new thing: can I satisfy the client? Will I make mistakes? But you’ve got to try new things to find out what you enjoy.
Q: What are the benefits of competing in this and other kinds of translation contests, beyond the obvious prize in this particular case?
A: Competitions are what you make them. Like you say, you can’t go into a competition expecting to win, so you have to be clear about what you can get out of just participating. You could use a competition as a way to try a different type of text; or to test out a new translation procedure. If it’s a competition where you get feedback on the translation, that’s a great learning opportunity.