Interview with the winner of the Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize, Phil Hand Reply

Earlier this month member Philip Hand was announced as the winner of The Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize for his translation from the Chinese of Han Dong’s story ‘The Wig’.

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.

Podcast: interview with CJ Evans on the Center for the Art of Translation Reply

Here’s a new podcast (see announcement).

For some time now, I have been flagging interesting news about features and events  organized by the Center for the Art of Translation. I contacted CJ Evans, TWO LINES managing director, to learn more about the Center and the three programs it offers.

You can listen to the interview here.

Interview highlights.

CJ Evans explains that the Center’s mission is to promote cultural understanding and dialogue through international literature and translation, with programs in publishing, teaching, and public events in the San Francisco area where it is located. He currently manages the online publication TWO LINES, which has been going on for 18 years.

The center currently has three programs underway:

TWO LINES. It is an annual anthology of international writing in translation. TWO LINES offers writing from over fifty countries, giving readers access to renowned and emerging writers from around the world. Each publication is guest-edited by translator and writers. The publication features the translation on facing pages with the original and  a short introduction (around 500 words) by the translator introducing the piece and the writer and talking about the process of translating that piece. This is a translation-focused journal.

Two Voices. It is the event series in San Francisco. The program is a reading series that features international authors and translators, presenting thought-provoking literature from around the world. These events feature renowned translators such as: Pulitzer-Winning Poet and Translator Richard Howard, Mexican writers  Carmen Boullosa and Pura Lopez Colome and top American translators of Scandinavian crime novels, Steven T. Murray (aka Reg Keeland) and Tiina Nunnally. See the full list of events here.

Poetry Inside Out. It is the Center’s literary arts program that fosters imagination and builds student’s problem solving, critical thinking, and literacy skills through the translation and composition of poetry. Although this is taking place only in San Francisco, the Center is working on the syllabus to bring the program to a national level.

Who can participate in the Center’s activities? How?

There are two ways:

  • in person: in San Francisco, translators and the public in general can attend these events which are generally free.
  • online: there are also audio recordings for all the events. Those interested in hearing other colleagues talk about the craft of translating can check the list of audio recordings here.

CJ highly recommends the one  with Lydia Davis discussing her acclaimed new translation of Madame Bovary.

Translators willing to participate can submit articles to the journal (currently the Center is working on the next anthology. The center also has volunteer positions for younger translators to work in the Center’s office.

You can get in touch with the Center through its website, Facebook and via Twitter.

I hope you liked this interview.

If you have any suggestions for possible themes for upcoming podcasts you can send them to romina at or via Twitter @ProZcom.

To listen to previous podcasts, check the podcasts tab in this blog.

Thanks for listening!