French Book Week: BCLT Summer School 2020 – Meet the French Translators

The BCLT Summer School is always a very enjoyable and intellectually stimulating week, and I find that as a workshop leader I learn at least as much as my participants. One of the great things I learned my first time was how funny translation can be when it’s not a solitary pursuit – who knew that deliberating between three or four synonyms could produce so much laughter! The author with whom my group will be working this year is the award-winning Swiss writer Pascale Kramer, and it will be inspiring for the whole group to have her insights into her emotionally intelligent and finely crafted writing. The Summer School has had to go online this year which, of course, has its downsides but it has opened up the event to people who would never normally be able to attend. Perhaps because of this, the 2020 French group is exceptionally strong and I’m looking forward to a different experience: not so much teaching as gently steering an exciting collaborative process.

by Adriana Hunter

The 2020 Swiss-French translation workshop is being funded by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Ten translators will spend the week working together on Pascale Kramer’s novel Une Famille, together with translator and workshop leader Adriana Hunter and Pascale herself. Find out more about the participating translators below:

Eve Anderson

Eve Anderson, photo by Pierre Anderson

I used to think that translation was second nature to me since I grew up bilingually, but I have lately discovered that translation, literary or otherwise, demands far more than being multilingual and that it actually involves theory(!), a phenomenon I came face to face with through an MA in Translation. More importantly, what I love about literary translation is what happens to my brain in the process, a weirdly pleasant double vision, a beautifully synchronised word-dance as they morph from one language to the other, along with the exaltation derived from a perfectly placed semi-colon!

Being at the embryonic stage of this new journey, I applied to the BCLT in the hope of meeting kindred spirits, sharing a passion, tapping into the wealth of experience on offer, and feeling part of a community.

I look forward to being led by Adriana Hunter. My favourite Hunter phrases are, “Right: now you have to tighten it!” and, “You get to the stage where you have to let go of the source text!”

One author I am particular keen to translate is Marie Sizun. I like her voice; I get it. Adriana Hunter has translated one of her works, Le père de la petite (Her Father’s Daughter), so it is a tough act to follow! I am working on Ne quittez pas ! [Hold the Line!] in the hope it will lead somewhere.

Sam Ferguson

Sam Ferguson, photo by Sam Ferguson

I have approached translation work from an academic background in the study of French literature. My research focuses on forms of life writing such as autobiography and the diary. I have a particular interest in the works of André Gide and Roland Barthes, two writers who turned their hand to many different genres of writing – or created new genres – and devoted a lot of thought to the nature of literature itself. I think that Barthes’s Le Plaisir du texte, which I first encountered many years ago now, remains the most inspiring work that I have read. 

Owing to my background I spend a lot of my time translating academic work in the arts and humanities, but would like to extend my translation work into texts at the boundaries between the literary and the scholarly, those that combine elements such as the essay, fiction, testimony or autobiography. I can’t wait to meet more of my fellow translators at the BCLT Summer School this year, and particularly to learn from Adriana Hunter, as a translator who has translated works by autofictional writers such as Amélie Nothomb, Frédéric Beigbeder and Camille Laurens. I’m very grateful to Pro Helvetia for supporting the Summer School, and placing a welcome emphasis on Francophone writing connected to Switzerland. As a specialist in life writing it has always interested me that two hugely influential figures in this area are Swiss: Rousseau, as a founding figure of autobiography, and Henri-Frédéric Amiel, who plays a comparable role for the diary.

Clare Gaunt

Clare Gaunt, photo by Francisco Rodríguez Castillo

My mum used to leave us in the local library while she did the Saturday morning shop. I had a soft spot for Asterix (thanks Anthea Bell) and could get through about six albums a morning. I went on to read English at Cambridge before trying my hand at cultural politics in Brussels, before moving to Barcelona, where I realised that my mum’s insistence on being able to speak and spell properly (she was a teacher) had combined with my itinerant life and turned me into a translator.

I now live in the South of France and still try to help people understand each other. Although I have translated and edited a couple of non-fiction publications and several film scripts, I have yet to translate a novel or work with a novelist, which is why I am really looking forward to the BCLT Summer School.

Dany Laferrière’s L’Art presque perdu de ne rien faire [The Nearly Lost Art of Doing Nothing], which he describes as a ‘novel of ideas’, is the first book I want to translate. The world was just forced to change pace and it seems like an opportune moment to listen to someone who talks of the speed of our former urban life ‘making any kind of transformation impossible’ [Nulle transformation n’est possible dans de pareilles conditions]. He allows readers to luxuriate in the accuracy that slow, and therefore close observation affords.

I love his extraordinary range of registers. He describes the experience of wandering through the empty Louvre as akin to the pleasure and freedom of an unemployed person who has just paid their rent. He lauds the empowerment of the Shulamite in the Song of Songs over more placid sleeping beauties and proudly deploys the ‘langage grossier d’un people en errance continuelle’ [coarse language of a people continuously on the move], which is that of the Old Testament.

Dany Laferrière is the first Haitian and second black member of the Académie Française. He won the Prix Medicis 2009 for L’Enigme du retour [published in English in 2011 as The Return]. He writes with gentle anger and fierce humility. He’s worth reading.

Alyssa Ollivier-Tabukashvili

Alyssa Olliver-Tabukashvili, photo by Sharleen Ollivier-Tabukashvili]

I am an emerging literary translator primarily focusing on French-language postcolonial writing from Algeria. In 2019 I completed the MA in Literary Translation at UEA, writing a dissertation titled ‘Translating to Disturb the West with a translation of Azouz Begag’s Les chiens aussi’. I adore the writings of Begag and Yasmina Khadra, for the incredible ways they use the French language for humour and to discuss social and political issues stemming from colonialism. The BCLT Summer School will be the perfect stepping-stone after having finished the MALT, onto, hopefully, a PhD in Literary Translation. I am looking forward to having an intensive experience of translating literature with a group that shares my fervour for bringing international literature into English, or vice versa. This will be my first exploration of Swiss literature; I cannot wait to discover Pascale Kramer’s writing and the ideas that she draws upon within it. (Twitter: @AlyssaOllivierT)

Emma Page

Emma Page, photo by George Barnes

I’ve been interested in literary translation since high school, when I was assigned the same short story for a Spanish class and (in translation) for an English class. French classes in the US are very France-centric, so when I studied abroad in Montreal during university, I was delighted to discover the variety of Francophone literatures and cultures that exist around the world. I’m particularly interested in stories about migration and Caribbean Francophone writing, and my translation of Wandering Memory (Mémoire errante) by Haitian writer Jan J. Dominique is forthcoming from University of Virginia press. My favourite French-language book from the past year was Mur Méditerranée by Louis-Philippe Dalembert. It’s a nuanced, compelling novel about four very different women who cross the Mediterranean in search of a better life. I applied to the BCLT Summer School because I’m always looking for new opportunities to meet and have discussions with other translators. It’s the best way to learn and grow as a translator myself. I’m also really looking forward to learning more about Swiss literature, because it’s something to which I’ve had very little exposure. (Website:

Akhila Phadnis

Growing up in a multilingual family, translation has always been an integral part of my life, being a basic necessity for communicating with various family members! 

I ultimately ended up with a masters in Translation Studies and my first project was a French sociologist’s study of mental health in India, giving me an excellent introduction to how translation must bridge not only language but, sometimes, cultural differences whose very expression depends on the history of the language being used. For example, certain French descriptions of Indian society were much more succinct in English, as India’s colonial association with the language meant that many of these concepts already existed in Indian/UK English. 

I work primarily as an academic translator and while I love my work, almost all texts I’ve worked on (as well as books I read for pleasure) have come from France.  So I’m doubly excited for July 2020 – with French Book Week taking place so close to the Summer School, and with the French group being led by Pascale Kramer (whose perspective as a writer as well as her association with the larger Francophone literary world will make this a truly unique workshop!)  I’m looking forward to a fortnight of exploring Francophone worlds beyond France, both as a reader and as a translator exploring the challenges and creative possibilities they offer!

Susan Pickford

Susan Pickford, photo by Fred Perrot

I’ve been living in France for over 20 years and have been translating since 2001. I specialise in art and academic translation and am very excited to learn more about making the leap to the literary side. My absolute favourite writer is the contemporary author Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès, who writes fabulous mashups of Jules Verne, Thomas Mann, and a whole raft of other influences. Sounds messy, but it’s such fun to read. I’m also an advocate for translating more genre fiction – crime, sci-fi, chick lit, you name it, I’ll read it!

Margaret Rigaud

Margaret Rigaud, photo by Gary Walkow

I was born and grew up in France in a bilingual family, before moving to the UK when I was 21. I worked as a Lecturer in French at Christ’s College Cambridge for nine years before deciding to take the plunge and try to forge a career as a literary translator.  I have mostly translated scholarly works (including for the Swiss publisher Markus Haller) and works from both French into English and English into French. After years as a closet translator of poetry and prose fiction, I have decided to start integrating more strictly literary texts into my professional activity. The BCLT seemed the perfect first step: what could be more fun than spending a week translating Pascale Kramer’s quietly beautiful prose with Adriana Hunter and a team of others? I am very much looking forward to honing my skills and learning some tips about the practicalities of getting translated literary texts into print.

Category: Literally SwissLS TranslatorsFrench Book Week


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