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Talk to the Translator – Rachel Ward – German to English

  • Submitted: 15th August 2019

Translators – word wizards behind the scenes…

How does a novel get translated from one language into another? What is the process involved and how does a translator overcome the obvious challenges? How hard is translating novels compared to other pieces of work? And what about communicating with the original author?

Enter Rachel Ward – translator and word wizard from German to English…

rachel ward

BookTrail the locations in Rachel’s translated novels!

How long does it take to translate a novel on average?

I’m usually working on more than one project at a time, so it’s hard to say exactly. The first draft of Beton Rouge was done over about 4 months, and then there was another 3 months or so of redrafting, editing, polishing and tinkering about with it.

Beton Rouge

Do you read it all first and then start?

With a novel I normally read it first. That’s not necessarily the same for non-fiction though, and I recently translated a thriller where for time reasons I just launched straight into it – it gave the translation a sense of urgency because I wanted to know what happened. I did have to skim through to the end when I got too desperate to know how it turned out though!

Blue Night

Any research needed or talk to the author?

Loads of research. One day recently, I noted that I’d been looking up  lift/elevator construction, the language of flowers, amniotic band syndrome, a 16th century alchemist, a 20th century clairvoyant, and the English names of heaps of archives in Poland… although those were for three different projects. And when I get to the end of a project there are normally lots of questions back and forth to the author until we are happy that things are right.

BookTrail the locations in Rachel’s translated novels!



What’s the best bit about translating a book?

There’s a real sense of achievement in cracking some tricky conundrum when the two languages don’t match up, and it’s also lovely when the words just flow. But, really, the best bit is if reviews show that readers have a similar reaction to the translation that I had to the original, because that means I’ve done what I set out to achieve.

The worst?

When nothing seems to be working and you start to doubt yourself.

Any funny stories?

Part of the research for Beton Rouge involved sending Simone gifs via Twitter to see which movement was closest to the one she describes in the book – that was fun.

Beton Rouge

BookTrail the locations in Rachel’s translated novels!


Where do you work and how?

I work from home. Recently I’ve been translating serious academic books on difficult subjects, so I’ve tried to have a burst of focused attention on those in the mornings, then work on more enjoyable projects in the afternoons, such as Blue Night and Beton Rouge, or a children’s book full of puns. Then once my sons are home from school, the noise level in the house is often too high for concentration, so that’s my time for admin and suchlike. I usually do a fairly fast first draft and highlight all the tricky parts to come back to. I like to bounce ideas around with other translators as well as with people who are concentrating only on the English. With Simone’s books, the voice is really important, so I read them aloud to myself to make sure that it flows.

BookTrail the locations in Rachel’s translated novels!

Blue Night

Translator tips for snacks to enjoy when working – or coffee etc?

I try not to snack while I’m working, but I do run on coffee, like a lot of translators.

Which other books have you worked on?

My first published translations were for young adults – Traitor by Gudrun Pausewang and Red Rage by Brigitte Blobel. I have also translated a lot of little illustrated non-fiction books: guide books, potted histories, mini biographies etc, for a publisher in Prague, and I’ve done academic books on human rights and social history for OUP. Before Blue Night, my first foray into crime fiction was with Amelia Ellis’s Nea Fox series, and I’ve just finished two children’s books for Andersen Press. Both are about illustrated by Axel Scheffler of Gruffalo fame, so that’s very exciting: Zippel, the Little Keyhole Ghost by Alex Rühle, and The Train Mouse by Uwe Timm.


Which other languages?

I also translate from French sometimes, and I have smatterings of Spanish, Greek and Dutch.

emil and the detectives

Any book you would love to translate?

Lots! There’s a crime series by Elisabeth Herrmann, a beautiful French picture book, and lots of fun middle grade children’s books from German, if any publishers happen to be reading… I also sometimes dream about retranslating Emil and the Detectives to make it sound less like it was written by Enid Blyton.


Do you read for fun in German? Any books to recommend?

Yes. As well as the books I mentioned above, I like Walter Moers’  fantasy books, Petra Oelker’s historical crime fiction and Kerstin Gier’s “Mums’ Mafia” series.


Thanks Rachel. A very fascinating insight!


BookTrail Boarding Pass: Beton Rouge and Blue Night

Twitter: @FwdTranslations  Web: www.forwardtranslations.co.uk


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