From Fact to Fiction: Translators get Creative

Published writers Ros Woolner and Alison Layland recently guided a group of translators along a path towards creative writing at a fun and lively workshop. Alison translates fiction and creative texts from German, French and Welsh into English. Ros translates marketing materials and children’s books from German and French into English.

The Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI)’s West Midlands Group organised this workshop for translators, held at the Birmingham & Midland Institute on Saturday 29th June 2019. Below, our venue for the day:

IMG_20190629_094528234_Birmingham & Midland Institute

As translators, the source text provides us with a template for our translations, but we may focus too much on the facts. Playing with words and being creative can enable us to find solutions to difficult translation issues. When it comes to creative writing, Ros emphasised that the first copy is only for you and that you should think how something sounds not just how it looks. Word games were used to help us form a sentence and then a short story. Bouts of concentrated writing were followed by some of us enthusiastically reading our attempts to the group.

We explored imagery whereby a tangible object, such as a remote control, could have an emotion or a person attached to its description, bringing an inanimate object to life. We discussed character. Alison stated that we don’t want too much open description. We need to have empathy. We were challenged to describe a character on a journey/in a waiting room through his/her observations and what happens. Then, we had to introduce a different/opposite character.

After lunch, Ros read some of her poems from her book On the Wing and Alison read an excerpt from her second novel Riverflow. It was great to hear these texts voiced by their creators.

Returning to our writing, we then had to consider the setting for the characters we had created earlier and describe a favourite place where we feel happy.

Next, we arrived at the music of language. Ros introduced this as re-writing Shakespeare one word at a time. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” uses iambic pentameter and is the first line of a sonnet. We could change words, e.g. “Shall I entice him to my caravan?” We could then write another line, repeating the rhythm and/or rhyme, using different authors as inspiration.

Finally, we selected picture prompts and were asked to write a few lines of poetry or flash fiction (150-250 words). My picture prompt was a postcard of a werewolf by the Estonian author and illustrator Priit Rea. Printed on the reverse was the quote “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, for this is the only method of study nature has given us.” This summed up the experiment of creative writing very neatly.

Ros and Alison asked us to send some of our completed writings to them so that they could make a compilation. Throughout the day, we were given examples of published prose and poetry. We were encouraged to write in any language and share anything we wished. Overall, it was a very inspiring experience.

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