The trouble of being a translator…

For four months now, I have been translating Australian writer Ann Clancy’s historical romance novel “Rebel Girl“, in order to publish it as a Chinese e-book. This is a great book, full of thrilling action, tender loving relationships, and the courageous determination of a young women to right the wrongs of the colonial South Australian justice system. It is indeed a pleasure to translate this book, knowing that readers in the Chinese-speaking world will love this kind of work.

However, the trouble of being a translator — particularly one who also aspires to become a writer herself — is the constantly nagging notion of “When are you going to write some of your own stuff?” Being a translator is like sailing down a river, which enables you to view the scenery on both banks. Unless you know where you are going to land, on either riverbank, it is likely that you will be floating forever. Forever wandering and wondering what kind of life you will lead.

Certainly a translator cannot survivor on other people’s works forever. Translating someone’s book inspires, encourages and urges you to do something for yourself. It glares and yells at you, sometimes also trying to kick (and bite) you bottom, until you stand up and start pursuing that literary goal that appears to be always out of your reach. “Do something!” It screams out loud. “You are not useless. If you can convey someone else’s voice this well, surely you can do the same, or even better, for your own voice!”

So the translator desperately tries to finish her work and start writing… It is like trying to move a mountain, one shovel at a time. The trouble of being a translator is that sometimes it brings in some pocket-money, when writing does not. Hence you tend to want to survive, which is easy, instead of living the kind of life you really want, which can be extremely hard. “How about earning a fair bit and then giving it up, so that you can dedicate all your time to doing some writing?” you ask. That sounds like a good idea.

But the trouble of being a translator is that you have a good eye, as well as a passion for good literary works. Which makes it hard for you to leave other people’s books alone. You read a good book and say to yourself: “This is it! I have to translate and introduce this book to the Chinese readers! They will definitely love it!” So once more you plunge yourself into that bottomless sea, wondering on your way down when you will surface again. Meanwhile, that great piece of writing you always want to do sits in a corner on your desk (or a folder in your computer), again abandoned and forgotten, like a beached whale having difficulty breathing…

Ah, the trouble of being a translator!


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