Ceri Shaw



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The Art of Translation - An Interview with Susan Walton

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By: Ceri Shaw
Posted in: Book News

Susan Walton

AmeriCymru: Hi Sue and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce yourself and your work for our readers? 

Sue: Hello! It’s a pleasure to be here. ‘Here’ for me is near Porthmadog in North Wales. However, I lived near Aberystwyth in Mid-Wales until I was ten years old, and then lived on Anglesey (Ynys Môn) until my early twenties. 

I currently work as a proofreader and editor of English, and as a Welsh-to-English literary translator. But I didn’t start off that way! 

After school I trained as a cartographer, and then worked drawing maps by hand (that’s how old I am) for various local authorities. I went to university as a mature student, but that still didn’t get me any closer to doing what I do now – my degree is in a science subject. 

By my mid-forties I had some health issues that meant that working from home and at my own pace would be better for me than working in an office, which is what I was doing at the time. I decided to retrain as a proofreader and work freelance, which is what I do now. 

AmeriCymru: What is your Welsh language background? 

Sue: I grew up in Wales, but within a monoglot English family that was culturally English and (mostly) English language social settings. I had to do compulsory Welsh at school, but back when I was at school there wasn’t the same emphasis on the language as there is now, and I failed my Welsh O Level exam at 16. And that was that, or so I thought then. 

After realising that I’d need Welsh to work in the public sector in North Wales, and after many evening classes, I got my Welsh O Level at twenty-seven years of age. I secured a job with the Snowdonia National Park (now Eryri National Park), which meant I moved to live in a very culturally Welsh area. More adult Welsh classes, and just being sunk in a Welsh community, means that I’m now a fluent speaker and comprehender, a reasonably fluent reader, and an adequate writer of emails. 

AmeriCymru: How did you become involved in translation work? 

Sue: Through my proofreading work I was in contact with publishing houses in Wales, and was asked by Myrddin ap Dafydd at the publisher Gwasg Carreg Gwalch to translate poetry selections for a bilingual book called  Hud a Lledrith Llŷn / Llŷn a Magical Place  into English. My Welsh reading skills were still quite shaky at this point. (As an aside: I later learned that being asked to translate literature is quite rare; mostly translators pitch books they think would work in translation to publishers.) 

Since then, I’ve translated another thirteen books for Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, including eight novels for older children. Through doing this my reading skills have improved. I also took the basic Welsh-to-English translation test to qualify for membership of the Cymdeithas Cyfieithwyr Cymru (the association of Welsh translators and interpreters), although I’m no longer a member. 

In 2020 I was the recipient of a mentoring award that was jointly funded by Literature Wales, Wales Literature Exchange, and the UK’s National Centre for Writing. This helped me to expand into translating adult literary fiction, and the outcome is my first translation of a novel for adults,  This House , which was published by 3TimesRebel Press in March 2024. (AmeriCymru readers may be pleased to see that it’s available as an ebook from Amazon.) 

Sian Northey is the author of the original novel, which is called  Yn y Tŷ Hwn . She and I are busy on the promotional trail at the moment as a bit of a double act

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AmeriCymru: Where is the best place to go online for anyone seeking a wide selection of Welsh language children's books? 

Sue: The  Gwales  website, which is part of the Books Council for Wales, is a good place to start. Go to ‘Browse by Category’ and you’ll get a list divided into fiction and non-fiction, and by age groupings. However, you should be aware that some of the books listed are adaptations into Welsh of English books, such as those by David Walliams. 

AmeriCymru: You have translated many Welsh language children's books. Any favorites that you would particularly like to mention? 

Sue: The children’s books I’ve translated are by Myrddin ap Dafydd. They are all rollicking adventure stories, as well as providing a fun way of teaching aspects of Welsh history (and other lessons). I think he has done an especially good job with  The Moon is Red Faster than the Swords  and  Fleeing the Fascists . All the novels are exciting, but what these three have in common is particularly gripping scenes of physical jeopardy. 

I also learned a lot by translating them and several of them introduced me to unfamiliar parts of Wales. I try and make a point of visiting the locations where the stories are set. I do this in my own time, of course, and this has made for some interesting trips. I also feel that it helps with the translation process if I have the lie of the land in my head. (Remember, I’m a geographer and cartographer at heart!). 

AmeriCymru: Are you working on any translation projects at the moment? 

Sue: I have just started on my next children’s novel translation for Gwasg Carreg Gwalch. The Welsh version will be out in May – just in time for the Urdd National Eisteddfod – with the title  Rhedyn, Merlyn y Mawn . I guess the English version will be published later this year, or early next. 

Not a current project, but I’d like to translate another of Sian Northey’s novels:  Perthyn . But I guess we need to see how successful  This House  turns out to be before I can consider pitching  Perthyn . I blogged about my year of being mentored while writing  This House , and about the subsequent search for a publisher. If you wish to see whether my  Perthyn  dream comes to fruition, I’m still posting on that  blog  every six months or so. 

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru? 

Sue: If you read any of my translations, I hope you enjoy them!