Written by Katya Irwin
Meet David Warriner
When David Warriner was 11 years old, his parents did something that would forever change the trajectory of his life. Recognizing his natural skill at learning French in school, they booked a trip to Paris – and placed a guide book in his hands.
Tasked with navigating their way around the city, it was David’s first taste of translating from French to English. And something stuck.
Thirty years later, he’s racking his bookshelf with books he has translated by French and French-Canadian authors. The freelance literary translator has penned everything from toddler’s board books to graphic novels, reimagined classic fairy tales and – his passion – crime fiction.
As he types away at his keyboard from his office space at Cowork Penticton, stories are being brought to life for a universal audience of English readers. Tales of crimes and mysteries unfold. The quirky personalities of characters are exposed. Windows into far-away worlds are unveiled.
The art of translating
Good translators are not born overnight, David admits. It’s a niche profession, having honed his skills after more than 15 years’ experience in commercial translation before turning his hand to the literary craft.
“It’s not just about plugging words onto a page,” David explains. “The mark of a good translation is for readers to not even suspect it’s a translation. We strive to make sure it reads as naturally as if English were the author’s first language. We have a duty to the author, the publisher and the reader to deliver the same feelings and emotions that book conjures up in the original language.”
“There’s always an aspect of the translator’s voice that comes through in every book and every text,” he added. “That’s because language is a tool. Like a sculptor would sculpt wood, literary translation is an art, so the style comes out in translation. As a translator, you’re writing somebody else’s story in your own words, and as a result you become a co-author of the story yourself.”
Born in Yorkshire, England, David went to Oxford from 1996 to 2000, earning a degree in French and German. While teaching English in Quebec, he met his wife Sarah. They ended up moving to Victoria in 2010, where David worked for the Ministry of Education as a translator. He soon made the leap to being his own boss, and was freelancing full time by the time they moved to Penticton in 2016 with their now 10-year-old daughter Avery.
Yet, the life of a translator is notoriously invisible. Ultimately, it’s the author who’s the star of the show. Also, translating is a solitary process.
“Cowork gets me out of the house in the morning. It’s nice when you’re not staring at the same four walls all day long,” says David. “It helps me shift gears between home and work – and I like the social aspect of working in an office with other like-minded freelancers and creative professionals. I feel part of a community and it builds more structure into my workday.”
Well, he’s clearly doing something right. Recently, David’s translation of Quebec author Roxanne Bouchard’s literary mystery We Were the Salt of the Sea was shortlisted for an award deemed the ‘Oscars of translation’ in the U.K. In fact, he claimed runner-up for the 2019 Scott Moncrieff Prize, awarded by the U.K. Society of Authors.
“The book really resonated with me – not just the crime aspect, but also the nautical flavour and the sheer poetry of the writing. It’s a beautiful book. It’s as much of a love story and an ode to sea as it’s a crime fiction novel, so it really checked a lot of boxes for me,” said David.
“To receive runner-up for my first full-length literary translation was a real honour.”
Look up his books
You’ll find many of these books at the Penticton Library. You can also purchase them on Amazon or at major chains including Indigo/Coles. Tip: Blackwells in the U.K. offers free shipping and Canadian pricing. Also, if you don’t see the books on the shelf, don’t be afraid to ask the librarian to order it in!
Did you know?
At a typical rate of 2,000 words a day, it can take a solid two to three months to translate a novel. That’s before the editing process even starts!
There have been dozens of English translations from the Ancient Greek of Homer’s The Odyssey since the 16th century, but the first and only woman to translate this classic text (so far) was Emily Wilson, in 2017.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina have also been translated from Russian into English multiple times. Husband and wife translator duo Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have translated both.
Some famous literary translations:
Fun fact! Pinocchio, written by Italian Carlo Collodi, was translated into 260 languages.
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