Nathalie Nédélec-Courtès – translator of the month, September 2010
Jonathan Goldberg (himself a professional translator) interviews Nathalie Nédélec-Courtès, an independent literary translator, who lives in Brittany. She translates from Spanish and English into French. Nathalie’s favourite fields are children’s and teenage novels, historical novels, thrillers, fantasy, comics and picture books. She works for French-language publishers and is a member of the ATLF (Association des Traducteurs Littéraires de France), ACETT (Sección Autónoma de Traductores de Libros) and the Society of Authors.
After working for several years as a technical translator, Nathalie translated her first literary work in 2008. Outside of her profession, about which she is passionate, she spends most of her time with her family. It goes without saying that she adores reading, but she also loves music, baking, bicycle riding, studying Italian and Russian. There are many other hobbies in which Nathalie hopes to engage one day when she has the time.
Nathalie’s resume (CV) appears below.
Jonathan: How did you become a literary translator?
Nathalie: I have a Maîtrise (the equivalent of a Master's Degree) in English that I obtained thanks to the Erasmus European Programme. There is in fact a Post-graduate degree in Literary Translation. I am sorry I was unaware of its existence when I was a student. I began my career teaching French and English for several years in Spain. I then became a technical translator at a French enterprise. It did not take me long to realize that that was not my cup of tea. I took an extended maternity leave for six years to raise my four children. I then decided to work as a freelance with an “umbrella company”. After translating a few documents that were not particularly interesting, I was lucky enough to land a contract with a publisher of comics. That motivated me to try my hand at literary translation.
Jonathan: How were you able to break into the closed world of publishing?
Nathalie: One publisher gave me to understand that if I wanted to work with her, I would have to offer her an unpublished work. I began to look for foreign titles that had not yet been translated into French and that might be of interest to her. I discovered several, but they did not match her niche market. I was able, however, to have them sold to other publishers who assigned the translation of these works to me. So I am grateful to that publisher, because without her my career might still not have taken off. Incidentally, I still have some unpublished foreign novels that I can offer to publishers: five titles for children and adolescents, as well as three adult titles. They make fascinating reading and are modern in style. I believe that French readers would enjoy them very much, and I'd love to have the opportunity to translate them.
Jonathan: Doesn’t your work entail a solitary life-style?
Nathalie: It is true that I am seated at my computer throughout the day. My only contact with my colleagues is via the Internet. But I have always liked sitting at a computer and typing away. The advantage that this profession offers me is that it allows me to choose my own working hours and to organize my family life to my own convenience. Ideally, of course, one should be able to engage in social activities outside of one’s profession. At the moment I am involved, as a volunteer, in a Spanish-English learning project for children aged 6 to 11 years.
Jonathan: What is it about your work that you love so much?
Nathalie: I love reading, studying languages and foreign cultures. Even when I was a teenager, I already dreamed of living abroad. I had the opportunity to make that dream come true: I studied and worked in Ireland, England and Spain. Those stints have left me with fond memories. But as much as I love foreign languages, I love my mother tongue above all. Consequently I enjoy writing in French, finding the mot juste. Moreover, this profession enables me not only to enrich my linguistic knowledge, but also to discover other fields of endeavour, such as History, when, for example, I am working on an historical novel. It’s fascinating.
Jonathan: Do you manage to make a living from translating?
Nathalie: Up till now I have not, but I’m hopeful, because I have more and more new contracts. I even have several titles in the pipeline for 2011 and 2012. I assume that if you are on your own, with no other source of revenue, it must be impossible to launch your career. In fact, although we sometimes receive a percentage of the sum at the time of signing contracts, our income is nevertheless precarious. In my case, I have been promised contracts until 2012, but none has yet been signed. The uncertainty definitely constitutes the downside of the profession. Nevertheless, I have had the good fortune to be able to practice the profession that I love. I would not choose any other.