Oneworld: What book do you wish you had translated?
K.E. Semmel: Nordkraft by Jakob Ejersbo
OW: Can you send us a photo of your bookshelf?
OW: What’s your biggest literary pet peeve?
KS: Novels with writers as protagonists.
OW: Is there a piece of translating advice that has stuck with you?
KS: A translator from Russian once told me how she makes 4 passes through a text. The first pass was just to get the words down on the page, even if in a rough state. With each successive draft the book gets tighter. By the fourth and final pass the text is clean and ready to go. That stuck with me because it works well with my temperament. During the first pass I’m blazing through trying to get the words down, making sure I keep my forward momentum, so that I can have a document to work with. My favourite part of translation comes in the fourth pass, when I’m really able to dig around in the English, crafting and shaping.
OW: What book have you read over and over again?
KS: I rarely read books more than once (apart from the ones I translate). The only book I’ve re-read—and I would read it again—is James Dickey’s Deliverance. I love the prose and the pacing of that story. It’s probably my favourite American novel.