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The Angel

Translating poetry is, in my opinion, the ultimate translation exercise, and I like to try my hand at it from time to time, just as a musician practises scales or a dancer stretches to keep the body supple. It is also a lot of fun, and a different way to enjoy and appreciate good poetry. Below is my recent attempt at translating Mikhail Lermontov’s poem ‘Ангел’ [The Angel].

Lermontov was one of the first writers I read when I began studying Russian literature. His novella ‘A Hero of Our Time’ and a book of his poetry sent to me by a penfriend made me fall in love with the Russian language and its literature, long before I visited Russia.

What appeals most to me about Lermontov’s poetry is its apparently effortless lyricism and romanticism. The rhyme and rhythm seem to fall naturally under the tongue which, of course, presented a challenge when trying to reflect this in the translation. The original poem flows as smoothly as the angel flying through the sky, so my task was to find a way to do the same in English whilst preserving the simplicity, almost innocence, of Lermontov’s language.

To translate the poem in blank verse would have changed it completely, potentially losing its musicality, so I chose to produce a rhyming version with a similar feel, although the Russian language lends itself to rhyme quite naturally, as word endings tend to follow similar patterns, such as declensions of adjectives and nouns, or verb conjugations. Reading the translation aloud helped, as did listening to various recordings of actors reciting the original Russian poem. I may not have achieved anything quite so beautiful as Lermontov’s creation, but I did eventually settle on a version that I felt reasonably comfortable with in spoken and written form. Nevertheless, there must be many more variations in existence, and I would welcome any recommendations of particularly good ones.


The Angel

M.Yu. Lermontov

An angel sang softly as he did fly

Far across the midnight sky;

And the moon, the stars and the clouds in a throng

Heeded that sacred song.


He sang of the blessedness of spirits without sin

In heaven’s gardens, beneath the boughs therein;

To God almighty his melody he did raise,

Sincere and unfeigned his praise.


A young soul in his arms he bore

For a world of tears and sorrow sore,

And in that young soul his song was secured –

Wordless, yet alive, it endured.


For a long time in the world it languished,

While for marvels it wished;

But earth could not replace with its tedious sounds

The music with which heaven abounds.



 М.Ю. Лермонтов

 По небу полуночи ангел летел
И тихую песню он пел;
И месяц, и звезды, и тучи толпой
Внимали той песне святой.

Он пел о блаженстве безгрешных духов
Под кущами райских садов;
О Боге великом он пел, и хвала
Его непритворна была.

Он душу младую в объятиях нес
Для мира печали и слез,
И звук его песни в душе молодой
Остался — без слов, но живой.

И долго на свете томилась она,
Желанием чудным полна;
И звуков небес заменить не могли
Ей скучные песни земли.



Avana. The Mages’ Quest

The second book in Annie Lavigne’s Avana trilogy is now available in English.

Translating the first book in the series was such a joy that I jumped at the opportunity to work on the second part. In The Mages’ Quest, Avana is now a young woman and well aware of the ever-present struggle between the Darkness and the Light. As the daughter of Lug, the god of the Light, and Ess Enchenn, an evil sorceress, she is the very embodiment of this struggle and determined to use this to help her people to find peace. The inhabitants of the Land of Erin will only survive if the Ulaid and the Connachta can reconcile their differences and join forces to fight the Fomorians from the Underworld.

Meanwhile, three druid mages are embarking on a quest to find the essences of the four elements. When these are joined together to form the Circle of the Elements, the forces of Darkness will be defeated. This is no simple task, though, and the mages must first transform their inner selves before they can help others.

Although Avana and the mages begin from different points of departure, their missions have the same ultimate goal, and Destiny will cause their paths to cross along the way. Magic, love and determination clash with fear, insecurity and weakness as the characters search for enlightenment in the midst of the strange, noxious mist which has descended upon the Emerald Isle.

Highly recommended for YA readers and anyone who enjoys a good fantasy story with a human element.

The Mages' Quest (Avana, book 2) by [Annie Lavigne]

International Translation Day

To mark International Translation Day my ‘word of the week’ on my Facebook page is a tribute to St Jerome whose feast also falls on 30th September:


Word of the week: Vulgate


30th September is International Translation Day. The reason for the choice of date is that it is also the feast day of St Jerome, patron saint of translators. St Jerome (born Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus) was a prolific religious writer and scholar, best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin. This Latin version, known as the Vulgate, was completed in 405 AD and remained the official Latin Bible of the Catholic Church until 1979 when the ‘Neo Vulgate’ version was promulgated by John Paul II in response to more recent studies of the Hebrew and Greek texts. After finishing his translation of the Bible, Jerome spent the remaining 15 years of his life writing commentaries on various books of the Bible.

‘Vulgate’ sounds rather like ‘vulgar’ and both words originate from the same root. ‘Vulgus’ is the Latin term for the mass of the people, commoners, or the general rabble. The ‘Vulgate’ Bible was intended for ordinary or common people to read, in what was then an international scholarly language, and more widely understood than the less well-known Hebrew and Greek. Meanwhile, if you act in a vulgar way, you are being common and unrefined, or a member of the rabble.

Happy International Translation Day! С международным днём перевода!


(For more ‘words of the week’ see: )


Editing Fiction

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**UPDATE: Having been granted a royal charter,  in March 2020 the SfEP became the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, or CIEP. **


Having already been involved in the editing of a few books and stories by various authors, and having enjoyed the process very much, I have recently begun to explore the world of editing on a more formal basis. First of all, I joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and am finding it to be an active, supportive community. I then followed this by completing the SfEP’s ‘Introduction to Fiction Editing’ course.

Although many of the areas covered by the course inevitably also crop up whilst working on a translation, it was an excellent opportunity to take some time to consider these points and the approaches to them in more detail. Aspects such as plot, voice, point of view, dialogue, style, language and character are all integral parts of the task of translating a work of fiction, but the editing course presented them in isolation, bringing the author’s craft into sharper focus, rather than viewing it through the usual prism of a different language.

As a result of this training, I realised that I have become an even more critical reader than before, although I mean this in a positive sense. It has helped me to appreciate literature more fully, deepening the already great pleasure of reading a good book. In addition, it has highlighted further ways in which I can help writers to fine-tune their work to make the best possible impression on their readers. As an added bonus, it has given me new ideas and methods to try out in my own writing.

It is always advisable for any author to have a manuscript checked by an editor before submitting it to an agent or publisher, or prior to embarking on self-publishing. Even the most experienced writers can benefit from an impartial second opinion. There are several levels of service I can offer, from a short critique to a thorough copy-edit, to help you prepare your text for the next step. If you have written a story or book in English and would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact me to discuss your requirements.  


Avana. The Druid’s Prophecy.

I am very excited to share news of Annie Lavigne’s newly published book ‘Avana. The Druid’s Prophecy.’

Inspired by Celtic folklore, ‘The Druid’s Prophecy’ is the story of a young Ulaid girl in ancient Ireland. Although half-goddess, half-mortal, she is unaware of the secret of her birth as she grows up under the care of Amorgen, the Great Druid. Avana’s journey from small child to young woman takes her on many adventures as she gradually comes to know herself. Torn between a yearning for knowledge of the Ancient Faith and the evil influence of the Shadows, Avana struggles to find the right path towards her true destiny. Light clashes with Darkness, while love and friendship battle with hatred and fear in this compelling coming-of-age saga which is the first novel in a trilogy.

It has been an absolute delight to work with Annie on the English version of this great story, and I have travelled on a journey of my own through traditional Irish mythology and the colourful world of fantasy. Highly recommended for age 16+ lovers of fantasy with a dash of romance!

Literary London

Last week I went on a whirlwind trip around London for a selection of literature-related events, in particular the London Book Fair and the Translators’ Association annual Translation Symposium. I listened to a wealth of words of wisdom and encouragement from eminent translators, authors and publishing professionals, and chatted with so many people who had all come together to celebrate a common love of literature. To list every event I attended and to relate all my interesting conversations would take far too long, so here are just a few of the main impressions I came away with.

First of all, despite the looming cloud of Brexit and the fact that the Translation Symposium took place in Europe House just across the road from crowds of demonstrators and TV crews outside the Houses of Parliament, literary translators remain a positive bunch. Everyone was clearly motivated by an irrepressible passion for sharing good literature across political, geographical and cultural borders no matter what. The Literary Translation Centre at the London Book Fair, which seems to grow with every passing year, as well as LBF’s decision to showcase literary translation by nominating a representative translator for each show (Jeremy Tiang was this year’s inaugural translator) bears witness to this.

The LBF seminar guide referred to authors as ‘central to our business’ and, of course, without authors, the world of literature would simply not exist. Fittingly, a large area was set aside for a packed schedule of author events. In the same guide, the tag-line for the Literary Translation Centre was ‘Making words travel’. Without translators, literature would remain hidden away in its own cultural ‘slot’ where no-one else can see it.

There was much discussion about self-publishing, which is becoming increasingly popular in our modern, digital era. Although it gives more control to the author, it also requires a range of additional skills, and demand for related services has increased accordingly, including editing, cover design, marketing, financial advice, and much more. There are all kinds of assistance available, both formally from professional bodies, and informally from friendly colleagues happy to share their own experiences.

Now I’m back at home in a much calmer Lincolnshire, it’s time to look through my notes, develop some of the ideas that I picked up, and put some of the things I learned into practice!


Word of the week

Because translation is all about words, I have started a ‘word of the week’ post on my Facebook page. The process of translating something from one language into another is not merely a case of systematically replacing each word with its equivalent in another language. Even machine translation has moved on from there to a certain extent, although it still has a long way to go (not surprisingly this is a hugely controversial subject in the translation community, so I will discuss it more fully in a future post).

A translator, especially in the field of literary translation, must have a ‘feel’ for both languages – the language of the original text (the ‘source’ language) and that of the translated version (the ‘target’ language. This deeper understanding of language can only be acquired by using the language as much as possible, for example by living in a country where it is spoken, being immersed in its culture, talking with other speakers of the language, reading, watching TV and films, listening to the spoken word and songs, and so on. Then, with experience, you begin to realise that no words are absolute equivalents: they all have their own nuances, cultural backgrounds and connotations, variation in usage etc., so that every word becomes a subject in itself.

As a translator, I work with words all the time, juggling them and trying to find the best fit into the great crossword that is the translated text. As a result, I encounter so many fascinating words and am constantly adding to my vocabulary as well as learning new things about words I thought I already knew. So, I decided I would choose just one word each week – often Russian, but also English, French, or any other language – and share what I have discovered along the way. There are so many words in the world, and how they are used is changing all the time, so there will be plenty of material to keep me going for a lifetime of learning!

This week I have picked a rather weighty word to kick things off: Cудьба [sud’ba], meaning ‘fate’, ‘destiny’, or perhaps something else…