Interview with Marlaine Delargy

We welcome translator Marlaine Delargy to TheCrimeHouse and this interview!  Marlaine has among other things translated Johan Theorin and Åsa Larsson´s books from Swedish to English.

Can you tell us shortly about your background? What kind of education do you have? How did you become a translator? And why do you know Swedish?

I did a degree in Swedish and German at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, then worked in Sweden for a year. Laurie Thompson, who has translated many Swedish novels including several by Henning Mankell, Håkan Nesser, Åke Edwardson and Mikael Niemi, was my tutor in Aberystwyth, and when he started the journal Swedish Book Review in 1983, he asked me if I would like to do some translation.

I taught German in secondary schools in England from 1986 – 2004, and didn’t do a great deal of translating during that period, because it’s difficult to meet deadlines when you have a demanding full-time job. However, when I gave up teaching in 2004, I was lucky enough to be able to pick up the translation again, and have gradually built up a sound reputation.


How did you get the job translating Åsa Larsson and Johan Theorin?

Laurie again – he recommended me to Bonnier Group Agency, and I translated extracts from several novels for them. One of the first things I did was Åsa Larsson’s Solstorm, and when the book was sold to Random House New York, they asked me to translate not only that novel, but also the next two. The same thing happened with Johan Theorin – I translated an extract from Skumtimmen, and was lucky enough to be asked to translate that novel and Nattfåk. I’ve just sent the translation of his third novel, Blodläge, off to the publisher – it will be out in April next year.


What do you tink are the biggest differences between the English and the Swedish language?

That’s a difficult question! English tends to use more words, for one thing – an English translation is usually about one third longer than the Swedish original. And often there are many alternatives in English to one Swedish word, and it’s a question of picking the right one for the context.


Since you have just finished translating Johan Theorins Blodläge, can you give us an example of a word or sentences that were tricky to translate? I am also curios on how you and Johan collaborate? Do you speak continuously while you are translating?

Johan is very good to work with. I send him questions if I am unsure what he means by a particular expression, and he always replies within a day. He is also very amenable to changes that might need to be made for a non-Swedish audience; for example in this latest novel we have removed a couple of songs which would have sounded terrible in English, and have simply referred to them in the text instead.  I can’t think of anything that has been particularly tricky in this novel, but as a general rule, swearing is very difficult to get right. It’s always hard to judge the impact a word or phrase might have on a reader; for example, the Swedish series of Wallander is currently being shown on TV in the UK, and there has been some criticism over the frequent use of ‘fuck’ and similar expressions in the subtitles; every time the Swedish dialogue uses ‘fan’ or ‘jävlar’, the translator has used some variation on ‘fuck’, which offends many viewers.

Are there any translator you look up to and think is amazing?

I would have to say that Laurie Thompson is the translator I respect more than any other. He has been both encouraging and supportive from the start, and frequently stressed the importance of delivering the best possible work and of meeting deadlines. He has a very impressive feeling for language, coupled with a very wide knowledge of Sweden and its history and traditions which he is always willing to share. He is an honest critic, and is always completely down-to-earth. I’m very proud to call him a friend.


Do you read a lot of Swedish literature? And if so, do you think there is something special that characterizes Swedish literature?

Most of the Swedish books I read are related to work these days; the British press tend to focus on the ‘gloomy’ aspects of Swedish crime novels in particular, and while I think that’s true to a certain extent, I also think the characterisation is often very strong, as is the sense of place.


How long did it take you to translate Echoes of the dead?

It usually takes me three to four months to translate a novel, depending on the length of course; my goal is roughly 40 pages per week, with plenty of time left at the end for revisions and proofreading.


What does it look like when you work? Do you work from home? In an office, is it messy or neat and tidy? How many hours a day do you work? Do you need tons of coffee? etc…

I live in small house in a small town in Shropshire, and work in my study at home. I’m a very tidy person, so my desk is always clear at the end of the day, and any work in progress is back in its tray on the filing cabinet. I tend to work 2-3 hours a day, but not in one stretch; it depends what else is going on. I teach IT to adult learners as well, which takes up one day a week at the moment, and like to meet up with friends once or twice a week. If a translation is going well, I don’t need distractions and am quite good at concentrating; if it isn’t going well, I suddenly realise the windows need cleaning… or I ought to check my e-mails… or perhaps there’s something interesting on daytime TV…!


What do you read on your spare time?  and what do you read right now?

I read crime novels in English all the time, and am a great fan of P D James, Ruth Rendell, Peter Robinson, Val McDermid,  Peter Lovesey, Reginald Hill, and of course Colin Dexter. I also enjoy writers like Katie Ford, Rosie Thomas, Marcia Willett, Erica James, Elizabeth Noble, Jane Moore, Jane Green and Alexander McCall Smith. I’ve just finished Katie Forde’s A Perfect Proposal, which was great fun, and am about to start Alexander McCall Smith’s The Double Comfort Safari Club. I think Precious Ramotswe is a fantastic character!


What was the first you did when you found out that Johan had won the CWA international Dagger Award with your translation?

I rang my two closest friends and e-mailed a couple more!


Are there any books you wish you could or could have translate?

There’s always ‘the one that got away’ – I nearly had a contract for Mari Jungstedt’s first two novels, but lost out to Steven T. Murray. And I’m sorry to say that I’m not translating Åsa Larsson’s fourth novel, Till dess din vrede upphör; Laurie Thompson is currently working on that for MacLehose Press, who of course publish the Stieg Larsson novels in English.  I really hope Åsa gets the success and recognition she deserves in the UK.


What do you consider the most important thing to think of while translating books?

Without a shadow of doubt, the book must read well in English. Obviously an accurate translation is important, and the translator must be able to capture the tone of the original, but when the reader sits down with a novel, he or she does not want to be constantly aware that this is a translation. When I finish the first draft of a book, I leave it for a couple of weeks, then come back and read it as if it were a novel written in English, making any necessary changes. Sometimes when you are working closely on a translation you don’t realise that you are mirroring the Swedish phraseology, and it just doesn’t sound right.


Do you have any tips and advice for those who wants to work with translating novels?

I think you have to be a reader first of all, and you have to be able to write well in English. Sarah Death, the editor of Swedish Book Review, is always ready to encourage promising new translators, and there is a lot of support and advice available through SELTA – The Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association. The website address for SBR is , and for SELTA it’s other option is to contact Swedish publishers such as Bonniers or Norstedts, who frequently need someone to translate extracts from both fiction and non-fiction. Contacting British or American publishers directly is a waste of time unless you have a body of work to show them.


What is your next assignment after Blodläge?

I am currently translating a short story by Liza Marklund for the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in the USA, and in September I start work on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Lilla Stjärna for Text Publishing in Melbourne. My translation of Människohamn will be published under the title Harbour later this year; Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment was published in August, and Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotistshould be out next April. Bonniers have just sent me Kepler’s new novel Paganinikontraktet, and I’m very much looking forward to reading that and finding out more about Joona Linna!


Thank you Marlaine!

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