After a warm spell, there’s an icy wind blowing through my jacket as hundreds of us are queuing to get into Earl’s Court exhibition centre. Plastic badge cases are handed out at the entrance. We’ve been instructed to download our ID badges and print them in colour but I notice that most people, like myself, thought it a waste of cartridge and are sporting logos in various shades of grey. I pin mine to the lapel of my jacket. Ms Katherine Gregor, Literary Translator/Writer.
I walk into what makes Dante’s Inferno sound positively simple to navigate. The huge, sprawling conference centre with alphabetical aisles is like a city criss-crossed by streets lined with the stalls of hundreds of publishers from what feels like every country on the planet. Academic, technology, fiction, history, religion, self-help, cookery, children’s, archeology, history, science – my eyes dart in every direction but my mind cannot focus. Too much to see, too much to take in. Then there’s the overwhelming, constant, dull buzz of hundreds of voices trapped under the metal dome. It’s like a bubble that shuts out the outside world and where the artificial lights give all faces an unhealthy yellow tint. It’s a book city that stretches a mile or so, which I will have to walk up and down and across several times a day for the three days to come. By the end of the first day, my feet hurt. The following day, they feel like they’ve been mangled. By the end of day three, they’re burning, throbbing wrecks at the end of my ankles, and every step I take reverberates through my body.
Shaking hands, smiling, expressing enthusiasm, exchanging business cards. It’s a huge market place where everyone is touting for work, negotiating deals or trying to make a sale. I drop every card into the London Book Fair canvas bag we were all handed at the entrance – and which is growing increasingly heavy with brochures – hoping that three months from now, I will remember the face that corresponds to the name on the business card. Someone should invent an app enabling you to send through the ether – preferably telepathically – all your data straight to the other person’s IT device or mobile ‘phone. Data that would include name, profession, contact details, photograph, voice sample and scent. At the same time, the other person could add his/her impression of you to the information received.
I decide to use as my base and reference point for all three days the Literary Translation Centre. It has the advantage of being situated at the back of Earl’s Court, so close to one of the glass exits, therefore within view of natural daylight. There, I see many familiar faces. Translators I have seen either at British Centre for Literary Translation events, or at the London Review Bookshop, or at publishers’ parties. Time and again I ask – and am asked – “Have we met before?” and “Which languages do you work with?”
Translators compare notes on the difficulty of conveying a given idiom from Turkish, Russian, Mandarin or Italian. And how do you translate body language?
Thousands of people, hundreds of nationalities, countless different languages. Whether they are drawn here by love of money, love of fame, or love of books, one thing binds them together – the word, printed on paper or displayed on a screen.