I began my freelance career as a translator. I was engaged on the basis of being a contractor – in that I was self-employed but would report to a specific office every day. To maintain my “employer’s” tax status, I was obliged to ensure that I did not receive 100% of my wages from one source, so I had to find other avenues of income, such as teaching German and doing translations for private clients in my “spare” time.
It was on a Monday morning that I stepped into a dingy upstairs office in a building in Fulham. I looked around for a vaguely familiar face – the senior translator who had tested my language skills in German, French and (ahem) Dutch.
(They are non-existent, dear reader, in Dutch… I had protested my ignorance of the language but he, half-Dutch himself, was having nothing of such wimpishness. He thrust a couple of dictionaries in my direction and placed a text in front of me and gave me 45 minutes to turn it into readable English. I had just made my poor brain recollect some rusty French… the little grey cells were completely exhausted. I squinted at the Dutch and tried to make as much sense of it as possible. Double Dutch, no doubt. Having started in the job, I was only once asked to translate a couple of newspaper articles from Dutch (on the Wobbly Millennium Bridge). This was somewhat easier as I had a head start on what the text was likely to say – and my half-Dutch colleague was there to provide a final polish to the finished product.)
On my first day, however, I did not know that my colleague’s start time was somewhat later than everyone else’s. He rolled in at 10.30 by which time I had already had a baptism of fire being required to translate some terribly nasty financial document in time for a CEO who was about to catch a plane to New York. I barely had a clue of what I was dealing with – my other colleagues made sympathetic noises but not being Germanists they were unable to lend a hand. Mr Half-Dutch himself arrived in the nick of time to proofread my half-baked attempt and rescue the situation. And thus began my tentative steps in the world of translation.
In the years since that day, I must have translated and proofread several million words and, as time has passed, I have managed to ease my way away from technical and financial texts, in neither of which I have any natural ability or particular interest, to embrace more creative texts, marketing, publicity and also education, HR and tourism. As my regular readers will know, I am also sometimes persuaded against my better judgment to undertake other subjects (hair replacement systems, packaging, cosmetics, fitness machines); these can be seen as expanding the mind and bank account – or driving me to an early grave.
Four and a half years ago, I managed to escape the treadmill of my daily hour-and-a-half commute in each direction by buying a property in the Ancient Roman City and launching off into the freelance world proper. I began by receiving assignments from the office in Fulham and curiously, as those began to decrease (on account of their repositioning to translate into foreign languages not into English), I had made enough contacts to keep me in enough work to manage to stay afloat.
This past year or so has been something of a challenge. Agencies have been making their in-house staff redundant and end-clients have been reassessing their need for translations. My assertion has always been that companies cannot sell to an international market if their customers do not know what they are selling. I am of course a lone voice in the wilderness and have absolutely no clout or influence anywhere but although assignments seem to have decreased in number, they have increased in size – so a sort of balance has been maintained. The euro has gained in value against sterling, which is good news for me as I am mainly paid in euros, so by hook or by crook, I am still managing to cling to the wreckage.
As for the future, all I can say is: watch this space!