Archive for the ‘Allgemeines’ Category

things I know so far #3

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

acting your age can be liberating

admitting defeat is a victory of sorts

if the door you’re knocking on does not open,

it may be the wrong door

or you might need to kick it in

or try the hatch in the ceiling

giving slack can make you grow sideways and lengthways

not just upwards

comfort zones get bad press and need more appreciation

thinking that language barriers can be overcome underestimates language

and thinking that everything can be said overestimates it











Things I learnt at Frankfurt 2016

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-10-04-141. Adults cannot be trusted. With chewing gum. They won’t sell it anywhere at the Book Fair. The conclusion of the shop assistant at the front entrance: “It’s very sad that adults won’t put their used gum in the proper receptacles after they spit it out. That’s why we can’t sell it. It’s not allowed.”

2. The acoustics in the Schirn gallery are very bad even if the location is swanky. When you’ve shouted for 2 hours over the din of people shouting at each other, you end up hoarse in the morning.

3. When you tell a group of translators that you fell asleep on the ICE, woke up in a panic and left your laptop on the train, you will elicit more sympathy than if you told them a member of your family had died. As an antidote, quickly tell them that a nice man in Stuttgart at the Lost and Found has located it and is sending it back. And that he even asked how long you would be at the Book Fair, and whether he should wait until you’re back in Berlin. Tell them that that’s service. They will all revise their opinion of Deutsche Bahn, at least for an evening.

4. The chime for the doors closing on the Frankfurt underground is the same as the opening chords to Radiohead’s “Kid A”.

5. Check that your neighbour isn’t the head of publications of an important Berlin foundation before you go. It will save you both hailing each other on the smoker’s balcony with cries of “What are you doing here?” Don’t mention that his kids wake you up at an unearthly hour every morning during the week, and most weekends. Do tell him you will pop your business card in the letterbox.

Double portion of Schernikau

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 14.51.28I was very pleased to have come across Ronald Schernikau when I was doing a translation of the programme for the Deutsches Theater last year: they staged a ‘collage’ of his life of works, played by four different actors, all playing Schernikau at different stages of his life. It was a fun piece. Schernikau was a magnetic personality: this shines through his writing. He was taken by his mother in the boot of her car from Magdeburg where he was born to Hanover where her new lover lived: at the age of 6, after the Wall had been built. That had to be character-building.

Years later, he would return to East Berlin and try and become a citizen of the GDR – only a matter of months before the Wall fell. This is intriguing enough, but there’s something inspiring about kleinstadtnovelle (Small-town Novella), this queer author’s first published book when he was 19, and it is summed up nicely by the Frankfurter Rundschau journalist Jörg Sundermeier

“ein spektakulärer Text über ein unspektakuläres Coming Out. Denn seine Hauptfigur hadert nicht mit ihrem Schwulsein, sie hadert mit der Gesellschaft.” (a spectacular text about an unspectacular coming out. Because his main character isn’t railing against being gay; he’s railing against society).

Schernikau was an “infallible optimist” who died much too young of AIDS. I’ll be writing a piece for Words Without Borders later this month that focuses on his fascinating life and work.

I am very grateful to both the good people at no man’s land and Words Without Borders for printing my translation of this spectacular text. I thoroughly enjoyed the work.


Lucy Renner Jones



Jogger’s journal

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 15.58.222pm, Wednesday, Friedrich-Ludwig-Sportpark. My usual ten laps around the track. We all plug ourselves in, avoid eye contact, avoid body contact, avoid each other, spacing out at regular intervals around the track. Surreptitiously, I look at people’s running shoes and make mental notes: no tread, he’ll have back problems at the age of 65. She bought those because they look good, but they’re not really running shoes. I fall into the lazy, judgemental attitude of people out exercising, deciding who is doing it to be seen, doing it at the last possible minute in life, or doing it because they’ve always done it. When did it get so competitive? At the same time grey sweatpants went out of fashion? We keep catching up with the past, then it’s sold back to us as retro fashion. Grey sweatpants are back in. At the other extreme though you can also go high-tech: the girl gliding by with one leg clad in pink Lycra, the other in crocodile print, for example.

He stands out too.

From the very moment I catch sight of him, I know his gear is not from American Apparel, but JD Sports, circa 1992. Stonewashed red sweatshirt. Bunched-ankle blue joggers. I guess he’s in his mid-fifties, with closely cropped, grey hair, and a thick, silver man’s bracelet. There is nothing special about this. Except: he’s dancing, not jogging. Utterly lost in his own world, wearing earbuds and standing at the side of the cinder track, gyrating to his own music. It must be 1970s disco because he sways funkily, rhythmically, doing snaking, curving motions with his legs, and powerful sweeps with his arms. His face is serious, graceful. His moves are dated but his body is lithe; there is absolute conviction in his movements.

People avert their eyes as their legs pump past him like pistons. His movements couldn’t be further away from theirs. They have their eye on optimum movement: apps have charted their ideal time-versus-fitness ratio. The dancing man is unsightly – a leftover from times when people had time. He is not in it for the exercise. I feel the collective embarrassment: it passes over the bobbing heads like a wave. What is he doing? Who is he dancing for? Why not just dance in front of the mirror at home?


5pm, Saturday, Monbijou Park. A couple are sitting next to each other as I jog off to the left, passing close by; they are sitting on a bench behind the diamond-wire fencing. She is young, with long brown hair; he is young, with short black hair. Both in puffer jackets because the sun has disappeared. Hers is white; his is black. He wears hair gel and she wears lipstick. It looks like their first date. On my next lap I see that they are sitting a little closer together. Lap three, they’re holding hands. By lap four, they are at it with tongues. Lap five, she is straddling him on the park bench and they are writhing about. On my sixth and final lap, they are sitting a little further apart, texting separately on their phones.


12pm, Sunday, Kleingartenkolonie, Bornholmer Strasse. I have heard the blossom up here is pretty. First I have to risk my life crossing the dual carriageway. Then through the wooden tunnel and into another world. The urban landscape gives way to small gardens; each plot is a feat of inventiveness and derring-do. How the shacks and sheds manage to stay up is a mystery. They all bear the stamp of the individualist: blue painted roof here, a wheel for a window there. It’s warm. I see a tall, bulky man in his seventies, sweeping up leaves. He is wearing a lumberjack shirt rolled up at the sleeves. On his forearm is the remains of an old tattoo, greenish with age. He stops and looks off into the distance. A woman, also in her seventies, arrives on her bike with a basket; inside (I imagine) a picnic covered by a chequered tea towel. She kisses him on the cheek, slowly, lingeringly. They go into the lean-to hut holding hands. And there are some beautiful old cherry trees lining the path, with the promised blossom.



Amazon’s literary ambitions

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 00.59.32I am unsure what to make of the latest news that Amazon is pumping 10 million dollars into its AmazonCrossing imprint for the translation of titles into English. Alarm bells go off when a multinational company starts pouring money into a business sector that is notoriously bad at making a profit. The first question that comes to mind is: why? Perhaps the answer its simply: because it can. But presumably Amazon board meetings used tables with figures: lines sailing up into profit margins, not black squiggly arrows pointing downwards to non-profitability. Having said that, AmazonCrossing’s undertaking is likely to be profitable due to its choice of titles – popular titles, translated at a fast pace and made available quickly to a broad public, mostly in ebook form. If only 2% of people buying a fridge add a vampire novel or mystery thriller to their shopping cart, the lines will be going up, not down.

In a recent, very informative TV programme on arte about Amazon and the publishing world, the company’s tendency to stir up strong feelings and divide opinion was highlighted. I believe that the debate on AmazonCrossing’s new proposal needs to be seen in the context of Amazon’s role in the publishing world in general. The facts are: Amazon makes profit from books by fairly ruthless means and especially since reading shifted from analogue to digital form. The company’s ruthlessness lies in its ability to dictate the terms of the market and circumvent any dialogue with other players and stakeholders – whereas literary translators on the whole are a dedicated group of people who actively seek and support solidarity in their field. Amazon’s tactics on the whole strike me and a great deal of other people as being in opposition to this solidarity. Of the ebook market, as Reinhold Joppich (Kiwi’s sales manager) says on the arte broadcast, Amazon makes 70% of the available profit in this field – a clear monopoly. This is no accident either – the company, according to The Author’s Guild, has fought a long hard battle against the Big Six publishers in the field. The arte programme also quotes Michael Then from Piper Verlag saying that Amazon has single-handedly changed – or more accurately reverted – the publishing business model by putting the distribution and production of books into one hand, a model that was practised before the advent of the publishing house and the role of the editor. Everyone and anyone can be an author these days with print on demand and ebooks. Perhaps this is the crux of the matter. The process of waiting to see how book sales develop in the original language, and selecting titles to translate, is largely the first step in literary translation work: a process that means that the translator is a major factor in the selection process of what is translated. Presses who specialise in literary translation – such as Seagull Books, Peirene Press, & Other Stories, Haus Publishing, Other Press, New Directions, Archipelago, and so on – carefully select their titles and their main motivation is not profit. Unfortunately, profit and literary translation don’t go hand in hand, although there are exceptions. That’s partly what makes this news so difficult to gauge. Will AmazonCrossing at some point go into competition with independent presses of literary fiction? (more…)

The Yellow Ones

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 16.32.47So I get on my bike and head for the bar, wondering why, as this story forms in my mind, this sentence starts with “so”. As I’m cycling, I think about a Facebook discussion in the use of the word “so” at the beginning of sentences. I haven’t even bothered to read the discussion because it’s obvious – a narrative device designed to throw the reader into the middle of the action as if we – the reader and I – are having this ongoing intimate chat. The reader is supposed to prick up her ears in cased she’s missed something.


In my case, this is just the way the story starts to form in my head. I have only reached the end of the road on my bike, and I’ve already thought this much.


So I get on my bike and cycle towards the bar. I text “I’m running late,” and I get “No worries” in return.


I stop for cigarettes. The Turkish shop assistant, a man in his late fifties, hands me a packet that says RAUCHEN VERURSACHT HERZANFÄLLE. I hesitate. The friend I’m going to meet has been preoccupied with death lately, especially his own, He thinks he might die young of a heart attack, like his father. I don’t want to turn up with this large black-and-white warning – on a night where I’m preparing to tell him he’ll be fine, despite the tightening of his chest, he won’t die young. It’s all a state of mind: smoke like no one’s watching, smoke like it’s 1999. Don’t worry, 4 cigarettes a day never killed anyone. It’s the worry that’ll kill you.


I hesitate – as all this goes through my mind in the blink of an eye – and I say to the Turkish shop assistant: “Do you have a different packet? Not a different brand, the same brand – just a different warning?” (more…)

The Squirrel Principle

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015
Photo: Arzt Salemski

Photo: Arzt Salemski

A new publishing venture, the Pigeonhole, commissioned me to write for their series ‘Letters from Berlin’. The result, a piece on Prenzlauer Berg called “The Squirrel Principle”, was published here yesterday. The idea was born from a similar project of dispatches written about various countries in Africa.

It was pure luck that I found a photograph on Facebook showing Soupanova’s last days. And even happier to see a friend of mine in it, which meant I could ask him to use it.

If you sign up to Pigeonhole, you receive staves – one text from a series – in your email account every so often. You don’t have to buy the whole book.

Living in the Anthropocene

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

The-AnthropoceneFollowing the publication of Christian Schwägerl’s book, Living in the Anthropocene, there has been a flurry of reviews (many of which, rather frustratingly, do not credit the translator) in The Independent, among others. Still, it’s good to know that this book, which turned me into a vegetarian after I translated it, is getting some publicity. It’s a must-read! The basic premise is that we have to regard the era we live in as having been so radically altered by human presence that it should be renamed: from the Holocene to the Anthropocene. It is not Doomsday in its outlook, like many texts on this subject, but actually makes you feel as if there is something that can be done. You can order it directly from the publisher’s shop, or via the usual channels. The English language edition is a much revised version of the original German text: knowledge in this field is revised as quickly as you can say global warming.

Faking it well

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Screen shot 2014-10-23 at 8.35.20 PMA long time ago, I used to know an amateur German actress in Berlin who did dubbing jobs for film. She once said that, before a certain client would give her a job, he asked her whether the subject matter was ‘too close to home’. If so, she was told, she shouldn’t take it on: emotional breakdowns cost expensive studio time.

I asked a friend of mine who does commercial voice-overs whether this anecdote rings true, and he said: ‘I should imagine, if anything, that having gone through a certain experience would help an actor. He could work it into the job somehow.’

There it is in a nutshell: a professional actor knows how to use emotional experiences in his work. For an amateur, it could lead to an emotional problem.

I have recently started thinking about the job I do and what kind of effect it has on my psyche. It started when I experienced what it was like to translate a text that was not ‘too close to home’, but too harrowing for me to sleep properly at night. Most translators from the German have had disturbing texts land on their desks in the course of time, given the nature of the past ninety years of German history and the English-speaking world’s undying fascination with it. But while many translators might take this in their stride, I began floundering with this text. It was about Auschwitz: perhaps because it was written in the present tense, perhaps because of the details of parts of the text, I found myself procrastinating for hours before I could sit down and start work. I talked about this to a translator friend, who advised me to spend 10 minutes a day before I started work, just to jot down the feelings that this text was producing. Just for my own sanity. (more…)

things I know so far #2

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Screen shot 2014-05-19 at 6.47.51 PMcreativity rarely occurs in a vacuum

it can be a group activity

or even just a conversation

listening to criticism is not the same

as beating yourself up

the mistakes you take great pains to avoid passing on

to your children

will be replaced by other, perhaps bigger mistakes that

sneak in where your blind spot is

nostalgia should be an alarm bell

but rituals can be comfort

trees are nearly always good news

as are many kinds of animals

and sports

and old friends

when you hear your mother or father speaking

and look around to see who said something

and discover it was you

it’s not always a bad thing

music transcends

if it doesn’t, it’s not the right music