World Kid Lit Review: The treasure of Barracuda by Llanos Campos, trans. Lawrence Schimel

Today’s book review is one that my son and I have really enjoyed together: The treasure of Barracuda by Llanos Campos, translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel.

Dominic (8): It’s really exciting. There are lots of silly words that keep making me laugh – you big mackerel! I also like the glossary at the back. I’d recommend this book to my friends.

So originally, I purchased this book as reference material for my MA, to see how renowned Spanish translator Lawrence Schimel had dealt with various translation issues. Not only did I get a masterclass in doing just that, but my son and I heartily enjoyed reading this fabulous story together.

The plot follows a group of pirates led by Captain Barracuda who have been searching for Phineas Krane’s long-lost treasure. In the first few pages, we join narrator Sparks, Two Molars, One-Eyed Boasnovas and the rest of their gang on the brink of uncovering the treasure. But as they open the chest, the pirates discover … a book. But what use is a book to a group of illiterate pirates? From here, we accompany the pirates on their journey of discovery, as they learn to decipher the letters and words included in the book. We see their joy and astonishment at the realisation that they can now understand the world around them from a whole new perspective. It’s a clever plot highlighting the importance of reading in a really fun and exciting way.

One of the things for me to gauge the success of a book is on its target readership. I must admit, Dominic was a bit reluctant to give this a try, so I decided I would read it to him, something we don’t do as much as we used to. Cue several reading sessions together. I think it is testament to the plot and to the translation that he very quickly engaged with the story and at the end of each chapter, I was badgered with “keep going, keep going, read the next one!” There were frequent bursts of laugh out loud laughter from both him and me. He also made sure he had a good view of any illustrations along the way, spending time working out which pirate was which and they really added to our experience.

At the end of the book, Sparks alludes to the group’s next adventure. Dominic was very interested in knowing the name of the next book in the series. Unfortunately, it hasn’t yet been translated into English so for non-Spanish speakers, that’s frustratingly as far as it can currently go. Dominic has tasked me with coming up with a translation – “chapter one by bedtime tonight, ok Mummy?” (tough client!). But what better praise do you need than an 8-year-old-boy wanting to read more!

ITI Conference 2019 – Reflections

Last week I attended my first ever ITI Conference. What an incredible experience! I have talked to lots of people, danced my heart out to the Accoustic Angels and learnt so very much from some truly inspiring people. Here are some of my highlights from the Conference as well as some recurring themes that cropped up for me.

Inspiring speakers

With so many to choose from, many of the talks I decided to attend followed the literary translation strand of which there was plenty to enjoy. Lucianda Byatt’s talk on the translation of nonfiction texts reminded me to not to overlook this important area of literary translation and offered tips about working practice and liaising with publishers. Carolina Smith de la Fuente chose translating the illustrated book as her topic, a fascinating look at the challenges involved once you add illustrations into the mix. I found David Warriner’s talk hugely encouraging as he spoke on his five-year journey as an emerging literary translator – it is possible to live the dream! Daniel Hahn entertained the room with his whirlwind run through a week’s translation workshop condensed into half an hour. One comment I take away from that session being that we learn so much, if not more, from looking at and discussing other people’s work, not just having our own work looked at. Also noteworthy were Oliver Kamm’s keynote speech and an oh-so-important discussion from Alison Hughes on outreach into schools, universities and businesses.

Parenting as a recurring theme

As a mum myself, I found it interesting to hear how many times it was proven that becoming a parent has such a massive impact on people’s lives and careers. The Hoxby Collective’s Lizzie Penny stated this as her turning point to carve out a new path with her career. David Warriner was inspired to move into literary translation to line his daughter’s bookcase with the legacy of “books translated by Dad”. And there were numerous conversations with others like me who have turned to translation as a flexible career after children.

The importance of supporting each other and building your network

Through membership of the East Midlands Regional Group, walking into my first Conference felt far less scary than I had imagined. I knew that among these new faces, I would also find several people who I now class not only as translation colleagues but also as friends. The Gala Dinner was not simply a “work do”, but a hugely enjoyable social gathering as well. Knowing people in advance of the event was also a huge benefit when meeting new people – to be introduced to a new contact by an existing contact was great and much less terrifying than having to constantly approach new people.

I was really surprised at the apparent success of my tweeting over the last year. I lost count of the number of people who upon hearing my name replied with: “I think I’ve seen you on Twitter”. From the day not so long ago when I reluctantly signed up after my mentor Ellen Worrell suggested it, I am now a huge advocate of its use. It has helped me to build my network and allowed me to be in contact with people I would never otherwise have heard about.


I was very pleased to receive a special commendation from ITI in the Best Newcomer (Freelancing) category. Having been informed of my commendation some weeks ago, I was intrigued to discover who had pipped me to the post and won the prize. The winner was announced Corrine Harries, a fellow student (former student in her case) on the Bristol MA course. I know how hard I have worked over the last year to get to this point and I take my hat off to Corrine for having won this award. I am, however, very proud of my own achievement and my certificate will take pride of place in my office.

Thank you so much to the team at ITI for creating such a varied and interesting programme. I can’t wait for the next one!

Book Review: Cuckoo by Sophie Draper

Back in February, I was given Cuckoo by Sophie Draper as a birthday present. I often read around the globe, so it was a pleasant change to read something set so close to home here in Derbyshire. I loved the references to Derby, Ashbourne, Carsington Water, and at one point the protagonist surely drove up the A52, pretty much waving at my house on the way!

Having known nothing about the book as I was given it, I discovered it was a psychological thriller. The protagonist Caro returns home to a small Derbyshire village following the death of her step-mother. She is escaping an abusive relationship in London and the timing to move in and clear out the house seems perfect. But weird things start to happen in the house and Caro begins to doubt her own mind. Over the course of the book, a family secret is revealed of which Caro has no memory and the scent of revenge is in the air.

One of the other things I really enjoyed about this book was its descriptive language. Caro is an illustrator working on a commission for illustrations to accompany some fairy tales. But not the happy, floaty fairy tales that perhaps spring to mind; these ones are dark and dangerous. Through Draper’s descriptions, I could really conjure up the pictures in my mind and not only that, the image of Caro working at the table to create them. I also loved how Caro explained to Craig about her passion for drawing and how she experiences life through colour, with words becoming images that dance, leap and spin.

There were plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing. The only word of caution I would have is that the ending is left somewhat ambiguous. If you like a thriller with all the ends tied up neatly, this probably isn’t the one for you. I still have days where I wonder what happened to Caro in the end. Did she get her happy ending? I’ve seen that Sophie Draper is due to appear at the Derby Book Festival in June. Perhaps I’ll go and ask her!

Kid Lit Book Review: Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

After a busy few weeks finishing off my MA dissertation, I’ve finally submitted it (hurray!) and I have head space again to think about other things. Despite having neglected my book reviews, I have read some great books over the last few months, so over the coming weeks, I shall endeavour to catch up.

To kick things off, I’m starting with a picture book: Ish by Peter H. Reynolds.

Dominic (8): It’s good… ish! (haha!) It’s good that Ramon knows that nobody is perfect. 

In this book, Ramon loves to draw, but one day his big brother Leon looks over his shoulder, laughs out loud and asks, “What is THAT?!” I’m sure we’ve all been there, that moment, when someone else laughs at what you’re doing or tells you you’re rubbish, perhaps shattering your dreams – I know I have! Ramon keeps on drawing, but his brother’s laughter haunts him until one day, he puts down his pencil and says, “I’m done.”

As he does so, his little sister Marisol is watching him and when he grumpily snaps at her to go away, she grabs the nearest crumpled-up piece of paper off the floor and runs to her bedroom. Ramon follows her in hot pursuit but as he chases her into her room, he pulls up short: her bedroom walls are covered with his crumpled artwork. While he sees failed pictures that don’t look right, she sees art. Ramon comments, “that was SUPPOSED to be a vase of flowers” and Marisol replies, “Well, it looks vase-ISH”. As they look around the room together, Ramon starts to see his artwork in a whole new light. It gives him the inspiration to continue with ish drawings that he realises can incorporate ish feelings, that can be expressed through ish words and ish poems.

This is a book that we have shared a lot at home. When there is so much pressure on kids to get things right, I love that it reinforces the idea that our creations do not need to be perfect. The charm and importance of them often comes from them being “ish”.

It’s also been a great conversation starter about the effect our words can have on other people. We’ve talked about how Ramon feels after Leon laughs at him and how much influence and power Leon perhaps unwittingly holds. Leon may not even remember that day, but in Ramon’s mind, that was a critical moment.

And with the current spotlight on diversity in kids’ books, I also love that the protagonists have Hispanic names and darker skin tones in the illustrations. All in all, this is a great addition to our book shelf!




International Day of Multilingualism – what languages mean to me

To celebrate the first ever International Day of Multilingualism, I thought I’d reflect on what languages mean to me.

Travel and exposure to new cultures 

My journey with languages started in the classroom. But languages go so much further than that. They lead you to new places, they show you new things and expose you to new ideas. While the desire to improve my languages took me to foreign climes, I got so much more than “just” a language. I learnt about people and different ways of life. I not only saw but I participated in traditional customs and cultural activities, doors that opened because I could speak the language.

It also made me to want to see more of the world, travelling around Eastern Europe and spending time in India. While these weren’t “my” languages, my curiosity of the world had been piqued by my experience of language.

Independence as a woman

When my children were born, I took the decision to give up employment and stay at home with the kids. There is much out there about women losing their identity once children come along and there were certainly challenges along the way. I began tutoring Spanish and German, just a few hours a week, but to me this was a life line. For those few hours a week I was Claire, not Mummy. I had always been independent, but staying at home I was reliant on my husband’s income. That small income from my tutoring meant I was earning my own money, not a lot, but when I wanted some new clothes or to buy a gift, I was able to use my money. My languages gave me back independence and identity.

Multilingualism is normal

I remember starting university and suddenly being surrounded by other language lovers who, like me, spoke more than one language. It became normal to speak more than one language. Back home and several years later, I’m more of a rarity now among my friends. Until, that is, I arrive at one of my favourite places to be: Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity. DRS collects and sorts donations from the public to be sent off to those places in need. Not only does it supply aid, but refugees and asylum seekers in Derby come and help out, providing an opportunity for them to engage with their new country and to come together with others in similar situations. And most of these people are multilingual. Often, it’s not just bilingual – they perhaps speak an African mother tongue, Arabic or Farsi, French and the English or other languages they have picked up on their journey. They’ve grown up in multilingual societies where speaking more than one language is normal and they think nothing of the skills they have. These people who are so often looked down on by our “superior” society, put our monolingualism to shame.

So teach our children about languages. Show them a language is more than just words and more than classroom walls. Encourage them to learn whichever language they fancy, to find out about the country and to start to understand the people. Languages open your eyes to the world.

To find out more about Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity or to donate, please visit




Book Review: Distant Signs by Anne Richter, trans. Douglas Irving (Neem Tree Press)

A subtle, thought-provoking book, dare I say, an elegant take on the post-war period in the GDR.

I began reading this book on my Kindle. I clicked past the black and white front cover to the Opening Note. I picked out the words “life in the German Democratic Republic” and “flashbacks to events before and after the Second World War”. I exclaimed to my husband “this sounds just like my kind of book”. I envisaged fast-paced action, suspense and high-drama and was surprised by the slower, more detailed unravelling of the story.

As its protagonists, the book takes three generations of the Gräf family with each chapter focusing on a different family member. In each chapter the style changes, swapping from first-person to third person, and with notable efforts in the translation to convey the different dialects spoken by the different characters. The events of the GDR post-war period are there and alluded to, but they are not the focus. Instead they form the background, allowing the author to explore how these events affected individuals living through them. We see the coming together of different people, of married couples with different upbringings trying to reconcile their differences and how these internal familial factors are influenced by the environment they are living in.

Beginning in 1965, each chapter jumps forward in time, ending in 1992. We witness the changes in perspective and we see how influential young people were in bringing about change. One chapter that I found particularly moving is that of Hans’ awakening “from a decades-long dream that had felt not unpleasant … This dream was his life so far.” Over the course of these pages, Hans takes stock of his life so far and starts to realise that he has missed out on so much but that hope has not all gone. Alongside changes in his wife’s life, together they reconcile their relationship and begin to move forward to a more positive future.

Throughout the book, cultural and historical notes are highlighted for anyone wishing to know more. The Kindle version of the book makes this very easy to navigate as clicking on the link takes you straight to the relevant note. Another click and you’re back where you were. I was also able to access information from Wikipedia with a quick tap. However, when I received the hard copy, I realised that had I seen the physical copy first, my initial inaccurate expectations may have been lessened. The colours and imagery on the cover convey its gentler nature.

Having begun this book with a view of how it was going to pan out, I was so taken aback that I went back and read the book in its entirety for a second time. This is a far more subtle, thought-provoking book, dare I say, an elegant take on the post-war period in the GDR.

Many thanks to Neem Tree Press for the copy. As publisher Archna Sharma says, “in this environment of the rhetoric of building walls, we really need to celebrate a wall that came down against all odds…”

To purchase a copy, please see the links below.

Distant Signs : A Novel by Richter, Anne (9781911107088) | BrownsBfS

World Book Day

Today was World Book Day. To celebrate, school up and down the country asked pupils to go to school dressed as their favourite book character. My children’s school was no different. Fantastic Mr. Fox went off to school but my daughter, Emma (5), was poorly today and couldn’t go and join in the fun of World Book Day with her friends. Stuck inside because of the rain, we decided to have our very own World Book Day celebrations – the Storey Book Fair.

First we needed costumes – she already had her frog costume ready (the frog from Oi Frog) and she decided I would be the ladybird from What the ladybird heard. Costumes ready, we clearly needed face paints, so out they came, and yes, I even dared to give Emma the brush (see photo for the results!).

Emma set out her “Book Fair”, gathering lots of books from all over the house and we spent some time choosing our favourite five. Her favourite five turned out to be about 15! Mine included Ish by Peter Reynolds, Press Here by Hervé Tullet (trans. Christopher Franceschelli) and Goose by Laura Wall. Having picked out some books, we then had some reading sessions for everyone (me, Emma and Smudge the cat) to enjoy.

No Book Fair is complete without some awards, so we got out the craft supplies and made some rosettes, and the inaugural Storey Books Awards were born. The categories and winners were as follows:

Best book with an animal – Kipper by Mick Inkpen

Funniest book – Oi Duck-billed platypus by Kes Gray and Jim Field

Best pictures – You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart

Best book from around the world – Banana skin Chaos by Lilli d’Arronge (trans. Daniela Bernardelle)

We had a great day at our book fair and I hope she looks back on it as fondly as I will.