Living Knowledge blog

2 posts from September 2017

29 September 2017

A peek into the life of… our Translator in Residence

Jen at book launch-smaller

Jen Calleja is the British Library’s current – and first ever – Translator in Residence. With International Translation Day taking place on 30 September, we thought it was a good time to catch up with Jen (pictured above, left, at a recent book launch) to find out more about her, her work and what a day in her life at the Library was like.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I'm a writer, literary translator from German, editor, musician, activist and a few other things besides. I'm originally from Shoreham-By-Sea but lived in Munich for a year when I was 18 before moving to London to study and have lived here ever since. My dad is Maltese and my mum is half Irish half English, but my brother and I were brought up with only English.

What does a Translator in Residence do?

My role at the Library is to bring a translator's perspective to the Library's projects; programme translation-focused events; research and write about the ways translations and the practice of translation have influenced writers and writing; engage with the archives; learn about the multilingual staff and the ways translation officially and unofficially permeates the British Library. And much more! 

How do you spend a typical day at the Library?

The role is one day a week, so I'll spend that day in a variety of ways. It might be looking over archival material, having meetings with different departments at the Library or colleagues from partner institutions about upcoming projects or events, speaking to participants for my own events, reading the latest essays and articles on what's going on in translation, writing blog posts or even visiting the Library’s Boston Spa site to talk to their staff about their experience of using multiple languages every day.

How have the Library’s collections inspired you to create something new?

I'm currently exploring the poet-translator Michael Hamburger's uncatalogued archive to create a pamphlet of original poems based on his notes, corrections, mistakes and correspondences. I'm also writing an essay about Angela Carter's work as a translator and how translated literature inspired her own writing for the Online Learning department at the British Library.

Jen's desk at BL-smallerShelfie… A snapshot of Jen’s view from her British Library desk.

What advice would you give to other translators looking to use the Library’s collection?

I'd recommend seeing if the author you're translating or even a translator you admire has any material available to view at the British Library for your research and to inspire your working process.

What’s coming up next for you?

Monday 2 October is one of the great events of the year for translators – International Translation Day at the British Library programmed by the Free Word Centre, English PEN and other partners. I've convened a session on new developments in the career of the literary translator, which I'll be participating in, and I'll also be taking part in the session on what the British Library can do for translators.

I'll be holding a weekend masterclass in creative, multi-modal translation (image to text, text to collage, etc.) in the spring. I'm also organising a couple more events and some larger, very exciting projects that will happen near the end of the residency in April/May 2018.

Outside of the residency I've just started translating a Swiss novella by writer Michelle Steinbeck, and my translation of East German writer Kerstin Hensel's novella Dance by the Canal just came out last week.

Follow Jen on twitter @niewview for more updates on her work at the Library and beyond

Interview by Rachael Williams.


26 September 2017

The mysterious pleasures of Golden Age detective fiction

Antidote to Venom Death of an Airman
Detective stories from the “Golden Age of murder” between the world wars are being discovered all over again. A new generation of readers is now sharing the pleasure I’ve long taken in these entertaining mysteries of the past. This strikes me as all the more pleasing because so many of these books have been under-estimated for so long. Many of them haven’t even managed to be under-estimated – because they have been out of print for three-quarters of a century.

The British Library’s highly popular Crime Classics series has introduced today’s crime fans to forgotten authors who were once big names – like Anthony Berkeley and Freeman Wills Crofts – and those who, for all their consummate professionalism, were never best-sellers – such as John Bude and Miles Burton.

Portrait of a MurdererThe 50th British Library Crime Classic, Portrait of a Murderer, by Anne Meredith.

Bude has become a real readers’ favourite – five of his books have now reappeared, with two more in the pipeline. And now plenty of other publishers are following suit, bringing back authors as diverse as Sir Basil Thomson, once a kingpin of Scotland Yard, and former naval commander Peter Drax.

Of course, nostalgia plays a part in this revival. The gorgeous period artwork of the British Library paperback covers has led many people to collect the whole set. But there’s much more to it than fascination with the past and high production values. The fundamental appeal of Golden Age detective fiction is that the leading authors knew how to tell a good story. And story-telling has an appeal as powerful as it is timeless.

These books tell us a great deal about life during the Twenties and Thirties, even though the authors aimed simply to entertain. Read Antidote to Venom by Crofts, for instance, and you’ll be presented with an interesting picture of life in a provincial zoo, as well as a tricky murder method, and an interesting moral at the heart of the story. Christopher St John Sprigg was a poet and a Marxist, but his playful Death of an Airman offers a glimpse of the workings of a small Thirties airfield that is not only authentic (Sprigg was an expert on aeronautics) but also highly engaging. A visiting bishop from Australia does the detective work – you don’t find sleuthing bishops nowadays!

Poisoned Chocolates Case Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books
Sprigg’s book illustrates the truth that the best Golden Age writers were much more skilled at evoking character and setting than is often thought. But of course, for many Golden Age writers, the plot was the thing. And what plots they supplied! A personal favourite is The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley, a writer Agatha Christie much admired. Berkeley’s witty and highly ingenious mystery offers no fewer than six different solutions to a baffling whodunit puzzle. And the British Library edition now includes a new, additional solution – by me. It was great fun writing a new finale to a Golden Age classic, and fun is the key to these books. In uncertain times, they offer welcome escapism, and delightful entertainment.

Martin Edwards


Martin Edwards is the Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association and President of the Detection Club, and is a consultant to The British Library Crime Classics series. His book The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books was published by us in July this year. It is available at the British Library shop and at all good bookstores.

The 50th British Library Crime Classic, Portrait of a Murderer, is available now. Order it here.