Life’s a funny old thing.
I was still at college when I got my first full-time job. While my fellow students still faced the prospect of having to look for work at the end of their last year, I was earning a good salary as a translator and archivist (employed by the CNRS; yes, like Luca Turin at some point in his career) at the Neurophysiology lab of the Faculty of Science in Nice, which was (still is) situated in a wonderful park full of gorgeous plants and flowers. Everyone was nice; I drove a cute little car; I felt happily settled, but eventually I realised I was too young to be such a bourgeoise and, at the end of my two-year contract, I left. I lost touch with my bosses (a charming couple of researchers) for 35 years – until I traced them again (it wasn’t difficult: they hadn’t moved around like me), and these days we are very close friends. They are incredibly supportive and keep me in Provençal goodies.
Back to the mid-’70s: after a short English hiatus, I found myself in the right place at the right time again, and became a literary translator in Paris, working for one of the most influential editors of foreign literature in France. I had my name on the covers of books; I went to book launches and cocktail parties and met well-known writers, but the freelance life is not for the young. Sitting in a room, day in day out, with a typewriter for company can be soul-destroying and I got depressed. Also, the Royal Shakespeare Company was still calling my name, and, again, after five years, I left.
That was 28 years ago. In the meantime, my French editor has moved to another – just as prestigious – publishing house, and, guess what, I am now working for her again (me and Alain de Botton, in fact, but not together, unfortunately). It’s a rather strange feeling: it delights me and makes me slightly dizzy at the same time.
Some might say (my parents certainly did, every time) I deserve a slap for turning my back, at least twice, on things others would have given their eyeteeth to get.
See you next year! I’m only half joking: I have a challenging 300-page novel to translate and no idea yet how to pace myself – it’s so long since I last undertook such a huge amount of work. Years ago, of course, it would have been easy: I would have waited until a few weeks before the deadline before starting on it, and I would have been dead at the end. I am a different person now, thank goodness. Now, if x is the time it takes to do a first draft and y the time it takes to....