Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside…. what joy it was nearly three years after my last translation conference (METM in Split, Croatia in 2019) to finally get together with colleagues for an intense few days of networking, socialising and presentations in the beautiful seaside resort of Brighton. This is probably as close to home turf as a conference can be for me – I’m just 35 miles up the road in a small village on the East Sussex/Kent border, so going to Brighton was always a given for me, even if I hadn’t had major conference withdrawal symptoms! I had already dipped my toes in the water by attending the Draper’s Sustainable Fashion conference back in April, which also felt marvellous – so good to get out and meet people again, and I say that as an inveterate introvert!
Despite my green intentions (in keeping with Brighton’s status as the only UK constituency with a Green MP), I ended up driving, as it takes just under an hour to go by car, compared to a good two by train via either London or Hastings. Plus a Norwegian colleague invited me to lunch the day before it all kicked off and kindly allowed me to leave my car on her drive for the conference duration. Not only did this circumvent the extortionate parking charges that Brighton is renowned for (although quite a few colleagues mentioned the rent-a-driveway scheme which I hadn’t heard about – worth remembering for future events), but also meant I could dash up the M23 and see my father in his care home near Gatwick in an emergency, as he’s still struggling with his mental health. Fortunately, this wasn’t necessary, but it was a relief to know I could if I needed to.
From start to finish, the conference was a delight – full-on, noisy and busy, but exhilarating to meet up with colleagues old and new and discuss our wonderful profession with people who just get what it’s all about. The Grand was the perfect venue too, right on the seafront with magnificent views of the English Channel. I was lucky enough to share a room with Nicki, the new Chair, and we had spectacular grandstand (see what I did there?!) views of the sea. Not that we were in it very much as there was so much going on throughout our three-day stay, with welcome drinks, gala dinner, network dinners (of which more later), yoga, running and sea swimming (for those that way inclined), singing translators (ditto), city tours for first-time visitors and of course the business of the conference itself.
As a recently departed board member, I’d been asked to be a room angel, helping the presenters keep to time and fielding questions at the end of each session. As this was the first truly hybrid event that the ITI has ever held, I think we were all quite nervous how this was going to work, but it all ran like clockwork – a credit to Caroline and her fabulous office team. We had three room angels for each session, with the third as a spare just in case someone couldn’t make it, and, sure enough, Covid still managed to prevent some of our cohort from coming, entailing last-minute juggling with rosters. We tried to take alternate questions from the room and from our online audience, switching between the chat and Q&A panes on the app, but it seemed to work, especially as people got into the swing of it. Colleagues have been talking about the ‘Brighton buzz’ and I think I can safely say that the hybrid format was a huge success. I can’t imagine we’ll go back to any other format from now on.
While networking and socialising, especially after all this time, are a vital part of any professional conference, the content of the presentations is important too, sowing seeds for new ways of working, offering a different take on aspects of our business or simply providing food for thought or that sense of recognition. This year’s conference content was superb: so much to take in – and that was just the sessions we were able to attend. As a room angel, I didn’t have much choice which sessions I attended, but they were all, without exception, brilliant. In fact, I haven’t heard a bad word about any of the presentations. The beauty of a hybrid event, of course, is that all sessions are recorded so we can still look forward to catching up with those we missed. I’ll certainly be scheduling time to do that over the next few weeks – and with the ITI’s newly announced colour-coded scheme of certificates for CPD hours achieved, there’s no excuse for all of us not to achieve our target 30 hours and clock up those next milestones on the road to bronze, silver and gold (150 hours)!
I can only comment on the presentations I attended for the time being, of course, but my favourite was probably Daniel Hahn’s keynote talk about his working process. So brave to publish your first drafts and subsequent steps in the journey to the polished end results, yet I’m sure it chimed with us all. When we first put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), it’s often a case of getting something down on paper/screen before the challenge of creating something beautiful out of those first words can begin in earnest. I loved Daniel’s deadpan style and self-deprecating humour and I certainly related to his description of an initial draft as “an explosion in a multilingual nonsense factory” – we’ve all been there… I asked him at the end whether he ever dictates his translations and he doesn’t, although he did say he knows literary colleagues who do and even some who still write their first drafts out by hand! Interestingly, while I do dictate my technical translations using Dragon speech recognition software, I don’t tend to dictate more creative translations or even my blog posts – I find more creative writing seems to flow better through my fingers.
The theme for this year’s conference was ‘Embracing change, emerging stronger’ and there’s no doubt that we’ve all had to do that over the past two years dealing with the pandemic, to say nothing of other personal challenges. It was fascinating hearing how other people have coped with what life has thrown at them, from the highlights of the other eminent keynote speakers like Isabella Moore, who told us about her amazing career in the translation profession and how she has constantly been able to reinvent herself. Likewise Mary Hockaday, recently Director of BBC World Service, who told us about her progression through the various news channels and made us realise that journalism isn’t that dissimilar to translation: it’s all about using the right language in the right place at the right time. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being gripped by what she had to say.
Other highlights for me included Juliet Baur and Mason Colby’s riveting talk about working with a partner (Twin-engine craft: navigating changing times). I missed their previous presentation in Sheffield, sadly, but it was clear that joining forces with a like-minded partner is a great way of navigating previously uncharted territory and spreading your wings in terms of client reach. Interestingly, they originally met each other in the lunch queue at a previous ITI Conference – another reason to attend such events, as if you needed one! You never know who you will meet or where it will take you when you venture out of your cosy office setting into the real world.
Cate Avery’s session on dealing with client interference (My client wants me to use this awful word! How language changes over time) was an entertaining and interactive presentation with questions, answers and comments flying in from the audience in the room and viewers online. For me, Chris Durban summed it up when she advised accepting slightly iffy client suggestions on low-hanging fruit to save your firepower for the important places in a text: headings and captions. As she said, it’s hard to save clients from themselves sometimes…
On Wednesday, Clare Suttie and Charlie Reston from Atlas Translations gave an enjoyable talk comparing the ‘dinosaur ways’ of 30 years ago with the latest ways of marketing yourself and creating the optimum working environment. Clare’s words definitely struck a chord with me as a prehistoric translator myself, having been translating for nearly 40 years now (dictating for the typing pool, no computers for research, literal cutting and pasting, and Telex machines, anyone?. And yet the essential message is still the same: adapt to the times (I loved Charlie’s innovative video application for her place at Atlas!), be yourself and go with the flow. Talent will out.
Lydia Marquardt gave a whistlestop tour beyond the work-life balance, on making freelance life work for you, by looking into individual character strengths and using them to work out how best to approach work and self-promotion. I’ve done Myers-Briggs personality tests before and always emerge as ISTJ, but these seemed very different; I still need to do the test Lydia left us with at the end of the session (www.viacharacter.org).
Finally (I did say these were my highlights – I’ve had to leave out other presentations that were equally relevant and enjoyable due to lack of space), Michael Robson’s frank session on ‘Honesty: is it the best policy’ wins a special place in my heart. Knowing how much to tell clients about personal problems that may affect your ability to work is always a tricky topic, and one I’ve had to contend with over the past two years of caring for my elderly parents. Michael handled this sensitively and with feeling and I’m wholeheartedly behind him when he says that honesty is the best policy. You don’t have to tell all clients everything, but I think we owe it to ourselves and our clients to be upfront and keep them in the picture.
And before we knew it, it was a wrap – just like that! What a whirlwind few days – networking over coffee breaks and lunch (excellent food from The Grand – you can’t go wrong with fish and chips at the seaside, can you?!), ice cream in the Lanes, and plentiful opportunities to meet colleagues at network dinners or informal gatherings in local pubs. I attended the French Network dinner in Shelter Hall, just over the road from The Grand, this time and it was lovely to meet new faces from other parts of the world. In the past, I’ve been a member of the German Network committee so have tended to attend their events, so it was high time I met people from my other language pair. However, my absolute favourite networking event was without doubt the Foodie Translators’ dinner on the final evening: it has become a tradition for us to get together at conferences and it’s a joy to meet up with colleagues from across the globe, including translators from as far afield as Réunion and Western Australia on this occasion. We went to a well-known Brighton vegetarian restaurant, Terre à Terre, and positively feasted on delicious vegetarian/vegan fare including a heavenly chocolate ganache pudding with a divine blood orange sorbet. Tastes and textures were all to die for – and it was so good to share the experience with like-minded colleagues.
All in all, a wonderful few days! Thank you so much to the ITI for all the effort they have put into organising such a different and enjoyable event. Let’s hope we can put the last few years behind us and continue to meet up with fellow professionals and share experiences whenever we can. I know I’ve come away with new friends, fresh ideas and good intentions – onwards and upwards!
P.S. I couldn’t leave Brighton without a paddle in the sea! Where will we be off to next time, I wonder? In the meantime, I need to catch up with all the presentations I missed…