A former chartered surveyor, independent translator since 1997, Alison Layland translates from French into English, German and Welsh. Readers in the United Kingdom discovered Yanick Lahens thanks to her.
Alison Layland was born in England and now lives in Wales, but France is her second home. ‘French was the first language I learned at school. It’s a language that plays an important part in my life, I am passionately interested in the French language and literature,’ she tells us. After studying ancient languages at university – Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic – and modern – French and German – the future translator’s career took an unexpected turn. ‘Chance events led me to work as a chartered surveyor for eight years, before following my instincts to become a translator at the end of the 90s. I think that experience was very useful to me in several ways, in as much as an author or a translator can take advantage of the most varied experience in all domains; it is even an essential part of their training.’
When she finally got started, Alison Layland began by translating creative commercial documents (brochures,Web articles) before tackling books, travelogues and history, from French and German into English. ‘Yet my dream was always to translate novels, especially because I am an author of fiction myself,’she confides. Her dream became reality in 2010 when she entered a competition organised by the Wales Literature Exchange, an organisation which promotes the translation of Welsh and international literature in collaboration with Oxfam. ‘That year, a new Haitian writer was chosen to increase public awareness of the problems in Haiti, devastated bythe tragic earthquake. Working on her text for the competition, I discoveredthe country and became interested in its literature, culture and history,’ she recalls. At the end of the competition – which she won – Welsh publisher Seren commissioned a translation of La Couleur de l’Aube (Sabine Wespieser) by Haitian author Yanick Lahens. A success that opened the door to literary publishing and led to new horizons, particularly with small independent publishers in the UK who specialize in foreign literature.