Siobhán Parkinson

Siobhán Parkinson © Roger Bennett Siobhán Parkinson is a novelist and one of Ireland's best-known writers for children. She has about twenty books in print, a bagful of awards and nominations, and her books have been translated into about twenty languages.Some of her recent titles include Something Invisible for readers of about 10+ (Bisto Honour Book; IBBY Honour book); The Henny Penny Tree, a fairy tale for younger readers; and, Dialann Sár-Rúnda Amy Ní Chonchúir, for girls of about 11-13. She's just finished a new novel for young teenagers, and is working on another Irish-language novel for older children.

Like most writers, Siobhán has a finger in quite a few literary pies. She teaches creative writing (as they insist on calling it, awful phrase), she translates from German, she goes to conferences and harangues people, she edits all kinds of things (magazines, books, it depends …) and her most recent project is commissioning books for Little Island, a new Irish imprint for children and young people.

She lives in Dublin with her husband, who is a woodturner and without her grown-up son, who is a student. She is visually impaired, which means she has to rely mainly on audiobooks for reading, and she works by using magnification software and a voice on her computer.

Three questions to Siobhán Parkinson

Why did you choose to become a translator? Is it the profession you always wanted to have?

Well, I am not exactly a translator, or at least not only a translator. Translating is just part of what I do. I am a writer and a publisher. But, yes, I have always had an interest in the idea of literary translation. The problem is, it's quite a difficult profession to find one's way into. I went to Germany some years ago to a Goethe-Institut international seminar for people involved in literary professions. Most of the other participants were in fact translators, from all over the world, and talking to them and listening to them discuss how they go about finding work to translate and publishers who will take on the translations to publish them inspired me to try this translation business here in Ireland. I have always lamented the poor record of inward translation into English, and I feel that English speaekrs, probably because they do in effect speak a world language, are rather arrogant about their own literature and dismissive of other literatures, which they haven't even read. I wanted to disturb that complacency. One of the Goethe-Institut staff on that seminar recommended Burkhard Spinnen's book Belgische Riesen to me, as she knew I was interested in children's literature, and she also told me he was reading from this book at a Literaturhaus in Berlin, so I went along and heard him reading and met him also. I loved the reading and I loved the book, and I thought to myself, I have to find a way to translate this and get it published in Ireland. But of course very little work is translated into English, so it was difficult to find a publisher who was willing to commission me to translate this book, and in the end, I set up my own publishing imprint so that I could do it myself. Little Island has so far published two translations from German, both by me, and we also publish new books by Irish writers. Next year we will publish translations also from other languages, and then I hope to have one or two more books from German in the following year.
Which German book do you like the best and why?

This is too difficult. I can't answer it.
Is there a particular book you would like to translate?

No. But I do want to translate more children's literature, and I am reading my way around, talking to publishers and checking out various authors. Watch this space!

Selection of translated titles

  • Renate Ahrens: Over the Wall (Die Welt steht Kopf). Little Island, 2010
  • Burkhard Spinnen: The Great Rabbit Revenge Plan (Belgische Riesen). Little Island, 2010