Meet the Translator: Interview with Frances Riddle (Spanish to English)

Frances Riddle, febrero 2022

Today’s Meet the Translator post is a follow up to my blog post where I reviewed Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro and translated by Frances Riddle. I thought I would take the opportunity to find out more about not only the translating process but also more about the translator herself Frances Riddle.

First, could you please introduce yourself.

Hello, my name is Frances Riddle and I’m a translator of Spanish-language literature. I’m originally from Houston, Texas, USA, but I’ve lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina since 2010. 

What was your inspiration for pursuing a career in translation? And how did you get started?

For me an obsession with the Spanish language came first. I spent many years focused on improving my language skills, living in Spain and Mexico. In Barcelona, I was asked randomly to do some translations and I discovered that I loved it. Then I moved to Buenos Aires which is a very literary city with incredible authors and gorgeous bookshops everywhere. I come from a family of librarians and I’ve always been a big reader so since I loved translating and I loved books, literary translation was the perfect fit. 

Why did you want to translate Elena Knows?

Elena Knows was the first book I read when I moved to Buenos Aires in 2010 and the person who lent me the book said that if I wanted to know about contemporary Argentine literature I had to read Claudia Piñeiro, who is a legend here. She is the queen of suspense, and this book hooks you right away and it’s not an easy read but you keep going because you’re dying to find out what happens. It’s also very visual, I feel like I’ve seen all the events play out before my eyes, almost like I’ve watched it as a movie. And in fact, it’s being made into a movie now by Netflix. And I was also impressed by the overriding feeling as you read that you’re in the hands of a master storyteller. She’s leading you down this one path, which you don’t really trust but you also could never imagine the surprising twists and turns she ends up taking you on. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a translator?

I would say what I feel has helped me the most as a translator of Spanish is living in Spanish-speaking countries for something like 15 years now. That daily contact with the language makes my job infinitely easier, I think, and there’s also an access to the literature that I imagine would be harder if I were living far away. So my advice would be to go to a country where they speak the language you want to translate, spend as much time as you can there, befriend the local booksellers, better yet, marry one and stay there forever. 

What authors/translators do you like to read? And what five books do you feel have really shaped and inspired you as a translator and a person?

Translators I admire are Megan McDowell, Esther Allen, Daniel Hahn, Lawrence Schimel, Maureen Shaughnessey, Sarah Moses, and many others. I read a lot of YA and middle grade and I recently re-read several books I loved as a kid so for five books that have shaped me I’ll say: The Giver by Lois Lowry, A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, and The Borrowers by Mary Norton. 

What books are you excited about or working on now?

I’m excited about all the books I’m working on now. My first translation of 2022 was a book by Argentine author Sara Gallardo. This is a co-translation with Maureen Shaughnessy and I’m excited about it because we have been trying to get Gallardo published for years and finally Archipelago Press was able to secure rights to one of her titles. I also just turned in my second translation by Isabel Allende and it’s a dream to get to work with such a legend of Spanish-language literature. The next book I’m about to start is a collection of short stories by Ecuadorian author María Fernando Ampuero who writes in the most raw, brutal, powerful way. And then I’ll start on my second novel by Claudia Piñeiro which will be published by Charco Press. 

Are there any Spanish books that you would love to translate in the future?

I want to translate everything but I’m especially interested in working on literature for children and young adults. There are very few presses publishing kids’ lit in translation but I’ve been obsessively collecting gorgeous children’s books from Argentina and I hope to get to translate some of them one day. 

When it comes to the promotion of the books that you have translated how involved are you?

I love to be involved in promoting books in any way possible. It wasn’t something I was asked to do much before the pandemic because I live so far away from where the translations are published but now it feels like the world has become smaller in a way since we’ve all gotten used to virtual book launches and Zoom interviews. Especially if an author doesn’t speak English it falls to the translator to speak up for the book and I’m always happy to do that. 

Has the perception of Spanish Literature in translation changed during the time you have worked as a translator?

I think it has changed, or at least my perception of it has. Before, the “greats” were all these very serious men writing very erudite and honestly, in my opinion, often very boring work that would end up putting me to sleep when I tried to read it. Right now female writers are having a huge moment in Latin American literature and that has come alongside the feminist movements across the region. I feel like the “great” literature being published and translated today is overwhelmingly female and also much more exciting. 

Finally, what are you currently reading.

I’m currently reading Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. When I finish that I want to read the Booker Shortlist titles.

Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview and I cannot wait to read more of your translations in the future.

Thank you; it was my pleasure and I’d be delighted to talk to you again any time!

(Photo of the book is my own and photo of Frances Riddle is the property of Frances herself so please do not copy/take without permission first).

One response to “Meet the Translator: Interview with Frances Riddle (Spanish to English)

  1. Pingback: June Wrap-Up | Where there's Ink there's Paper·

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