People who rock the industry: speaker and translator Lucy Brooks

People who rock the industry: speaker and translator Lucy Brooks

Together with Anne Diamantidis of The Stinging Nettle, we continue our series series: “People who rock the translation industry!”. We are interviewing people who have made a positive contribution, no matter how small or large, to the translation industry – at the international, national or local level. Meet, or get to know better, a fantastic speaker and translator Lucy Brooks.

Hello Lucy! Thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed. Can you tell us a bit about you, your personal and professional background?

Lucy Brooks

I come from a monolingual family where no language other than English was spoken. My great aunt, also called Lucinda, studied modern languages at Queens Belfast, and was in Germany studying in August 1914. Apparently she had some adventures getting home to Ireland as war broke out over Europe. My love of language must have come from her as no-one else in my family ever excelled at any language, apart from my grandfather who was a Latin scholar. I remember that he loved Winnie ille Pu when it was published in Latin, and used to get me to read it to him.

I learned all three of my languages (French, German and Spanish, plus Latin) at school and later at college, where I studied law, French and German translation, and commerce. My first secretarial job was with a firm of solicitors. It was, and still is, the Royal Family’s firm of solicitors, but as a very junior member of the staff I was barely aware of our royal clients. I did my first legal translations there – probably very badly – without supervision and without the proper resources.

I took further secretarial jobs with a news agency and then in the dizzy world of advertising, before setting off on my travels to Spain, where I spent seven years in travel and tourism.

Later, I returned to the UK with my toddler son and started a word processing business in the days when computing and word processing were completely new. That developed into provision of computer training, consultancy work with an industrial PR company, and a part-time job in local government. So you see I was, unknown to me, preparing myself for my future career as a translator by working in many different fields.

I had always wanted to be a freelance translator but frankly the need to earn a living made me very nervous of branching out on my own.

But when I met my husband Bob in 1990 things changed. Suddenly I had the security he offered to go freelance. But I needn’t have worried! I had my first major job within a couple of weeks and have been busy more or less ever since.

What were the turning points in your career that got you where you are now?

There has really been a series of turning points as I explain above. Perhaps the first was the word processing business, which meant I had a head start over many of my age group regarding computers. Then there was the day I made that all-important decision to go freelance, although I kept the part-time job as CEO of a busy Parish Council for a few years before going full-time. Belonging to, and serving with, the Chartered Institute of Linguists provided another boost to my career. I became a Chartered Linguist in 2008, in fact I was the first to obtain that credential. Sadly I can no longer use the CL accreditation because the criteria stipulate that I must translate more than I do at present. (The scheme is currently under review, so perhaps I might revive it in the future.) 

I would also say that the coming of the Internet was the main thing that guided the steps of my career. Before the Internet was available to everyone, offering communication by email and networking, I had felt isolated, unsure and alone.

Your website and LinkedIn profile say you have been a freelance translator for 22 years and 3 months. That’s impressive and inspirational! Could you tell us what were the most important lessons that you’ve learned?

Proofread on paper, leave work overnight if possible and have the confidence to change sentence structures to suit the language and target audience. Learn not to stick blindly to the original structure. Identify problem areas and ask questions. Add translator notes if something remains unclear, but sparingly. Have confidence in your own writing ability. Keep learning new skills and developing the ones you have.

On your website you state that you have not missed a deadline. How does one achieve that? Do you have any organisation or productivity tips?

To keep organised I use Post-it notes (electronic ones), I make lists, diary and calendar notes, I have a job tracking system and also many piles of paper about my desk. I am quite untidy, like my father before me, but I know where all the piles are and what they are.

In April 2010 you founded eCPD Webinars, a company providing high-quality online webinars and training for translators and interpreters. Where did the idea come from?

The idea came from the time I was serving on the translating division committee for the Chartered Institute of Linguists. People were asking us to arrange less London-centric events, but it was hard for volunteers to organise face-to-face seminars at venues outside their own region. So we ran a few trial webinars and the take-up and feed-back was good. But it took up a lot of my time – maybe because I was so enthusiastic about the venture – and it became too much for a single volunteer. I also found it difficult to run an online (and therefore fast-moving) venture through a committee, so it was agreed with the CIoL that I should run webinars as a commercial venture.

You are speaking about Continuing Professional Development at the next ITI Conference in May 2013. Why do you think CPD matters for translators and interpreters?

I believe that CPD is the key to translators being – and being viewed as – professionals, experts in their field, just as, for example, accountants or dentists are viewed by the outside world. But we also owe it to the world to BE professional. It is essential to keep up with developments, to learn new skills, to diversify into new areas. Only by undertaking a structured programme of CPD will we even start to convince our customers that we are not selling a commodity, but providing a professional service. We have to differentiate between the professionals and the charlatans. I believe that CPD must become compulsory and that the professional bodies need to do more to present their members as professionals to the outside world. 

Running such a business alongside being a translator is an interesting way of diversifying your sources of income. Does it work for you?

Many people of my age have already retired. I am still working hard and want to do so for quite a few years to come, although perhaps less intensively. eCPD takes up a good amount of my time, so I am doing less translation work these days and tend to pick and choose. But sometimes when more than one client comes at me at the same time with work I choose to do I get a little stressed. But I enjoy pressure and I love both sides of my work.

What piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

Join a professional association, take up a mentoring scheme if the association offers one, and participate in egroups and forums. As your career progresses, you should start a structured programme of CPD so that you can develop your career as you discover where your strengths lie.

People who rock the translation industry

Lucy, you rock the industry!

I also recommend the Marta Stelmaszak Business School for Translators (Marta: Thanks, Lucy!) which we are running so successfully at eCPD. In just five lessons, trainees receive a ton of great common sense advice on how to make the best of their qualities, how to gain and retain clients, negotiate with them, and enter the world of freelance translating with confidence.

In your opinion, what does the future of our profession look like?

I think the future is bright for the high end, the very professional end of our profession. But it is still a dismal outlook for the low end, where the bottom-feeders lurk, dare I say, and where cheap holds sway over quality and professionalism.

Thank you, Lucy! You’ve been awarded our You Rock the Translation Industry Badge! Well deserved. Do you have any comments or follow up questions to Lucy? Use the space below!

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