The Freelancer Interview – Today: Catherine B.

Catherine is an old hand – she’s been working for Apostroph for an incredible 21 years. Find out how she came to be a translator, what she loves about her chosen profession – and how she copes with the terrorists living in her neighbourhood.

The view from Catherine's window overlooking her neighbourhood

Catherine, tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?

I was born in Durham, England, and brought up with my brother John (who also works for Apostroph) in a small town called Birtley within easy reach of Newcastle upon Tyne. When I was 18, I left the area to study Modern Languages at the University of Oxford.

Did you always know you wanted to become a translator?

In careers lessons at school, I always rejected the idea of becoming a translator as I imagined it to be a pretty solitary (and boring) existence. The diplomatic service interested me briefly, but I was certain I wanted children and didn’t want them to have a life of having to move around. Ideally, I would have gone into teaching, but when I thought of my own area, I wasn’t entirely convinced that teaching French and German would fulfil me.

Why not?

How on earth would I be able to explain to a fifteen-year-old in an inner-city school that German homework was important, when a lot of them at that time knew they would be leaving school to go “on the dole”? I did my degree just after Maggie Thatcher closed down all the mines in our area and unemployment was high then. In effect, I knew I would have to agree with students and would then have a conflict of interests. I would have been teaching something I loved (languages), but possibly to an understandably disinterested and disillusioned audience.

So you were in a bit of a bind. What did you end up doing?

Having had a fantastic year abroad in a small German town called Münsingen, I decided to look for a job in Stuttgart once I had completed my degree. I really had no idea what I would do but then I saw a translation agency’s ad in the paper, submitted an application and got the job. I had my languages, and my boss and colleagues (all with degrees in translation) taught me everything I needed to know about the translation industry. My boss also warned me that translation might be a little dry for me, but I soon combined it with teaching adults and seemed to have the perfect mix.

When did you decide to try your luck as a freelance translator?

After working in the same agency for around eight years. I felt working for myself would give me the freedom to translate what I wanted to translate and, importantly, more flexibility. My husband and I still live in Germany now, just north of Stuttgart with our son Jamie (11) and our cat Talisker (who is 19).

Which languages do you translate, and what are your specialty subjects?

Probably obvious from what I said before, French and German, although I now concentrate solely on German. I do all kinds of different things – some technical work, some tourism, marketing, and I always like the idea of a challenge…

How did you get to work for Apostroph, and what do you enjoy most in this collaboration?

Elisabeth Stofer, one of the founders of Apostroph, contacted me directly back in 2001. There are quite a few of my fellow freelancers and project managers I enjoy working with. You get to “meet” all kinds of different people. I enjoy the security of a regular supply of work and payments always on the same day of the month.

What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Apostroph? Why?

I suppose it would have to be reliability, for the reasons I mentioned above.

Can you tell us about something cool or funny that happened to you in your translating career?

Cool – when I was working through the night covering the 24 Hours of Le Mans and waiting for my contact to send me texts in German, which I had to translate into English as soon as he sent them. And if that was three in the morning, then that was when I worked – with corresponding levels of adrenalin. The texts were for a website of a major car manufacturer. Funny – I guess when I did an interpreting job for the local prison hospital (that I can see from my office window and has had all kinds of prisoners there – ranging from terrorists from the Baader-Meinhof Group to Steffi Graf’s father). I knew I was going to be picked up by a prison ambulance and decided to warn all my Swabian neighbours that I was on an assignment and not actually being put into prison myself. I felt that if I hadn’t done that, there would have been a lot of blind-twitching with the jungle drums then going into overdrive.

What does a typical day in your work life look like?

A typical day? The only typical thing about it is that I organise my working life around my son and my husband. Technically, I work part-time, but I think in terms of the number of hours most people would call it a full working week. It’s often the case that I work in the evenings, or get up at 4 a.m. to do a couple of hours before I pop off to the baker’s to buy fresh bread for breakfast and then start getting everyone else up.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Catherine!

Do you want to know more about Catherine’s brother John or other freelancers on our books? You have a similar path to translation as Catherine’s or a completely different one?

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And stay tuned for more Freelancer Interviews to come in the following months.

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