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2023 GGBooks Special: The Chat with Peter McCambridge


This year’s Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation was awarded to Peter McCambridge, for Rosa’s Very Own Personal Revolution (QC Fiction, Baraka Books) by Éric Dupont, originally published in French as La logeuse.

According to this year’s peer assessment committee, Melissa Bull, Bilal Hashmi and Pablo Strauss:

"Peter McCambridge’s translation, Rosa’s Very Own Personal Revolution, brilliantly renders Éric Dupont’s vibrant literary universe and rollicking story of an innocent young woman from the Gaspé Peninsula catapulted into turn-of-the-millenium Montréal. This rare feat of literary translation is a seamless, highly readable and wonderfully inventive work in its own right."

Peter McCambridge is a literary translator. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in modern languages from Cambridge University, England. His translations have been World Literature Today Notable Translations, longlisted for Canada Reads and finalists for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation. Originally from Ireland, Peter has lived in Québec City, Quebec, since 2003, where he runs QC Fiction.



Imagine you could spend a day with any author, living or dead. Who would you choose, what would you do, and what would you talk about?

I'd definitely go for a pint with Roddy Doyle. So if you're reading this, Roddy... Failing that, going out with Éric Dupont is already a lot of fun, as it is. I can't imagine how different my life would be if I hadn't picked up a copy of Bestiaire (Life in the Court of Matane) in 2008.

What advice would you give your ten-year-old self about the future?

When I was ten, I wanted to be a policeman. So not to do that. I also didn't speak a word of any language other than English. I think I would have had a hard time believing that one day I'd be living in Canada, speaking German to my wife and French to our children every day.

Your translation of Rosa’s Very Own Personal Revolution brings the story of an innocent young woman from the Gaspé Peninsula in turn-of-the-millennium Montréal to English readers. What were some of the challenges you encountered when translating the text?

The main thing that stays with me from translating Rosa was just how much fun it was. As always, Katherine Hastings revised and polished my translation for me. And we had a back-and-forth with Éric over which version of which pun he preferred in English, things like that. But with Scrabble games, a local accent that made some of the characters sound like they had a permanent cold, poems, songs, and lots of wordplay, I had my work cut out for me. I think that's the difference between literary and commercial translation, though. Éric's novels are always so well written that they're never frustrating or a chore to translate. Nothing's more fun to work on than a good story that's well told.

Nothing's more fun to work on than a good story that's well told.

In your opinion, what is the mark of a superb translation?

One that doesn't read like a translation. I always set out to write down Éric's stories as though he'd written them in English. If we end up with a book that really works in English, that doesn't sound stilted or strange, then we're in a good place. I also think there's a tendency to translate books that people tend to think are somehow difficult or worthy. With all our books at QC Fiction, we work hard to really make our translations shine. And to help make readers realize that reading a novel in translation shouldn't feel like eating your vegetables—it can be great fun too!

Reading a novel in translation shouldn't feel like eating your vegetables—it can be great fun too!

What was the last book by a Canadian author that changed you in some way?

I translate Éric Dupont, but I also run the QC Fiction imprint of fiction in translation for Baraka Books, which published Rosa's Very Own Personal Revolution. I'm always delighted by how young Québec authors continue to be so innovative and original. Recent QC Fiction novels are all very much part of the same narrative family, but Everything Is Ori (a secret invention is destined to change the course of human existence), The Ghost of Suzuko (a very Japanese novel from Québec), and To See Out the Night (12 uncanny short stories) couldn't be more unique.


Excerpt from Rosa’s Very Own Personal Revolution

Rosa had managed to outlive her father because fate had had the decency to lose him at sea while he was out herring fishing one misty day in May 1980, when the lighthouse at Cape Cachalot had inexplicably gone out, never to come on again. The day after the wreck, debris from the boat belonging to Rosa’s father washed up on the shingle beaches of Notre-Dame-du-Cachalot, at the foot of the conked-out lighthouse, at the end of the peninsula where the little girl would go for Saturday afternoon strolls, still looking, years after the disaster, for flotsam that would have served as a relic of the father she had not known and that her mother refused to discuss. All she had of him now were half his genes and the pang of regret she felt at not having known him. Terese had destroyed every last photo that might have helped Rosa explore her past. Only by observing her mother’s features did Rosa manage to piece together a mental image of her late father. Her red hair, blue eyes, and easy gait must have come from him. As for the rest, try as it might, her imagination was none the wiser.

On that Saturday afternoon spent fishing for sea urchins, Terese and her sole contribution to future generations made a peculiar discovery. A huge block of ice had drifted in on the tide during the night, slathered in seaweed. They could make out a purple spot at the centre of the translucent iceberg and resolved to get to the bottom of it. By hook and by crook, they managed to drag the frozen monolith back home, where they waited for the heat to do its work. After hours spent dabbing at puddles with bath towels then wringing them out over the kitchen sink, they had the surprise of their lives when they discovered, clinging to a lifebuoy from the Empress of Ireland—the luxury liner that foundered off Rimouski in the spring of 1914—a shrivelled little old lady, clad in purple velvet.

Was she a victim of the shipwreck, or just some woman who had drowned near Quebec City only for her body to get caught up in a lifebuoy drifting off the coast of Rimouski? No one would ever know. The freezing waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence had prevented the body from putrefying, and it wasn’t until Terese had set her down in front of the oil furnace for eight days straight that the woman’s expression began to soften. It was another couple of weeks before she could pick herself up, and longer still before she could speak again. When at last her jaw allowed her to emerge from more than seventy years of silence, she exclaimed in a voice that seemed to come from beyond the grave: “In like a lion, out like a lamb.” Little Rosa, at barely eight years old, had just learned her first proverb. “And to thingg I was loogging for sea urchins!” Terese exclaimed.

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