Kaixo means hello in Euskara, the language of the Basque Country. I never uttered it during my METM22 stay in Donostia because I have not mastered even the rudiments of this language, and wouldn’t know WTF to say if someone said Kaixo back to me.

To my shame, I survived coffee shops and buses and the like by speaking pseudo-Spanish, challenged as I am in that language. I cheerfully plugged in the odd Portuguese word when I had emptied my pockets of all the Spanish ones I know. This has the rather pleasing effect of being regarded as one of those mad cat ladies, but without the cats. This is what I call the gloriously irresponsible freedom of being a stranger.

I was a bit disappointed to have missed out on the limited places available at the rapid-fire Euskara lesson given as an Off-METM activity on the Thursday morning of METM22, but delighted at the enthusiasm of a colleague describing the ergative case to me while I guzzled a whole bottle of cider during the MET Book Club lunch shortly thereafter. No one else wanted a glass, honest. The programme promised “Book Club lunch: reading for pleasure”. Silly me, I thought the lunch would entail sitting around, reading together in relative silence, as we have often done online during the last couple of years.

Obviously, if it’s a toss-up between eating and reading, all true bookworms choose reading. But it’s no contest when what is on offer is eating in excellent company while talking about the lovely books we’ve been reading versus reading on one’s own in a bus shelter, no snacks.

Fortified by fettuccine

Fortified by the first of two fabulous fettuccine dishes during my Donostia experience and a generous helping of something else delicious I could not pronounce, I floated off to my first Joy Burrough-Boenish workshop since 2015.

I counted myself lucky that I got in early enough for METM22 registration to secure a place at the Editing theses and dissertations written in English by non-native speakers workshop. Also, I should mention that I am not used to talking about myself by way of round-table introductions: my bookcase is testimony to the fact that I have copyedited two academic books – one in 2019 and one in 2020, so it’s not just master’s theses and the odd academic article that I set my editing hatchet or translation quill to. Big deal. I still feel like the baby in the room in these workshop settings, and that’s the whole point. Even now, I have gaps in my knowledge, and need to stretch outside of my comfort zone. I love the intensity of it all.

Joy must keep a little box stored with all the difficult-to-edit excerpts she finds in the course of her work because these are what she presented to us as problems to solve in advance of the workshop, and what we got to work on in threesomes in the workshop. Observing what fault others see in these problem sentences is an education in itself.

Workshop participants responded with interest and real-life examples to Joy’s deep dive into what constitutes editing and the ethical considerations and boundaries that are a necessary part of this practice, and provided plenty of recent studies and fresh material for us to scrutinize and ponder. I loved this interaction because it led right to the beating heart of people I am honoured to call colleagues.

Participants also provided valuable insights into their processes, issues they confront and how they deal with clients, most often students or post-doctoral authors. Some expressed their exasperation eloquently*:

The level of competence of a writer is inversely proportion to their arrogance!

Fiona Kennedy
* The asterisk is here!
In case you wondered
Permission granted
by all those quoted.
May I quote you on that? 
I said
They said 
Both parties smiled.

Apart from the wonderful notes received after METM22, useful takeaways from this workshop included a link to the Institute of Professional Editors Limited (IPEd) and a reminder to read again the SENSE proofreading guidelines.

Slightly more nebulous was the feeling that although I work in large part outside academic institutions, my intuitive approach is on track, as is the service I provide.

Intuition rarely springs up newborn and fully-formed, however; it is somewhat ethereal, but grounded, in this case, in years of eclectic reading and observing great scholars and great writers, and how they do it. It is precious, indeed, to be taught by experts like Joy. I feel stronger and better able to deal with future work more effectively.

Wine in my wheelhouse

The side effects of the lunchtime cider had thoroughly worn off by the end of the workshop. So, it was with the idea of a deliciously crisp sparkling wine with a creamy finish swirling about in my head that I happily took a seat in the translation slam between Es-En wine translators Simon Berrill and Karin Rockstad. Presentation of the relevant translation excerpts on the big screen throughout was a stroke of practical, hybrid genius.

Language pair aside, this subject is definitely in my Portuguese wheelhouse. Each of the slammers came up with some spot-on workings. The tasting notes tackled were short enough to hold in one’s mind, and I amused myself by blending the best of both slammers’ efforts to create a third draft in my head. Discussion as to the reason for their respective choices was a strong reminder that it is always important to ask, “Who and what is this text for?”

I was an ineffective host for an Off-METM, themed dinner for compulsive editors that night, merely because everyone was so chatty, and the best thing I could do was simply listen.

Waking up and smelling the coffee

Friday morning’s workshop on Editing humanities and social science texts: theory and practice facilitated by Theresa Truax-Gischler and Maria Sherwood-Smith was the highlight of my METM22, and, quite possibly, of my learning life since university, back when grandpa fell off the ox wagon. Those who know me will tell you that I am not given to hyperbole. This well-structured 3.5-hour workshop packed a powerful punch and prompted me to flex muscles that few ever ask me to own up to.

A world of thought and two lifetimes of experience and insights encapsulated in the Editing humanities and social science texts: theory and practice workshop facilitated by Theresa Truax-Gischler and Maria Sherwood-Smith

Our Session 1 exercise had us in groups of three identifying and colour-coding high, medium and low levels of abstraction in sample texts. We also had to circle key concepts and underline bridges (such as apposition or sustained definition). The result would reflect whether the nice, long Social Sciences paragraph followed the ideal “uneven U-shape” for abstraction levels, something which both establishes the argument and pushes it forward at the level of the paragraph, section, chapter and book. This beautiful architecture was something of a light-bulb moment for me. My mostly private ramblings hitherto about “structure” and “cohesion” in discourse slotted into place; they had found their home.

With these concept-coloured glasses on, it became clearer to me why editors of academic papers make comments and queries the way they do. As workshop participant and editor Taylor McConnell said, if a writer has not pre-empted his question by providing a definition, then he will comment or query.

One PhD student sent his thesis in chunk by chunk—and not the whole thing all at once—which is so obnoxious; it’s not my fault that I had to comment on and query so much.

Taylor McConnell

Session 2 dealt with style in the Human and Social Sciences, focusing on syntax and semantics, verbal versus nominal styles, theme-rheme patterns, editorial pitfalls, and mounds and mounds of useful tips. Although the waves of information kept coming at me, my feet were now firmly planted on the editorial sea-bed, and I could scrunch the sand between my toes. (It’s my blog post and I can squeeze as many metaphors into a paragraph as I like!)

The numerous examples given were excellent, and each tiny bit of content was referenced to the hilt: no fiction reading for me for the next few months! One thing that must be important to me, for I have written it in block capitals in my notes, is that syntax bears a message, as does terminology, and syntax is functional on a semantic level. If you change the syntax, you risk changing the argumentation structure. Fair warning for any gung-ho editor out there. Possibly obvious, but conferences also serve to galvanise our existing knowledge and practice as well as provide us with new knowledge and skills, so generously shared as they were in this workshop.

Txoria Txori

In the METM choir practice that followed, I remember clearing my throat quite a lot, and so did not contribute much to the rising of mellifluous voices. It could have been because I was subjected to an air-conditioned environment during the workshop, but I wonder now if it could have been the beginnings of the dreaded Lurgy. I decided it was the former since I felt fine in time for the panel discussion in the afternoon.

I do love a good panel discussion, because that is when people give voice to some of their truest and most passionate opinions and the inspirational part comes from the dynamics between the panellists, and between the panel and the audience. If any session encapsulated the theme of METM22, The personal touch, it was this one. Language inherited and inhabited: multilingualism, selves and worlds was an absolute delight from start to finish as was Julie Sedivy’s book, Memory Speaks: On Losing and Reclaiming Language and Self, which had sparked the idea for this topic among members of the panel a few months before. The book is read by the author on Audible Books, by the way, and is probably a better bet than reading it in paper form on your own, given the phonetic dimension of the many languages she touches on.

What I particularly liked about this discussion was that everyone in the audience was multilingual. Just as Julia Sedivy’s book resonated with the panel, so too did the panellists’ perspectives strike a chord with those in the auditorium. It was also one of the most interesting end-of-presentation Q&A sessions I have experienced. Bravo, panellists all!

Room without a view

I should take a breather at this point to mention that METM22 was the first conference in many years for which I was completely organised in advance; all work done, and bags packed well in advance. I even got a full night’s sleep before the day of departure.

I did not get an A+ on my accommodation, though. My single room at the Pension was convenient because of the many different buses that could take me to the METM venue, and because it was on the doorsteps of the Catedral del Buen Pastor and close to the train and bus station. All wonderful. But the room itself was airless; the window opened out onto the well of the central courtyard, where all laundered sheets hung to dry, and where someone had also placed a smelly mop. The ceiling fan, a possible source of salvation, whizzed around so rapidly that I swear the whole pension would have become airborne had I left it on longer than two minutes. No, it was not the adjustable kind.

To get air, and cool off, I had to go downstairs and leave the building. This led to nightly walks around Donostia between the hours of 03:00 and 06:30. All very interesting, but it did make me sleepy.

It was this sleepy but adrenalin-pumped self who sat down with interest to listen to Jon Andoni Duñabeitia’s keynote address on A look inside the multilingual mind: how words and contexts interact as we understand and produce language. I am guessing that I heard about two-thirds of this fascinating address before I drifted off into multilingual dreamland. I awoke to the pulsations of what seemed like minutes-long applause, and checked my chin for dribble (none, thank God). The photo below shows me unresponsive to whatever everyone else was laughing about. Documented!

Keynote speaker Jon Andoni Duñabeitia and his mostly rapturous audience. Photo credit: MET and photographer Jone Karres

There was no time for sleeping as we wended our way up to the Palacio Miramar for the Welcome Reception. It was great to see our assembled colleagues out in the open as we juggled wine glasses and cameras, and wished for a third hand to pop hot snacks into our mouths, all the while talking ten to the dozen. The Ugarte Anaiak/the Ugarte Brothers wowed the crowd with their playing of the txalaparta, a rhythmic beating of the ends of wooden batons on wooden boards. The rhythms are unlike anything I have heard in Africa, or any of the Brazilian beats that commonly accompany capoeira; aside from the complex interplay between the two players, each movement has a longer arc than my ear is used to hearing, which made for many moments of surprise and delight. A couple of brave audience members tried their hand at txalaparta after the main performance. Sadly my phone ran out of storage space at this precise moment, so I have no video of these performances.

Ugarte Anaiak/The Ugarte Brothers before their txalaparta performance

Dinner that night was a very loud HSS affair at an Italian restaurant downtown. I secretly couldn’t cope with all the noise, so conversed less than usual, despite the excellent company at my end of the table, and simply focused on my second fabulous fettuccine.

Saturday morning started bright and early with a 25-minute warm-up walk to Ondarreta Beach, where Emma Goldsmith led us in her daily gentle stretching regime, just as the sun was rising. A brisk walk back to my pension (now my third time that day along the same route, if you count my walk at around 3 a.m.).

Donostia’s streets are washed in the early hours of the morning

I made it back to the conference centre in time to hear Simon Berrill speaking on Translation or editing? Making MT your own, about how he has incorporated DeepL into his workflow at the first draft stage to speed up his process, thereby freeing up time to think more about quality improvements than he had before, without this tool. As with any tool, there are many approaches to explore to find one that works best for you. DeepL may not be the answer to all things, but it is gaining ground as one tool among many to consider when finding le mot juste in translation work. As a non-translator friend of mine said recently, “the human part is the art”.

The human part is what I loved about Linda Jayne Turner’s Spit and polish: interactive editing session. We split up into groups of four for the exercises she provided. It is both instructive and fascinating to see others at work, and how such collaboration can really tighten up a text. When we reviewed the results of group work together, some people queried whether we should use “Earth” or “earth” in our sample text.

Chicago Manual of Style says to use an initial lowercase unless it’s used in a celestial sense, which is very vague.

Danielle Carter

Danielle’s quick smartphone look-up and stream-of-consciousness comment gave us both the enlightenment and levity that characterised this session.

Crafting a text was at the heart of a Spanish-English session Kate Major and Simon Berrill held jointly called Consequences – Spanish Translators’ Edition. Despite my rudimentary Spanish, I attended this session because I am interested in the process of translation, especially when there are what are loosely described as translation difficulties in texts; the language pair becomes almost secondary, while the target text and text type leap to the foreground. I was so impressed by the process of one colleague in our small group that in the coffee break afterwards, I suggested that she edit my next sizeable job in the appropriate language pair. That opportunity hasn’t presented itself yet, but I look forward to it nonetheless.

Fiona Kelso beamed in from Barcelona for the next session I attended, entitled How far can we stray? Considering the translator’s agency in translating texts. In offering a fresh perspective on what many of us already incorporate into our translations practice, Fiona’s bottom line was that the collaborative relationship you have with the client/the author of the text defines your agency as a translator, and will determine in large part the extent to which you can stray from the source text, with the client’s blessing, moreover.

Sally Orson-Jones, most ably interviewed by Helen-Oclee-Brown, was METM22’s second keynote speaker. Her book-doctoring mentorship has proven invaluable to writers. Sally’s intuitive sense for what works in a book is what makes her sought after by writers, many of who are now famous as a result of her incredibly kind and shrewd nudging. I am just as thrilled as she is that jobs such as these exist in the world. And readers around the world should be too. That Sally is able to take collaboration to another level on the road less travelled by is nothing short of inspiring.

I sat a few more moments than necessary in my seat. For me, METM22 was almost over. I was not able to attend the closing dinner, because like others, I could have caught COVID. So, I caught up with a friend in a similar situation over a pleasant meal outdoors before heading back to my pension via the esplanade. I gather the after party at the dinner was enormous fun. I shall save my dancing shoes for next time.

The great outdoors and the world beyond

Eager METM attendees about to embark on the Camino de Santiago trail

On Sunday morning, I managed about twenty minutes of Mass in Euskara in my lycra walking gear at the Catedral del Buen Pastor before taking a bus to arrive in good time for the Sunday morning walk. Lots of us crowded into the Funicular Monte Igueldo to the starting point of a 4.5 km walk on the Camino de Santiago. It was an opportunity to chat with people, this time amid beautiful natural surrounds.

The cow in verdant pasture beneath an apple tree with the vast sea in the background is not so proverbial where I come from.

I will admit that running the last 50 metres uphill to ensure we could catch the bus down to the town again had me quite knackered. The bus stopped to offload passengers, and each time, there were cheerful and loud farewells to our colleagues. The handful of us left when the bus came to a stop decided another meandering in the Old Town would do us good, as would the Pintxos.

Scoffing pintxos in the Old Town. Photo credit: Yvonne Gallagher

I mentioned that I was not really hungry, despite the unusual snacks on my plate, and that was when I gathered that last quote of my time in Donostia:

METM is an appalling influence on our health.

Timothy Barton

As I raised the enormous bowl of a glass full of icy gin and tonic to my lips, I gently begged to differ, and then smiled later when the group conversation turned to the pursuit of a must-have slice of cheesecake before another meandering stroll along the pier. There is nothing nicer than talking of the philosophy of translation with new-found friends while gazing at waves crashing against the great black rocky shore. Except, perhaps sharing cheesecake with them.

It was late afternoon by the time I got to my pension again, My feet were sore, despite my good footwear. I took a selfie in the reflection of the fancy shop window.

Spot the tired traveller in pink.

I turned into a statue for a moment, until I remembered that there was one more thing to translate for the latest coffee table book (message received late Saturday afternoon), so I reanimated myself towards the pension shower. Thanks to the advice of a colleague, I used my mobile as a hotspot, for the pension WiFi did not work on my laptop.

Selfie doctored with Lunapic

I took a breather between translating and revising. I strolled down to the promenade; it was full of life with Sunday families enjoying the violinists in the square, taking in the sights and sounds of La Concha beach much as they probably did during La Belle Époque in slightly more formal attire when this city seemed to have had its heyday.

I sat down and listened to a Jamaican singing English songs. He took me back a couple of decades to a distant land, but here, the collective laid-back feeling was joyful. One could be fooled into thinking it was permanent.

@ELHMALICK strumming his stuff

Now that I am home (after a journey fraught with flight delays, a week’s quarantining with “COVID light”, and couple of very busy working months), I would like to thank everyone who worked so hard to make METM22 the successful, pleasurable and incredibly social gastronomic and learning experience it was. I did not get to greet everyone, much less have a short conversation with them, but I value the opportunity to forge new ties and strengthen old ones. The Donostia flower that grew into METM22 took a long time to bloom, but it was spectacular when it did!

©2022 Allison Wright

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