Glyn Jones died on Saturday 20 September 2014 from cancer. I had known Glyn since 1990 when I approached him about translating William Heinesen’s The Black Cauldron into English. Dedalus wanted to translate 2 books from the then 8 languages spoken in the European Union to celebrate the forthcoming single market as a cultural as well as a commercial event. We had discovered the existence of William Heinesen in a book about European fantastic fiction and thought he would be a perfect choice to represent Danish. Glyn translated The Black Cauldron and went on to translate a further ten books for Dedalus. When you don’t read a language the translation is an unknown quantity and some times the finished product comes as a shock. With Glyn there were no shocks , only epiphanies.
Glyn at the time was Professor of Scandinavian Literature at the University of East Anglia so was doing the translation in his spare time. To be a good translator you must have a good grasp of the nuances and complexities of the language you are translating from and above all, a good command of English. Ultimately the best translators are the ones with the best mastery of English and I would put Glyn in this category. Anyone who wants to find out how good a translator Glyn was should read his translation of The Black Cauldron. It certainly instilled in me an appreciation of the writing of William Heinesen. Glyn helped to organise an event at UEA to celebrate the publication of The Black Cauldron. Not only did he do all the preparation and read from his translation and talk about William Heinesen, but he and Kirsten kindly put up for the night, Aysha Raphael, my young assistant who was doing work experience for Dedalus.
Glyn was a good friend of William Heinesen and had done much to make him known in English and wrote his obituary when he died, aged 91, a few months before our book was ready to be published. I must admit listening to Glyn talking about William Heinesen and the Faroes Islands made me want to publish more translations from William Heinesen and visit the Faroe Islands.
For various reasons, mainly economic, there was a big gap before it was possible to continue with translating the novels of William Heinesen into English. In 2005 I think Glyn was surprised to hear from me again but he did not hesitate to take up the cudgels again even though he had presumed wrongly his career as a translator was over. The Lost Musicians followed in 2006 followed by Windswept Dawn in 2009 , The Good Hope and Mother Pleiades in 2011. Our collaboration extended to William Heinesen’s friend, Jacobsen and his novel Barbara (2013), the most successful novel ever written by a Faeroese author and the novels of Herman Bang as well a translation of Hans Christian Anderson’s Autobiography.
Glyn was actively involved in translating for Dedalus when he celebrated his 85th birthday. He certainly was a good role model and I hope to follow his example and be working up to the very end. What I will remember about Glyn was his enthusiasm and his passion for Danish Literature, especially for the work of William Heinesen. I will also remember our conversations about what television series were worth watching and the programmes he introduced me too. Glyn always seemed to be on the move, going back and forth from Norwich to Denmark with Kirsten by car and off to New Zealand to visit his children. He had a great appetite for life and loved what he was doing which as a translator showed in the end product. He was a translator, first and foremost because of his love for Scandinavia and its literature and people and realised the importance in an era where very little was being translated into English for people like him to be translators and ambassadors for Nordic culture and literature.
Today we have a plethora of Nordic crime in translation and on film and so at least some of Scandinavian culture is finding its way into the English consciousness which pleased Glyn. When all things Scandinavian cease to be ‘in’ we will still have Glyn Jones’ translations to read.There are still 3 more translations by Glyn which have been finished and are yet to appear which will allow Dedalus to commemorate Glyn’s contribution to Dedalus and Danish Literature in the years to come.