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Where I Write: Laura Watkinson

Posted 29th Nov 2016

This week’s Where I Write is technically more of a Where I Translate. Brilliant translator Laura Watkinson takes us through the enviable writing spots dotted around her home in Amsterdam – from gorgeous old cafés to a ‘neighbourhood farmhouse’ close to the city centre. Laura is behind the first English translations of Tonke Dragt’s internationally bestselling titles, including The Letter for the King.

I live in a tall, thin house in the centre of Amsterdam. When we moved here, I saw that I’d finally be able to have my own little office all to myself, at the front of the house, overlooking the canal. Perfect, I thought…

I soon ran into a few problems with my office, though. Firstly, the view through the window was a little too interesting. It doesn’t look so great on a cloudy day in November, but it’s a lot more cheerful in the summer, when the boats are going by. There’s even one man who comes past occasionally in a musical boat with an organ and various instruments including a conch, and performs little water concerts. Taking a peek out of the window is always so tempting… There’s also the fact that, to answer the door, I have to race down three flights of stairs, two of which are spiral staircases and one of which is essentially a ladder, and that’s no fun when you’re waiting for a parcel. Over time, my shelves and desk filled up too, and eventually the books ousted me. Spot the Tonke Dragt titles, including the recently arrived The Song of Seven.

So I descended to the kitchen on the ground floor, which is much cosier. The kettle’s nearby, I have plenty of space, and Bear the cat approves. I have a little tray full of useful bits and bobs and knickknacks, which the cat and I both enjoy rearranging. He’s particularly interested in the little rubber duck, and I noticed that my fluffy Easter chick tragically appears to have lost an eye.

Some of my favourite bits and bobs in the box are a prayer card with a frankly rather scary photo of a statue of St Jerome, the patron saint of translators, from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon, and a playing card signed by Hans Klok, the Dutch stage magician with the magnificent mane, wishing me “Lots of magic”. Thanks, Hans.

The train’s also a great place to work. I sometimes travel down to Antwerp, where the Flemish Literature Fund have their office, and I always manage to get plenty of translating and reading done on the way down there.

If I get tired of my kitchen at home, there are plenty of other places to work in Amsterdam that also have food and drinks that I don’t have to prepare myself, which is always a good thing. There’s even a café on the top floor of the fabulous central library in Amsterdam (www.oba.nl), which normally has fantastic views over the city, except when the weather’s so gloomy that it defies all attempts at photography. It’s worth checking out that view and the library itself, though, if you’re ever in Amsterdam.

Other favourite cafés/desks are the beautiful old Café Thijssen (www.cafethijssen.nl) in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam, which is less than five minutes by bike from my house and does great toasties, and Mediamatic (www.mediamatic.net), which is up by the water and has a fine view of the ship-like NEMO science museum. There’s always something interesting going on there, whether it’s a new pizza topping or an art installation involving public urinals.

I think my best desk away from home, though, has to be at the Buurtboerderij Ons Genoegen (http://www.buurtboerderij.nl/), a “neighbourhood farmhouse” that’s a little bit of countryside very close to the centre of the city, about a twenty-minute bike ride away on the other side of a park, which clears the head quite nicely. It’s more of a café and a community centre than an actual farm, although they do have a few very nice sheep, who were sadly rather soggy last time I visited. In the summer, though, it’s such a calming and peaceful location.

There’s no better place to proofread translations than at one of their tables in the garden, which I spent a day doing not so long ago when I was working on Tonke Dragt’s The Song of Seven. I’m looking forward to returning when the weather warms up next spring. In the meantime, while the cold wind blows outside and around the world, I’m going to read books, translate more great stories, work for what I believe in, and focus on the wise words of the wet sheep at the Buurtboerderij: Let your love grow.

Laura Watkinson is the translator of The Letter for the King, The Secrets of the Wild Wood, The Song of Seven and The Goldsmith and the Master Thief by Tonke Dragt, as well as Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw and Lampie by Annet Schaap.