Introducing –

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. 2011 defines wordsmith as:

  1. A fluent and prolific writer, especially one who writes professionally.
  2. An expert on words.

For the purposes of this blog, we prefer a wider definition, one that embraces all those who (like the undersigned, a professional translator) use words - both those in their mother tongues and those in the foreign languages they aspire to command - as the tools of their trade and the object of their passion.

JeanThis blog has its genesis in a French-language blog,, (LMJ) maintained by me and by my friend and master-wordsmith, Jean Leclercq. For several years LMJ has run monthly interviews, initially with translators and subsequently with other linguists. We have dubbed each such interviewee “Linguist of the Month”.The initial goal of WordsmithsBlog is to reproduce interviews conducted in English, (as opposed to those conducted directly in French) and published on Le Mot Juste. Past interviewees have run the gamut of wordsmiths, including poet Hélène Cardona, translator John Woodsworth, linguist, broadcaster and educator David Crystal, historian Peter Hicks, lexicographer and terminologist René Meertens and interpreter Ewandro Magalhães  – all trailblazers in their fields. Hopefully the lives and careers of future interviewees will capture the interest of our readers, as those of our past guests have done for readers of Le Mot Juste.

Helene Cardona 2


David Crystal

Hélène Cardona

David Bellos

David Crystal 


Hicks 11.19

Meertens 1.2019

Ewandro Magalhães

Peter Hicks 

René Meertens 

Finally, a word about our interviewers: in addition to your humble bloggers, Jean and myself, many guest linguists coming from widely different fields of language and literature have taken on that role. They include Michèle Druon, professor of French studies, Cynthia Hazelton, lecturer in legal and commercial translation, Joelle Vuille, professor of criminal law, Silvia Kadiu, lecturer in translation studies, Isabelle Pouliot, Grant Hamilton, French-English translator and author - to name only a few.We invite you to subscribe to You can then enjoy regular postings designed to open a window for you on the varied lives of these fascinating people — wordsmiths who share your love of language.

Michele DRUON Grant Hamilton updated

Michèle Druon

Grant Hamilton

Cynthia Hazelton

Kadiu 11.19

Isabelle Pouliot


Silvia Kadiu

  Isabelle Pouliot

Joelle Vuille


My imageJonathan Goldberg,

Los Angeles, 28 November, 2019

Interview with American wordsmith Jacqueline Suskin

Wordsmiths of varying stripes and colours appear on this blog-  socio-linguists, juridical terminologists, etc. But no-one we ever interview is likely to have as unconventional an occupation as our current interviewee, Jacqueline Suskin, a "performance poet", who has chosen this niche field within the world of poetry.

Jonathan G. interviewed Jacqueline at Echo Park Lake, an island of tranquility in the bustling city of Los Angeles. Jacqueline appeared for the interview, very elegantly dressed and carrying the tools of her profession - a tiny Hermes Rocket typewriter and small loose-leaf note-pad.

  JS - Echo  
  photo Jonathan G.

At the end of the interview, conducted while sitting on a bench overlooking the lake, we asked her to write a poem on the subject of French. Her text was as follows:


Taken from the tone of old world
the feeling is in truth
a place and all that land can gather.

So much that time and lineage
show us what it is to be from
some magic center of culture
that continues to speak with hints
of history, romantic and fully
formed by those who keep such
rythmic language alive.

- jacqueline suskin

In addition to the quality and depth of her poems, one astonishing aspect of her work is her ability to begin typing her poem the moment she hears the subject given to her. Immediately we told her our chosen theme, she instantly began banging out the poem and completed it within about 2 minutes.

JS typewriter & poem


JG: The name Jacqueline is very French. Do you come from a French family?

JACQUELINE: I am third-generation American but I have French ancestors on both my parents' sides.

JG: When did you first take up poetry and what influenced you to follow that direction?

JACQUELINE: I still have notes that I made when I first learnt to write at kindergarten. They are cryptic and largely unintelligible, but they reveal a definite desire on my part to express myself in writing. In 7th grade I was allocated part of a literary project and I ended up

writing a complete book. Later my father, a very literate person, read literature to me and installed in me a love of words and an appreciation of their power. At university I studied anthropology with the focus on linguistic history. I also took creative writing courses, mostly in poetry.

JG: The highlight of your working week takes place at the Hollywood Farmers Market, where you sit and receive poetry orders from passers-by. "The lady with the typewriter",  a fixed feature of the Market, sits amidst the fruit and vegetable vendors, the musicians and other participants. What made you choose that unusual work location?

JS - poem store 2

JACQUELINE : I love the vibrancy and diversity of the Market. The click-clack of my typewriter keys attracts the attention of passers-by. My typewriter serves as my mouthpiece. Some people are fascinated by this antiquated tool. Some younger people have never seen a typewriter.

JG: You could have chosen a laptop computer, to store all the poems you write for future reference.

JACQUELINE: Each poem I write comes from deep within me, but once it is typed out, I have no need to remember it.  Each poem is unique, even those written on the same subject.

JG: Explain the process of writing each poem, from beginning to end.

JACQUELINE: People approach me. Whether I chat with them for a few minutes before they indicate the title or topic of the poem they want, or whether the request is made with hardly any prior communication, I immediately get a sense of the person's feelings, and I write a poem that is designed to strike a chord with that person. The words pour out of me spontaneously until the poem is complete. I read out the finished poem and then hand them the typed version. I don't charge for the poem. The recipients pays me whatever they like.

JG: Does your mind ever go blank? Are you sometimes lost for something to write? Do you ever hesitate?


JG: Many people have never read poetry. Most people would say it is far removed from their fields of interest and occupation. How do you bridge that gap?

JACQUELINE: in the age of e-mails, all of us are poets, even if we don't realize it. I can impart to people the idea of the potency of words, particularly their power to express emotions.

JG: Do you ever feel a lack of appreciation from the person who has commissioned your work.

JACQUELINE: Never. The contrary is true. People often weep when they realize how deeply the poem has touched them. That is the true role of any poet, to find the depth and import of every subject.

JG: So how would you describe the service you provide?

JACQUELINE: I see myself as a muse, with the  responsibility of a  poet to reach out to as many people as possible. I feel I have something to offer. I have been called a seer, a therapist, a mystic and an empath.  I am pleased if I can have a therapeutic effect on people who are suffering in some way. But when I begin to write, my own personality is sublimated and the entire focus of my efforts is the emotional situation of the person for whom I am writing. My goal is to help them identify their problems, desires, fears or whatever.

JG: You have been quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying:

"This is the most physically draining thing I've ever done in my life. When I've written poems for four hours for people I don't know, I'm like a zombie. My brain is mush."

Why is that?

JACQUELINE: You are an interpreter and you know how exhausting it is to focus on every word being spoken in order to render it's true meaning. For me, the person's emotions are my "source language" and I have to strain every fiber  to turn them into words. It is a draining process.

JG: So what is the up side if your work?

JACQUELINE : It gives me a unique perspective of human nature,  the state of humanity. We all share the same kinds of problems deep down.

JG: How do you see your professional future?

JACQUELINE: I have completed my second book and am looking for a publisher. I hope to write many more. I have been writing poems professionally for 5 years, but I feel I am at the beginning of my career.


Cet entretien est accessible en français ici.

Interview with British wordsmith (and poet) Annie Freud

Annie freud portraitOur current guest, Annie Freud is a distinguished British poet and one of the members of the Freud lineage to gain fame for their intellectual achievements. She is the daughter of painter Lucian Freud, the maternal granddaughter of sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein, and the great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud. [1]

 Freud was educated at the Lycée Français in London and then studied English and European Literature at Warwick University. Since 1975, she has worked intermittently as a tapestry artist and embroiderer, in addition to publishing works of poetry : The Mirabelles, 2010 and The Remains, 2015. 


A.F. Book 2 A.F. Book 3


"Freud's poems are chaotic, hectic and witty; are a romp through London, its melancholy and beauty; are a sumptuous tumble through love, appetites and desire." (The Poetry Archive.)


Jean-Paul cropped

Our interviewer, Jean-Paul Deshayes, was a certified English teacher and teacher-trainer at the IUFM (Institut Universitaire de Formation des Maîtres), having also taught French in London for 10 years at high-school and university levels. Jean-Paul now pursues a career as translator for the magazine media. Although retired, he engages in diverse activities: exchanges with other translators, assorted reading, DIY and martial arts, as well as trips to London with his English wife to visit their daughter and granddaughter. He regards translation (from and into English) as a particularly stimulating intellectual Bourgogne exercise and devotes himself to it both professionally and for his personal pleasure. Dedicated to poetry in all its forms, he likes  Robert Browning, Robert Frost and the English romantic poets in equal measure. By coincidence, South Bourgogne, where he resides is the birthplace of Lamartine, whose magnificent poem, “The Lake” he likes to read regularly.


Mr. Deshayes conducted this interview in English and then translated the questions and answers into French. French translation.



J-P D. : Your very first collection, "The Best Man That Ever Was", won an award and you were described as  "a new voice" in poetry. Do you find that it is a fitting description?


A.F. : Although it is not exactly comfortable for me to comment on my own work, when I return to The Best Man That Ever Was, my first collection, I find that it has a sprightliness and irrepressibility that makes me smile.

J-P D.
Poetry has come rather late in your life. Would you say then that it was a hidden or dormant calling? Did you ever suspect that it was in you, just waiting to be awakened by the right opportunity?

A.F. : The desire to write poetry was repressed rather than hidden. In some sense it still is. Often I can't seem to write anything at all … I don't seem able to allow myself the pleasure of writing. And then suddenly I have a lucky streak and write a lot very fast. 

There are many more poems I'm longing to write but I have to wait like a cat for a mouse to come out of his hole in the wall . . . Then BANG! I try not to think too much about these things because I don't want to get into the habit of having fixed ideas about how I work.

Being a late-comer to writing poetry has some advantages. Sometimes it seems that I have a lifetime of stored material and poems that are 'ready to go' like fast food.

I have made different kinds of art all my life – acting, painting, embroidery, tapestry, film scripts – but I often drew back, censored myself and was not as productive as I could have been. By the time I was writing and reading my poems to live audiences something in me changed and could not be put back into the can. I am grateful to the many people who have encouraged me and helped me to change my life.

J-P D. : What did you do before you became a "full-time poet" if I may use that phrase? 

A.F. : I do not describe myself as a full-time poet because that's not how it works for me. I don't write every day or try to. But as a writer and artist, I am a hunter/gatherer/beachcomber, always on the look-out for an intriguing word or expression, something dropped or half-buried, a piece of porcelain, an expression that someone has used, something broken, a bird or an animal, some words on a piece of paper, a place name, an unexpected colour or story. If it connects with something in my life then I will keep it until I am ready - or better still - not ready in a way that stimulates me. 

I have worked as a teacher in many different settings, and have held positions of influence in public sector institutions. I have also made embroideries on clothes for celebrities.


J-P D. : Do you consider that writing poetry is a radical break with your original activities, which were basically practical ones, or is that connection still there?

A.F. : Writing poetry and having it published was a radical break for me because it changed how I felt about myself. I stopped hiding from my talent. I stopped comparing myself to other people quite so much. I found I was inhabiting a wonderful new world. 

It was a radical break for me in other ways. For so long I had lacked purpose. When I discovered that people found my poems entertaining it was like finding a new drug. Performing was a total thrill and it still is.

When my first collection was published I was still making embroideries professionally but I found I had to put that aside for a few years and make myself become more single-minded. Now, with the publication of my third collection I feel free to do what I like – and more ambitious and willing to work as hard as I can. It's wonderful.

I have discovered that I can, and need to work in diverse ways with different materials - writing, drawing and painting – but with the same degree of application and commitment. These different activities are always feeding each other, giving me the freedom I need to pursue my desire. Now that I have passed my mid-sixties, I have to look after my health quite carefully.

J-P D. : What does it mean to you to be a poet? Do you think of yourself primarily as a poet? Is the writing of poetry something that is a great satisfaction to you, something that is truly fulfilling? 

A.F. : The idea that someone is sitting reading my poems is tremendously exciting to me. It is a kind of relationship. Knowing that the actions, sights, thoughts, visions and feelings I have put into my poems are occupying someone else's mind, and are being changed and reinterpreted by that A.F. Billy Collinsperson, simply amazes me. This is what being a poet means for me but I never think of that when I'm composing a poem. I love to talk about these things with other poets. Billy Collins (pictured left), the celebrated American poet, writes brilliantly about the relationship between himself, the poet and the reader.

The joy of composition is not easy to explain. It is like being in a landscape in which all the elements and objects are clamouring for you to observe them and to make sure that everyone sees them in their true light. Some you discard, some you keep.

I find writing poems tremendously enjoyable. When I've written something I'm pleased with, I'm like a hunter coming down the mountain carrying my prey on my shoulder.

J-P D. : Do you see poetry as a creative art and if so what makes it so distinct from other creative arts? Do you find that – at the moment anyway – it is the most adequate medium in which to express yourself?

A.F. :  What makes poetry so distinctive from the other creative arts is that its raw materials are the same as those you would use to buy a bar of chocolate from a shop. As such, it is the most democratic of all the arts. And yet,  in spite of this commonplace aspect, the influence of the great poems which compose the literary canon, is so powerful and universal that it is without bounds.


J-P D. : You have produced beautiful illustrations for your new collection, The Remains. Did you feel that they were a necessary complement and, if so, in what way? 

A.F. :  The images in The Remains are integral to the poems, not as a key to their meaning but more to do with showing who I am and what interests and excites me. It was a way of being more serious about my work and paradoxically freer and more light-hearted.

J-P D. : Do you feel that poetry has a purpose? Does it just aim at making us look at the world and at people in a different way?

I think that the purpose of poetry is to enlarge and enrich our experience of life and the possibilities it offers. I also believe that metaphor is necessary to the understanding of all things. Without it we are doomed.

J-P D. : I have noticed that many of your poems are inspired by flowers or plants, or fruit (mirabelles) or vegetables (aubergines) or amusing anecdotes (like "A Memorable Omelette") and nor devoid of humour. What are your sources of inspiration, your favourite subjects? Are there any themes you feel strongly attracted to as a poet? 

A.F. :  I like to write about things that I handle and that are familiar to me. An important part of any relationship are the words that someone you love has spoken to you because they offer the unique gift of enlightenment. These things find their way into my poems. If they are funny that makes them more valuable. Regarding "A Memorable Omelette" : the egg as a subject and image is present in a number of my poems. Another recurring image is that of the lake.

J-P D. :  How do the "right" words come to you? Do they come easily or do you have to do a lot of painstaking rewriting? Are there any poems that you would like to rewrite or alter in places? 

A.F. :  I find I usually start with two or three words that resonate. Sometimes they produce a sort of instant culture, sometimes it is just me trying too hard. Then I look elsewhere.

Often I'll find something I've abandoned that has some new unexpected appeal and find that it has possibilities. Then I'm happy to do the work. I have found that feeling hatred for your 'subject matter' can be very useful and perhaps even necessary to the making of a poem.

J-P D. : You went to the Lycée Français in London. Could you tell us about those school years? Were they formative in your life as a teenager?

A.F. : The Lycée Français in London offered a rigorous but not an intellectually stimulating education as nothing was open to discussion and everything was learnt by heart. But learning texts by heart was itself extremely useful and I'm grateful for it.

J-P D. : On page 45 of THE REMAINS, under "My chosen subject is:"  you start with Baudelaire and end with a quote from that great poet. Did his poetry influence you? Yet, whereas his form is very classical, yours seems to be ever changing and sometimes even unconventional. 

A.F. : Baudelaire's poems are some of those I love most above all others. I experience Les Fleurs du Mal as a kind of lesson for every aspect of life as well as admiring them for their formal perfection and extraordinary beauty and boldness. My favourite is Les Correspondances.

J-P D. : When listening to Dylan Thomas or Robert Frost (or others) reading their poems aloud, what is striking is how differently we perceive those poems. Do you think that poetry is meant to be read out loud first and foremost?

A.F. Dylan Thomas A.F. Robert Frost
    Thomas               Frost   

A.F. : I think that hearing poetry read aloud is very necessary to its survival as an art form and an essential and entertaining way of becoming aware of new talent. But I also advocate the discipline of close reading where the reader becomes closely acquainted with a poem and begins to assess its importance and its relationship to the past.

J-P D. : If you could only give one piece of advice to an aspiring poet, what would it be?

A.F. : I would advise an aspiring poet to see lots of films, read widely across all genres, paint and draw, learn a foreign language, play a musical instrument and make strong friendships with other poets.


[1] By coincidence, the linguist of the month interviewed soon after the present interview appeared on our sister-blog,, was the translator Anthea Bell, who translated Sigmund Freud's "The Psychopathology of Everyday Life"  from German into English.

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici.

Interview with British wordsmith (and translator) Mike Mitchell

Mike photo Our choice of  wordsmith this time is the well-known and prolific translator (from French and German), Mike Mitchell, who kindly granted Jonathan G. this interview. Mike lives with his wife in a hamlet close to the town of Tighnabruaich, County of Argyll, West of Scotland.


Argyll, Scotland


JG : You were born in Rochdale, Lancashire, and when you were fourteen you moved with your family to Dartford, Kent, until you went to the University of Oxford to study French and German language and literature. At what age did you first develop a love of languages? How strong was your French when you were admitted to Oxford.

MM: Initially, languages were one of the school subjects I was good at; I had a great love of literature and it was really so as to be able to read French and German literature that I continued with the study of the languages.

The first foreign language I took at school was French; I was very good at that when I left school (top 5% in a national examination); my command increased when I spent a year in Nancy, where I was an English assistant at a school and took courses at the university there, before going up to Oxford. As my second foreign language, my German was weaker but benefited from an intercalated year in Germany during my degree course.

After graduation I spent a year abroad (teaching English in Saudi Arabia) then went back to Oxford to do a thesis (Bachelor of Letters) on an Austrian novelist, Heimito von Doderer. I then taught German as a university lecturer at the University of Reading (1 year) and the University of Stirling (27 years). Stefrling

You dabbled in translating while you were an academic, but the opportunity of early retirement from Stirling University, in Scotland, where you were teaching, opened the way for you to take on translating as a second career. You are now doing that very successfully from your home on the west coast of Scotland.

MM: My love of literature led me to try translation while I was still at school and I continued to 'dabble' in it while a lecturer—mainly from German, which I was occupied with professionally. In the early 1970s I tried to interest a publisher in a volume of translations of East German short stories, edited by a colleague. The reply from the publisher was so discouraging, I abandoned the project; if I had been more persevering, I might have been translating professionally for much longer.

DedalusIn the late 1980s I had the good fortune to be asked to translate a book by an American publisher specialising in Austrian literature and culture (Ariadne). Just as the book appeared I had another piece of good fortune: I contacted a publisher (Dedalus, with whom I still work) and they happened to be looking for a translator from German.

At first I was known as a translator from German, but after I had translated about 30 books, I felt I would like to revive my French, which was by now a little rusty, though I was reading French novels submitted to Dedalus. I felt I had enough experience as a translator to be aware of possible pitfalls in translating from French, a language I hadn't used professionally for years.

You have translated more than 70 books, the great majority of those being since you retired from university life. You must work very hard and very studiously at translating to attain both high proficiency and a consistent speed.

MM: Firstly, I find translating literature very satisfying and very enjoyable, so I maintain a high level of motivation. On the other hand, publishers' deadlines give me the discipline I need. (I didn't take early retirement to fill in my time on the golf course.) I prefer to be working on two translation projects at a time, which prevents me falling into a rut or getting tired with one. In general I complete two such 'average-length' books every six months, but the quality of the translation obviously takes precedence over speed.

Have you ever met any of the authors you have translated?

MM: Nowadays email makes contact with authors much easier than when everything had to be done by post. This correspondence can remain business-like, but very often develops a more personal tone, depending on how we respond to each other. It was a matter of course that when I happened to be in Paris, I should meet Mercedes Deambrosis, the author of Milagrosa (Dire, 2000; Dedalus 2002), the first book I translated from French;

Mike Sylvie Germaine
Silvie Germain

I also met Sylvie Germain, when she did a reading tour in England; her regular translator for Dedalus is Christine Donougher, but when she was too busy (translating Les Misérables) I translated Sylvie's novel L'Inaperçu (Albin Michel, 2008; translated as Hidden Lives, Dedalus, 2010). But the author whom I have come to know best is Jean-Pierre Ohl, as well as his wife Véronique, who are both employed in the bookstore business. They have stayed with us, and my wife and I have stayed in their holiday cottages in Scotland and recently we visited them in Bordeaux. Ohl is a great anglophile and an extremely well-read person, in addition to being a first-rate author. I recommended his first novel to Dedalus, which was again translated by Christine Donougher; it centres on two French rival students of Charles Dickens (Monsieur Dick ou Le dixième livre, Gallimard 2004; Dedalus 2008). He has also published a short biography of Charles Dickens. Jean-Pierre is a fascinating person. Your readers can read about him in an article published in The Guardian under the heading "Jean-Pierre Ohl, a Dickens de nos jours."

Jean-Pierre's latest book, set in Scotland in the 1950s, is entitled Les maitres de Glenmarkie (Gallimard 2008) which I translated under the title The Lairds of Cromarty, (Dedalus 2012).

Lairds Mike Ohl  
         Jean-Pierre Ohl  

Tell us about the book.

MM: The main part of the book is set in 1953. Mary Guthrie, a brilliant postgraduate student of English from Islay, decides to write a doctoral thesis on Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty, the Scottish author, mathematician and translator of Rabelais, who supported the Royalist cause in the Civil War and then died in exile in 1660. Mary visits Cromarty House, the crumbling ancestral home of the Urquharts, where she has various 'Gothic' experiences involving Urquharts both past and present. The other focus of the book is a Catholic priest, Ebenezer Krook, a descendant of the Urquharts on the wrong side of the blanket, who sleeps with Mary and then, dissatisfied with his Bishop's response to his confession, flattens him in a rugby tackle and resigns his priesthood to go and work for an eccentric bookseller in Edinburgh.

  Mike Urguart  

In memory of Sir Thomas Urquhart, Chevalier of Cromarty. A great Scot, writer and translator of Rabelais



There is also a role for Eric Blair, aka George Orwell, who lived on Jura in the late 1940s, where in the novel he saves the young Krook from drowning in the Corryvreckan whirlpool; he also appears in his role as a Republican soldier in the Spanish civil war, where he is involved with a rather disreputable 20th-century Urquhart. 

: The Historical Novel Society reviewed
The Lairds of Cromarty very favourably : "For all its Gothic twists, this is a book filled with humour, acute observations of character and place, and literary citations worthy of a professional bookseller — Ohl's other career." The reviewer also wrote : "It has been flawlessly translated by Mike Mitchell in what deserves to become another of the latter's award-winning works." You have quoted Ohl as telling you that he prefers the English tradition of literature to the French. And he obviously has a strong affinity for Scotland. Did your own familiarity with Scotland enable you to plunge yourself into the translation with added enthusiasm and insight, in order to produce a "flawless translation"?

MM: It was fascinating to translate a novel set in the country that has been my home since 1968. My familiarity with Scotland enabled me to correct a few little errors, in particular where customs or facts had changed since the early 1950s; for example Jean-Pierre did not realise that until comparatively recently pubs did not remain open all day but were subject to strict opening hours and that meant I had to carefully—and as unobtrusively as possible—rewrite two or three scenes.

I also 'translated' the title. The French publishers, afraid they might be sued by present-day Urquharts because one or two of their 20th-century clansmen in the novel were somewhat disreputable, had insisted Jean-Pierre use fictitious names. As Sir Thomas is a historical character and Jean-Pierre quotes from his works, this didn't seem to make sense for an English version, so I persuaded Dedalus to use the real names (Urquhart, Cromarty); I did manage to contact a senior member of the Urquhart clan, who said he didn't imagine anyone would take offence.


MM1 MM2JG: You have translated three books by the Belgian author, Georges Rodenbach (1855-98): Bruges-la-Morte (1892; translation Dedalus, 2005); Le Carillonneur (1897), which you have translated as The Bells of Bruges (Dedalus, 2007) and a collection of shorter pieces, Hans Cadzand's Vocation and Other Stories (Dedalus, 2011). The Glasgow Herald wrote: "There are few novels that quickly astound. This is one of them. Flawlessly translated…" . The prestigious Times Literary Supplement complimented your translation as being "nuanced but unfussy". Why did your publisher decide to revive him in English?


MM: Dedalus felt that he is a major French writer, whose works are not well known to English readers, although Bruges-la-Morte has been translated previously.

The Historical Novel Society review, quoted above, referred to the awards you had won. I know that in addition to such awards and prizes, you've also been shortlisted many times – in fact 4 times for The Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize alone.

MM: I won two prizes in the 1993 British Comparative Literature Association's translation competition and the 1998 Schlegel-Tieck Prize (for translations from German) for my translation of Herbert Rosendorfer's Letters Back to Ancient China.

Otherwise I have often been the bridesmaid, never the bride. I do think that being shortlisted means the committee thinks your translation, as a translation, would be worthy of the prize, then other factors come in the reckoning; it is nice, though, to actually win, especially for the publicity.


JG:  Your latest published translation,  “Where Tigers are at Home” Blas(original: "Là où les trigres sont chez eux"), written by Jean-Marie Blas de Robles, has recently been published in the US after an earlier publication in the UK. The Times Literary Supplement critic (to name only one who enjoyed your translation) wrote : “Long in the making, and rejected by thirty-five publishers,  this clever, exuberant philosophical novel, the winner of the three major French prizes, now appears in a splendidly complicit, fluent, vivid translation by Mike Mitchell. “

MM : Yes, he was referring to le Prix Médicis, le Prix du jury Jean Giono & le Prix du roman Fnac. It is usually impossible to know if a critic has in fact compared the source language with the English translation, but it gives me sufficient gratification to read that critics of a book I have translated have formed a very positive view of the style of the English text, judging it as if they were reading a book written in English.


JG : You have been very busy translating the books of other authors, but you found time to write one book yourself.

MMK : One of my favourite historical characters is an Austrian, Franz Kyselak, who was an almost exact contemporary of Franz Schubert. He was a minor civil servant but was famous in his day because he was an outstanding Mike Kyselakwalker who walked all round the Austrian Empire; his name was also well-known, if not notorious, because he wrote it everywhere, on buildings, precipitous rocks etc. He also wrote an account of one of his journeys on foot and when I couldn't find an English publisher for a translation, I wrote a fictitious account of what his journeys might have been like, Kyselak Was Here, under the pseudonym Michael Robin. 


JG : I understand that you have just taken another trip to the South of France. How do you get there from your residence in Scotland?

Mike ferryMM: My wife and I enjoyed making the journey part of our vacation: we went by ferry across the Clyde, train to Glasgow and London, Eurostar to Paris, where we spent the night (a chance to absorb some Parisian atmosphere—and food and wine); in the morning we took the train to Cahors, where another in the party met us by car; we did the return journey from Bordeaux, having stayed with Jean-Pierre Ohl and his wife, getting to London in one day and taking the overnight bus back to Scotland.


JG: Congratulations on your success in both of your careers. We hope that you will continue to be prolific for many years to come.

MM: Thank you very much for your interest and encouragement.


Cet entretien est accessible en français ici.

Interview with Israeli-American wordsmith (and translator/interpreter) Jonathan Goldberg


Man with 2 hats second optionFor several years distinguished linguists were interviewed for our French sister blog, Le Mot juste en anglais,  blog every month.  Readers therefore understandingly asked : How have I, Jonathan, managed to insinuate myself into this exclusive club, which is usually reserved only for the illustrious? The answer was that at a point in time we were short of a high-level interviewer and interviewee. Desperate times call for desperate measures [1] so I decided, with an excess of immodesty, to fill the gap. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." [2]

But because my chutzpah [3] has its limits, I stopped short of asking anyone to interview me. So here I am, wearing two hats, those of both the interviewer and interviewee. On n'est jamais mieux servi que par soi-même ! 

In preparing this "interview" for Le Mot juste, the first decision I needed to take was whether to draft it in English or in French. That was what is called a "no brainer" [4] in the USA. I have too much respect for la belle langue to maul it and I feared that the hachis parmentier that I wanted to cook would come out of the oven smelling like Shepherd’s Pie.


The next decision was whether to ask one of our band of faithful French translators to render this text into the language of Molière [5]. I decided that just this one time our French readers would not be molly-coddled [6], but would have to bite the bullet (forgive the mixed metaphor) and read the interview in what the French like to refer to as  « la langue de Shakespeare ».

J. G.

Shakespeare & Moliere

------------- -----------------------------------------------------

Two hats 20Question: Describe the experience of managing a blog to which so many gifted wordsmiths contribute their time and talents.

image from
Jonathan's attire when rubbing shoulders with the crème de la crème

Answer: My motives for running the blog are both altruistic and egoistic: on the one hand, the desire that I often have to share with others the material I read; on the other hand, the fact that the blog is very good for my ego. Like many professional translators, I normally perform my work in the shadows. The blog, on the other hand, gives me a platform and a pretext to communicate with some of the crème de la crème of English and French linguists. Whenever I am able to introduce a gifted translator or contributor on the pages of Le Mot juste, I enjoy the opportunity, however fleeting, to stand shoulder to shoulder with one of the best linguists around. 

Two hats 20Question
: You are not a literary translator with a slew of books to your name, so how could you expect to come out of the darkness into the world of fame and fortune and to reach an audience beyond the readers of the blog? Travailler non seulement pour des prunes mais pour la gloire.[7] [8]

Answer: Well, by chance, I did recently come under the bright lights and I have been enjoying a short-lived moment of fame, if not of fortune. I was not going to mention this, but  if you insist, I'll tell you about it. Last year I was commissioned to translate Emmanuel Macron's memoir cum political manifesto, Révolution. Because of time constraints, I contracted with a British translator to translate half the book, and we edited each other's translations. The book was published in November and the translators were invited to London for a panel discussion to launch it.

Macron English cover


Two hats 20Question: Was the co-translation a synergistic effort? Was it a successful collaborative work?

Answer: In my Translator's Note, I stressed the point that it was indeed a collaborative endeavour, with synergistic benefits, and I went out of my way in that Note to highlight my co-translator's skills. But you will probably get a very different answer if you ask her. Most likely the same view as that expressed by my first wife, following our divorce. 

Two hats 20Question
: What did your first wife say?

Answer: "Never again!."


Two hats 20Question: How were you able to gauge the public's appreciation of your translation of Révolution ? Even Anglo-Saxons [9] who read French with ease don't usually compare and contrast the source text of a book with the translation in order to grade the level of the translator's skill.


Answer: Paradoxically, the warmest expression of appreciation I received for this project came from two people who have probably not read the translation: M. E. MACRON and his Chef de Cabinet, M. François-Xavier LAUCH (see the images below).


  Macron dedication-page-001 - updated

    Chef de Cabinet-page-001 - updated

Two hats 20Question: Mr. Macron's handwritten dedication in your book is rather difficult to decipher.

Answer: Indeed. The language of the dedication, like that of the book, is somewhat cryptic, and to judge by the handwriting, you would think that M. Macron had trained as a doctor, not an economist. I leave it to our readers to decipher the President's handwriting. I'm sure they will enjoy the challenge.

Two hats 20Question: Will you now take on the translation of works by other famous French politicians, scholars or writers?

Jonathan working in the shadows

Answer: Never again! Working on a single project for 10 hours and more a day, seven days a week, at the expense of my other interests, is not my cup of tea. But for regular work projects, being only 80 years old (twice the age of the President of the Republic [10]), I do not intend to slow down. I will continue to ply my trade in the shadows as an anonymous and unknown translator and interpreter (French>English and Hebrew>English), and to devote part of the hours of each day outside of my regular work  to  research for the blog across a range of linguistic and cultural subjects. (My other blog activity involves roping in contributors, which is sometimes as difficult as herding cats. But once they submit their contributions, they usually prove themselves to be linguistic tigers.)

I have also revived an English-language blog that I had created some time ago and that had been dormant: The Lives of Linguists : Interviews with Writers, Translators and other Wordsmiths. It is accessible at And I am in the process of creating a French-language blog named Clio, un blog pour les amateurs de l'histoire. [11] Articles dealing with historical subjects that have been written for Le Mot juste over the course of the years will be imported into the new blog. Stay tuned!

As a staunch Francophile, I will have the continuous pleasure of seeing material posted in the mellifluous French language. [12] Together with the contributos and readers, I will continue the search for le mot juste en anglais - as well as in French.


[1] To reassure our readers that in the coming months there will be a dramatic improvement in the standard of the interviewees - a rise from this abyss - I will mention that two linguists of world renown, David Bellos and David Crystal, have agreed to be interviewed for the blog.   

[2] Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, 1711


[3] Oxford Dictionaries:

mass noun, informal 
Extreme self-confidence or audacity 
Origin: Late 19th century: Yiddish, from Aramaic ḥu ṣpā.

[4]  Selon Video Language Network sur le site Femme actuelle, cette expression est utilisée pour exprimer qu'un choix est facile à faire et ne nécessite pas d'y réfléchir plus longtemps.


[5] According to one theory, all or many of Molière's works were in fact written by Corneille, the historic French dramatist. See:


[6] Mollycoddling - World Wide Words

[7] L'Aiglon de Edmond Rostand - Nous avons fait tout cela pour la gloire et pour des prunes ! (Flambeau)
(Thank you, Jean Leclercq, for pointing me to the source of this quotation:

Dans L'Aiglon (Acte 2, scène IX), Edmond Rostand fait dire à Flambeau, vélite de la garde, après le rappel de ses glorieux états de service :

"Faits d'armes : trente-deux. Blessures : quelques-unes.
Ne s'est battu que pour la gloire, et pour des prunes.» }

[8) The French word prune and the English word "prune" are false friends. Prune (fr.) = plum (Eng.); prune (Eng.) = pruneau (fr.)

Plums-1 Prunes
plum = prune prune = pruneau

[9] The Anglo-Saxons

[10] When Macron is 80 years old, I will be 120 years. Between now and that time, I expect to receive a card from him containing the Biblical greeting: שתחיה עד מאה עשרים - "May you live to be 120 years." 

[11] What Makes French Sound Sexy
Mental Floss

[12] Clio was the Muse of History

Other articles by the author on his experience as a translator and interpreter:

The colonial influences on participants in a Los Angeles courtroom— from the perspective of a French-English interpreter.

An Interpreting Dilemma

Interview with Israeli wordsmith (engineering academic and champion sportsman) Shaul Ladany


Ladany 1`Shaul Ladany, 83, qualifies as a wordsmith on account of his knowledge of 8 or 9 languages (in 3 alphabets - Cyrillic, Latin and Hebrew). But readers may find equal interest in a life-story filled with adventures and achievements (both scholastic and sporting). For this reason, in the following interview we have taken the liberty of departing from our usual focus on linguistic issues in order to present the unusual biography of an exceptional man.

Your intrepid blogger, Jonathan G., travelled to Beer-Sheva [1] in southern Israel to meet

Professor Ladany. The interview took place at the Ben Gurion University, where Shaul Ladany is professor emeritus of Industrial Engineering and Management. It was conducted in Hebrew, transcribed into English by the interviewer. 

Beer Sheva

Ladany hands up

 JG: After the Nazis occupied Hungary in 1942, your maternal grandparents escaped the massacre by the Hungarian gendarmes of the Jewish population of their home town of Novi Sad (today in Serbia) but they were taken to the Concentration Camp at Auschwitz in 1944, where they were killed in the gas chambers.  Your own first encounter with the German war machine was in 1941, when at the age of 5, your house in Belgrade was bombed by the Luftwaffe, and you and your parents managed to survive by hiding in the underground washing room.  

What languages did you acquire while you were growing up in Europe?

SL: My mother tongue was Serbo-Croat and later I learned to write the Serbian variation in Cyrillic lettering and the Croat variety in Latin letters. I learned Russian at school. I learned German from my nanny and spoke to my parents in Hungarian. Later I was to come in contact with Yiddish speakers, and knowing German, it was not difficult to pick up Yiddish.

JG: When the Nazis overtook Yugoslavia, your parents fled to Hungary and sent you to a Hungarian monastery for your own safety, but Incinerator shortly after your 8th birthday, you were taken with your parents to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, from which few people returned. You actually entered the gas chamber, but you were reprieved at the last moment. You and your parents were extremely fortunate to be included in the 1,684 Jews released as part of the controversial "Blood for Goods" deal negotiated by Rudolf Kastner [2] and Adolf Eichman [3]. Your parents returned with you  to Yugoslavia, to try to retrieve their property. The Communists were by then in power. In 1948 General Tito allowed you and your family to leave for Israel on condition that they forfeited all their property in favour of the State. How did you get to Israel? What were your first impressions of the country, which had gained independence only a few months earlier?


Laqdany kasztner Adolf_Eichmann _1942
Rudolf Kastner   Adolf Eichman

SL imm
SL :
I was nearly 13
years old. We left Yugoslavia on a cargo ship, with 3000 immigrants, and the journey took 2 weeks instead of 2 days. The ship nearly overturned at one point. We reached Israel, which was still recovering from the attack launched against it by the Arab armies of neighboring states the day after it had declared independence in May 1948. Due to the absorption of large numbers of immigrants, housing was scarce and the apartment we received, with no water or electricity, was very different from the luxurious residence to which my family had been accustomed in Belgrade before the War. My task in the initial period was to roam around the town with two buckets, looking for sources of water to fill up the buckets and then bringing them home. But I began school studies, and learned Hebrew, which became my new mother tongue, as well as English and French. My parents started different careers from scratch.


JG: On completion of your schooling, you studied at two leading institutions of higher studies, gaining one degree in Mechanical Engineering and another in Business Administration. You then went to Ladany columbia-university-logo1Columbia University in New York for your doctoral studies in Business Administration. You were invited to lecture at many universities throughout the world. You have many inventions to your credit, eight of which you have registered as patents. You have written dozens of scientific books, including the "English-Hebrew Dictionary of Statistical Terminology", which was published by the Israel Institute of Productivity, as well as many more scientific articles. When did sport become an important part of your life?

SL: I had been an amateur marathon runner, but during my doctoral years at Columbia I turned to competitive walking [4] and began to train for the 1968 Olympic Games, and after I received my doctorate I trained intensively for six months. I represented Israel in the 1968 and 1972 games.

Ladany b & w Ladany podium

JG: The 1972 Olympic Games had been dubbed as "Heiteren Spiele", or "the Happy Games". But as we know, they ended in tragedy, when terrorists belonging to "Black September" forced entry into the Olympic Ladany 1972 victimsVillage and  penetrated the apartments of some members of the Israeli team, killing two outright and taking nine others hostage. The German government agreed to supply the terrorists with a helicopter   so as to allow them and their hostages to be flown to Cairo, but the terrorists machine-gunned some of the athletes and exploded the helicopter. In all, 11 members of your team were killed. How did you escape the attack?


SL: Our team was lodged in a building with apartment units side-by-side in Ladany Sun headline the Olympic Village, and five team-mates and I occupied a unit sandwiched between the two adjacent apartments that were attacked. I heard screams from one of the adjacent units and I ran to inform the team manager. The rest is history. The Games were stopped for 24 hours. The surviving members of the Israeli delegation were ordered to return home, contrary to my advice. ]5]


JG: You have told us how you survived the bombing of your house at the age of 5, the death camp at the age of 8, the terrorist attack at the Munich Games - and you could have added the emergency landing of your plane when one engine ceased operating on a flight to Denmark. What other frightening experiences have you had?

SL: One experience that comes to mind occurred when I was in charge of an artillery battery in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Shells were falling from all directions and after my soldiers had sought shelter in their bunker, I myself ran for cover at such speed that I think I must have broken the world record for the 100 meter run. 

In the recent Operation Protective Edge, I had to go down with colleagues and students to the University shelter when rockets from Gaza were falling on Beer-Sheva. Going into a shelter was bad enough but during a previous rocket attack, while driving in my car from my home to the University, I was forced to jump out of my car at the entrance to Beer-Sheva and protect myself against a wall as the rockets exploded around me.

Ladany medalsJG: You have won over 700 sporting awards, including that of World Champion in the 100 kilometers event at the Lugano Games of 1972. Your world record for the 50-miles walk has remained unbroken for over 30 years. What was your most difficult walking experience?



Ladany tubizeSL: The hardest walk was a non-competitive, four-day, 300-kilometer walk from Paris to Tubize, near Brussels. There is very little time for sleeping, which makes it more strenuous than any competitive 100 kilometer competition. I participated in that event 10 times and stopped participating only at the age of 74.


JG: How much walking are you doing these days? 

SL:   I do a minimum of 15 kilometers a day. This weekend I will participate in a walk of 22 kilometers on very difficult, rocky ground. I also still take part in half-marathons.

JG: Do you find that walking sharpens your brain?

Ladany 2SL: Definitely. When we are exercising we have more blood, and hence more oxygen, flowing to the brain. My eureka moments always come when I'm walking. Jean-Jacques Rousseau has said it already. I have come up with mathematical models while I'm walking.





LMJ: Were any of your cups or plaques awarded for sporting achievements other than walking?

SL: Yes, there is an annual event in which participants swim from one side of the Sea of Galilee [6] to the other. I have participated every year for 54 years, (wearing shoes, to traverse the stones at the beginning and end of the swim.) When I complete the swim, I walk back to my car, which I have parked near the starting point.

  Ladany Tiberius  

JG: I would like to end this interview with a linguistic question. If we regard Serbo-Crout as one single language, and add Russian, Hungarian, German, Yiddish, English, French and Hebrew, that makes 8 languages. What was the 9th language that you learned?

SL: When I was studying for my doctorate at Columbia University, I chose to do a course called "the language of mathematics". If you are willing to regard mathematics as a language, then I have acquired a respectable command of 9 languages. 

LMJ: Galileo, the great Italian physician, philosopher and astronomer, said: " La Matematica  è l'alfabeto in cui Dio ha scritto l' Universo " (Mathematics is the alphabet in which God wrote the Universe). So by that standard you may be regarded as having a command of a ninth language, too. We hope that you will continue to have a fascinating, but less dangerous life. To use a Biblical blessing : May you live to be 120.

 Ladany the language of mathematics



Ladany Tel[1] Beer-sheva (in Hebrew , בְּאֶר שֶׁבַע , « wells of oath » or « seven wells », in Arabic بِئْرْ اَلْسَبْعْ Biʼr as-Sabʻ.  Based on archeological discoveries, the site of a nearby hill a few miles north-east of the modern city was occupied by humans since the fourth century B.C.  The site was destroyed and reconstructed several times in the course of the centuries.  (Wikipedia)



[2] Rudolf (Rezső) Kastner (Kasztner), 1906-1957, was an attorney, journalist and the leader of the Aid and Rescue Committee during the occupation of Hungary Ladany trainby the Nazis in the Second World War. He was also charged with negotiating with the SS leaders for authorization for 1,684 Jews to leave Hungary for Switzerland, in exchange for money, gold and diamonds, on what came to be called “the Kastner train”. Kastner knew 8 languages including Aramaic.



[3] Otto Adolf Eichmann  1906 –  1962) was a German Nazi SS Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) and one of the major organisers of the Holocaust. Eichmann was charged by SS-Obergruppennführer Reinard Heydrich with facilitating and managing the logistics of mass deportatiuon of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in German-occupied Eastern Europe during World War II. In 1960, he was captured in Argentina  by the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service.

Kastner and Eichman both died in Israel, within 4 years of each other. Kastner was assassinated and Eichman was executed (the first and last person to be sentenced to death by an Israeli court).

Ladany shoes[4] The basic rule of competitive walking is that the competitor must have one foot touching the ground at all times. If the competitor appears to the judges to be running, he may be disqualified.


Ladany Spitz[5] Before the terrorist attack, the Jewish American swimmer, Mark Spitz, won 7 gold medals. After the attack, he took the first plane back to the U.S.A.

[6] Tubize (Tubeke in Flemish) is a commune of Brabant in the arrondisement of Nivelles (Belgium).

[7] The Kinnereth or Lake of Tiberius (also called the Lake Gennesaret or the Sea of Galilee) is 20 km long and 10 km broad, and more than 200 m below sea level. The name place derives from the Roman Emperor Tiberius who ruled the Roman province of Judea. It is the place where Jesus walked on water, according to Matthew 14:22-36.

Additional reading:


Ladany book 1

King of the Road: From Bergen-Belsen to the Olympic Games : 
the Autobiography of an Israeli Scientist and a World-record-holding Race Walker

By Shaul Ladany
Geffen Publishing, 2008

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici.

Interview with American wordsmith (and publisher) Ann Trager

Our guest wordsmith, Ann Trager, is an American, a Francophile, a literary translator, and the founder of Le French BookThis New York-based publishing house is dedicated to selecting, translating and publishing contemporary mysteries and thrillers from France, so as to bring them to readers across the English-speaking world. Anne lived in Paris for many years and now lives in Pibrac, a small town 15 kilometers west of Toulouse.


Anne banner


 LMJ : What is your background?

I grew up between Ohio and the southwest of the US and for as long as I can remember I dreamed about traveling overseas. Maybe it's because my parents were linguists, or maybe it's because they spelled my first names à la française: Anne, with an e, and Valerie, with ie. When I was a teenager, I was reading Gourmet Magazine religiously and experimenting with Mastering the Art of French Cooking (by Julia Child). At the time, the best place to learn to make really good food was Paris. So, I studied French and went to Paris as soon as I could. I trained as a chef and continued to study French (and a little Chinese). It didn't take me long to begin translating and interpreting. Later, I worked in publishing in France, doing project management, and I did a long stint in corporate communications. As far as translation is concerned, I always considered myself a generalist, and I translated anything and everything I could get my hands on. Translating fiction is different from other kinds of translation. Every book is an adventure in and of itself. This kind of translation is rooted in something deeper and broader than foreign rights acquisitions and the mechanics of getting a work from one language into another—it's about building bridges between cultures. It is very important for me to build a relationship with an author. Translation is like getting into the author's head; I think it's polite to knock first. I also believe in relationships when it comes to editors and other translators. For a book to work, you need to give it everything you've got in translation, in editorial, and in marketing. That's what we are trying to do with Le French Book.


LMJ :What led to the creation of Le French Book?

Le French Book

What if you could discover France while reading French crime fiction in English? This simple question sums up the whole project behind Le French Book and probably also my vision of life as an American living in France for so many years. I always loved mysteries and thrillers and, I must admit, this is almost the only genre I read. When I discovered French crime fiction novels, I was amazed by the richness and creativity of a great number of French authors. So I read, I read, I read. Then, I realized that only very few of these books were available in English and the idea dawned on me: these books need a greater audience and I must help English-language readers to discover them. So, I put together a team, including co-conspirator Fabrice Neuman, aka The French Connection; Amy "Red-line" Richards, translation editor sometimes known as The Slasher; and Jeroen "Bleeding in the Gutter" ten Berge, cover artist. My co-translators include Julie Rose, Jeffrey Zuckerman, Sophie Weiner and Sally Pane.

  Anne Trager  
  Anne Trager  


      Julie Rose        Jeffrey Zuckerman    
    Sophie Weiner            Sally Pane    

LMJ : How do you choose the titles you translate?

I spend a lot of time reading, and getting everyone I know in France to tell me what their favorite books are. I attend book fairs and talk to the authors. But the choice comes down to feeling. Our motto is, 'If we love it, we translate it.' Le French Book is about sharing reading pleasure. For now, we only publish mysteries and thrillers published in France by French authors. We keep an eye out for titles that will have something American readers can relate to. For example, we are translating the series known in France as Le Sang de la Vigne, by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen, which we call the Winemaker Detective series. This works well because of the very strong link in people's minds between France and fine wine. We also are publishing the Paris Homicide series by Frédérique Molay, who won the Prix du Quai des Orfèvres with the first title The 7th Woman. In this series, the city of Paris is a character. We also look for titles that strike us as particularly interesting for whatever reason. White Leopard by Laurent Guillaume is set in Mali. The Greenland Breach and The Rare Earth Exchange, a climate thriller and a financial thriller respectively, are by Bernard Besson, a former top-level spy who is spot on when it comes to espionage and what is at stake in geopolitics today. David Khara's Consortium series makes a strong connection to WWII and today's scientific research and transhumanism. The Paris Lawyer by Sylvie Granotier has rolling countryside, hidden secrets and a quest for the truth. The Collector by Anne-Laure Thiéblemont has the merciless microcosm of Paris art galleries. And the Antoine Marcas series by Eric Giacometti and Jacque Ravenne gives an action-packed look into Freemasons, aside from having sold 2 million copies worldwide.

To sum up, we look for great stories, with that additional je ne sais quoi that makes us all dream about Paris or France, along with pace and suspense and good writing.


Treachery in Bordeaux cover The Collector cover Freemasons, gold, conspiracies, and freedom
1 2 3

1. Mission à Haut-Brion, Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noël Balen;
    Librairie Arthème Fayard,
2. Le Collectionneur,  Anne-Laure Thiéblemont, Editions Liana Levi, Paris
3. Le Frère de sang, Eric Giacometti & Jacques Ravenne, Fleuve Noir, Paris

LMJ : Do you think crime fiction sanitizes crime?

I think that good fiction changes the way we perceive the world, it shifts our awareness, at least for the period of time we are reading the book. I would say that crime fiction is one way to process and deal with senseless violence that is all around us. It's a little off topic, but I'm reminded of something one of our authors said. David Khara said, "The idea for The Bleiberg Project came to me after listening to a woman who survived the death camps. Three things struck me. The first was her sharp sense of humor. She said that prisoners inside the camp made jokes whenever they could. Humanity cannot be destroyed as long as laughter is possible. It becomes an act of resistance. The second thing was her will to survive, no matter the obstacles, no matter the horrors. And finally, she was living proof that to remember and understand History is the best, and maybe the only way, to avoid repeating our mistakes."


LMJ : What does the future hold for Le French Book?

We want to keep publishing entertaining books, serving as a bridge between creative contemporary France and the English-speaking world. We also want Le French Book to become the synonym for great books in the mind of readers; no matter which book you choose among the ones we publish you're sure to have a good time reading it. Upcoming titles include more in the Winemaker Detective series. The most recent one, just out, is Red-handed in Romanée-Conti, a tale of hail and murder during the grape harvest in Burgundy. The next Paris Homicide mystery is on the schedule for January, and it will be published by Amazon Crossing: Looking to the Woods. Soon, we will also be launching a new culinary mystery series called Gourmet Crimes, by Noël Balen and Vanessa Barrot. The first title is Minced, Marinated, and Murdered.

       A fun French mystery, with wine and food and travel.     Image result for Looking to the Woods paris homicide     Image result for Noël Balen and Vanessa Barrot. The first title is Minced, Marinated, and Murdered.

                        1                                            2                                               3

1. Flagrant-délit à la Romanée-Conti, Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noël Balen, Librairie Arthème Fayard, Paris
2. Copier n'est pas jouer, Frédérique Molay, Amazon Crossing
[French and English versions available on January 17, 2017;
may be pre-ordered now.]

3. Petits meurtres à l'étouffée, Noël Balen & Vanessa Barrot, Points Policier


Cet entretien est accessible en français ici.

Interview with British wordsmith (and musician) Christopher Goldsack

The following interview was conducted between Los Angeles and London.

Christian Goldsack


The interviewee - Christopher Goldsack

Photo: Ian Cole

The interviewer - Jonathan Goldberg

 You graduated in physics from Cambridge University, but it appears that at an early stage you switched the focus of your interests to music.

Yes, I had always sung and been involved in choral music, at school and university, where there was a wonderful choral tradition. I studied Guildhall-school-of-music-physics and then trained as a teacher and embarked on a career as a school science and maths teacher. It was then that I started missing the high quality choral singing that I had been used to, so I started singing more for myself and chose to go to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama as an external student for private singing lessons. In the end I decided to indulge myself for a year and go to study singing for my own pleasure at the Guildhall as a post-graduate student – but soon realised that my heart would have me stay longer and stayed for three years.

You also had a love of the French language. Where did you learn the language and how did you develop your command of French?

I had been exposed to French early on, as my mother was Belgian, but I really developed my fluency in the language when I spent a year in the Swiss Alps before going to university, working as a supervisor in a small boarding school and enjoying plenty of skiing. Consequently my understanding of the language is very much an aural rather than a studied grammatical one. Bernac

My first singing teacher, whilst I was at Cambridge, had also studied with Pierre Bernac, so I was soon introduced to the rich diversity of French mélodie. As a lyric baritone my voice lent itself to much of the French repertoire too.

Once at the Guildhall I continued to work at the repertoire, but I was becoming aware that my background as a scientist had not actually prepared me for working with language and poetry and I was looking for a way to engage more deeply with the texts of the songs I was singing. For my first serious recital I prepared a programme for the audience, and I translated the texts myself. I engaged with the texts as I hadn't done before. I started translating texts as a way of exploring the poetry, but also as a way of engaging with songs that I might never actually sing, such as songs for female singers.

My first significant professional work came in France and I spent a year working for Opéra de Lyon. I took the translations with me and spent many a happy hour in the city library. Eventually I developed a body of work that I thought might be the beginnings of something worth publishing. I started approaching a few publishers, but it was the early days of the internet and already it was looking as though quite a lot of this would be freely available and I gave up on that idea. Eventually I decided to join the trend and use the internet as a platform for my own website.

In truth much of this work is a student project. I have occasionally come across a glaring error from the days that my understanding of the language was less than it is now. Ideally all the translations would be re-edited, but with my current professional commitments that is unrealistic. I am now checking any translations that I am asked about as and when they are needed.

What was your first contact with the musical scene in France?

With my interest in French music I felt I should explore the possibility of settling in France as a base and I started looking for opportunities to perform there. In my last year at the Guildhall I saw that the chorus master from Lyon was holding auditions for extra chorus members and I signed up for an audition. He was rather surprised that I should be interested in what was relatively lowly work and I explained my situation. It happened that he had the brief of locating a singer to take over in a student production of Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortilèges. He suggested that I come to Lyon and study at the Opera Studio there, whilst supporting myself financially by working for him and doing small parts for the main company. It was a wonderful way to get started in France.

You now concentrate on education. How did you turn to education rather than performance as your main professional activity?

I did have a very successful start to my professional career. I won several major international singing competitions and worked for all the major opera companies in Britain. French was always an important part of my repertoire, but I was equally comfortable singing in other languages of course. Unfortunately I started having a few small health issues which interfered with my singing and availability for work. Initially I took some private pupils as a way of keeping me afloat and supporting my family (I have a wife, who is also a singer and teacher, and a daughter).

As part of your private work, you have created and directed choirs, and unusually, you have made the teaching of French song one of your major occupations. You have given classes in French song at the Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music. This is an unusual specialization. Is there a demand for language coaches? Is French a popular language in the world of song?

Goldsack Promenade Choirs

I love working with young singers. As it became harder to support a professional career I took the conscious decision to change my professional focus to teaching. I had trained as a teacher and education is still in my blood. I started a youth choir as a way of bringing my experience to a wider circle of young singers locally to me. I now enjoy performing with the choirs as much as I ever did as a soloist. I deputise for local conductors and offer technical expertise to any choir that asks me for support.

I would ideally like to have a post at one of the London conservatoires, but that hasn't yet been forthcoming, though many of my private pupils have gone on to study there very successfully. I am, however, still recognized for my work in French repertoire and, as you say, am often asked to deputise as a tutor for French song classes at all the conservatoires. They all set up classes in the major singing languages as part of the learning process for students.


Is singing in English available to French students, or does English by and large not lend itself to choral singing or operas.

English is very much a singing language. Many French singers find it quite difficult to approach English, and indeed other languages, so coaches are needed. It is not something I have been called upon to do much… yet…

Your website contains "A Guide to Singing in French", containing quite technical guidance on matters such as diphthongs, semi-vowel glides, nasal vowels, etc. But could you explain to our readers in general terms the advantage to English-speaking students of having a Brit teach them French pronunciation as opposed to a Frenchman doing that.

When I was at Lyon I spent a lot of time gaining the acceptance of native French singers as an interpreter of French repertoire. I worked with local coaches to ensure that what I was doing with the language and pronunciation was above reproach, at least in song. Some of the highlights of my career were certainly the major international competitions that I won in France, singing French repertoire. I learned a lot about how language worked with music and above all the details of French phonetics. I have spent a lot more time analyzing the phonetics than any native speaker would do and, though after twenty-five years back in England I might not speak as fluently as I once did, I am very aware of the specific issues that many non-native singers have with the language. Interestingly, when I coach at the conservatoires, I frequently come across French singers who are really surprised when I start picking them up on the details of their own language. The language is evolving and there are aspects of the phonetics that are appropriate for songs and poetry that are now largely glossed over.

Your website contains translations into English of the works of Auric, Bachelet, Berlioz, Bizet, de Breville, Casterède and many other French composers and lyricists. I would like to ask you about these translations, but first let me define the terms literal translations, non-singable and singable commonly used in this field:

1)  Literal translations, sometimes also including pronunciation guides, to aid those singing or hearing the lyrics in the original language.  They do not fit the music, so they cannot be sung.  Usually they are not poetic in diction and are not in verse.  They are often found in program notes.  

2)  Non-singable verse translations, for those wishing to understand the original lyrics, but willing to sacrifice some literality in order to experience something of the poetry of the original.  These translations also do not fit the music and thus also cannot be sung. 

3)  Singable translations, that is, translations which can be sung to the original music, having the proper meaning, number of syllables, accents, and diction level, and (usually) versification reminiscent of the original and compatible with the music.  They are performed, sometimes in the United States, often in England.

So my question relating to your own translations is which category they fall into and what considerations have determined your choice.

They are literal translations. I am trying to make the language of this vast and diverse repertoire accessible to non-native speakers - singers and audience alike. I try to stick closely to the meaning of the text and word order, but occasionally I might change word order to clarify meaning.

There was a time when I would have laughed at the concept of creating a translation of a Debussy mélodie to be sung – but interestingly I did understudy a performance of Pelléas in Pelléas et Mélisande for English National Opera. It was such a success in bringing the work to the wider British audience that I have softened my view. Creating a worthwhile singing translation is the work of a poet, however, and one with a gift for music at that. I have written singing translations of some things for my choir – notably for Brahms' Liebeslieder Waltzes – but it is not something I find easy, and there are many who would to the job better.

Finally it might be worth saying a little about how I chose which songs to translate… I would often browse scores and recordings and come across songs that appealed to me. I have tried to cover all the standard repertoire, but add a selection of the broader repertoire too. The Casterède songs, for instance, are a wonderful but challenging cycle. The composer had been on the jury of a competition that I won. Afterwards he composed this cycle and sent me the score. The texts are by a poet called Alain Suied, whom I had known for several years through his association with a musical organization called Le Triptyque.

Because creating singable translations is difficult, the best known English lyrics of popular songs that were originally not in English are sometimes not translations at all.  Though they (usually) bear the same title as the original, they are entirely new English lyrics having only a tenuous relation to the meaning of the original. Some examples that come to mind are Edith Piaf's song "La vie en rose" and "Les Miserables".  Would you agree with that?

Certainly the best singing translations must be faithful to the spirit of the original, but be very natural in translation. This will often mean that the translation will differ markedly from the original. The nature of the French language compared to English, which has a much stronger rhythm, makes French vocal music much more fluid. However, even in translations this can make a significant effect. When I was at Lyon I was involved in the company's performance of Richard Strauss's Salomé, in the composer's own re-working of Oscar Wilde's original French text to his score. [1] Strauss spoke about the difficulty he had adapting the French language to his music, and the final opera feels quite different in French.

[1] Blog note:

Salomé is a tragedy by Oscar Wilde. The original 1891 version of the play was in French.  The play tells in one act the Biblical story of Salome, stepdaughter of the tetrarch Herod Antipas, who, to her stepfather's dismay but to the delight of her mother Herodias, requests the head of Jokanaan (John the Baptist) on a silver platter as a reward for dancing the dance of the seven veils.

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici.

Interview with Dutch wordsmith (and tour guide) Geert Sivellis

Jonathan G. interviewed Geert Sillevis following a guided walking tour through Amsterdam conducted by Geert.

 Geert Sillevis

  Geert Sivellis

LMJ: You have Dutch-sounding names and you live in Amsterdam, and yet you were born and grew up in Portugal. How did that happen?

Geert SillevisGS: My parents are both Dutch but they met in Portugal and have been involved in commerce there for many years. I spent my first 19 years near Lisbon.


LMJ : The first thing anyone listening to you would notice is that you speak English articulately and with a pure Anglo accent, in very idiomatic English, and at great speed. No-one would imagine that you were not born and bred in the United States. But in fact you were born in Portugal to Dutch parents and later moved to Holland. Can you tell our readers more about that?

Geert SillevisG.S.: I grew up in a very international community within Portugal. There were at least 5 English-language international schools in the area.  The common language was English. My parents briefly attempted to teach their offspring Dutch, but it proved too confusing for the young brains that were at the same time learning English and Portuguese. Since Dutch was considered the least useful language at that point, it was dropped. My parents did retain it as their secret language, however. They would speak Dutch to each other when they had something to discuss that the kids weren't to know. I only began to learn Dutch after moving to the Netherlands for University (where my courses were also all in English).
Many people find the 'Dutch boy born in Portugal but speaks English' story to be amusing and confusing, but it was very common where I grew up. We all watched a lot of American television and movies, which gave us the idioms. As for the high speed at which I speak, I suppose that comes from being the youngest of four boys. It was the only way to get my piece in!


LMJ: What advice would you give to someone who wants to have the strongest possible command of English or of any language other than that spoken by the local population?

Geert SillevisG.S.: Something many people notice when they visit Portugal is the relatively high level of English spoken there, especially when compared with neighbouring Spain. The main reason for this is that Portugal doesn't dub English language television or movies, whereas Spain does. That means that the Portuguese have a lot more contact with the English language. So my advice would be - watch television!

LMJ: You moved to Utrecht at the age of 19. Which studies did you pursue?

Geert SillevisG.S.: I attended University College Utrecht. It was the first American-style Liberal Arts College of the Netherlands. There are now University Colleges in many Dutch cities. My studies centered around History, Literature and the Performing Arts, with many little things on the side. My Major was Humanities.

: Can you rank the languages you know, in order of your spoken and written command of them?

Geert SillevisG.S. : English is first, native in speech and writing. I am fluent (but not native) in spoken Portuguese, but I find it very difficult to write it. My Dutch is always improving - I would consider myself relatively fluent now. Again, I struggle to write it (written Dutch is quite different from spoken Dutch). I speak near fluent Spanish, or rather, Portuñol, which most Portuguese can speak. I don't have much occasion to write in Spanish. And last and least, I speak some French, at least enough to get by when travelling in Francophone countries.

In Amsterdam, it's possible to live for a long time without ever needing to speak Dutch. People here are eager to speak English.


LMJ : You work as a tour guide for a leading tour company in Amsterdam. But you are an independent contractor. Do you see this as your long-term career or as a stepping stone?

Geert SillevisG.S.: I just turned 30, so these are the kinds of questions that keep me up at night. Honestly, I thoroughly enjoy the work. I enjoy meeting people from around the world and telling stories. The freedom of having my own business (the wonderful Get Lost Tours) allows me to pursue my other interests, such as writing, travel, acting and random bouts of creativity. I have written and directed a few film projects. I hope to continue to use my work as a way of funding my hobbies. Also, I like to use my background in guiding to create new things. For example, a partner and I set up Zeyto Games, and we design treasure hunt/escape room puzzle-type games that are played so as to explore Amsterdam and Lisbon, solve puzzles and learn the cities’ history all at once!

Get Lost Tours Zeyto

LMJ : As a tour guide you share many historical points about Amsterdam and Holland in general. How in-depth is your knowledge of Dutch history? Do you have to keep up reading on these subject?

Geert SillevisG.S.: I love to read Dutch history, I love to visit museums and fortunately I have friends who love the same things so we're often sharing stories. I would say I have a relatively deep knowledge of Dutch history, although it's definitely Amsterdam-centric.


LMJ: What other professional activities have you pursued alongside your work as a tour guide?

Geert SillevisG.S.: I have worked as a travel writer (which was not as fun as it sounds). I hosted a radio show for a year and I've done some work as a voice actor. Four years ago I was hired to set up the Lisbon operation of one of the tour companies I work with and spent 9 months doing that. As I said above, I started designing city-wide games. Less professionally (i.e. things I am not paid to do), I write stories and perform them, and I'm currently working on a children's book and very, very slowly working on writing a musical.

LMJ : How do you compare Lisbon and Amsterdam as cities to live in? Is there another city you would like to live in?


population 530,000


population 800,000

Geert SillevisG.S.: Lisbon is changing rapidly so I might be very out of date in my impressions. It is becoming quite the tech hotspot - it's very cheap to live in, the people are extremely friendly and the food is the best in Europe. The climate is incredible and it is incredibly beautiful. I choose to live in Amsterdam because it is so international and the standard of living is very high. That means you have lots of creative people with the time and the resources to engage in their passions. That makes it easy for me to find illustrators, composers and designers to work with on my little projects. The only downside here is the terrible weather, which I can live with. Amsterdam is fun and friendly, unbelievably safe and very small.  I'm a small town boy at heart. Honestly, I'm always surprised that more people don't come live in Amsterdam. It's as close to a perfect city as I've ever seen. That said, should the opportunity arise, I'd love to live in New York or San Francisco, both cities I've spent some time in.

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici.

Interview with Welsh wordsmith (and forensic linguist) John Olsson


The interviewer:  


Our correspondent, Joëlle Vuille, Ph.D.holder of a law degree and a doctorate in criminology, is assistant professor of law at the University of Fribourg. Joëlle lives in the Geneva region.



A Olsson
The interviewee:

John Olsson,
Ph.D., professor emeritus of the University of Bangor, Wales, a distinguished world specialist in forensic linguistics, and author of several books, including "Word Crime. Solving Crime Through Forensic Linguistics". Professor Olsson kindly agreed to respond questions that Professor Vuille put to him. We thank them both for shedding light on a linguistic field that is not well known.


Olsson  map Wales   Olsson Word Crime

JV: How did you become interested in forensic linguistics?

JO: I first became interested in authorship at about the age of 22 while studying literature, but it remained a dormant interest for a long time. In between I had studied psychology and became interested in behaviour, and had studied Skinner and Watson, but felt that behaviourism did not have any of the answers. I found behaviourist theories of language very weak and was interested to read Noam Olsson - Chomsky Olsson Coulthard Chomsky’s somewhat damning rebuttal of what Skinner had to say about language. In the early 1990s I decided to study linguistics and took an MA at Bangor University. I got to hear about work being carried out at Birmingham University under Professor Malcolm Coulthard on fabricated confessions and did a postgraduate dissertation on that topic, and later a PhD in forensic authorship methods, which I actually took at Glamorgan University where they were developing a new section in the forensic sciences.


How do forensic linguistics work, in a nutshell?

Forensic linguistics is really an umbrella term for a number of related disciplines, all to do with language and the law. Some people are interested in legal language and how ordinary people interact with that. I just examined a PhD dissertation from a student in the Caribbean Olsson cartoonwho was interested in the disconnect between lawyers’ language and the language of the lay client. It was fascinating to see, once again, how the real difficulty was not so much that this was legal language which people were grappling with, but poor communication skills on the part of the professionals. You have to take the view that if a client cannot understand what a lawyer is saying then it is the lawyer’s fault. The client can absolutely not be blamed for that: the problem is, it can be very costly for the average person. One interesting example was the word ‘deed’ as it applies to land. In this particular case the client was an elderly, very religious lady who interpreted the word ‘deed’ in a biblical sense, as an act, a religious act, and the lawyer – I’m afraid they do not teach lawyers literature or Latin any more – did not pick up that this was the sense in which the client understood ‘deed’. The lady had a dispute with her husband about property, and she was thinking that ‘deed’ had something to do with the act of separating from her husband, and how a ‘deed’ would deliver the land to her in a religious sense. For twenty minutes the lawyer and the client simply spoke at cross purposes to each other. This goes beyond legal language, or the language of the law: it is really to do with ignorance and arrogance on the part of lawyers who talk down to their clients. The really successful lawyers know how to talk to non-legal people. They understand that the difference between their own perspective and the perspective of the client is not purely linguistic, or even cultural, but, rather, depends on an understanding of how the law works. You only get that if you train and work as a lawyer. The problem is that some lawyers seem to forget that the average person they speak to is not going to understand legal principles without a little help.

What linguists can do in relation to this type of problem is to show lawyers how to communicate better with their clients. It is really a communication problem as much as a legal language problem. Unfortunately, most forensic linguists have little or no knowledge of the law. In Europe and America, there are perhaps no more than half a dozen linguists with legal qualifications.

Having said all of that, I have come across some lawyers who are wonderful communicators, both inside and outside of the court room. They are the really successful ones, the top QCs who are doing murder trials and major fraud cases.


Tell us about a case where forensic linguistics had an important impact on the investigation or prosecution of a suspect.

My own specialty is authorship, although I do sometimes get asked to do things like interpreting gang language or even to break codes. A couple of years ago a young man was in Manchester prison charged with attempted murder. He wrote a letter to his girlfriend and told her that on the back of the page were a bunch of numbers but she was to disregard those. In the UK, it may be the same in other countries, the prison authorities censor outgoing mail and they passed this letter to the police. It ended up on my desk and at first I could not make sense of it. It was very short, about 80 words. There weren’t even 26 different symbols, and Olsson detectiveof the symbols turned out to be punctuation marks, and indeed some of the punctuation marks turned out to be symbols. It was a motley thing. After playing around with it for a while I remembered one of the officers telling me that the writer was extremely polite, courteous, considerate and so on, suspiciously so. I idly wondered if the word ‘please’ might appear in his text and so I looked for strings of six letters or characters and began to play with those. Eventually, I found one that looked promising and broke the code from there. It turned out that our young man was telling his girlfriend to take a big bag of cash around to the victim’s house and try to bribe him into not giving evidence. I must say, it was a very generous offer, but fortunately it never reached its intended recipient. Even if it had he probably would have felt safer with the shooter behind bars. So, in fact, he got a much more severe sentence than he would have, because he was attempting to pervert the course of justice, as well as having tried to kill someone.

Mostly, however, I do authorship cases. It isn’t always the major murder cases which prove the most important. Sometimes it is good to know that through work you have done you have actually helped to turn someone’s life around. I recently did work in an harassment case, and I am sure that if the writer in that case had not been found, he would have simply continued to make his victim’s life a complete misery.

Olsson judgeJO: How reliable are forensic linguistics? Do courts usually admit evidence based on forensic linguistics?

In the UK, authorship has a good track record in the courts. I think between my colleagues and myself we have probably collectively given evidence well in excess of a hundred times. I’ve given evidence on about 70 or 80 occasions, in a wide variety of courts, from magistrates’ courts to the Court of Appeal, and several foreign courts, sometimes in person, sometimes via video link.

When you give evidence in the UK you often get asked questions by the judge. Judicial intervention is very common in UK courts – judges take a hands-on approach to understanding the value or significance of expert evidence. It is an entirely different system from what you have in the States. Frankly, I prefer our system because I think it is the judge’s court. He or she knows the case probably as well as the lawyers do, if not better, and it is the judge who will be able to assess the value of the evidence. A judge who finds expert evidence unpersuasive can always direct a jury accordingly. I am not in favour of reams of complicated rules about what judges can and cannot do. There are not many incompetent judges around.

Based on the trends that you are observing now, can you predict how forensic linguistics will evolve in the next decades?

Forensic linguistics has a huge capacity to solve crime – even to prevent crime, but unfortunately governments have very little Olsson Serviceinsight into its potential. Actually, it is almost entirely down to the legal profession that we have had the advances that we have had. Recently in the UK the government closed down the Forensic Science Services to save a paltry few million pounds a year,
while – I am sure – stocking up on such essentials as banqueting crockery, government wine cellars and ministerial car pools. Thus, I am not sanguine that, absent the dedication of a handful of linguists, the perseverance of certain lawyers committed to justice, and the occasional perspicacious judge, that we will necessarily see much advancement on where we are now. I know that sounds pessimistic, but if you think for a moment where the money is going in law enforcement, it is going on weapons and buildings and more powerful surveillance systems. It is not going on understanding and analysing human interaction and the study of individual differences.

You taught forensic linguistics for a number of years before studying the law? How did you find the experience of going back to being a student after being an academic for such a long time?


Well, it’s an experience I would recommend to everyone. In fact, I think every academic ought to be sent back to class about every ten or Olsson booksfifteen years – don’t send them on a sabbatical, put them back in a classroom and let them see what it’s like for the students of today – all of whom work when they are not studying, many of whom have to live in less than ideal conditions, study in libraries with often inadequate facilities, and cope with the shock of having left home, and suddenly having to make really important decisions about their lives. So, if you do send your professors back to class, for goodness sake – don’t pay them a salary. Make them live like the other students do.

Olsson BangorHaving said that, I really enjoyed my time. First of all, Bangor is my favourite university – I absolutely love the atmosphere, and just the way people are so easy to get on with. I had great lecturers, great fellow students, and the subject was one I had always wanted to get my teeth into. Since finishing the degree I have spent a lot of time in court as an observer, and in fact am currently working towards doing the bar exam next year. So, yes, there’s something quite addictive about studying, and I think every academic should get back to it often.

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici.


Interview with British linguist (and food, architecture and film critic) Jonathan Meades

Meades 1
The interviewee - Jonathan Meades The interviewer - Jonathan Goldberg

Jonathan Meades
, a British intellectual, has established a solid reputation with  public both within Britain and beyond its borders, in particular in the fields of food, architecture, films (about 25 television documentaries) and writing. Amongst all his professional activities, he served as the culinary critic of
The Times of London for several years.





JG: A short list of the fields in which you have established a solid reputation in the public eye includes food, architecture, film documentaries (about 50 TV films) and writing. To begin our interview on the subject of food: as the restaurant critic of The Times for many years, what is your view of the recent case in France [Une blogueuse condamnée pour une critique de restaurant : une décision de faible portée - L'OBS] in which a court fined a blogger who wrote a critical review of a restaurant, after the owner complained that the review had adversely affected his reputation? You spend long periods in France. How would you deal with such constraints if you were a food critic in France?

  Meades 3  

JM: I stopped writing about food and restaurants and about the questions such writing might raise fifteen years ago. Having said which food blogs do appear to attract some spectacularly ignorant non-writers.

JG: Your research into unusual aspects of architecture is well known to the public through several series of TV programmes of which the first was Abroad in Britain, (available in DVD format). How would you explain the anomaly of that title to our French readers and why did you choose it?

JM: My British subjects have invariably been provincial. As someone who lived all his adult life in London till seven years ago the British provinces are foreign, they are abroad...

JG: In a two-part documentary, Magnetic North, you introduced the British public to the lesser-known aspects of Northern Europe. Considering that many Britons have travelled throughout Northern Europe, how did you go about researching material that would make the film an eye-opener for TV audiences.

Meades 4

JM: The very point was that most Britons are entirely ignorant of northern Europe. The British, when they travel in Europe, favour Spain, France and Italy. Virtually anything i chose to show in northern Europe would be unknown to them. The programmes were, by the way, not travelogues but, like most of my stuff, polemical essays.

Meades 5JG: In 2012 BBC4 screened Jonathan Meades on France, a series in which you visited your "second country". You seem to have adopted Benjamin Franklin's dictum: "Every man has two countries : his own and France." As someone who is very familiar with many European countries, what particular attraction does France hold for you?

JM: As I pointed out the 'dictum' is not Benjamin Franklin's. It comes from a play by Henri de Bornier - who was French. I admire French republicanism.

  Meades 6  

JG: You recently wrote an article in The Guardian entitled "So frenchy, so touchy, about the English language.", in which you suggested that the French should drop their opposition to the influence of English. You wrote: "What is ... peculiar is the dogged Canutism of a certain stratum of French society that fails to acknowledge that languages are mongrel organisms, and that the idea of purity is as unachievable as it is undesirable." But don't you think that there comes a point in the slavish adoption of English where many Frenchmen can have a legitimate fear that their language and culture are under threat?

JM: The chances of the French 'slavishly adopting' anything that they don't want to adopt are nil.

Meades 7JG: Your dozen published books include "Filthy English", a collection of short stories and your first work of fiction. Stephen Fry said that no-one understands England better than Meades. One reader described the book as follows:".. A meal consisting of pan-fried foie gras with raspberry reduction, followed by confit of duck with cherry reduction, and a crepe Suzette to close. All delicious in their way but not in one evening." Can you relate to that opinion expressed  in culinary terms? Another reader wrote  that he had only understood every third word. Might your style be too high-falutin in today's dumbed-down society? Put otherwise, is this a book to be appreciated principally by the literatii? 

JM: I despise writers who take any notice of what their readers say, especially when they say it in so corny a way 

LMJ: What are you currently doing in France? When in France do you engage in the same activities as if you were at your desk in England? What are your plans for the future?

JM: I am writing a new book and planning a new tv show - two almost antithetical exercises.


Cet entretien est accessible en français ici.