donal mclaughlin

on & off the page

Донал Маклафлін

Ukrainian translator, Petro Tarashchuk

In 2012, two of Donal’s stories, translated by Petro Tarashchuk, appeared in the Ukrainian journal Київ (Kyiv). Petro, who translates from English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Russian & Polish into Ukrainian, persuaded the editors to run with ‘aka la Giaconda’ in Issue 3-4; and ‘an allergic reaction to national anthems’ in Issue 9. Donal was thrilled to see both translations appear. And to become Донал Маклафлін for Ukrainian readers.

If those translations, a decade ago, were a source of considerable pleasure, what Donal felt then doesn’t begin to compare to what he feels these days, each time Petro’s name turns up in his inbox. Given what Putin is doing to Ukraine, it is always good to know Petro is safe.

This post, however short, is offered as a mark of solidarity. The stories are included below for any Ukrainian speakers who would like to read them in translation. Petro has kindly provided the files.

Petro Tarashchuk in Berlin, in 2013

on the eve of brexit (not)


It is no coincidence that, in the run-up to 29 March, Donal participated in two events in Glasgow.

On the Tuesday of that week, he introduced Anthony Cartwright (top right) at an event called ‘A Thousand Cuts’ at the Scottish Writers’ Centre, at which Anthony read from his short novel The Cut, a book commissioned by Pereine Press & published on the first anniversary of the Brexit referendum. Donal took the opportunity to praise Anthony’s previous novels too, such as the “gem” How I Killed Margaret Thatcher & the “more than just a football novel” Iron Towns, drawing particular attention to ‘Black Country’ – the beautifully balanced “essay in response to the EU Referendum” added to the paperback edition of Iron Towns.

Two evenings later, Donal read at a Scottish PEN event in the Tron Theatre with the novelist and short story writer Bernard MacLaverty  and the poet Ciara MacLaverty (top left; front row, middle and right). Author David Manderson (back row) of Scottish PEN’s Writers for Peace Committee had organised the evening around the inspired theme of ‘Place and Peace: Northern Ireland, Scotland, Europe.’ First up, Donal read – like a year ago at the Tron – from a two-story story written in response to Brexit, then got to sit back and enjoy as Ciara read both new work, including a poem in progress commissioned by the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and poems from her recent Past Love in the Museum of Transport, and Bernard then read a brilliant passage from Midwinter Break which recalls a major bomb going off in the Belfast of the Troubles. Bernard, it is fair to say, stole the show by reading, from a notebook, a tweet he’d written the previous evening:

Question: How do you get the DUP to say “Yes”?

Answer: Ask them are they going to vote “No”.


Photographs courtesy of David Manderson (group) & Angela Donnithorne (A.C.)

(accidental) new book?


Waterstones Sauchiehall Street, July 2018

Word has it that Donal has (accidentally) written a new book. Seems, it’s a two-story story. And a book-length Liam story. It’s even rumoured that – though set in the late 1970s – it’s a response, in fiction, to Brexit.  Seems, extracts have been road-tested at events this year, both at the new Crossways festival in March, in Glasgow’s Merchant City; and at the ‘Truth and Lies’ events in Falkirk and Glasgow in July. The first extract to be published will appear – aptly, given that Paisley is again a setting – in Issue 2 of Laldy! (due in October).

The title of the book has yet to be revealed, but ‘away goals’ has been cited as the title of the second story. And those really paying attention in Glasgow in July will have heard a fleeting reference to ‘keeping a clean sheet (or trying to)’ as the title of the first.

Feedback from audiences has been good. First readers have also been impressed. Seems, a novelist based in London “loved it”. So did a French-Canadian poet. Closer to home, a Glasgow-based writer declared it to be “excellent”. Another regards it as “stunning”. An American writer finished it some weeks ago – but still had those rhythms in his head still for ages but!

Seems, it’s short. Just over a hundred pages, maybe.

Intrigued? – Watch this space!

Final Cover 2

Issue 2 of Laldy!



Donal’s translation of Pedro Lenz’ naw much of a talker was published by Freight Books (Glasgow) in September 2013. The reviews, like the response to Pedro’s readings in Glasgow and Edinburgh in August, have been particularly good. It seems that this translation of a Swiss book even ended up being considered for the Saltire Book of the Year Awards. While it was not shortlisted, the convener of the jury singled it out for special praise.


‘Inspired by a six-month residency in Glasgow (…), this short, sharp novel (..) now arrives in a remarkable translation into Glaswegian dialect by Donal McLaughlin. As the title ironically implies, it’s all about the voice; and what a voice it is. [The narrator’s] interior monologue can switch, in the same sentence, from a cuttingly funny observation to a sombre analysis of the human condition, while his ups and downs give him pause to reflect on life and love in language that is raw and poignant, and positively glows with humanity.’

The List


‘Goalie is Swiss. In Donal McLaughlin’s lively, ear-grabbing, subtly attentive, pawky translation, Goalie purveys his Swiss-German words in the fat-frying, guttural, bubbling vernacular and accent of swaggering Glasgow. “For a Dear Green place” runs the book’s dedication by Pedro Lenz (…) who spent six months there imbibing its powerful linguistic refreshment, and being inspired (…) by the work of vernacular writers such as James Kelman. Lenz and McLaughlin have bracingly turbo-charged the idiom. This is a novel that should be proclaimed, spoken aloud, to be appreciated and (literally) understood. (…) Once you’ve tuned in, you won’t switch off. Goalie’s stream of unstoppable, introverted narration creates its own version of linguistic white-water rafting: all stops and starts, its bounce and dip and sideways lurches, its slower contemplative passages contrasting with the spray-gun verbal splashes when hot-wired Goalie loses the plot with one of his mates and, at last, with Regula, the only love of his life. (…) As the tale moves forward, its sense of Goalie’s continuing existential limbo becomes reminiscent of those popular literary oeuvres of 50 years ago, Beckett meets Camus, with added laughs, for McLaughlin’s translation brings to the text all the wit and wisdom Goalie can muster. Lenz’s book is a verbal spree, a tour de force.’

The Scotsman


‘although it didn’t make the shortlist we were enormously impressed by the extraordinary Naw Much of A Talker where Donal McLaughlin takes Pedro Lenz’s crackling 2010 novel in Swiss German and vaults into an excellent written Scots translation.’

Ian Campbell, Saltire Book of the Year Awards 2013


‘A welcome change from having the Queen’s English as the default mode of translation’

The Herald


‘The question of whether we call McLaughlin’s language dialect or vernacular will hopefully not interest most of his readers in the slightest; they might well just be hooked on an understated, charming, stoical story.’

Goethe’s Gonna Getya


‘the rendition works beautifully, capturing both the melancholy and the verbal music of Goalie’s monologue’

The Financial Times


‘This novel is a remarkable feat of translation by Donal McLaughlin. Originally written in Swiss dialect (…), it has now been translated into English, but not in standard prose but a Glaswegian dialect that wouldn’t be out of place on the pages of Kelman. It reminded me of discovering the Rebel Inc Classics in the 90s, like Knut Hamsun and Alexander Trocchi, where protagonists are armed with existential awareness but handicapped with the inability to escape their inevitable decline. (…) McLaughlin is almost a co-author rather than translator.’



7_Pedro_Lenz_farbig_quer_2_mediumPedro Lenz


LAST UPDATE: October 2013

Donal was included in Best European Fiction 2012 (Dalkey Archive Press, USA)both as an author and as a translator.

With both a new short story (‘enough to make your heart’), and his version of an extract from Sez Ner by Arno Camenisch, Donal joined writers from 33 countries around Europe. The volume – edited by Aleksandar Hemon, and the third in a highly regarded series – appeared in November 2011.

“the rhythm king of Scottish fiction Donal McLaughlin”

… “lends literary heft to this anthology”

New Statesman, 12.12.2011

The writers chosen by Aleksandar Hemon come from Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine and the UK

The November 2011 issue of Harper’s magazine (New York) saw the pre-publication of Donal’s translation of the extract from Sez Ner.


My Mother’s Lover, Donal’s translation of Der Geliebte der Mutter by Urs Widmer, was published in June 2011 (Seagull Books) and subsequently nominated for the Newton First Book Award of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

“Donal McLaughlin’s translation delivers all the charm, sweet sorrow and gentle humour of the original.

The Independent, 9.12.2011

“Delicately and elegantly translated by Scotland’s own Donal McLaughlin, this is a short but complex and enthralling read”

Gutter / 06, February 2012

Donal accompanied Urs Widmer on a reading tour of India in January 2012.


My Father’s Book by Urs Widmer, again in Donal’s translation, appeared in November 2011.

In this companion to My Mother’s Lover, the narrator is again the son who pieces together the fragments of his parents’ stories. Widmer brilliantly combines family history and historical events to tell the story of a man more at home in the world of the imagination than in the real world; a father who grows on the reader just as he grows on his son.

Shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award 2013 (USA).

“My Father’s Book is a boisterous, expansive novel, an encapsulation of twentieth century Swiss life through an idiosyncratic and highly concentrating prism. This sense of breadth comes not only from the contrast of Karl’s engagement in politics and his ludicrous stint as a soldier with his wife’s extreme introversion, but also from his appetite for life and the arts, which Widmer evokes beautifully.”

“The sheer artistry of the writing in this novel alone would be deserving of the Best Translated Book Award, but in addition Donal McLaughlin’s translation is pitch-perfect, capturing the various registers and tonalities of Widmer’s prose and, most difficult of all, the many shades of his humor.”

Tess Lewis, BTBA judge.


As in My Mother’s Lover, the narrative style in My Father’s Book is breathtakingly complex. As the narrator tells his father’s story, his gaze often hews closely to Karl’s, and his voice becomes inflected by turns of phrase that clearly belong not to him but to Karl. Rich description gives way to rapidly shifting snapshots to match the pace of the story. This is the real thrill of reading Widmer: he masters the acceleration and deceleration of voice that follows the roller-coaster rides of existence, history. The book is ebulliently punctuated, filled with interjections, half-thoughts, hesitations. The rhythms of spoken language break into the narration, then dissipate in lyrical reveries. At a certain point, you find yourself nodding in agreement: yes, yes, yes, this is life.

Donal McLaughlin’s translation of this challenging voice is a joy. The language is idiosyncratic and daring — Widmer’s punctuation and sentence structures could have been smoothed further, and I’m glad they’re not, because the aforementioned pacing is so important. There is light-footedness and fun, but also precision. The basic units of My Father’s Book are the extreme close-up, the individual moment; it is a book of details, of exactness, and McLaughlin’s angular, energetic English reflects that.

Amanda DeMarco, Los Angeles Review of Books



all happening!

Allergic COVER 6

In the month in which Donal’s book appears, ‘big trouble’ – a new story commissioned by the Scottish Arts Council – has also been published on the SAC website.

Set in 1968, this story is a prequel to the Liam stories in an allergic reaction to national anthems & other stories (which has been reviewed favourably in the latest Scottish Review of Books, as well as in The Herald [Glasgow]).

To read ‘big trouble’, visit the SAC website and click on ‘Arts in Scotland’ and then ‘Literature’. Alternatively, copy and paste the following link:

Donal has also recently received Issue 16 of the French poetry magazine N4728 – which includes translations of poems by the Gaelic poet Meg Bateman on which Donal collaborated with the French poet Laurent Grisel.

All of this, hot on the heels of the Sommer-akademie of the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin in late August, for which Donal was selected, together with a dozen other translators from all over the world. Chile, China, Denmark, Hungary, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Latvia, the Netherlands, Romania, Thailand, Turkey, and Uzbekistan were the other countries represented.

A superb five-day programme impressed Donal and his fellow translators greatly. Talks by leading literary critics, readings by some of the biggest names in German literature, visits to various publishing houses around Berlin – as well as generous book gifts – combined to provide the participants with a great overview of what is going on in German literature NOW.

Imagine a dozen or so translators from all over the world coming to Scotland each year & being offered a similar programme…

UPDATE: June 2009

A whack of material has been added here of late – especially to Windows on the World (Column 2).

The entry on Paulette Dubé now includes a wonderful letter to her son, André, written as he was about to travel to Ireland this Spring. Paulette’s experience of Northern Ireland in May 1986 will chill you.

You can also read extracts from both Gergely Nagy‘s novels. The one from Angst will take you to present-day Budapest, a city that has changed considerably since the revolutions of 1989-90 in eastern Europe. The extracts from Loud! are a must (not just) for lovers of The Clash & Fender guitars!

Slovene writer Andrej E. Skubic merits special attention too. Andrej is the editor of an anthology of Scottish writing in Slovene translation – and a great fan of Jim Kelman (whom he was translated) and Janice Galloway. The extracts from his novel Fuzine Blues allow us to see how his editorial and translation work may have impacted on his writing.

Finally, you might want to look at the section on The Reader (the play) under Translations: material relating to Donal’s collaboration with Chris Dolan, back in 2000, to create a stage version of Bernhard Schlink‘s best-selling novel Der Vorleser / The Reader. Now a film, of course. And out on DVD.