Katharine Halls is an accomplished Arabic-to-English translator, recognized for receiving a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant in 2021 and the 2017 Sheikh Hamad Award for Translation for her work on "The Dove's Necklace" by Raja Alem. Her expertise spans various Arabic dialects, and she's also a member of 10/11, an agency that represents contemporary Arabic literature in European languages. Katharine holds degrees from the University of Oxford, the University of Manchester and the American University in Cairo.

What books are on your bedside table?

As you’d probably expect, most of them are Arabic novels, but I’ll give you the titles in English—Ahmed Naji’s Happy Endings, Maryam Abd al-Aziz’s There Where The River Ends, Raji Bathish’s The Apartment on Rue de Passy and Majd Kayyal’s River Carmel. I'm also halfway through Selim Özdoǧan's Anatolian Blues trilogy, in Ayça Türkoǧlu and Katy Derbyshire's lovely English translation.

Which book or author do you always return to?

If I’m honest, Sara Paretsky and Hammond Innes, because I need a break from the highbrow stuff now and then! I love immersing myself in some exciting, undemanding crime or adventure story. And they’re both such prolific writers that I know I’ll always be able to find one of their novels that I haven’t read yet.

What kind of reader were you as a child?

There’s a faded copy of The Grapes of Wrath on my bookshelf. On the first page is a dedication in biro: “To Katie, Happy 11th birthday. Love, Dad.” I think that probably answers the question!

When working on a new project, how do you sift through competing ideas to move forward?

Being a translator, I’m always on the lookout for texts that will work in English. Sometimes I’ll read a great book and really enjoy it, but just feel like it won’t work in translation. When I’m reading a book in Arabic and I find that an English voice suggests itself to me very clearly and strongly, then I know I have a project I can take forward.

What writing habit do you have that is impossible to shift? (.e.g a particular snack, writing hours, location, caffeine consumption etc)

I’m a very thorough, technically-minded translator, so I’m never without my toolkit: a couple of beloved dictionaries, some online corpuses, Ngram viewer, and a pen and paper for arranging my ideas visually. But it sounds like what you’re actually after is bad habits. Well, I usually get distracted by my plants—I can rarely get through a work day without getting up to spontaneously re-pot a begonia or take some cuttings from a philodendron. Not a very rock’n’roll bad habit, I know…