Arts·Where I Write

From a sunny office to a dimly lit bar, Rhonda Mullins finds home everywhere she writes

As a translator, she works in lands created by others — "a land inhabited by their characters and thoughts."

As a translator, she works in lands created by others — 'a land inhabited by their characters and thoughts'

Rhonda Mullins's desk. (Rhonda Mullins)

Leading up to Canada Reads, CBC Arts is bringing you daily essays about where this year's authors write. This edition features Suzanne translator Rhonda Mullins.

I work in an office on a planet with two suns. One sun comes in through my back windows in the morning, and the other greets me when I sit down in my office facing the street. My apartment is small, and if I stand in the middle, the two suns hit me like I'm cross-lit on a stage. I'm a star, baby.

There are two explanations for this trick of the light. First, there is the southern exposure of my back windows, although this is Montreal south, which bears only a passing resemblance to cardinal south. Montreal south is actually southeast, or possibly just east. Who really knows anymore? The explanation for this is long and befuddling, but it has to do with a misapprehension that the St. Lawrence runs east past the island to the Atlantic, and we have built a grid on that false premise. Suffice it to say we are the only city in the world where the sun sets in the north. But it has made allowances, and it streams in my back windows all the same.

Rhonda Mullins. (CBC)

The second explanation is the building across the street. It's a handsome, five-storey, red brick building that makes me feel like I'm in New York. It takes up a whole block. When the sun comes up opposite it, both the orb and the light reflect off its windows and shine into my office. And when the light hits it in the morning, it's better than cable TV, because you can see right in the windows to watch people starting their day.

I work in a bar where everyone knows my name. They didn't used to, which is why I started going there to edit a couple of evenings a week, the time of a pint and a half. I can edit seven pages a pint, but eventually the law of diminishing returns kicks in. At the end of my day, this is how I sometimes squeeze another hour or so out of myself.

One of the places Rhonda Mullins works. (Rhonda Mullins)

I sit at the bar so as not to take up valuable real estate, and I don't bring my computer for fear of harshing the vibe. It's a local bar, where people know each other's business, and there was speculation among staff and patrons about what I was doing there with my red pen. Consensus had developed that I was a teacher. Eventually someone asked me, and after I explained, he announced to all and sundry as they walked by, "She's a traaanslator, not a teacher." Now when they dim the lights over the bar as evening turns to night, they have been known to ask, "Is that okay, Rhonda?" Yes, it's okay. It's more than okay.

I work in a land created by others — the authors — a land inhabited by their characters and their thoughts. It can be a noisy or a tranquil place, filled with snow or fire, blood or guano, books or dead bodies. It is a welcoming place, where the path is laid out, and I just have to find the words to follow it. Piece of cake.

I feel equally at home in all the places I work.


Rhonda Mullins is a writer and translator living in Montreal. She won the 2015 Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation for Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals. And the Birds Rained Down, her translation of Saucier’s Il pleuvait des oiseaux, was a cbc Canada Reads Selection for 2015. It was also shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award, as were her translations of Louis Carmain’s Guano, Élise Turcotte’s Guyana and Hervé Fischer’s The Decline of the Hollywood Empire.