Translation Postcards: Clare Clarke in Finnsnes, Northern Norway

StaticShot_09-03-2020_09-03-54It’s winter in Finnsnes, Northern Norway. Some days it gets so cold, (minus 33 degrees anyone?), your glasses freeze over the moment you step outside – the clean, fresh Arctic Circle air searing into your lungs. There are fifty shades of snow: capping the distant mountains, stacking up in drifts at the side of the road, crunching as cars pass, or crisp underfoot. Kids can be seen skiing to school, women kick-sledding to work, and the odd granny has even been spotted whizzing to the doctor’s on a snow scooter. 

Brightly painted houses are scattered across the landscape, made of wood to retain the heat. But on days when the windows won’t open any more and the doors start creaking, it’s time to get up on the roof and start shovelling off the snow. 


Reindeer have been seen roaming on the beach (not just taking part in hugely popular races), giant hares peeking through the trees in the woods, otters belly-sliding through the snow and the odd killer whale or porpoise swimming in the fjord. And when it gets really chilly, the moose come down from the mountains to eat the leaves from their favourite garden bushes. But their camouflage makes them so difficult to spot – you don’t even notice their presence until they’re a little too close for comfort, at which point they stop munching and stare in unison, making for a rather unsettling experience. 


Their suspicion is perhaps not surprising, given that they form part of the local diet, along with whale, fresh prawns, reindeer, cod cheeks, and cloudberries. Fancy a little getaway escapade? 

The main form of transport is by boat – there’s no train station for 145 km, and the nearest airport is a military base, which boasts a single baggage reclaim carousel. Feeling poorly? Hopefully it’s nothing too serious, otherwise you’ll need an air ambulance to take you to Tromsø. But when the weather conditions are too severe, there's no service: people have died as a result. 


If you’re lucky, you might get to see the Northern Lights dancing across the sky on freezing cold starry nights, in shades of green, pink and purple between October and March. In the depths of winter, the sun doesn’t rise for two entire months. Meanwhile, at the height of summer, the midnight sun never sets, playing havoc with your sleep habits, as the birds chirp all night long and the sky is as bright as day. Better use those blackout curtains to have any chance of nodding off. 



But you need to make the most of the two summer months, June and July, with midnight walks, fishing in the middle of the night on the fjord, or drinks on the verandah until the early hours… 


By now, you might be asking yourself what on earth is a Geordie lass like Clare Clarke doing out here? The answer is simple: for the love of a good man, just not one from Oslo but from… Liverpool! But that romantic tale is for another day… 


Having completed her BA (Hons) in Modern Languages & Literature (French and German) at Manchester Metropolitan University, Clare first worked with one of the top agencies in Hamburg as a trainee translator and proofreader, before convincing a local advertising agency to create a position for her, and finally moving to another new translation agency. But 15 years ago, the lure of freelancing proved stronger than the security of full-time employment, and she has never looked back, relishing the flexibility, the ability to set her own course and the luxury of answering to no one but herself. And above all, the chance to work from home, and avoid embarking on an Arctic expedition every day in winter to get to work. 

Clare came across while searching for a term, created a profile and sat back waiting for the magic to happen. It didn’t. It was only when she took a more active interest in the site, the Facebook group and the Success Series of training videos that things began to pick up. 

She’s now a ProZ Plus member and a Certified PRO, and recently bagged her first direct client. 

To explain her approach to her craft, Clare turns to Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s famous quote: Translation is like a woman. If it is beautiful, it is not faithful. If it is faithful, it is most certainly not beautiful. 


A winter day often begins by walking the dog – followed by some trench digging to get said dog from the top of the garden to the bottom. Breakfast is lemon water followed by overnight oats with gojis, or some banana, blueberry and oat pancakes. Work begins between 9 and 10 a.m. Given the traditional local fare, Clare’s a creative cook. There’s a break for a light lunch (lemon water with tuna pasta salad, baked potato with tuna and avocado, pumpkin and feta fritters, or fishcakes followed by a kiwi/tangerine) then her work continues until dinner time (baked salmon/cod with roast vegetables, smoked trout with bell peppers, courgette and pasta, or quinoa and veg stir-fry with ginger and chilli king prawns) around 6 p.m. On the weekend, she and her husband occasionally indulge in a big bag of fresh prawns (unpeeled) with a glass or three of white wine. Peeling prawns is an essential skill for anyone living in Finnsnes… 


Clare’s German to English translations focus mostly on advertising and marketing, but she’s also built up expertise over the years in the automotive industry, airports and watchmaking. From February to May, she’s always snowed under (no pun intended), proofreading annual reports. With clients in several countries, particularly Germany, Switzerland and Austria, Clare is also working towards formal qualifications in Norwegian in order to break into the local market. 


The main challenge of being a translator in the middle of nowhere in the Arctic Circle? You guessed it: the weather. But that's not all...While the Internet is fine in town, it can be slow and unstable in the outlying villages. Power cuts, lasting from a few minutes to several hours, are also an issue… time to fire up that log-burning stove for some real heating and cooking and use mobile broadband, although once you leave the house, the mobile battery can drain to zero in no time because of the freezing temperatures. 


The contrast with Manchester and Hamburg, where everything is available on your doorstep, is a huge shock to the system, You can’t just run to the local Staples or Internet café – because there aren’t any. Even getting a toner for the printer can be difficult. Things often have to be ordered, and delivery can take an age, especially now that the postman only comes about three days a week. Working through the dark days of winter can also be a struggle, as your brain struggles to compute that it’s day time and keeps tempting you back to bed, like a bear going into hibernation. 


The only solution: stick your head out of the door and gulp in a deep blast of Arctic air… 

Translation Postcards are written for by Andrew Morris. To feature, drop him a line at

This series captures the different geographical contexts in which translators live, and how a normal working day pans out in each place. The idea is to give an insight into translators and translation around the world.

To find out more about Clare, visit:

All photos by Clare Clarke except the photo of the Northern Lights by Dag A. Larsen

Previous Translation Postcards
1. Norhan Mahmoud in Cairo

Topics: freelancer, translator, translation postcards

Andrew Morris

Written by Andrew Morris

Coordinator, ProZ Pro Bono

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