Daniel Hahn


Daniel Hahn is a writer of non-fiction, an editor of reference books, and a serious literary translator. He is rather surprised, then, to have found himself working on this very silly book about wearing watermelons on your head.

Over the last ten years or so he’s spent a lot of time working on children’s books – reading them, reviewing them, recommending them, talking about them, judging prizes, etc. Over the same period, while wearing an entirely different hat, he’s become involved in the world of literary translation – translating a dozen or so books (proper books for grown-ups), and (again) reviewing and writing and talking about them, and about translation in general. It is always sensible to wear no more than one hat at a time, however, so he has never tried to be a children’s books person and a translator simultaneously. Till now.

His family is from Brazil, so most of his translation work has been from Portuguese, but it’s been books from Portugal, from Angola, from Cape Verde, rather than Brazil itself, which is odd. Again, till now – that is, till Phoenix Yard asked him to translate a children’s book, from Brazil. Happiness is a Watermelon on Your Head is just his sort of proposal. He was born to do this job, you might think.

Turns out, however, that his first attempt to translate Happiness Is a Watermelon on Your Head was not good. It was in fact, not to put too fine a point on it, bad. And it was only when he moved onto the second draft, and stopped thinking of the job as a translation at all, that the whole thing took flight. The result is a new text, rhyming verse, written to Stella Dreis’ beautiful pictures and based on the story of the original text, but not gripping it too closely. Is it still a translation? Possibly, possibly not. It was in many ways easier than a translation, and undoubtedly a huge amount of fun to write.

So at the ripe old age of 37, Daniel Hahn has suddenly found he’s developed rather a taste for writing picture-book verse, and hopes to do more. As a freelancer he knows it’s always good to have a number of different hats to be able to be switch between, after all. And if one of them is a watermelon, well, that’s just perfect.