Hester Velmans was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, but lived in five different countries while growing up. Hester and her twin sister spent their middle and high school years at the International School of Geneva (Ecolint); at home they spoke a medley of English, French and Dutch. The twins were bookworms and were so enamored of English literature that when it came time to decide where to go to university, they chose the U.K.
Hester read English at King’s College, London University. After college, she worked as a copy editor (“sub”) and staff writer on various women’s magazines in London before going back for an MA at Queen Mary College, London. She wrote her Master’s dissertation on Virginia Woolf against the advice of her professor, who considered Woolf a “minor” literary figure. (This was just before Virginia Woolf became a hot literary commodity.)
She spent the next years at the television news agency UPITN, first at ITN in London and later at ABC News in New York. It was an exciting time when the industry was just switching from film to videotape, from physically shipping newsreels by air to broadcasting news clips around the globe via satellite. It was a 24-hour-a-day job; when a big story broke, Hester did not go home. After eight years of thinking that unless she was in the newsroom, or at least in telephone contact with it, the world would come to a screeching halt, she quit cold-turkey, married an American attorney and moved to the suburbs.
Home with her young children, Hester started writing in earnest — novels in which she could indulge her love of fantasy. She gained a reputation as a “book doctor” and helped several authors shape their books. Then she was approached by Nan Talese of Doubleday to translate a Dutch bestseller, The Lily Theater,written in Dutch by a Chinese author who had emigrated from Mao’s China to the Netherlands. Turning Ms. Wang’s complex Chinese-accented Dutch into English prose with equivalent startling and unusual word choices presented a challenge. Her close collaboration with Ms. Wang paid off when the book became a NY Times’ Notable Books of the Year. Translating opened up a new world for her, infecting her with new admiration and enthusiasm for the three languages she thought she knew so well. She saw that translating would make her a better writer by opening her eyes to the dizzyingly diverse ways humans have found to express themselves.
Since then she has translated a dozen novels, including four by the acclaimed novelist Renate Dorrestein. The first, A Heart of Stone, was a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection, and won Hester the Vondel Prize for Translation. She has also translated a children’s novel, The Winged Cat by Isabel Hoving, the works of two Belgian authors (Stefan Brijs and Leo Pleysier), and a French novel set in medieval Greenland (The Voyage of the Short Serpent by Bernard du Boucheron).
Today Hester lives with husband Peter in an old farmhouse in the Berkshires,
Massachusetts, where she is living the country life she always dreamed of--
corn, cows, sunflowers and homemade jam.