Calling all translators! A unique opportunity has come up that book lovers certainly won’t want to miss.

The Douban Read platform, part of one of China’s largest online cultural communities, has teamed up with acclaimed author David Mitchell, the British Council and Nesta to launch an exciting new competition. As of yesterday (August 1st), two of the author’s short stories were live on the platform awaiting translation by any keen volunteers.

Fans can translate extracts of the stories – The Massive Rat and The Gardner – and submit them to the site. The entries will be whittled down to a shortlist of three, and the public will be asked to vote on their favourite. The winner will then have the honour of seeing their translation for sale on the site.

David Mitchell is no stranger to the challenges of translating famous works of fiction – after all, he himself is a translator. Indeed, his latest work, which has made it on to’s Top 10, is not his original idea; rather it is a translation of Japanese author Naoki Higashida’s publication. Mitchell worked alongside his wife, K A Yoshida, to translate it.

The book is called The Reason I Jump and was written by Higashida when he was just 13. It looks at the author’s perspective on his childhood and provides an insight into his autism. This is a subject close to Mitchell’s heart, as the writer’s son is also autistic.

It was arguably Mitchell’s own success as a writer that resulted in the project getting off the ground. His most famous work, Cloud Atlas, was a huge bestseller and was adapted for cinema this year.

According to The Associated Press, Mitchell’s wife had bought the book and interpreted sections she thought were useful, but it wasn’t long before she was interpreting nearly all of it. The couple then decided it would be a good idea to translate it in full so their son’s carers could read it.

However, Mitchell’s publisher Random House was keen to get more of his work out, and that included any translations he produced. The project took longer than it would have for a professional translator working full time as Mitchell was writing his own novel as well at the time, but the book is now on sale in the west.

In addition to translating it, Mitchell has also written an introduction for the book. “The Reason I Jump was a revelatory godsend. Reading it felt as if, for the first time, our own son was talking to us about what was happening inside his head,” he explained.

“The translation did distract me and take hours away from my novel, but in the long run it will pay dividends,” Mitchell claimed. “It stimulates a part of your brain that you don’t normally use.”

The Associated Press points out that having The Reason I Jump translated by an already established author is something of a rarity. In fact, often book translators are not authors at all, but linguists or academics. As author Adam Thirlwell explains to the publication: “A translation is a very difficult object to create. For a novelist to translate someone else’s novel therefore requires a certain selflessness – a sacrifice of your own writing time to someone else.”

Another novelist to have a successful career as a translator is Haruki Murakami. GalleyCat reports that he details exactly what challenges book translators face in a chapter of Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky’s In Translation: Translators on their Work and What It Means. Perhaps his greatest test was translating The Great Gatsby, which is not only a classic but also his favourite book.

Localisation was a key part of his translation process, as there were some words and phrases in the original that would not make sense to a Japanese reader. Having said that, he also ensured that his translation stayed true to the era in which F Scott Fitzgerald wrote the original. Murakami concluded: “If I have been able to communicate even a portion of those feelings [in the original], and you are able to share my love of Fitzgerald’s novel, then I am happy.”