Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Friday, 12 January 2018

The matter of George Howell

Some -- surprisingly few -- of my readers have noticed that, by mistake, there are two men called George Howell  in the saga. One of them is Squire George Howell of Henllys, one of the trio of dastardly squires who make life hell for Martha in the first book of the series.  He commits suicide towards the end of the book, following the exposure of his crimes.  But he is important because he is a part of the feud between the Howell and Morgan families, and because his son John continues the feud in subsequent volumes.  His shadow, shall we say,  is a long one, which darkens a good deal of the narrative as Martha grows older.

The other George Howell  (mistakenly called Charles in the saga companion volume, to make things even more confusing) is Martha's father, the squire of Brawdy.  He is a relatively minor figure who pops up every now and then, but if one of the names has to be changed, it has to be his.  So in the Corgi editions of the first three books he is called George Tudor -- and of course Martha's maiden name is then also given as Tudor.   In discussion with the editor of the Corgi books we thought it would be rather nice to suggest a hint of ancient royalty in the family name, given the fact that Henry Tudor had very strong Pembrokeshire connections.

So there we are then.  Martha Morgan, a woman with royal blood in her veins -- warrior princess.........

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Welsh narrative -- again

There was an interesting meeting today in St David's, where a number of us mulled over the need for a coherent welsh narrative, and discussed how best to use it as a means of increasing Welsh self- awareness, self-esteem and pride.  We agreed that not enough people have a clear concept of what our story is in Wales, or of how it differs from the stories of Scotland and Ireland.  In those two countries there have been deep national traumas associated with the Great Famine and the Plantations and Clearances -- and also mass exoduses of people to the New World. In Wales, there have been traumatic episodes, but never on such a scale that millions have died -- and overall the story is not one of people leaving, but of people flooding in to fuel the Industrial Revolution that took place particularly in the nineteenth century.  So the population was not decimated, but grew as people from all over the UK and further afield arrived and settled in, resulting in great ethnic diversity and the establishment of a very large population of settlers who did not speak Welsh.  There is to this day a tension between "Welsh Wales" and "English Wales"........ but that does not have to be looked on in a negative light. Indeed, it may be counted as an asset, as many observers have agreed.

We agreed at our meeting that Michael Sheen's narrative of Wales as a victim, exploited and suppressed by a powerful and predatory neighbour, was not entirely accurate, and is a difficult to use in the context of tourism marketing!   Far too negative.  Something much more nuanced is appropriate, flagging up positives.  I remain convinced that the "potted narrative" needs to be something like this:

"Wales is a small country on the Celtic fringe of Europe with magnificent landscapes and rich natural resources. It is too close to England to have remained truly independent, and not far enough away for bloody rebellions ever to have taken hold. Throughout its history it has fought to resist the depredations of powerful neighbours; and against all the odds it has retained its language, its culture and its pride whilst encouraging toleration and liberal values and adapting to dramatic change. It has learned how to be subversive and seductive, and how to be spiritual and mischievous at the same time. In its history it has not suffered the same deep traumas as Scotland and Ireland. Its people are romantics, prone to wild swings of emotion; both melancholia and euphoria feature in the national psyche. Welsh people have a powerful "sense of place" and an abiding fondness for family histories, legends, ceremonial and ancient traditions. Eccentricity is embraced, while great value is placed upon learning. There is a tendency towards radical protest and an ever-present desire for social reform. Ultimately, Wales wants the respect of others -- and to be left in peace to enjoy and endure its own strange obsessions.”

Welsh literature -- vibrant or moribund?

Just for fun, I have been checking on the meanings of "vibrant" and "moribund" to see which of these words best describes the state of the Welsh literary and publishing scene.   I have been minded to use the word "moribund" in an article, and wanted to make sure that I was not misrepresenting the situation.  The more I think about it, the more I like the word and the less I like having to use it. 

Whether the literature and publishing industry is in terminal decline is a moot point; but it is most certainly lacking in vitality or vigour,  and might well be described as decaying, stagnant or crumbling, in spite of the fact that it produces around 300 books per year within Wales.  We should never forget that the whole industry is kept alive on a life support machine, in the shape of a vast programme of subsidies paid out to writers and publishers by the Welsh Books Council and by Literature Wales.  Take away the life support machine, and death is inevitable........



1. full of energy and life.
"a vibrant cosmopolitan city"

synonyms: spirited, lively, full of life, full of spirit, high-spirited, energetic, sprightly, vigorous, vital, full of vim and vigour, animated, sparkling, coruscating, effervescent, vivacious, dynamic, flamboyant, electrifying, dazzling, stimulating, exciting, dashing, passionate, fiery, determined

(of colour) bright and striking.
"a huge room decorated in vibrant blues and greens"

synonyms: vivid, striking, intense, brilliant, bright, strong, rich, deep, warm, full; More

(of sound) strong or resonating.
"his vibrant voice"
synonyms: resonant, sonorous, throbbing, pulsating, reverberating, reverberant, resounding, ringing, echoing, carrying, booming, blaring, thunderous, strident; More

2. quivering; pulsating.
"Rose was vibrant with anger"

synonyms: quivering, trembling, shaking, shaky, shivering, shivery, shuddering, shuddery, quavering, quavery, quaking;
"she was vibrant with excitement"


(of a person) at the point of death.
"on examination she was moribund and dehydrated"

dying, expiring, on one's deathbed, near death, near the end, at death's door, breathing one's last, fading/sinking fast, not long for this world, failing rapidly, on one's last legs, in extremis;
informalwith one foot in the grave
"the patient was moribund"

(of a thing) in terminal decline; lacking vitality or vigour.
"the moribund commercial property market"

declining, in decline, on the decline, waning, dying, stagnating, stagnant, decaying, crumbling, atrophying, obsolescent, on its last legs;
informalon the way out
"the country's moribund shipbuilding industry"

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Publishing grants in Wales 2016-17: value for money?

Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru
Welsh Books Council
Annual Report 2016-17

The annual report of the Welsh Books Council for 2016-17 has just been published. It's well worth reading, since it contains rather enlightening financial information. It's worth recalling that the WBC is a "top tier" funded organization which gets its grant aid directly from the Welsh Government (in contrast, Literature Wales is a second-tier organization getting its cash through Arts Council Wales.

The thing that strikes one, on reading through the report, is the extraordinary degree of overlap between the functions of WBC and LW -- the former provides author support payments, manuscript assessment and editing, advances for authors, marketing support, publishing and design grants, and even commissioning funds for new titles.  There are even grants for publishers for the appointment of extra staff.  The latter provides bursaries and mentoring support for writers and also helps with marketing and promotions.  The situation is very messy, as the "Medwin Hughes Panel" reported to the Culture Minister Ken Skates last year.

But one thing is clear -- neither within WBC or within LW is there any realistic attempt to determine whether the taxpayer gets value for money in the large sums of money expended in grant aid.  Record keeping of book sales appears rudimentary at best;  that's surprising, since book sales figures are the only realistic measure we have (or don't have!) to show us whether titles published are actually of any interest to readers.

So for the millions of pounds spent in recent years on grants to writers and publishers in Wales, what added value has accrued to the taxpayer?  Is Wales actually better off as a result of all the writers supported and all of the titles published?  Or are we all being conned that Wales has a wonderfully vibrant literary scene, when all it has is a gravy train which keeps a small number of people happy when they might well have been better off had they been exposed to the commercial realities of the market place?

Of course, the generous (some might say "bizarre") level of funding poured into the "literary industry" in Wales  is justified, quite regularly, on the following grounds:

Publishing Grants (English)
In a market that is dominated by large Anglo-American companies, support for English-language publications is essential in order to ensure a range of books and magazines that reflect the distinctive culture of Wales. This funding provides readers in Wales with materials that are relevant to them and encourages an outward-looking sector which presents the culture of Wales on an international level. In 2016/17 grants funded 21 publishers or imprints across Wales, supporting 103 books and 8 magazines in English.
Extract from p 23 of the Report.  Ah, those nasty Anglo-American corporations!  Then the Report continues:

Creating opportunities for creativity
The range of grant schemes helps to ensure variety for readers in Wales and beyond. Our Individual Literary Book Grants fund books of strong literary and cultural value that could not be published
without such support and, in many cases, enable work by emerging writers to be published. In 2016/17 recipients of grants under this scheme included Cinnamon Press and the University of Wales Press.

Let's look at some of the figures which we can extract from the tables in the Report:

232 Welsh-language titles were "supported" at a cost of £449,063  with assumed average sales of 831 copies (those are actually the sales of 2014-15 titles after two years of market exposure......).  The average grant per title was £1,935.  This probably reflects the large proportion of "small" children's books in Welsh, and small print runs.

74 English-language titles were published with grant aid totalling £301,248.  25 author advances (totalling £42,000) were paid, and 21 marketing grants were paid.  48 titles were published by the 5 "revenue publishers" at a cost of £248,798 -- ie £5,183 per title.  Individual grants to smaller publishers totalled £52,450 for 26 titles, working out as £2,017 per title.  The average grant across all 74 titles was £4,070 per title.  The very high average grant per title to the larger publishers probably reflects larger print runs and more ambitious publishing projects including glossy hardback volumes.

Overall, the publishing grant aid programme from the WBC has expended over £750,000 during the last tax year on the support of 306 titles -- representing an average grant of £2,450 per title.  The grants are more than adequate to pay for the full production costs of books designed for the Welsh market, which will generally have print runs of perhaps 1,000 copies.  This means that Welsh publishing is effectively a risk-free enterprise, for those publishers who are supported within the system.

Back to value for money.  Apart from the "average sales figure" for Welsh-language books published in 2014-15 (831 copies) there is no indication anywhere in this report of how successful any of the published books has been.  Some might say that sales figures are "commercially sensitive information" -- but that information should most definitely not be treated as confidential where the full publishing cost of a book has come from the public purse.  So does anybody at WBC collect and collate book sales figures?   If not, why not?  Is any responsibility placed upon publishers to report on sales (by which I mean REAL sales, excluding free copies, review copies and returns)  for those titles that are grant aided?  If not, why not?  What is the application procedure for publication grants? Who decides which authors will be commissioned to write things, and which ones will receive publishing advances from WBC?   Are those monies returnable if and when books become successful, or if they fail to get into print?

Is anybody asking some fundamental questions about the publishing industry in Wales, which likes to portray itself as "vibrant" and "productive"?  Success seems to be measured simply by counting the number of books produced, with no account taken of either market demand or actual sales figures.  Publishing is a commercial business, and if publishers cannot be bothered to work out what demand there may be for the titles they publish, they should be required to carry the full commercial risk themselves, instead of publishing (at the taxpayer's expense) a stream of titles which nobody wants and hardly anybody reads.


On looking at the WBC guidelines for publishing grant applicants, I found the following:

The Welsh Books Council will ask publishers to provide regular updates of sales figures for titles supported under this scheme and may also require copies of reviews to help monitor quality. It is condition of grant that these figures should be supplied.

The guidance document is quite reassuring in that it does flag up the care that goes into the applications process and the assessment of applications (including the use of "independent" assessors -- but if sales figures are required as a condition of grant aid, why on earth are they not properly collated and published?  Could it be that the figures are so embarrassingly low that public knowledge of them is deemed "inappropriate" or "potentially damaging"?

Monday, 8 January 2018

More fuss about Pinewood Studios and the non-payment of rent

The mystery over Pinewood Studios in Cardiff deepens. After earlier reports that the Pinewood Studios deal with the Welsh Government was proving more trouble than it was worth, the Tory opposition in the Welsh Assembly is naturally enough making some political capital over the situation -- homing in on the extraordinary "rent holiday" that Pinewood was given in the first place, and with Suzy Davies AM now asking why no rent at all is now being paid.......
Pinewood Studios entered into a 15 year deal with the Welsh Govt in 2015. Now it looks as if the deal is over -- but the Welsh Government insists that there is a new deal in place, and that Pinewood is still in residence.
As readers of this blog will know, the Pinewood involvement in the Welsh film and TV industry has been a mixed blessing, with the gigantic organization forcing film-makers into a very prescriptive way of doing things, with Pinewood itself walking off with most of the benefits. It's difficult to get full info on what has been made at the studios over the past two years, but it does not look as if there is a great deal on the slate. The suspicion must be that the vast studio space has been sadly under-used.
How big a scandal is this? It might be quite big, involving millions of pounds down the spout. Watch this space........

Pinewood Studio stops paying rent to Welsh Government

By Huw Thomas
BBC Wales arts and media correspondent


This is just the latest in a series of stories covered by the BBC Wales correspondent Huw Thomas. In November he flagged up the flop of the film "Take Down" which was produced by Pinewood and which used the Pinewood Studios -- having received a loan of over £3 million from the Media Investment Fund, it failed to get a general cinema release and has gone straight into DVD. Pinewood must have made a thumping loss on that........


The only successful film produced thus far has been "Their Finest" -- and of the 11 projects given grants and loans totalling £11.9 million, only £3.5 million has been recouped. It's probably unfair to expect instant paybacks on projects such as these, and maybe a timescale of 5 years or so might be more realistic when looking at payback times -- but there is genuine concern about the choice of projects to receive funding, and the failure of most of the projects to make an impact within the film industry.

"Principality" marketing effort causes internal spat


Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, the new Tourism and Culture Minister in the Welsh Government, has caused a bit of a stir by deciding to promote Wales as a "principality"  -- apparently with the approval of Prince Charles.  This has not gone down well either with the opposition parties or with his own Government colleagues, who have complained this this will simply continue the portrayal of Wales as a "vassal state" and as a place subservient to England.  I have to say that I agree -- and indeed, most of the Visit Wales marketing stresses a unique and forward-looking Wales with its own language, identity and aspirations.  Even if the marketing strategy is rather too full of cliches, the intentions are right;  Wales will only attract more visitors if it shows itself to be proud, modern, ambitious and "independent" in thought and culture even if not politically.  To promote the "principality" idea seems to me to be a classic piece of negative marketing -- the sort of thing that all of the marketing textbooks tell you to avoid at all costs.

It will be interesting to see where this leads -- will Lord Dafydd keep his job?  He seems to have been slapped down by Government spokesmen already, who claim that he was speaking in a personal capacity and was not representing a shift in government policy when he brought up this "principality" idea.  Watch this space.........

More about the Wales brand

Following earlier posts on this topic, I have been checking the 2018 tourist literature to see whether there is any change in the Visit Wales branding strategy.  It appears not.  The "Year of the Sea" is the big theme for this year, of course, but otherwise not much appears to have changed.

This is the Wales brand strategy, as defined in many recent publications:

In Bro a byd.  Wales in the World.

Wales believes in the balance between local and global – an approach rooted in our communities, shaped by our landscape and with real social purpose (our ‘Bro’), whilst being purposely outward looking, open to new ideas and opportunities – and ready to compete on a global platform (the 'Byd’).  The best of both worlds.

These are our values:

Wales is the real deal. Open, honest – our country is built on the foundations of a proud history and heritage, and shaped by a bold and beautiful landscape. We care deeply for community, culture and ‘cynefin (one’s square mile) and want to lead the world in protecting them. Because these resources power us: green growth, global creative exports, adventure attractions, quality local produce. Our authenticity is the key to our future.

Creativity is at the heart of our nation. Our rich and enduring culture is thriving: in music, literature, art, film, television and theatre. But it’s much more than that. Everywhere you look in Wales, there are bright new ideas being put into action. It’s happening in design studios and quarry mines, factories and laboratories across the country. There’s an entrepreneurial spirit in the air. We’re not just dreaming big, we’re making it happen.

A new Wales is emerging. Inspired by our past but looking towards the future with responsibility, and creativity. Our landscapes are alive with nature and adventure. Our culture is alive with imagination. Our communities are alive with opportunity and real innovation. A new generation is investing in a bright and sustainable future, driven by talent and skill. Full of life.

…. and of course, the word “Epic” is used all the time……..

And then Visit Wales says this:

Is it unmistakably Wales?   Let’s champion our distinctiveness, whether in our people, products, enterprises, culture or language. Avoid the tired stereotypes, but embrace the powerful details that make us stand out and give us our unique character. There really is nobody quite like us. Let’s celebrate it. 

I know that Visit Wales is trying hard and is using much more aggressive and vivid marketing techniques than a few years ago, but there is no trace of a coherent marketing or branding strategy in the words above.  Visit Wales says “Let’s champion our distinctiveness” and then uses language that could be applied to any country in the world — apart from the words “bro” and “byd”.  In fact, if you Google most of the phrases used in that summary, they appear in vistually identical form in thousands of different publications from everywhere on the Planet.
So where is Wales’s “unique character”?  Hidden away somewhere, waiting to be discovered…...

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Branding Martha -- is she too amiable?

Martha has done with grieving.  She knows the men who murdered her husband, and now she will see them to the gallows, if it's the last thing she does........

We were talking the other day about the branding of Mistress Martha, and how best to portray her character during our ongoing efforts to get the series onto the TV screen.  Does "Mistress Martha" sound too respectable, and does her portrayal as "Mother Wales" make her sound too old and dull?  Some mistresses are anything but respectable, and some mothers are anything but dull -- but you know what I mean.........

On our websites, blogs and Facebook pages we have linked Martha and her story to the gorgeous landscape of North Pembrokeshire -- complete with leafy glades, sunlit uplands, quiet beaches and sparkling sea, fertile gentle farmland and pretty cottages. "Martha Morgan Country" is indeed beautiful, as we have tried to portray it on our MMC web site:

Martha is beautiful too, as we knew when we chose Rhiannon to be our model for the photo shoot with Steve Mallett.  The images in the portfolio are attractive and charming, and capture many moods on the face of the heroine -- but are they too "comfortable"?  

I'll freely admit to having no clear concept in my head regarding the potential "constituency" for these photos;  they were designed, with the help of Steve and Rhiannon and the backing of PLANED and Refreshing North Pembrokeshire, to "sell" the novels and also to promote NE Pembrokeshire.  Literary tourism was the key theme.  Maybe the portfolio was also aimed at the existing fan base of the novels, and at a happy group of visitors (somewhere out there) who might like to come and take a look at our landscape and sample our culture.  In other words, sell some more books and bring some more tourist income into the county.  

Maybe we should be aiming much more directly at the people who finance film and TV projects and who make costume dramas?  Yes, the saga is full of angels; Martha's abiding virtues are her optimism, her loyalty and her compassion; and in all of the stories, love ultimately triumphs over evil.    In that respect I am building my own values into the stories and into Martha's character...

But should we be heading, in our branding, towards something much DARKER?  Maybe we should be concentrating not on the sunlit bluebell banks of Tycanol Wood and the glow of a Carningli sunset but on the pouring rain, mud and slush of an eighteenth-century Pembrokeshire winter, the pitch-black nights, the smoky and dimly-lit cottage interiors, and the brutal brevity of the lives of the poor? Less sunlight, and more thunderstorms, blizzards, gales and floods wreaking havoc in the little community of Cilgwyn?  They are all there, in the stories.  We have more than enough drama in Martha's life history, but maybe we do not make enough of it?

I looked the other day at the screenplay for "Jane Eyre", and saw immediately what appeal there is in the first few pages -- a young woman running, staggering and crawling across a wild winter moorland in the lashing rain, almost dying of hypothermia before being lifted miraculously by strong arms and carried into a smoky but warm cottage in the middle of nowhere.  

There is no way that "On Angel Mountain" suffers by comparison in the drama or grimy reality stakes.  See below!  Life in early nineteenth century Pembrokeshire is very tough indeed, even for the members of the minor gentry.  I have used the "Wild West" label many times.  And Martha has her own personal crosses to bear -- since she is by no means a perfect heroine.  She has a host of vices -- including vanity and a tendency to manipulate others.  She suffers from frequent bouts of deep depression. She is not always clever at appreciating the emotional needs of others.  She cannot resist getting involved in other people's business.  And since she refuses to be controlled, exploited or dominated by others she fights like a she-cat when cornered, and kills three men with her own hands.  Vengeance is her greatest demon -- and throughout her life she struggles to understand where the boundary lies between justice and revenge.  She sees many men die as her "angels" avenge the crimes of her enemies, and she sends many more to the gallows through her unwavering determination to see justice done.......

These are not gentle and comfortable stories.  There are quite enough gruesome deaths to satisfy the most hardened fans of "Game of Thrones".  Everywhere we look, there is blood on the carpet -- or on the grass.


Some of the dramatic incidents:

In the first volume five members of David's family are burned to death as the old Plas Ingli goes up in flames; Martha suffers a miscarriage;  neighbours die in a cholera epidemic; Martha is whipped through the streets behind the whipping cart; and in the final scene she kills Moses Lloyd in the cave after he attempts to rape her.  

In "House of Angels" David is murdered on the beach during a cnapan game;  Martha is almost seduced by John Fenton while she is drunk; and in a frantic climax to the story there is a treasure hunt after which one villain has his throat cut and the others who murdered David are sent to the gallows.  

In "Dark Angel" a hurricane strikes the coast; there are food riots in town; Martha is haunted by the "phantom" called the Nightwalker; her beloved Owain disappears without trace and her son Dewi is lost at sea; and there are two suicides, one of them caused directly by Martha.  

In "Sacrifice" (the darkest and most brutal of all the books) there are sadistic attacks by the members of a mysterious cult on Martha's servants and friends; a servant and his family are killed in an arson attack; Martha is trapped and then gang raped in Eastwood mansion, after which the perpetrators and tortured and killed in acts of terrible retribution by her servants and friends; and finally Martha gives birth to a bastard child who lives for just a few days.  

In "Conspiracy of Angels" Martha is drawn into involvement in an anti-slavery movement, which involves brutal attacks on some of her neighbours; she has to resist the amorous advances of Beau Brummell; she is kidnapped and imprisoned; and she is saved at the last minute from being shot by the black leader of an extortion racket.

In "Rebecca and the Angels" Martha loses her beloved Owain and her daughter Sara; there are riots everywhere, and she gets far too close to the action; the Ceffyl Pren metes out folk justice over and again; Martha is betrayed and the traitors are killed; she takes part in a riot and barely escapes with her life; and at the end of the tale Plas is taken over by a gang of petty criminals and Martha kills two of them with her own hands.

In "Flying with Angels" Martha has to survive the collapse of the estate; she tries to help out in the Irish Potato Famine; she seduces the minister Amos Jones in Tycanol Wood, and then finds the body of another woman who was in love with him, and who has committed suicide; Amos is murdered by Martha's enemies, and has to watch as some of his killers are themselves assassinated and others are sent to the gallows.

In "Guardian Angel" Martha has to learn to live with a new identity as she is hunted down by men whose motives she does not understand; she flees to Merthyr Tydfil and gets caught up in the shady dealings of "The Emperor of China"; later she is abducted and after obtaining her freedom she has to fight against the destruction of her beloved mountain with all the weapons at her disposal.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

English-medium writing in Wales

This is a submission I had forgotten about!  From a 2003 consultation.  It's interesting, 15 years later, to see how little has changed.......

Culture, Welsh Language and Sport Commerce (2003)

Policy Review: English-medium writing in Wales: List of respondents
Brian John

I am happy to submit my comments for the Policy review on English-medium writing in Wales. 

(1) The contribution of English-medium books and writing in Wales to Welsh culture. This contribution is immense, and needs to be recognized as a key component in the bilingual heritage of Wales. There is a peculiarly Welsh "voice" to much of the English-language literature produced by Welsh authors, and this voice needs to be cherished and promoted. While I do not for a moment argue against the massive support given to Welsh-language publishing in recent years, I fear that there is a danger of second-rate material finding its way into print simply because subsidies are available and margins are not so tight . Some publishers have told me that Welsh-language publishing is almost a risk-free zone, and when the usual relationship between a book and its market is disturbed too much, there is scope for attractively-packaged dross to find its way into print. But I think that the importance of English-language fiction and poetry (for example) is recognized by bodies such as the Welsh Books Council and Academi, and for this I am grateful. I am saddened that the peculiar regional "accents" of the English-speaking fringes of Wales (eg Little England Beyond Wales, Gower, the Vale of Glamorgan, and the Welsh Borders) are now hardly recognized because of the "politically correct" policy of encouraging the Welsh language even in those areas which have not spoken Welsh for a thousand years. This is a complex issue, and I support the extension of Welsh speaking across Wales, but as a South Pembrokeshire man I would like to see a little more respect for the unique English-language heritage and dialect of my home area. I had a bit of a spat with BBC Wales recently because a play set on the banks of the Western Cleddau near Haverfordwest was acted entirely by actors using standard South Walian Welsh accents. People in that place and at that time would never have spoken like that - the genuine South Pembrokeshire accent is a diamond to be appreciated and respected. 

(2) The support mechanisms available for writers in Wales, including playwrights and screenplay writers. I know little about these, and would have tapped into them if they were more widely publicized. The editorial / refereeing support from the Welsh Books Council for new authors is excellent, and must encourage unpublished novelists to press ahead with their projects in a very hostile commercial environment. I am not aware of any bursaries / grants which are available to writers to help them in developing projects. 

(3) The support mechanisms for the production and marketing of new writing, including private sector support. Again, small publishers are left on their own. There are no subsidies or grants. Even the Welsh Book Council, which used to take 100 copies of new books and pay cash on the nail for them, has retreated from this valuable "support mechanism" and now takes stock, holds it, and pays monthly as and when it is sold . This is valuable, but nothing like as valuable as a straight bulk purchase. On the marketing front, Welsh Books Council is much more helpful, with a helpful marketing / PR team who are always willing to give information and advice. The full-color "Books from Wales" (with reasonably-priced adverts) goes out with the Western Mail and reaches thousands of potential readers.Other joint marketing schemes are also useful, but I am not sure of the cost-effectiveness of some of the effort going into foreign visits and book trade exhibitions. 

(4) The mechanisms for raising public awareness of English-medium Welsh literature and writers. I do not think there are many! Magazines carrying reviews - very few of them in Wales, and the time between book submission and review publication can be up to a year. This is not a lot of use when you need early sales in order to pay the printer's bill. Newspapers - these are often helpful at encouraging local sales, and this "local loyalty" should be acknowledged. Local radio will often do interviews about new books and writers. But there does not seem to be much support from BBC Wales radio and television, which is a pity. Mostly promotion and PR has to come through the hard work of writers and publishers in organizing press releases, setting up events etc. Some people in the book trade are imaginative and helpful, but many are not! Academi should be thanked for their help in setting up many events (talks, discussions, writers workshops etc) every year all over Wales. Suggestions Many English-language writers in Wales find that the London publishers will not even read their manuscripts, let alone publish their books. There is a "blockage" at the London end, and a widespread perception that books about Wales do not sell. I get the impression that Scottish and Irish literature is much more successful internationally than Welsh literature, maybe because most of the effort in Wales goes into Welsh language publication. This makes the publishing scene rather introverted and even a little self-satisfied. ("Are not we clever? Look how many Welsh-language books we publish each year per head of the population!") I do not think that this will change much unless we shift priorities from selling rights in the Australian and American market to getting books about Wales published in London. 

To achieve this, I suggest: 

(a) A dedicated literary agency based in Wales, to sign up Welsh writers and find publishers for them in London. Those working in the Agency should of course have an intimate knowledge of the London publishing scene. (As a matter of interest, I tried to sign up with over 50 London agents and about 25 London publishers before the launch of my "Angel Mountain" Saga. The great majority of them were not even prepared to read some sample material). 

(b) A campaign to find review space in the London daily papers, weeklies and Sundays for new English-language fiction from Wales and also for other key titles. If books about Wales are not reviewed by the UK national media, booksellers will not take them seriously and will not stock them.

(c) Advertising subsidies to enable adverts to be placed in the national media. Sometimes this will attract a commitment to publish a review. This will be expensive, but could pay dividends in increased "UK awareness" of literature from Wales. 

(d) More work devoted to obtaining air time on UK radio and TV. We hardly ever see anything Welsh on the book program. 

(e) A high-profile Welsh / English Literature Festival in Wales. The Hay Festival used to have a lot of Welsh material, representative of its location on the Borders, but it seems to have become more international and less Welsh. 

Hope this helps! 

Brian John

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Is the Visit Wales marketing strategy actually working?

The indications are that in spite of all the uncertainties and hardships faced by the nation at the moment -- caused mostly by this obscenity called Brexit -- there has been a slight increase in tourism numbers and tourism spending in Wales in 2017 as against 2016.  Some of the info is here:


Naturally enough, Visit Wales will insist that this rise is all down to the wonderful success of its marketing campaigns, but the truth is more difficult to discern. Has Wales done better, or worse, than Scotland, England and Northern Ireland?  To what extend is the gradual upward trend the result of a UK-wide increase in tourism, related to global or international trends, exchange rates and changing holiday preferences?  Would the Welsh tourist industry be doing better, or worse, if Visit Wales did not exist?  I don't want to be critical here, since we all accept that we need a tourism promotion authority, and it needs to be as innovative as possible to succeed in a highly competitive global market-place.  But we do need, as taxpayers, to scrutinise what is going on.........

So we have a new Welsh dragon, a new graphic typeface, and many new activities and marketing stunts associated with the "EPIC" campaign and the themed years, including the Year of Legends this year.  A lot of people have put in a great deal of hard work to get these initiatives moving, and all credit to them.  But could their work have had a sharper and more unique focus, and might it have been more effective if it had a clearer narrative and a more closely defined "sense of place"?

In answer to that question, I have been trying for many months now -- without success -- to find out what the Welsh narrative may be, underpinning the highly visible marketing campaigns which attract the attention of the media.



I have to conclude that this is something that Visit Wales would prefer not to think about.......


The same problem occurs when we try to identify what the "sense of place" might be that answers the question "WHAT are the unique features of the Welsh landscape that make it a desirable holiday location?" 

If we examine the overarching Visit Wales promotional strategy we get rather a shock, because there is nothing in it that demonstrates a strong sense of place or a real sense of a unique history.  

Let's take the form of words used in the glossy Visit Wales marketing materials over the past 12 months.  Just for fun, I have substituted  “Sweden” instead of Wales in the “brand strategy” which we all know and love. The "marketing text" is unchanged.   Here we go:

Grannskapet och Världen. Sweden in the World.

Sweden belives in the balance between local and global – an approach rooted in our communities, shaped by our landscape and with real social purpose (our ‘Grannskap’), whilst being purposely outward looking, open to new ideas and opportunities – and ready to compete on a global platform (the ‘Värld’).
The best of both worlds.

These are our values:

Sweden is the real deal. Open, honest – our country is built on the foundations of a proud history and heritage, and shaped by a bold and beautiful landscape. We care deeply for community, culture and ‘kommun’ (one’s square mile) and want to lead the world in protecting them. Because these resources power us: green growth, global creative exports, adventure attractions, quality local produce. Our authenticity is the key to our future.

Creativity is at the heart of our nation. Our rich and enduring culture is thriving: in music, literature, art, film, television and theatre. But it’s much more than that. Everywhere you look in Sweden, there are bright new ideas being put into action. It’s happening in design studios and quarry mines, factories and laboratories across the country. There’s an entrepreneurial spirit in the air. We’re not just dreaming big, we’re making it happen.

A new Sweden is emerging. Inspired by our past but looking towards the future with responsibility, and creativity. Our landscapes are alive with nature and adventure. Our culture is alive with imagination. Our communities are alive with opportunity and real innovation. A new generation is investing in a bright and sustainable future, driven by talent and skill. Full of life.

See what I mean?  These are fine words that could have come straight out of a marketing textbook. But virtually every word of the strategy could be used for virtually any country on the planet. 

So what is different and special about Wales?   If I was a prospective tourist, I think I might wonder whether there is anything special at all………. and maybe go somewhere else instead.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Visit Wales and Year of the Sea

Press release from the Welsh Government celebrating the success of their recent new marketing strategy, with a big rebranding exercise, a new typeface (which is rather nice, I think) and a lot of high-pressure salesmanship.  Well, that's what marketing is about, in a highly competitive environment......

All the info is here:



So it's good to know that visitor numbers are up and that the extra spend on these high profile campaigns is paying dividends.  Thus far there have been two "themed years" -- Year of Adventure and Year of Legends.  Next year will be Year of the Sea and then the one after that will be Year of Discovery.

The first year had one imaginative and much-reported stunt which went on through the summer -- the location of some giant letters spelling out "EPIC" in assorted key locations which were not announced in advance.

Now then -- in a spirit of helpfulness, here is an idea for Visit Wales for the Year of the Sea.  They could have another set of giant letters which could be moved all over the place at dead of night, springing up here, there and everywhere, accompanied by the cheers of locals and visitors alike.......  it would be cheaper then the campaign using the word "EPIC" (with four letters) because the word to be used is:




A celebration of our Epic Shores – Year of the Sea 2018 gets underway
Today, Tourism Minister, Lord Elis-Thomas will launch Wales’ third themed year – Year of the Sea 2018. 
Monday 11 December 2017

Next year will be the opportunity for Wales to make its mark as the UK’s top 21st century coastal destination.

• building on Wales’ strengths as a leading 21st Century coastal destination
• Olympian Hannah Mills announced as Ambassador for Year of the Sea
Following the success of Year of Adventure 2016 and Year of Legends 2017, Year of the Sea is a continuation of Visit Wales’ work to reinforce positive perceptions and challenge any outdated perceptions of Wales by promoting our world-class products, activities, events and experiences.

The themed years were developed to build on stand-out strengths of Wales’ tourism offer and to capitalise on major events opportunities happening that year. 

The Tourism Minister, said: 

“Following a focus on adventure and legends, we now have an opportunity to celebrate Wales’ coastline and build on Wales’ strengths as a coastal destination.   As we launch this new initiative it’s fantastic news that the Rough Guides have named Wales as one of the top 5 places in the world to visit – testimony that we’re making a name for ourselves in this global market place. 

“The themed year gives us a chance to celebrate our unique 870-mile Wales Coast Path, our 230 beaches and 50 islands and the fact that we have more Blue Flag beaches per mile than anywhere else in Britain. 

“Year of the Sea will be about more than our coastline. We’ll be using the year as an opportunity to focus on Wales’ shores, and this will include not only our seas, but everything from our lakes, to our rivers, and journeys to the sea and will be a celebration of our coastal communities and culture.  We’ll be using the Wales Way, an ambitious new family of three national scenic touring routes that cross the country’s most epic landscapes as a way of showcasing Wales’ fascinating history, coastlines and attractions.”

“This year, leading up to 2018 has been a time for planning and developing and establishing new partnerships. Sustainability and Marine Environment are high on the agenda as is safety on the sea and ensuring that everyone enjoys the beaches, but in a responsible manner.”

The Welsh Government has recently launched a consultation on the Welsh National Marine Plan with a commitment to secure a joined up and sustainable approach to the planning and management of our coast and sea and to help achieve our vision of clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse seas.

The guiding objectives in developing the Welsh National Marine Plan are we will achieve more by working together with stakeholders to preserve our coastal communities, awe inspiring coast, seas and wildlife whilst developing our maritime economy. 

Hannah Mills, MBE, double Olympic medalist and Cardiff-born sailor will today be announced as Ambassador for Year of the Sea 2018, Hannah said:  

“I am so excited to be involved in Year of the Sea. Growing up in Cardiff and exploring the coasts and seas around Wales from Anglesey to Mumbles, the Welsh coastline has had a huge impact on shaping my earlier career.  Those memories and beautiful experiences sailing in such a stunning place remain very firmly in my mind.  My family are still based in Cardiff, and for me it will always be home.  When I won gold in Rio, the warmth and support I got from back home was phenomenal.”

The themed years also make a difference to Wales’ economy. The first of Wales’ themed years in 2016 generated an additional £370 million for the Welsh economy – an 18% increase on 2015.  This shows visitors were definitely influenced by Visit Wales marketing before taking a trip to Wales.

During 2017 - the Year of Legends - figures from the Tourism Barometer survey are looking positive with 42% of respondents reporting more visitors than last year.  There were also record breaking visitor numbers to Cadw and National Museum Wales sites over the Summer.

The Welsh Government is investing significantly in projects which will help promote Year of the Sea in Wales.  More than £2 million had been shared by for a total of 38 projects across Wales under the Tourism Product Innovation Fund and Regional Tourism Engagement Fund which enables the private and public sectors to develop innovative projects and support the themed years.

To coincide with the Launch of the Year of the Sea, St Davids based TYF Adventure will launch a new product for 2018 –SUPKids programme which is designed to teach children (5-12 years old) Stand Up Paddle boarding, water safety & environmental education and was funded through Visit Wales.  

Significant investment will also be made in Coastal locations through Welsh Government EU funded Tourism Attractor Destination scheme.  
Colwyn Bay Waterfront project will open in 2018 an investment of £3.9million; work on the £5.5 million Porthcawl Maritime Centre is also underway,  and £6.6million investment for  a new terminus building for the Welsh Highland Railway in Caernarfon  and extension to cultural facilities at Galeri as part of the wider programme to regenerate Caernarfon’s Waterfront. 
The Welsh Government’s Tourism Investment Support Scheme continues to drive a higher quality offer, recently supporting a number of accommodation projects on Wales’ coast as well as investing in improving coastal food offer, examples include Dylan’s in north Wales, Bryn Williams in Colwyn Bay; Coast in Saundersfoot; The Griffin Inn, Dale; Twr y Felin St Davids.
The Volvo Ocean Race also takes place next year - the world’s toughest and most prestigious sailing event which will come to Cardiff in May and June 2018.  Andrew Pindar; Volvo Ocean Race Ambassador will attend the launch to give a flavour of what Cardiff can expect next year.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Letter to a Young Writer


22 November 2017

Brian John

The deliberations of the Assembly Culture Committee on the support mechanisms for literature and publishing in Wales have brought into focus the extraordinary degree to which the act of writing is subsidised in Wales.  There are widely differing views on whether this represents a sensible use of scarce resources.  I have been moved to pen a short epistle to somebody called Becca.

Dear Becca

So you want to be a writer?  In Wales?  I crave your indulgence, and I hope that you’ll wish to read what follows.

I have some advice for you.  Why should you wish to pay attention?  Well,  I’ve been writing and publishing things in Wales for more than 50 years, and have greatly enjoyed the experience.  I have 92 books to my name, including many published by the London publishing houses. My books don’t sell by the millions, but many of them have sold tens of thousands, and I count myself as a successful writer who has made a modest living and who knows the ways of the publishing world.  I still get a thrill when the first copy of a new book arrives in the post.

It’s a good time to be a writer in Wales.  For a start, there is abundant cash available (courtesy of the taxpayer) for writers' bursaries and in the form of publishing grants.  There is mentoring as well.  You can tap into the system to help you to get your book written, and all being well your publisher can publish it without having to carry any commercial risk.  Since the money is there, you will be stupid if you don't try to get your hands on some of it.  And if you get your £3,000 (or whatever) you can tell the world that the bursary has “bought you writing time” and that you feel empowered and validated as a bona fide author.  You’ll get a nice rosy glow.

Then there is the support provided by those who will tell you, on all sides, that you are an artist who should be valued by Welsh society.  There is a mutual admiration society out there, and crowds of people who want you to join.  Wales prides itself on its vibrant literary culture, does it not?  Artists in Wales who work with words, as we all know, must write from the heart, regardless of commercial considerations, and say whatever they are moved to say about the human condition.  They should suffer and persist in the face of endless adversity; but a bursary helps, of course, to make the misery easier to bear. As in all of the creative arts, most artists fall by the wayside, but every now and then a superstar emerges, and the advocates of the subsidy system say that it is thus vindicated. This knowledge helps to drive you on, with encouragement on all sides.  But beware.

Forgive me for saying so, but you are probably not an artist at all.  You are probably an apprentice.  If you start writing now, and do reasonably well by finding a constituency and writing things that your readers enjoy, you might become a journeyman.  You should start earning money from book sales.  Persist, and you might become a craftsman and even a master craftsman. After many years of writing and selling books, you will probably still not be an artist.  That accolade is normally reserved for some of those who are dead, or who happen to speak with such unique voices that people want their books before they are published, or maybe before they are written.  

Think carefully about your own status and aspirations.  When I started as a writer, nobody "bought time" for me.  I paid for it myself, burnt midnight oil, and made hard choices.  The things I wrote were aimed at particular constituencies, and published at full commercial risk, after great deliberation, without any grant aid at any stage of the process.  Some books were more successful than others, but not one of them was ever remaindered or pulped.  Most of the really successful writers in Wales have followed the same risky but ultimately satisfying route. 

So beware of vanity.  If you insist on writing what is in your head or your heart, with no regard for what the book-buying public actually wants, no matter what your talent may be, you are a vanity writer.  Join the club. Hop aboard the gravy train. Wales is full of people like you, writing and publishing books that hardly anybody wants or reads.  If your book sells 500 copies it will be doing well. The publisher will not worry, since the cost of production is paid for by the taxpayer.  I am not the first person to have noticed that there is a nationally-sanctioned vanity publishing industry out there, on a vast scale, producing hundreds of titles each year in both Welsh and English.  Success is measured by the number of titles published, and how “professional” they look. This costs the taxpayer millions of pounds a year.  Money well spent?  What do you think?

Take it from me.  The only valid measure of your worth as a writer is a commercial one.  You are the creator of a product, and if you think that the world must have that product, even if it does not want it, are you not being just a little arrogant? Measured book sales are the only things that validate you as a writer.  Not books distributed, books given away, books reviewed or given as prizes, or books adopted for university courses — but books SOLD.  

It may take many years for your book sales to reach the thousands, but if you are talented, determined, and persistent, you’ll get there.  Then you will have a solid following and a real constituency. People will ring you up, write to you, shake your hand at signing sessions, and thank you with tears in their eyes for transporting them to other worlds and making their lives better.  At that stage, you will have an emotional as well as a commercial contract with your readers — and that is the ultimate pleasure of a writer’s life.

One last thought.  If you can’t write without making sacrifices, and without grant aid, you should think very seriously about doing something else instead. For a literary scene which is based largely on a subsidy culture, as it is in Wales, is not vibrant at all.  It is moribund, forcing writers into a dependency culture which is both demoralising and demeaning. It’s wonderful to see your first book in print, but dispiriting when you discover than nobody wants to buy it.   The writers who sit on the streets with their begging bowls are “helped” by  paid officials who distribute largesse which comes from the taxpayer, and who determine which writers will be promoted and which will be ignored.  And who are these bureaucrats?  Why, probably people who have never written anything successful in their lives.

Take my advice.  Write if you must, but beware of siren voices and carrots dangled from sticks.  The voices may soon be silenced, and the carrots taken away.



Literature Wales and the cultivation of patronage

Literature Wales and the cultivation of patronage


Literature Wales, the national company for the development of literature in Wales, also calls itself “the society of writers” (1). But to what extent does it serve the interests of writers, in the same way that the Society of Authors serves writers in England? (2)   According to some commentators in 2017, the answer is “hardly at all” (3).

Somehow, LW has transformed itself into an organization extending its reach into fields such as the arts and tourism, with much of its time spent on marketing. It also devotes much energy simply to ensuring its own survival — and in the process spending around 75% of its income in-house.  (When that happens  — and I speak from a position of awareness, having been involved in such an organization myself, some years ago — it’s time to call it a day.)  As its aspirations have increased, its arrogance and sense of entitlement have also grown, and this was remarked upon by the Medwin Hughes Panel members (4).  The staff and working panels of Literature Wales appear, from the outside, to be accountable to nobody; and although they are no doubt committed, highly motivated and hard-working, in a very subtle way they have come to see themselves as "the professionals" and as "the experts" who determine which writers will be supported in their careers, and which ones will be ignored. (This “expert takeover” is by no means unusual — we see it in many other organizations as well, including local authorities!)

As noted by the Medwin Hughes Panel, the senior staff of Literature Wales have accrued powers of patronage to an extraordinary degree, without any apparent interference from the organization’s own Chairman and Management Board, and under the noses of Arts Council Wales, which is responsible for funding and due diligence testing.  The writers of Wales (without whom there would be no Welsh literary activity or books) have long since ceased to have any influence over the appointment of Management Board members or the appointment of staff.  The old membership-based body called the Welsh Academy has been allowed to wither on the vine, quite probably as a matter of policy.  As pointed out in previous posts (5), it holds no elections for Management Board membership, and there is no democratic involvement in the appointment of presidents, fellows or honorary members. It holds no meetings. Nobody sees any annual accounts, although there is still an income stream from membership subscriptions.  Much of this income stream is siphoned off (without the consent of members) to Literature Wales (6).  The online membership data-base, with web entries for all the writers in Wales, which was accessible to the public, was suddenly taken down by Literature Wales without advance warning, and has not been revised or up-dated.  LW staff now claim that when they receive enquiries from schools and colleges, literary festivals or book clubs for “appropriate speakers”, they will pass on the names of “suitable” writers.  That is unacceptable patronage, open to favouritism and corruption. There is no transparency in the appointment of bursary panel members, judges for the Wales Book of the Year awards, the leaders of literary tourism events, or the tutors for courses at Ty Newydd. There was no effective input from writers other than the “invited experts” into the Land of Legends web site which purported to flag up the best of the Welsh literary heritage to the world (7). Who chooses the “experts”?  Who decides on the workshop leaders for the South Wales Literature Development Initiative?   Who appoints the “experienced mentors” who help in the LM Mentoring Scheme for Writers? Who decides which Writers on Tour will be funded?    Who invites writers to participate in special events such as the celebrations of Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas?

In all of the above fields, where there is no direct involvement from the writers of Wales or their elected representatives, the potential for favouritism or corruption is rife, and accusations of patronage are inevitable, especally when the same names pop up over and again as one digs a little deeper.  How many of these "favoured writers” are paid for the duties they perform, and how much are they paid?(8)  These matters should of course be under the strict conrol of the Chair and Management Board of LW, but the Medwin Hughes Panel raised major concerns about the apparent semi-detachment of the Board, which seemed to content itself with rubber stamping decisions already made by the Chief Executive and other senior employees rather than controlling and directing the activities of the executive.  This smacks of poor leadership, ineffective governance and even negligence.  An executive with a strong-willed leader will always assume “delegated powers” unless it is brought to heel and told in no uncertain terms where its powers begin and end. (This happens in Parliament too!)

So there is an appearance that the Chief Executive and senior officers of Literature Wales run a sort of fiefdom from their Cardiff HQ, with minimal interference from their Management Board or from anybody else. Whether or not that is actually the situation, appearances are crucial, and as Jasmine Donahaye said of Literature Wales in July 2017, "It’s been poorly managed and poorly governed, and its accountability to its funding body, the Arts Council, has been woefully inadequate. ……..Many writers have clearly felt increasingly alienated from Literature Wales and the direction it has taken.” (9)

As I have said before, that is a profoundly dangerous scenario, involving dependency on the one side and patronage on the other. To our eternal shame the writers of Wales have allowed themselves to slip into an acceptance of it.  The rise and rise of the subsidy culture has created a generation of writers who measure their status not by the reputation and commercial success of their published outputs but by the number of bursaries they have received.  Weirdly, they see themselves as "artists" rather than craftsmen.  The literary culture to which they belong is dominated by Literature Wales, playing the role of the benefactor, with writers lining up each year with their begging bowls and then expressing eternal gratitude whenever a few goodies come their way.  Even more distressing is the sight of respectable academic writers and talented new authors using social media to say that the receipt of a bursary of maybe £2,000, and the provision of a modest amount of mentoring help,  has given a sudden boost to their self-esteem and has somehow "vindicated" or "validated" them as writers.  They appear to be blissfully unaware of how demeaning the whole relationship has become……….. (10)

So what is to be done?  First, we should recognize that Literature Wales is a body which has such a high opinion of itself that it will inevitably resist transformation from within or reformation / restructuring imposed from elsewhere.  In my view it is no longer fit for purpose, and it should be dissolved.  The good things that it has been doing (and there are many) can easily be transferred.  Its book and writer promotion activities (including bursaries, mentoring and book prizes) can be transferred to the Welsh Books Council.  Its literary tourism  activities would sit much better in a dedicated unit within Visit Wales.  Ty Newydd writer’s centre should be run by a small new organization tasked with making it profitable.  And the Welsh Academy should be reconstituted so that it can be run by writers for the benefit of writers in Wales, using the Society of Authors as a model.

The new Culture Minister, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, can change the current system for the better when he announces his decisions on the restructuring of the literature and publishing industry in Wales — but ultimately it’s down to the industry itself to get itself organized, to fight for change, and to recover its self-respect. 

Brian John, 14th December 2017

(1)  http://www.literaturewales.org/about/our-vision/
(2)  http://www.societyofauthors.org/About-Us/Governance
(3)  http://brian-angelmountain.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/who-needs-literature-wales.html
(4)  http://gov.wales/docs/drah/publications/170613-publishing-and-literature-in-wales-en.pdf
(5) http://brian-angelmountain.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/welsh-writers-silenced-and-emasculated.html
(6) http://brian-angelmountain.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/is-welsh-academy-dead.html
(7)  http://brian-angelmountain.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/review-of-land-of-legends-web-site.html
(8)  https://literaturewales.wordpress.com/2016/05/21/shite-of-the-year-2016/
(9)  https://nation.cymru/2017/literature-funding-upheaval-so-who-should-get-the-goodies/
(10)  http://www.literaturewales.org/for-writers/services-for-writers/bursaries/testimonials/

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Welsh Talking Books -- a thunderous silence

While I have been trying to track down the original digital audio files for "On Angel Mountain"  and "House of Angels" (from Clipper Audio, who issued the audio versions as cassettes in 2006 and 2007) I have also been doing some research into the number of Welsh stories -- in Welsh or English --are to found in the catalogues.   I assumed that there would be many, issued by the bigger Welsh publishers like Parthian, Seren, Gomer and Honno -- intended both for the growing audiobook market and for the more niche market of visually impaired people.

I contacted the county library, the National Library of Wales, the Welsh Books Council, blind societies and other organizations and was amazed to find that there is NOTHING.  Zilch.  No Welsh books published in Wales available for purchase and download from a Welsh "audio-library" or store.  That's quite amazing, demonstrating that Welsh publishers are very slow off the mark when it comes to getting involved with the latest publishing trends and also (and this is the sad bit) apparently ignoring a responsibility placed on all of us to try and provide for the disadvantaged groups in society.  Currently the only way that blind people can access Welsh fiction, for example, is to find somebody prepared to read aloud to them for between 10 and 15 hours, or to slot into one of the schemes run by organizations such as the Ceredigion Association of the Blind, who have volunteer readers who are prepared to make informal tape recordings  for use by members.  But no matter how kind and committed those readers are, they would be the first to admit that they cannot reproduce the voices of trained actors or narrators who can "perform" and mimic the voices of characters rather than simply reading the words from the page........

I'm not criticising anybody here, and since making all of these contacts I have been greatly heartened by the positive attitudes on all sides.  I'm now convinced that there is sufficient goodwill for things to happen, and indeed I am aware that meetings are planned, and a real prospect that facilities will be made available (and possibly some grant aid too) to help selected titles to be recorded and issued as digital audiobooks.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could initially get a catalogue of maybe 20 or 30 audiobooks of Welsh novels, each one available for download for leisure listening  by car drivers and commuters and also available for the visually impaired?  The blind societies are enthusiastic, as are People's Collection Wales, the organizers of the Calibre audio library, the National Library and the Welsh Books Council.

The problems -- and there are many -- relate above all else to costs.  I could of course use the Amazon service available via the Audible web site:


This is all very fine, and the claim is that you can record an audiobook for less than $100 -- but then you would have to do the narration yourself or find somebody who is prepared to do it for free.  If you have to pay for equipment hire, studio hire,  a producer and an actor, and then for editing and uploading to a site such as Audible, the cost could be in excess of £6,000 per audiobook -- and you would need to sell a lot of downloads  before you start moving into profit.  This is especially true in a small country like Wales, where the market is actually quite limited.

The good news is that there are Welsh audiobooks which have been issued by English publishing houses.  "Rape of the fair Country" and "Hosts of Rebecca" are available as audiobooks produced by Chocolatefox Audiobooks, as are "Resistance" by Owen Sheers and a few other titles.  A number of the Welsh novels by Iris Gower and Catrin Collier are also available in cassette format, but I am not sure about availability as digital audiobooks.

However, one must not be deterred, and I am exploring avenues.  Watch -- or listen to -- this space......

Rape of the Fair Country

The Hosts of Rebecca (9 hrs 48 mins)