Monday, 31 July 2017
The exclusion of self-published books from the "Wales Book of the Year" competition is a serious issue which deserves attention. I have now written to the Chief Exec of Literature Wales to ask for a change in the rules -- with copies to other interested parties. I see no reason for keeping this letter private -- and every reason for making it public. So here it is, as an Open Letter..........
28th July 2017
Apologies if you have received this before — I tried to send it about a week ago while on holiday, and the message disappeared without trace. It may have been sent, and maybe not…...
I’m writing to make a positive suggestion on an issue which should be of concern to all those who belong to the literary community in Wales. I hope you will give it serious consideration. I am also copying this letter to other interested parties, and hope that they will be supportive of the points raised.
I refer to the Wales Book of the Year competition for 2017. This is an opportune time. I note that the review commissioned by LW is now complete, and that the points raised by the consultants will be looked at in the near future, together with those raised by Prof Medwin Hughes and his panel, reporting to Minister Ken Skates.
Rule 6 in the “eligibility criteria” for the competition states that all books entered MUST be “published by an established publishing house, which is here defined as a house that publishes a list of titles by a range of authors and distributes its books through recognised booksellers. Self-published books are not eligible.”
In my view this rule is discriminatory and elitist, and should be done away with immediately. It is out of tune with the spirit of the times, given the vast changes that have occurred in Welsh publishing over the past 20 years. It also suggests that LW is unsure of the difference between vanity publishing and self-publishing -- that’s somewhat surprising, given that it promotes itself as the literature agency for Wales.
I have researched the main literary competitions in the British Isles, and I think I’m right in saying that Wales is the only country that bans self-published titles from competing for its most prestigious literary award. I fail to see the logic of this.
I well understand that some of the books that are self-published are rubbish. However, it is also a fact that many others are peer reviewed, carefully edited, produced to a high standard, distributed through WBC and sold through the Welsh book trade. Some of these titles sell in tens of thousands, attesting to their popularity and their quality. I fail to see why, as a matter of principle, self-published titles are deemed less “worthy” than the books produced by the established publishing houses of Wales.
If we look at the bulk of titles submitted as entries for WBOTY, we see that many of them are in effect vanity publications, written and published as a direct consequence of the Welsh subsidy culture which must be the envy of the rest of the world! Many of these books have very limited market appeal, and sell only a few hundred copies. They are published without commercial risk, so that writers and publishers can feel good, and they are used quite deliberately to sell the message to the world that Wales has a vibrant and prolific literary culture. A vast exercise in vanity publishing, paid for with taxpayers’ money? This might be too cynical a question, but as you know it has been asked in all seriousness by other commentators over the past few years.
If the self-publishing exclusion is removed, would there be a loss of “status” by WBOTY? Emphatically not. I would argue that a vibrant self-publishing industry, involving writers who are committed, competent, and prepared to take commercial risks, is far more accurate, as an indicator of the health of literature in Wales, than a long list of titles with no sales figures attached. Self-published writers should be recognized, not excluded.
I hope that you will see the merits of my proposal and remove Rule 6 from the eligibility criteria for WBOTY as soon as it may be convenient. I hope that this might also meet with the approval of other interested parties including the Welsh Academy, Arts Council Wales and WBC, given that in the future they will have an increased influence over the nature of the competition.
With all good wishes,
PS. I have no need to declare in interest here. Although I count myself as a reasonably successful self-published writer, I have no titles in the offing that might be entered for WBOTY. I simply hope that a change in the rules now might help to improve the status and the sense of inclusion of the next generation of self-published writers in Wales.
Sunday, 30 July 2017
I have been doing a little research on this contentious question, as it lies at the heart of another question -- Does Literature Wales represent good value for money?
In the Medwin Hughes Review, on page 63, it states that 75% of the LW budget is spent "on its own staff's salary costs." Prof Damian Walford Davies (the chair of LW) is furious about this, and claims that the real figure is 47%. On that basis, he accuses the Review Panel of being incapable of examining the facts and drawing proper conclusions from them.
So what is the truth? If we examine the Literature Wales annual accounts (which are not published on its web site, and are rather difficult to get at), we find the following figures for the financial year ending in March 2016.
Total income for the year was £1,200,000. Almost £100,000 was spent on "raising funds." Around £302,000 was spent on "administrative costs" and a further £51,000 on "governance costs." Wages and salaries and associated costs totalled £541,000. A lot of those costs are included under the heading of "charitable activities." Grants distributed equalled about £112,000. There are lots of other "charitable activities" listed on the accounts, including literary tourism, general audience, children and young people, fieldwork, courses, training and development, Welsh Academy, and services to writers. Under all of those categories, it is impossible to tell from the accounts how much money was spent "in house" and how much was actually spent on buying in services and products from outside.
However you look at it, the conclusion is inescapable that over £900,000 of LW's budget has been spent on staffing and associated "in house" costs, and that a remarkably small percentage of the budget has actually been disbursed "in the field" to help the writers of Wales, in the form of grants, bursaries and other activities.
I think the Review Panel has got its figure just about right, although it should have made it clear that the 75% figure referred to "salary and staffing costs and other in-house expenditures."
To come back to the original question, any organization that spends such a large proportion of its income on itself deserves detailed scrutiny. After all, Literature Wales is a charity, and its income comes almost exclusively from public funds. LW should have been better governed. It should not be surprised if a suggestion is made by a panel (such as that chaired by Prof Medwin Hughes) that in future there might be a better way of spending £1.2 million per year on supporting literary activity in Wales.
Saturday, 22 July 2017
It looks as if the coordinated and very aggressive response from the literary establishment to the Medwin Hughes Review has been ultimately counter-productive. Minister Ken Skates, who appointed the Review Chairman and panel, and who commissioned the Report on Support for Welsh Literature and Publishing, has made a new statement which is itself pretty forthright:
This is also reported in The Bookseller. Essentially, the Minister accepts that Literature Wales and its friends have a right of reply to the direct criticisms contained in the Report, but he says that that process should have taken place behind closed doors. Instead, there has been a pointed and very personal attack on Medwin Hughes and his colleagues in the social media by people intent on obtaining maximum exposure and publicity. That, he says, has "not been helpful" -- and he pleads for a period of calm assessment in a manner that respects the protocol of such things.
He who pays the piper calls the tune -- and we can probably assume that the things that Prof Medwin Hughes and his colleagues said in the report were the things that the Minister wanted to hear. All in all, the future is not looking bright for Literature Wales. I wonder how long it will be before staff members start jumping ship?
Friday, 21 July 2017
Literature Wales has just announced that plans are under way for the 2017 competition. There has also been a review of the competition process (commissioned by Literature Wales itself) -- and a great deal of criticism of the competition and its management from the recently published Medwin Hughes Committee Report. That committee wants the competition to have a much higher profile. It recommended that the competition should be re-vamped, and that its organization should be taken away from Literature Wales and passed over to the Welsh Books Council.
I have been looking at the eligibility criteria for this year's competition, and am saddened that Rule 6 still states that self-published books are banned from entering. I have raised this before, with Literature Wales and the Welsh Academy, but nothing has been done. As far as I know, Wales is the only part of the UK in which this ban exists. That's not something we should be proud of.
That rule has to be changed. It is discriminatory, elitist and an anachronism in the modern world of publishing. We all know that there is self-published rubbish. But there are also many brilliant self-published books in Wales, published to a high professional standard, properly reviewed and edited, and marketed professionally. Many of them are distributed through the WBC Distribution Centre in Aberystwyth or through independent distributors, and sell well in Welsh bookshops and further afield. And yet these books are disqualified from entering the most prestigious of the Welsh literary competitions. That, if I may say so, is completely crazy........
Literary Wales appears to see no difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing, which is rather strange, given that it flags itself up as "the literary agency for Wales."
Let's just remind ourselves which books ARE allowed to enter for the Wales Book of the Year Award. Well, all mainstream books published by established publishing houses and available through bookshops. That's right and proper. Other books about Wales or written by Welsh writers and published outside Wales. Also right and proper. Now let's talk about vanity publishing.
Hundreds of books published with the help of the Welsh publishing subsidy system (through payments to writers, designers and publishers) are also eligible for the competition. Many of these have limited literary merit and would never have been published in England. They may sell just a few hundred copies; in other words, hardly anybody wants them, buys them or reads them. These books are published without commercial risk to the publishers; in fact every copy printed, sold or unsold, is paid for by the taxpayer. This is the Welsh version of vanity publishing -- an activity designed to make writers and publishers feel good, and to demonstrate to the world that Wales has a vibrant and productive literary scene. Literature Wales justifies this vast expenditure of public money because it nurtures talent, generates new activity and occasionally throws up a writer who goes on to be very famous......
But seriously, does anybody really feel that books published through the subsidy system are by definition more worthy or respectable than those which are self-published?
I'm writing to Literature Wales and Arts Council Wales to ask that the silly "self-publishing rule" is dumped. And the sooner the better.
PS. Do I need to declare an interest here? Not really -- I have no new books that might be eligible for entry in this year's competition. So I'm not going to benefit from a rule change. But I hope that a change in the rules might benefit other self-published authors in Wales who currently have worthy titles that deserve recognition. Sure, I would have liked my Angel Mountain novels to have been considered for the Wales Book of the Year awards; they were after all good enough to sell more than 80,000 copies without a single penny of subsidy from the public purse.
Monday, 17 July 2017
Author Jasmine Donahaye has entered the fray, with a long article published in Nation / Cymru. It is here:
Jasmine puts many of the players in the literature / publishing game under scrutiny, and finds that there are failings on all sides. She's not all that complimentary about the Medwin Hughes Review panel either. But unlike the members of the literary / academic establishment who have made utterances during this spat, she is prepared to call a spade a spade:
"...........despite the report’s often intemperate voice, if its content is anything to go by, Literature Wales has had this coming for a long time. It’s been poorly managed and poorly governed, and its accountability to its funding body, the Arts Council, has been woefully inadequate. Perhaps the review panel ran out of vituperation after its condemnation of Literature Wales though, for precious little is saved in the report for the Arts Council, even though it is the Arts Council that has allowed Literature Wales to operate with apparent risk to public money."
"Many writers have clearly felt increasingly alienated from Literature Wales and the direction it has taken. There is no doubt that Book of the Year, and the Writers on Tour scheme, for example, need to be established on a new basis, instead of being run down year on year."
In a statement for the BBC she also said:
"Many of the comments in the report, the public submissions, comment on things which have been criticisms for quite a while. I think a key thing is for Literature Wales now to face that criticism, address it, respond to it and re-engage with those writers who have been alienated from the organisation."
I would endorse all of that, although I don't agree with everything that Jasmine says. Anyway, I urge readers of this blog to look at the comments submitted by interested parties during the Review Committee's consultation process. Some comments, naturally enough, contradict others, but there is certainly a sense of deep dissatisfaction about the way that Lit Wales operates. Poor governance, inadequate internal management, lack of accountability, failure to represent Welsh writers' interests, and a wildly overblown sense of its own importance are just some of the issues. Lit Wales has taken upon itself the responsibility of deciding which Welsh writers to support and which ones to ignore. It apparently finds it almost impossible to support self-published writers and their works, except for small subventions now and then through the "Writers on Tour" scheme. It does not, apparently, distinguish between self-publishing and vanity publishing, and because of its total immersion in the literary "subsidy culture" it appears to have little understanding of the commercial realities of either writing or publishing. Without any reference to the writing community, it removed the "Writers of Wales" database and appears to have done little to bring it back to the web in a revamped form. Add to all of that the criticisms from writer and blogger Julian Ruck of the Welsh literary "gravy train" and one has to wonder whether the public expenditure of £1.2 million per year on Literature Wales is money well spent. Although the issue of "value for money" does not occupy a great deal of space in the Medwin Hughes Review's report, it is bound to have been one of its main considerations.
Here are some of the other written comments received by the Review Committee. Correspondents' names are not publicised. There are plenty of supportive comments (probably from those who have been supported!) but these are some of the critical comments that deserve an airing:
Literature Wales does a number of very good things but it is too fragmented and too vulnerable to the whims of Welsh Government policy.
The remit of the organisation is confused and confusing. It does not represent writers' interests, nor does it promote writers. It is not a writers' agency. Indeed many writers object loudly and persistently to its focus on literary tourism, its downgrading of Book of the Year, and its popular projects that have little bearing on current writers and the promotion of their work. The Dylan Thomas and Roald Dahl projects are nothing to do with current Welsh writers or their work. In fact they have served to eclipse Welsh writers, and reinforce internationally narrow and limited view of Welsh literature.
Big branding projects such as celebrating dead authors connected to Wales are not working in the long term. They look backwards in time, they are top-down, and in the case of Roald Dahl they make Wales look desperate because they seem to want to rub off some of a great international writer’s shine onto Wales and looks as if we don’t have a contemporary scene. Of course there are piecemeal efforts to include contemporary writers in these projects but the main aim seems to be about associating Wales with existing older brands. This model could be pretty damaging in the long-run.
The money Lit Wales spends on activities associated with long-dead writers. Whilst I have no problem whatsoever in celebrating Wales' rich and diverse literary culture, and in bringing its writers to new audience, I do question the value of the Dylan Thomas centenary (and the now annual Dylan Day) and the Dahl centenary. This seems to me thinly disguised tourism, centred almost solely in South Wales, which supports already wealthy literary estates, while the development of new talent and the sustainability of the publishers face cuts after cuts. Lit Wales does some brilliant, important work, but this policy of giving money to the dead is very short-sighted. The impact on further cuts to Welsh publishing as a result of this will have a long-term cost to literary culture in Wales, particularly for the next Dylan Thomases.
The services (especially Literature Wales) are not joined up and do not seem to work in a grassroots consultative way with the whole scene. This means resources are wasted because they don’t take advantage of the talent and connections already working in the field and often it seems LW promote poor quality work because they are not able to reach out to the scene and find what is working and seem competitive rather than collaborative.
I cannot see the pathways from Literature Wales' bursaries to the Welsh publishers. There could potentially be a more connected partnership, particularly where emerging writers are concerned, that extends beyond the bursary and critical mentoring into support for first publication.
Literature Wales is not really working as well as it should. It is only really good at promoting itself. It needs a new vision, a different kind of leadership in order to be properly collaborative, responsive and imaginative.
The Lit Wales website needs revamping, it is old fashioned, it makes it difficult to find out how and when or even if the bursaries are available and it could be a lot more active on social media.
There are some schemes run by Literature Wales that fund writers directly, and encourage writing from a young age, and these should be the core projects. There are times when a showcase for writers is useful, but it's of limited value if we're not encouraging new writers and readers.
Literary festivals, and I am thinking particularly of Dinefwr, should have more literature and comparatively less popular music and reliance on 'stars' to bring in the punters. Careful thought should be given to what literature festivals are actually for.
There should be far less emphasis on 'competitions'. There is a place for one or two such as the Wales Book of the Year or the John Tripp prize for spoken poetry but the apparently endless proliferation of them devalues the whole art of writing. Writers should encouraged to engage readers, not strive to win competitions. Selling books is a finer achievement than winning prizes and does more to raise the profile of writers in Wales.
Literature Wales' bursaries for writers scheme is not responsive to the needs of writers. The length of time between making an application for funding and getting a decision, is too long. A faster scheme for smaller projects - say 1 month - would be much more writer friendly.
Tŷ Newydd seems to be heading for privatisation under Literature Wales who seem to be looking for ways to make money out of through tourism and corporate events in order to recoup their losses because their courses are not full and the centre is unsustainable if it is not run properly (which it has been in the past). But it was a resource that was bought specifically for the writers of Wales, most of whom do not get its benefits because they cannot afford to visit. Who is now able to enjoy it? It seems mostly Literature Wales staff and well-off would-be writers. Perhaps a more co-operative model could be devised to make sure that the grassroots readers and writers can also benefit from it but also be a part of making it work - e.g. have a stake in its running.
The Writers on tour scheme is too cumbersome and poorly funded to achieve its aims. Literature Wales appears to focus on educational (school) initiatives and young writers rather than the writer community as a whole.
Get rid of Literature Wales and probably the whole Arts Council - consult, design and develop a new strategy to support literature in Wales (if necessary) - then consult design and develop some more - get *new* constituencies of people - especially writers and artists who are outside the core cabals.
Literature Wales has been made less effective and more bureaucratic by its reorganisation and the role of writers in it has been diminished. The semi-detachment of Academi from it has weakened the position of writers, and the abandoning of AGMs for Academi has deprived writers of an important forum. Cuts in funding for Writers on Tour are a major blow.
The value of Literature Wales is difficult to evaluate.
There is still an awful lot of creativity in the sector and when organisers and curators focus on quality - something that Literature Wales sometimes doesn’t seem able to do - some amazing things can happen. But as with anything in the current market economy, development is limited.
Literature Wales rarely publishes local events of reading series that do not adhere to a certain (unknown) mandate. Several highly interesting and well-known authors that have read in Cardiff received no notice.
Literature Wales only seems to work in Cardiff, Gwynedd (Ty Newydd) and wherever the Eisteddfod is. I cannot remember the last time I saw a LW event in West or Mid Wales. It is notable that the poetry scene is more connected in a community than the fiction scene (through my observations) - probably because of the distribution of live events.
We need a writers' organisation that is either separate from Literature Wales, or a Literature Wales that supports and promotes living, working writers. The Writers on Tour support has been cut so much as to make it difficult or impossible for many venues to pay writers for events; writers themselves will often find themselves out of pocket for events because of the poor fees payable and the poor rates of travel reimbursement. At the very least to show support for writers, the portion paid by Literature Wales should be returned to its previous level. Literature Wales needs to reassess its priorities, and shift funding from the big-scale literary spectacle and literary tourism to instead support sustainable levels of support and promotion of writers.
A lot of money from what I can see, goes towards promoting books via live events within Wales. Having seen an ad for the Art Tent in the Eisteddfod in The London Review of books recently made me wonder why welsh books aren't promoted that way - to a very broad spectrum of readers outside Wales? I feel that the live events are often poorly attended and are made up of those people who are all ready in the know.
The Welsh Academy & Literature Wales & the Welsh Government are all too close --- a bit of creative friction would produce a better result. The Welsh Literary Establishment appears as a clique ---- the same names featuring again and again with a tendency to endorse celebrity culture. There should be an effort towards democratisation. The outcomes would be more people being and feeling involved.
I would do things 100 per cent differently. Do not pander to the subsidy-junkies because they cannot, meaningfully, provide useful large-scale employment to the publishing sector. Target large London publishing houses to set up back office, even front office, operations here. This is exactly the approach that the Welsh government is taking in relation to professional services - and it has borne fruit. These are real, high value, tangible jobs, that are self sustaining. Attract the social media companies to set up publishing hubs in the city - the Buzzfeeds, the Facebooks, the Huffington Posts of this world. This involves selling and marketing to these operations, not simply shovelling cash to established, vested, interests.
I don't think English language fiction and non-fiction should be subsidised - they should be subjected to market forces. Whilst this would reduce the amount and nature of what is published, overall it should improve quality via proper editing and reduce the number of niche works by the same old names.
There is a clique of the same writers who receive a disproportionate amount of support/publication subsidy.There should be more attempts to publish and promote emerging writers on a national level.
The Welsh publishing industry is very heavily subsidised, to the extent that many books are published which would never have seen the light of day in England. That is because across the border publishers do not, by and large, publish books if they do not think they will sell and turn a profit. They have to carry the risks. In Wales, in contrast, many publishers inhabit a comfort zone in which subsidies enable them to publish books which hardly anybody actually wants -- and which will never repay their costs via sales. In other words, they are entirely non-commercial, and are products of a system entirely dependent upon subsidies and grants. It's easy to say: "Ah yes, we need those books anyway, because we need a vibrant publishing industry and because these books help us to define ourselves as a nation." But do we really need (and can we really afford?) a flood of non-commercial titles in Wales?
Actual sales figures for books in Wales are seldom publicised. That is because it suits everybody to keep as quiet as possible. It is widely known that in Wales a book is counted as a "best seller" if it sells 700 copies. At that level, if the publishers were operating in a real commercial world, a book might just about cover its costs -- there is no way it could be considered as a best-seller.
The WBC grant aid programme for publishers specifically excludes aid to small publishers which are run by writers and which are in effect self-publishing enterprises. In other words, there is no attempt to differentiate between self-publishing and vanity publishing. This is not very sophisticated! I have published an 8-novel saga (set in West Wales) which has racked up sales of over 80,000 copies -- which means that the books are professionally produced and well enough written to have become highly successful. But I received no financial help from WBC. That was rather galling when I see grant aid being dished out to scores of titles that have sold hardly at all........ if I had received grant aid, I would have been able to put much more effort into marketing, design and publicity. (This comment was from me)
Self-published books are also barred from competitions, according to the current rules. So my main fiction title, which has sold over 35,000 copies, could not be entered and could not compete on a level playing field with other titles of lower quality and more limited appeal. (This comment was from me)
Need to be more Commercial
The main challenges faced are those of developing a viable commercial model. The sector (apart from Accent Press) is almost entirely reliant on a grant system which in effect keeps large areas of publishing skill at 'amateur' level. With poor editors, authors remain poor in terms of skill and ability. With no real free-market testing or accountability, publishing is shielded from being competitive, with publishers instead choosing to chase (often pointless and self-promoted) awards as a success criteria instead of sales. The funding model means most publishers in Wales are actually incentivised NOT to sell lots of copies of a book, as this would leave them with a tougher case to make for winning the next grant. The whole scene is doomed to amateurism and as a result cannot produce a product capable of selling outside of Wales, and often not even capable of selling within Wales. I know no system like it in the world.
I wonder if a little more exposure to the hard commercial world might actually make the Welsh publishing scene a bit leaner and more efficient, without in any way threatening our civilisation and our great Welsh cultural traditions? For example, just to encourage publishers and writers to think a bit more seriously about what the market actually wants, and to take marketing rather more seriously, it might be rather a good idea to insist that if a book sells fewer than 1,000 copies in its first two years, any grants and subsidies paid must be paid back.......... and by that I mean REAL sales, involving real money, and excluding all returns.
Literature promotion agencies, grant-giving bodies and distributors within Wales need to ensure they understand the realities of the global publishing trade to target resources as effectively as possible at publishers as well as at readers and writers.
Cultural and Economic impact of the industry
The key challenge is the contradiction between cultural imperative and economic realities. Like any nation, Wales needs a thriving publishing industry that provides a platform for its own specific cultural output; to document its own history, its specific cultural heritage and traditions, in both languages.
Both the publishing sector and Literature Wales face the challenge of popular and government arguments about accessibility and value for money. Though both involve economic activity, and publishing supports a wide network of jobs, the value of cultural activity needs to be protected. It's indicative that where we once had a Culture Minister, the culture portfolio, which includes literature and publishing, is now a minor part of the Economy portfolio.
Balance between both languages
Looking inwards the balance between the two main languages is always an area of debate. In theory English language literature and culture has the Anglophone world as its potential market while Welsh language authors need support due the limits of the audience. But Anglophone culture has to fight for a space in a crowded field, while the Welsh language community continues to support its authors and writers by buying their books. Parity is, I think, key. Culture can function as means of uniting the nation across lines of language and background.
Thursday, 13 July 2017
How about this as a theme tune for the Angel Mountain Saga?
The 2nd movement of the Philip Glass Violin Concerto, played by the Ulster Orchestra with Takuo Yuasa as soloist.
Beautiful and poignant...... and it seems to me to fit the mood of the story of Martha's life.
The 2nd movement of the Philip Glass Violin Concerto, played by the Ulster Orchestra with Takuo Yuasa as soloist.
Beautiful and poignant...... and it seems to me to fit the mood of the story of Martha's life.
This year I am doing a workshop at the Llangwm LitFest on the theme "How to get published."
Sunday 13th August, Llangwm Village Hall, cost £3 per person.
All details on how to book are on the website:
Friday, 7 July 2017
Even more extraordinary -- now the Editor of Wales Arts Review, Gary Raymond, has joined in the fierce argument about the validity -- or otherwise -- of the findings of the Medwin Hughes Committee's Review of support for publishing and literature in Wales. Here it is:
The language used by Mr Raymond is colourful to say the least:
"And then, out of the undergrowth comes a galumphing great dinosaur, a punch-drunk, flaking Tyrannosaurus, in the form of the Independent Review of Support for Literature and Publishing in Wales, spitting and bloviating, seemingly desperate to drag Wales back into the mire of its carnivorous old ways. And like all angry dinosaurs, it is only interested in feeding itself."
That's a bit over the top, if I may say so, given that Committees in general have no interest in feeding themselves. They function by studying things, reporting as required, and then disappearing. Committee members go back to their day jobs, usually with some relief. Those who commission reports are the ones who ponder and then, as necessary, take action. In this case, Minister Ken Skates.
This article, published under privilege by an Editor who can do as he pleases, will do Mr Raymond no good at all, since it widens and deepens the rift in the literary establishment, and since it seems to be based entirely on the premise that Literature Wales is a paragon of virtue which should be immune from criticism simply because it is better than what was there before. The literary establishment's "sense of entitlement" (which the Medwin Hughes Committee criticised) is encapsulated perfectly in the words which Mr Raymond chooses to use in his polemic. The writer is way off track in his defence of Literature Wales. Clearly, from the many comments which came from the Committee's consultation process, many people feel that LW is a deeply flawed organization that needs root and branch reform. Others clearly feel that nobody would suffer very much if it was to be completely done away with. It sounds as if that is the preferred view of the Review Committee as well.
Maybe the great and the good of the Welsh literary world think that they can repeat what they did a few years ago, when they managed to reverse proposed cuts to the Welsh Government's literary budgets through a carefully managed lobbying campaign. This time round, everything is much more messy, and much more dangerous for writers and publishers in Wales.
Having transformed a simmering bonfire into an exploding inferno, Mr Raymond can now sit back and watch what unfolds. I suspect that it might not be entirely to his liking, and that he and the wales Arts Review might get quite badly burned. The civilised discussion that we were all hoping for now looks virtually impossible, and the battle lines are drawn. Senior figures from the world of Welsh literature hurling abuse at one another........
So who is the Tyrannosaurus here? Why, none other than Mr Raymond himself.
The Visit Wales "Land of Legends" website, put together by a web design team and paid for by grant aid channelled through Literature Wales (sorry that's rather complicated) has been reviewed in Wales Arts Review. It's written by Emma Schofield and is not exactly unstinting in its praise. Here it is:
Emma's main criticism is that the web site's promised provision of itineraries and extra information for visitors does not actually deliver. It simply gives information that could be more easily gathered through a Google search. But on balance she thinks the site is a good idea.
She says: "There can be no doubt that the concept behind the Land of Legends website is a good one; a fun, interactive and informative website which guides potential visitors towards literary sites in Wales can only be a positive. The text is interesting and readable and, in some instances, accompanied by a fascinating video about the area. The quality of these entries is testament to the work done by the contributors to the site who have clearly put a considerable amount of time and thought into emphasising the literary connections within different locations."
I would agree with most of that. The site is indeed vivid and varied, giving a nice cross-section of the literary and legendary traditions of Wales. But "the work of contributors' is variable in quality, and as we have pointed out before, heavily biased towards "approved" authors selected by the Literature Wales officers, with many other perfectly worthy authors left out in the cold. Some iconic legendary sites with literary associations are simply omitted, at the expense of "nonsense" entries added for reasons that are difficult to fathom. And some of the information provided (as in the entry for Craig Rhosyfelin) is plain wrong, and remains wrong, in spite of information provided which should have led to corrections to the text. That sort of arrogance ("We are right, even if we are wrong") does not do either Literature Wales or Visit Wales any favours........
Factual accuracy should be a hallmark of anything put out on behalf of the Welsh Government.
Thursday, 6 July 2017
This statement has just appeared on the Literature Wales web site. It's remarkably forthright, using language not often encountered in statements of this type. Prof Walford Davies accepts virtually none of the Committee's criticisms, and he accuses the Medwin Hughes Committee effectively of being both biased and incompetent.
It's rather rare to see such a public spat being played out in the social media -- and whatever the truth of the matter, it demonstrates that there is deep hostility and animosity in certain sections of the Welsh literary establishment. Part of a larger power struggle? How will the Minister Ken Skates react? Watch this space.....
Statement by the Chair of Literature Wales, Professor Damian Walford Davies, in response to the Independent Review of Support for Publishing and Literature in Wales:
“Chaired by Professor Medwin Hughes, the Panel of the Independent Review of Support for Publishing and Literature in Wales was tasked by the Welsh Government to give a fully informed and impartial analysis of the publishing and literature sector in Wales. It is a matter of grave (public) concern that the Panel has presented a portrait of Literature Wales – and the wider sector – that is in so many respects inaccurate and ill-informed. Its unaccountably hostile analysis of Literature Wales lacks an evidential base. At the invitation of the Cabinet Minister, Literature Wales has, in a formal submission to the Welsh Government, already offered a detailed commentary on those many areas of the Report that are sub-standard, erroneous, under-researched and troublingly subjective. Further, it is of immense regret that certain cultural commentators (who might reasonably have exercised greater scepticism) have ill-advisedly taken the Report’s portrait of Literature Wales as fact. No doubt they will feel the need to readjust their position in the light of the evidence.
The section of the Report that specifically discusses Literature Wales begins with a misrepresentation of arrangements surrounding my own appearance as Chair before the Panel. Full documentary evidence held by Literature Wales in the form of correspondence between Professor Hughes and me clearly demonstrates that I had in fact arranged to meet with the Panel on two occasions. On account of a wholly unacceptable incident at the Panel interview with Literature Wales officers on 23 June 2016 – for which I demanded an apology for the failure of a Panel member to adhere to professional standards – I made it clear to Professor Hughes that, on point of principle, I would not be attending a Panel whose impartiality I considered utterly compromised. I also emphasised that as far as the evidence given to the Panel by Literature Wales officers was concerned, they and I spoke with one voice. An apology was received. It is a matter of regret that I had to ask Professor Hughes twice for his own view of the incident at that June meeting. Having agreed to meet the Panel in the autumn of 2016, I was eventually told by Professor Hughes in a letter of 8 November 2016 that no alternative date for an autumn meeting was possible. These are the facts of the case.
In the section of the Report that purports to profile Literature Wales, the Panel also goes on to make claims concerning Literature Wales’s governance in the complete absence of evidence. An egregious example of incorrect information marshalled by the panel as part of its cumulative non-evidenced argument is the percentage of Literature Wales’s budget that is directed to staffing costs. The true figure is 47% – not, as the Review claims, 75%. The Panel’s conclusions are fundamentally compromised by its inability to report factual evidence and offer an informed, holistic view of the sector. The disjunction between the recommendations and the evidence adduced is another glaring failing of the Report.
As Chair, I refute in the strongest possible terms the Panel’s misinformed depiction of Literature Wales – something that should be of acute concern to the sector as a whole. These misrepresentations are unacceptable in a public document; the sector, and the Welsh Government, deserve better. I have full confidence in my dynamic and diverse Board of Directors and in the excellent and dedicated team of expert staff who share my own vision of literature as a multi-form force for individual imaginative growth and social change. Through literature, and a democratised conception of who has the power and ability to ‘write’, Literature Wales will continue to engage and empower the many, rather than servicing the few.
Literature Wales looks forward to continuing its ongoing dialogue with the sector and the Welsh Government in the light of the above.”