Friday, 9 March 2018

Gary Raymond tries to say something or other about Welsh literature

Today there is a very strange article in Wales Arts Review by Gary Raymond, the presenter of a BBC Radio Wales arts programme.  I think we can take it as a sort of establishment response to the Assembly's Culture Committee Report just published -- and part of the ongoing concerted campaign to diminish and denigrate the work of the Medwin Hughes Panel.  It's a very strange article, and I really don't know what he is trying to say.  The journal editor's attitude is obvious enough, since she wrote in the preamble to the article:  ".........the publication of the Senedd’s Culture Committee report seems to put The Hughes Review out of its misery at least for the time being....."  A bit mean-spirited, to say the least.   Here is the key info:


The second half of 2017 was a difficult time for the organisations charged with the nurturing of the Welsh literary landscape The Independent Review into the industry proved controversial, prompting a Welsh Assembly enquiry into the fallout. As the publication of the Senedd’s Culture Committee report seems to put The Hughes Review out of its misery at least for the time being, Gary Raymond asks if its worth debating some home truths about how the Welsh literary industry operates.

As for the article itself, we'll ignore the long preamble and then get to the meat of the matter.

Here  is an extract:

Over the last year or so a cloud has hung over the literary industry in the form of the Independent Review of Support for Publishing and Literature in Wales, commonly known as The Hughes Review (as it was chaired by Professor Medwin Hughes). This week the Senedd’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee has finally published it’s response to that report, and the furore it kicked up back in July 2017. The whole debacle has been a tiny speck on the national fabric, but stands for something much more culturally significant. The Hughes Review should stand as the final push of the old way of things in Wales. It stands now only as a monument to the corruption of a noble process by vindictive influences, but also as a porthole into the battlefield that is the Welsh literary landscape. It is a battlefield that will be most likely unfamiliar to any Welsh writer under the age of 30. And probably more fabled if you’re under 35. But over that, then you know what I’m taking about, even if you’ve never fought on it.
You can read the Committee report here, in its mercifully concise 34 pages. It’s a good read, and it cuts the Hughes Review down to size, in all but the starkest terms rendering it and the £14,000 it cost to produce it a waste of everybody’s time. It also goes some way to be balanced and tries very hard to emphasise the independent panel have simply failed in their honourable intentions to do right. It has no intention of “impugning the integrity” of the panel members. The Committee may be shocked to learn (maybe not, I don’t know) that a cursory knowledge of how literature in Wales works would make these “honourable intentions” extremely unlikely.

It's impossible to read that tirade without getting a real sense that this particular writer has no time at all for the Hughes Panel or its Report. ("............a monument to the corruption of a noble process by vindictive influences..." What on earth is that supposed to mean?)

Then, having slagged off the Hughes Report, he goes on to say: "The literature industry in Wales is a spitting swirl of conflicting interests, clashing egos and jagged vendettas."   He then gives chapter and verse, in a whole paragraph.  That all sounds familiar enough to those of us who watch the literary scene in Wales. And sure, something needs to be done about it.

But Gary is wildly adrift in his suggestion that "the old way of doing things" is the problem, and that the Hughes Panel was a part -- or a symptom -- of the old order.   He fails to recognize that there are major problems with the new order too, and that these are the problems that the Panel was trying to address.  Why does he think there was such a violent response to the Panel's recommendations?  Let me explain for him that the very aggressive response came from people who have allowed Literature Wales to drift into the "red risk" zone, who have been criticised for poor governance, who have connived in the disappearance of the Welsh Academy,  and who have allowed LW to drift into all sorts of areas where there have been clear overlaps with the functions of other bodies.  A body which spends 75% of its income from public sources on its own in-house expenditures when it should be supporting literature across Wales clearly needs some proper scrutiny.  These and many other matters are not the responsibility of "the old guard"  -- they are down to the inadequacies of the present generation of directors and employees, and probably the failure of due diligence by the Arts Council as well.  And the Hughes Panel was perfectly justified in drawing attention to the situation, and in asking the Minister to do something about it. 

Will the Minister do anything?  I doubt it.  The Culture Committee has just kicked the whole issue into the long grass, and there is no prospect of the ills that affect the industry being dealt with any time soon.


A reminder about what author Jasmine Donahaye said about LW not so long ago: "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."

She's not the only one to say things like this. If Gary had bothered to read the comments submitted to the Hughes Panel, he would have discovered a very wide disquiet with the organization which he seems so determined to protect.

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