Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Trying to get a caravan moving........

This is interesting, and illustrates just how difficult it is to get a new series (in this case a comedy series) moving in Wales -- even when a star like Matthew Rhys is on board.  Raising money by crowd- funding is really hard work, and it appears that in this case it was quite hard to raise even £7,000 or so.  Lets hope they now have the cash they need to get the pilot made and broadcast......


Matthew Rhys has made a pilot of British comedy drama series “Down the Caravan,” which sees “The Americans” star play a philandering and soon-to-be-dead caravan site owner in Wales.

Wales has emerged in recent years as a major U.K. production hub; “Sherlock,” and “Doctor Who” are both made there. In terms of comedy-drama, James Corden and Ruth Jones’ Wales- and England-set comedy “Gavin and Stacey” was a big hit in the U.K.

Now Rhys, who is Welsh, will star in another comedy project with a connection to his native land. Playing Dai Hyatt, he appears alongside Jan Anderson, seen recently in an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” who plays an employee at the caravan site.

Rhys is best-known for his starring role in FX’s espionage thriller “The Americans,” for which he garnered an Emmy nomination. He has also appeared on TV in “Brothers & Sisters” and “Death Comes to Pemberley,” and guest-starred in HBO’s “Girls” earlier this year.

Jerry and Kay Lockett’s Wales-based indie Happy Campers Productions made the crowd-funded pilot of “Down the Caravan” and will produce the series, which was written by Kay. Welsh actor-director Sara Sugarman (“Mr. Nice”) will direct. It does not have a confirmed broadcast or streaming partner, but is close to sealing a deal with a major British player.

“Down the Caravan” opens as Rhys’ character dies following vigorous extramarital relations, opening up a series of events that take in the local town, the caravan site, and a cast of characters including Maxine Evans (“Stella”), Sarah Harris-Davies (“Dim Ond y Gwir”), and Vas Blackwood (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”).

Although dead, Rhys will appear throughout the show’s run if it is picked up, as it transpires that he recorded a series of messages before his death. He will also executive produce the series. Cheryl Davies Keatley will produce and Jerry Lockett will be an associate producer.


Another call for more home-grown Welsh TV drama

Obviously some people are feeling rather sore about the lack of funding for a new comedy show pilot......  but the call for greater investment in WELSH drama is not new, and one hopes that the powers-that-be are listening.

Invest more in film and TV made in Wales, actor says

By Nia Medi

BBC Wales News
30 January 2018

More money needs to be invested in home-grown film and television by the Welsh Government, an actor has said. 
Julian Lewis Jones' plea is backed by TAC, which represents the independent TV production sector in Wales.
The government has put £12m into Welsh productions since 2012, but has invested £15m in companies based outside Wales during the same period.
The Welsh Government said investments in those external productions in Wales had brought £100m to the economy.
The actor fears unless the government invests in Welsh projects, Wales will become little more than "a receiving house" for outside companies in the industry.
Lewis Jones is currently filming a pilot for a prospective TV series with Hollywood star Matthew Rhys called Down the Caravan.
He told BBC Radio Cymru's Post Cyntaf programme: "Welsh Government do tend to give money to companies from outside Wales to come in and work in the country."
He said Down the Caravan had had to rely on crowd funding and private investment.

'Madness and stupidity’

Iestyn Garlick, chairman of TAC, supported the Anglesey actor's call.
"It is extremely important that we produce and make our own productions. It is madness and stupidity that the Welsh Government would refuse to fund a production like Down the Caravan.
"Companies would come to Wales anyway. I can't see that we need to pay them to come.
"I can't see how attracting companies from outside Wales is important to our creative industry's strategy. We have our own creative industry.
The Welsh Government says its investment in productions made in Wales has boosted the nation's economy by more £100m in the past five years.
A spokesman said "Without our investment it is very unlikely that these companies would have come to Wales. That is why attracting non-Welsh companies to Wales is a key part of our Creative Industries strategy."

Saturday, 27 January 2018

The gaps in the story

For most of 1832, nothing much happened in the story of Martha's life --but in December of that year Martha started to keep a record of events that was to end up as "Rebecca and the Angels".  In December she was minded to describe the death of her beloved Owain Laugharne (in 1825) and then the death of her dear friend and mentor Joseph Harries, in February 1826.

In some ways the gaps in the story are crucial, in allowing events to "accumulate" for future description and analysis.  And the big things in Martha's life were so dramatic (and often traumatic) that she could not possibly have coped with them if they had come upon her in an unremitting stream. So in her life she did have -- thank goodness -- quite long periods during which life quietly plodded on, with the routines of the household and the farm undisturbed by anything unduly dramatic.  The reader, too, needs periods of calm between the great tempests which afflict Martha..............

And for me, as an author, the gaps are also important as devices.  Fred Nicholls, who taught me English language and literature in Haverfordwest Grammar School and later became a good friend and fellow author, said to me once:  "Never kill off a good hero or heroine; but if you have to, be sure to leave some good gaps in the story."  That advice has come in very handy, since having killed off Martha (twice!) I was able to respond to requests for further stories by writing "Sacrifice" and "Conspiracy of Angels" and slotting them into a long gap in the middle of "Dark Angel" -- during which time Owain was missing presumed lost.  That was a ten-year gap, most of which remains to be filled.  There are other gaps between 1797 and 1805, between 1822 and 1832,  between 1833 and 1837, in 1838, and at various other times too.

When I next feel the urge to write about Mistress Martha, there is sure to be a convenient gap waiting to be filled.......

Friday, 26 January 2018

Fantastical memorials

There's great pleasure to be had in fantastical tombs -- there was quite a fashion for them in the seventeenth century.  Above we see the Howard memorial in Rudbaxton Church; then in the middle the Lort tomb in Stackpole Elidor Church;  and then below we see the Margaret Mercer tomb in St Mary's Church, Tenby.

The Howard tomb takes the prize for having the most skulls, and the Lort tomb takes the prize for having the most children.......

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Wales gets even darker.......

This is a nice puff for Welsh TV drama, linked to a promotional piece devoted to the start of "Requiem" which will be on BBC1 as from the beginning of February.  As usual, the theme is "dark drama" following on the success of "Hinterland" (which has now came to an end, reputedly because of funding difficulties).  Everything is relative, and a "successful" TV series does not necessarily make any money unless it is a real blockbuster......

But it has to be good that programmes are being made in Wales, and that Wales is being developed as a production hub with a pool of skilled cameramen, lighting and sound people,  and all the other folk who make up the teams needed for big projects.  Gethin Scourfield, who was one of the key people working on Hinterland for Fiction Factory, and who is now acting head of commissioning for S4C, refers to "... the buzz around Wales as a new centre for exciting and risk-taking television" --  and that's great.  The more confidence there is in Wales and further afield about the TV dramas coming out of the country, the more likely it becomes that the "Angel Mountain" project will come to fruition earlier rather than later.......

Forget Scandi: the natural home of dark drama is Wales now

Otherworldly landscapes, experienced TV crews and state support are giving the country a dramatic leg-up

Sarah Hughes

Sun 21 Jan 2018

Requiem, which starts early next month, tells the story of a young cellist (Lydia Wilson) who becomes drawn into a decades-old mystery involving a small Welsh community and a missing child. Its unusual blend of horror, crime drama and supernatural chills could only have been achieved by shooting in Wales, said its Australian creator, Kris Mrksa.

“I’d had the kernel of the idea for Requiem for years but no clear idea where it took place,” says Mrksa. “I knew the story needed to feel really removed from the urban world and we also thought about the north of Scotland or Cornwall, but the Welsh landscape was so inspirational and so otherworldly that I realised this was the only place this kind of story would really work.”

The show’s director, Mahalia Belo, agrees the Welsh countryside near Newport provided the ideal inspiration for Requiem’s meld of horror and psychological suspense. “This piece is quite a strange mixture of genres and there’s something about the landscape that really lends itself to that,” she says. “The energy felt right.”

Nor is the six-part drama the only series to be making the most of Wales’s combination of otherworldly landscapes and experienced on-the-ground production crews. Sky Atlantic’s historical epic Britannia used Gower’s Rhossili Bay and the Henrhyd Falls in Powys to stand in for Celtic Britain; the BBC sci-fi thriller Hard Sun was filmed in Anglesey; and Channel 4’s adoption drama Kiriwas filmed in Cardiff. Wolf Studios Wales, a vast new production studio in Cardiff Bay, is home to both Sky One’s new fantasy series A Discovery of Witches and the BBC adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.

The global success of series such as Hinterland/Y Gwyll, recorded in Welsh and English, has led to a growing interest in Welsh drama. The Port Talbot-set Bang was recently shortlisted for a Writer’s Guild award. The Eve Myles-starring Keeping Faith/Un Bore Mercher will air on BBC Wales this year, having already been shown on Welsh language channel S4C.

“I think there’s a real confidence here right now,” says Ed Talfan, co-creative director of Severn Screen, the production company behind Y Gwyll and Craith. “Hinterland has shown that you can think local and hit universal, which is really liberating. It proves that you can take a risk and the interest is there.”

The deal with Bad Wolf, the production company headed up by Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner, has seen the Welsh assembly lend the company £4m in exchange for increased investment in the country from television companies such as Sky, the BBC and HBO and the creation of Wolf Studios Wales.

“The idea is to take a proactive approach to attracting funding and investment in Wales, particularly in the creative sector,” says Ken Skates, the Welsh cabinet secretary for the economy and transport. “There’s a real opportunity to carve out a very distinctive creative industry in Wales and one which is recognised around the globe.”

Ron Jones, executive chairman of Welsh production company Tinopolis Group and chair of the Creative Industries Sector Panel, agrees. “The film and TV sector has grown strongly in Wales over the past five years, directly as a result of a determined Welsh government strategic decision,” he says. “Bad Wolf’s ten-year slate of productions can only strengthen the long-term sustainability of the industry.”

Tranter, the former BBC head of fiction, stresses that the Bad Wolf deal is intended to revitalise the Welsh economy as much as attract new talent, allowing Wolf Studios Wales to employ local people in everything from costume design to carpentry. “The aim is to make people aware that working in television is not simply about being in front of the camera or holding it,” she says. “We have the chance to put in place a long-term programme that isn’t just about attracting talent to Wales but also about developing skill sets from a young age that could benefit both the community and the local economy.”

It is important too that the buzz around Wales as a new centre for exciting and risk-taking television doesn’t obscure the success of smaller productions. “It’s great that we have these big deals coming in from outside Wales,” says Gethin Scourfield, acting commissioning editor for S4C drama. “But crucial too that home-grown talents can take advantage of the new interest in Wales as a production hub and continue to create interesting, innovative shows that promote Welsh culture and interests.”

The six-part series Requiem starts on BBC One on 2 February at 9pm.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Pentre Ifan and the moon

A fabulous image of Pentre Ifan and the moon, posted by Dai Winn on Facebook.......

Martin Shipman interviews Lleucu Siencyn.

Wales Online has published a podcast interview between reporter Martin Shipman and Lleucu Siencyn, the Chief Executive of Literature Wales. Most of it is about Lleucu's "literary life", but inevitably the conversation turned to the Medwin Hughes Panel and the big debate about

the future of literature and publishing in Wales.

I quite agree with some of the things that Lleucu says in the podcast, but I do not agree with her that the debate encouraged by the Minister on the future funding of literature and publishing in Wales was "an unfortunate episode" and something that "wasn't needed." In my view ALL efforts from Welsh Government ministers to encourage debate and to assemble views on specific topics are to be applauded -- we would all be pretty disgruntled if all policy was determined behind closed doors without any consultation within the affected sector.

So yes, the appointment of the Medwin Hughes Panel was a good idea, and it was perfectly proper that the Panel sought opinions and factual evidence from within the industry and from the public at large. It's a bit disingenuous of Lleucu to say that the Panel's report "created divisions which weren't there....." As she must know, the divisions have been there for years, on many different issues -- and if you don't believe that, just look at the comments from respondents as published in the report. Disquiet has been expressed about the subsidy culture, about duplication of effort between WBC and LW, about patronage, about the gravy train, and about the tendency of LW to stray into areas that should be none of its business. So the Panel Report, and the Culture Committee deliberations on it, have given a good shaking to an industry that has suffered for years from a variety of ills. As the Panel pointed out, there has been complacency and an unrealistic sense of entitlement from an organization (LW) which has been spending 75% of its funding in-house. That really is not good enough.

Lleucu needs to accept that the industry needs to be reformed, and that LW may have to accept that the bulk of the reforms will be within its own organization.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Creative Industries in Wales

The Gospel of Us -- one of the great success stories.  But why is "the story of us" still not treated as a priority?

This statement was put out in November, probably in response to the negative press comments about the Pinewood Studios fiasco.    That, and the revelations about Bad Wolf, have suggested that taxpayers monies were not being very well spent in this sector, and that "due diligence" testing left something to be desired.

So this is to some extent a reassurance exercise, designed to flag up the £100 million apparently spent in Wales during the creation of 10 films over the past 5 years.  I wonder where that figure came from?  And where was the money spent?  Who were the main beneficiaries?  Maybe we will see the figures one day........

It;s interesting that the Ministers flag up, yet again, the strategy "to promote Wales internationally as a destination for high end TV and film production."  But once again they have missed the opportunity of stating, on the record, that it is also a priority to work with the film and TV sector to promote Wales and to tell its story to the nation and to the rest of the world, thereby enhancing our sense of identity and pride.  Why should that be such a problem?

Written Statement - Update on Creative Industries in Wales

Last updated 15 November 2017

Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport and Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport

We are writing to update Assembly Members on the opportunities to build on existing advantages to increase productivity and growth in the Creative Industries Sector in Wales. Over the last 5 years, film and TV productions shot in Wales and funded by Welsh Government have spent in excess of £100m in Wales. This is investment into local economies, providing hundreds of Welsh businesses and individuals with high quality work. The introduction of commercial funding via the Media Investment Budget in 2014 provided an additional boost to the industry and has funded ten productions and one games project to date.

These included Their Finest, which saw excellent box office takings and received a warm reception from critics, and Journey’s End, based on the famous World War One play by R C Sherriff, which recently premiered at the Toronto International Film
Festival and had its gala screening at the London Film Festival last month.

For a number of years, our strategy and delivery of support for the Creative Industries Sector has focused on the provision of funding through grants, loans and commercial investments, to deliver strategic priorities including:

• a collaboration agreement with Pinewood, including the Media Investment Budget;
• bringing high value film and TV to Wales through Welsh Government financial incentives; and
• funding of high value digital media projects.

These priorities have been accompanied by logistical support for productions through the Wales Screen service, and a push to develop a range of studio facilities along the M4 corridor between Chepstow and Swansea. In particular, the new Wolf Studios Wales in Cardiff is now home to the first Bad Wolf production and they have a future pipeline of productions that will spend at least £108m in the Welsh economy.

Industry growth continues to change the creative landscape and we are now working towards delivery of our manifesto pledge to provide a more holistic approach to the sector. Our new model of flexible and bespoke support will ensure appropriate mechanisms are in place for commercial business growth in a fast paced creative industries environment.

We will help prioritise and accelerate sector growth through:

• skills and supply chain development;
• improving networks and access to specialist industry-led advice;
• better exploitation of social media and digital platforms for service provision; and
• improving creative businesses’ ability to create, retain and exploit their intellectual property in the Welsh economy.

One of the changes to the landscape has been a commercial-based decision by Pinewood to withdraw from third party fund management, and therefore from its Media Investment Budget role. This has presented us with the opportunity to renegotiate the terms of our collaboration with Pinewood to better serve the industry in Wales.

Whilst the full terms of our new agreement are in confidence, it means that Pinewood remains fully committed to operating the studio in Wentloog and is continuing to promote Wales internationally as a destination for high end TV and film production.

We are proud of Welsh Government’s partnership with Pinewood. Having such an iconic brand in Wales has been invaluable for the Welsh film and television sector, helping us to elevate Wales as a premier production location and giving Wales a global advantage over other regions.

We will continue to build on this success, to deliver an even stronger Creative Industries Sector for the future.

Audiobooks progress

There are developments on the audiobook front.  After a couple of years of trying to find out whether WF Howes / Clipper Audio still has the raw materials for the two audiobooks that they published in 2005 and 2006 (info below) I have at last managed to talk to the right person!  The good news is that although all of the cassette and CD versions of the two books were sold, the WAV files are still in existence, and they are of excellent quality.    Jonathan and Leanne read the books very well, although there are some minor technical issues (for example, on some place-name pronunciations) which can be sorted out.  So I will be getting the WAV files for the two books, which I can store on the computer and have for private use.  That means I can give them to some of the blind people who have told me that they want to listen to the books.

The other good news is that Clipper might well want to do their own audiobook versions of the two titles and make them available for sale through all the normal outlets -- including Amazon's Audible.  We will be discussing all of this within the next couple of weeks.  They will have to get rid of those terrible covers and do some serious rebranding......

So although we have a number of willing and very able readers who have offered their services for the making of new versions, we'll hang fire for now.  There is no point in going to a great deal of unnecessary expense and trouble if perfectly acceptable versions of On Angel Mountain and House of Angels are already in existence.......

Then we have the little matter of books 3 - 8 in the series.  I will be talking to Clipper about the recording rights of those six books, and it will be great if they express an interest in doing them too.  Fingers crossed -- this would be fantastic for raising the profile of the whole series.


The unabridged audio version of "On Angel Mountain" was produced in 2006 by Clipper Audio, ref H1957, in a package of 11 cassettes. The CD version was also issued. The readers are Jonathan Keeble and Leanne Masterton. Listening time: more than 15 hours.

The unabridged audio version of "House of Angels” was released in 2007, produced by Clipper Audio, ref H2213, in a package of 16 cassettes. Once again the readers are Jonathan Keeble and Leanne Masterton. The full audio book listening time is 18 hours and 30 minutes.

Cassette refs:

978 1 40740 261 1 House of Angels by Brian John £57.00

978 1 84632 326 3 On Angel Mountain by Brian John £49.00

CD editions:

978 1 40740 834 7 House of Angels by Brian John £65.00

978 1 40740 825 5 On Angel Mountain by Brian John £61.00

published: 2006 and 2007

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…...