The importance of the Fair, of being here, has been weighed up by the beancounters of most organisations present. It is not an inexpensive venture, and whereas Harper Collins may not have to worry too much about cost, the value of being here may be up for discussion. For the organisers of the Wales stall, it was certainly a risk. But it is impossible not to have experienced Wales at the London Book Fair and decide this is where our country must be, this is the mix, this is a seat at the table, this is the party that stops people asking, “sorry, where?”
If Wales was ever guilty of an insular, suspicious attitude in its marketing of “the arts” then it’s an attitude that over the last few years has been resolutely cast aside. Outreach projects, international showcases, branding exercises – these terms might send shivers down the spine of some people with certain ideas of what an artist should be, but they are, at the very least, pro-active modern attempts to remedy immediate and potentially devastating modern problems. Although individuals made this work, each with their own reasons for doing so as well as a collective one, there were no poster boys or Court favourites, no elites, no conspiracies or hidden agendas, this was Welsh literature of the past, present and future, being presented as a phenomenon on one of the most influential platforms in the world. And rather than being condescended to, or dismissed, or rubbished, as some in Wales fear is the destiny of any Welsh person who sets foot over the Severn Bridge, Wales was embraced and discussed on a level with every other nation present.
A few days later, in a hotel in Aberystwyth, the Welsh Academy (the national society for writers in Wales) hosted an emergency general meeting to decide its future. In the year I have been a Director of this esteemed organisation, I have been surprised to find it now sits notably as a collective of individuals rather than as a unifying body, the most vocal of whom, it could be argued, use it to air their grievances (much of it personal and some of it simply egomaniacal) about the state of literature in Wales and its publishing industry. The future of the Academy after Saturday’s meeting seems somewhat brighter than it did on Friday, but the future health of Welsh literature will largely rest not with writers unions and forums (important as they are), but with collegiate efforts to brand our writing as something attractive in a modern fast-paced professional industry. Wales’ Minister for Culture Dafydd Elis-Thomas gave a speech to a packed stall on the Thursday, and enthusiastically endorsed the venture after a morning of meetings and tours, and pledged that not only must Wales maintain such a presence at the London Book Fair in future, but that it must look to heighten and push its ambitions in these arenas. (Frankfurt, maybe?). For now, in uncertain times, one thing is certain: anything less than the London Book Fair is a step backwards.