Thursday, August 27, 2009

Scottish Literature Working Group

I was having a quick read through Product magazine the other day (summer 2009 issue) – good, stimulating stuff. I came to an opinion piece (written by someone on the editorial board, I guess) on the new Literature Working Group set up to examine “the future of literature and publishing in Scotland.” This section in particular caught my eye:

Scottish “publishing” and “literature” are not a seamless garment. Scottish publishing can make money pretty well without literature. Scottish literature is thriving – with London publishers. At present the Arts Council invests in writers (primarily through bursaries), publishers (primarily through grants), and publicity (primarily through projects and prizes).

It’s a matter of some concern that this sometimes translates into paying an author to write a book, paying the publisher to publish it, and then giving it an award at the end.

Well, put like that, it does sound somewhat absurd, doesn’t it? But it’s less easy to decide how public money should be used to benefit Scottish literature. I’ve just noticed that public response to the Working Group needs to be in by the end of this month (email address at the link). I suspect it would be good for people who don’t normally have input into such consultations to make a few points. Perhaps someone will take notice?


Anonymous said...

I think it's rather odd to define the success of Scottish authors as being with 'London publishers', suggesting a sort of knee-jerk bigotry. Many poets (for example) are published by Bloodaxe in Newcastle or Carcanet in Manchester. Kathleen Jamie, Andrew Greig, Ron Butlin, Roddy Lumsden, Tracy Herd at B'axe; Eddie Morgan, David Kinloch, Richard Price at Carcanet.

Also worth saying that these publishing ventures are driven by two notable individuals who decided what they wanted to do rather than set up a government quango and distribute some questionnaires. And that these Scottish authors ultimately rely on Arts Council England, via their publishers' subsidies, thus reducing the burden on the Scottish tax payer. Isn't that a good thing? Answers on a postcard ...

I agree that it's an absurd thing to *pay* an author to write a book, in some cases without any guarantee of publication at the end of it, but this is what happens; and some members of the Working Group have been the beneficiaries of such funding. So why would they want to argue against such a thing?


Anonymous said...

I notice also that "The group would like to invite all those working within the literature sector to provide written submissions on relevant subjects."

Since I don't work in the literature sector, but in the health care sector, I've chosen not to respond to this thing.


Rob said...

Yes, it's a bit confusing though. I had also thought that I didn't work in the literature sector and so I wasn't being invited to respond. However, on discussing feedback, the Working Group say "If you are responding in your capacity as a reader, or the parent/guardian/teacher of young readers..."

So they are being very unclear. I guess they'll take feedback from anyone.

You're right on the 'London Publishers' thing. I think, however, the Product board aren't knocking the idea of Scottish writers going to English publishers (what alternative do they have, after all?). They rather want to see the whole systenm overhauled so that less commercial books and writers get funding.

I think that's what they're saying.

Rob said...

Just looking again under 'scope' at the Working group website. It says, "We would also like to hear from readers, teachers, and parents or guardians of young readers." Then it later makes its "the group would like to invite all those working within the literature sector to provide written submissions on relevant subjects" remark.

That is confusing, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I'm more than certain you can work in it without getting paid.


(word verification - fiesco, a comedy of errors in Morningside)

Anonymous said...

"I'm more than certain you can work in it without getting paid."

Usually that's a conscious choice, i.e. voluntary work. Not the kind of work you do for nothing but rather hope to wangle some money out of someone else if the opportunity arises.

"They rather want to see the whole system overhauled so that less commercial books and writers get funding."

This is what I took from it, not least because the Working Group is heavily weighted by poets ... not travel writers or celebrity chefs or journalists or sci-fi novelists ...