Monday, 26 June 2017

Does Literature Wales face extermination?



So Literature Wales now says it has "serious concerns" about the Medwin Hughes Committee Report on literature and publishing in Wales. So would you or I, if faced with instant extermination! As The Bookseller reports, the organization is likely to have virtually all of its functions taken away from it.... and that being the case, there is really no reason for its continued existence.  You do not need a Cardiff office with lots of staff just to run a small writer's centre (Ty Newydd) in North Wales......

Lit Wales staff met the other day with Cabinet Secretary Ken Skates -- a fly on the wall would have had much to savour.......

Lit Wales will no doubt claim that it is sorely misunderstood, and that it fulfills a number of functions for which it is uniquely qualified. Increasingly, it seems to see itself as a sort of marketing agency.   But an organization that uses up 75% of its annual budget on staff costs is clearly not very useful to anybody except its own employees, and to those who have tried to support it over the years (like me) it has for some time appeared elitist, arrogant, complacent and incestuous, existing primarily to ensure that the subsidy-based culture (or gravy train, if you want to call it that) of Welsh literature keeps going.  The Medwin Hughes Committee mentioned the pervasive culture of "entitlement" that runs through Lit Wales.  That culture is shared by the members of the Welsh literary establishment -- driven by the belief that literary endeavour is a wondrous thing in itself, indicative of a vibrant Welsh culture.  There is a widespread and naive failure to understand the commercial realities of the literary and publishing world. 

Now that everything is under review, the key question that all those in the writing and publishing world need to ask is this:  Is there really any point in paying writers to write things that nobody wants to read, and in paying publishers to produce books that nobody wants to buy?

http://www.thebookseller.com/news/literature-wales-raises-serious-concerns-about-welsh-lit-review-574181

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Literature Wales slammed in Welsh Committee Report



For some years I have been concerned about the way in which Literature Wales is run -- as a very comfortable and even complacent organization, spending public money liberally on a few pet projects and not really doing much for the writers of Wales. It seems to have no understanding of writing as a commercial activity, and it seems to be unaware of the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing.  On its watch, the Welsh Academy has withered  on the vine, leaving Welsh writers without any effective mutual support organization.  Lots of others have shared my concerns, and many of us took the opportunity of feeding in submissions to the Welsh Government Committee charged with looking into the publishing and literature industry in Wales. 

After many delays (put down to the sheer weight of evidence submitted)  the Report of the Medwin Hughes Committee has been published, and its assault on Literature Wales is pretty brutal. It is slammed for its complacency, its poor governance, its elitism, and its rather dodgy habit of spending 75% of its income on its own staff salaries.  There is an extraordinary complaint about the fact that the Chair of Literature Wales, Prof Damian Walford Davies, apparently refused to meet the members of the Committee.

 In many of the comments submitted there were criticisms of its close links with the Welsh universities "literary establishment" and its refusal to accept that there is really not much point in continuing to support, year after year, a few favoured writers who may not have anything significant to say and who have no realistic prospect of ever selling any books in a competitive market place. As far as LW is concerned, the act of writing is all that matters, indicating (to its own satisfaction) that there is a wonderfully vibrant literary culture in Wales, in both English and Welsh. Does anybody actually WANT the books that are written and published?  Hmmm......

Anyway, the Committee suggests that most of Literature Wales's functions should now be taken away and given to the Welsh Books Council.  Many of us would agree with that. LW is also criticised for its chaotic relationship with the Welsh Academy, which is supposed to represent the interests of Welsh writers. 

The PDF of the full report can be accessed here:
http://gov.wales/topics/culture-tourism-sport/media-publishing/publishing/support-for-literature-review/?lang=en

Welsh Books Council recommended to take on Literature Wales' Book of the Year
Article in The Bookseller
http://www.thebookseller.com/news/welsh-books-council-take-literature-wales-book-year-569671

Literature Wales to have funding cut after damning report
BBC report:
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-politics-40282717
 





What will happen now? Well, Minister Ken Skates says he is minded to accept most of the Committee recommendations. There will be big LW budget cuts, staff redundancies, and (I hope) a root and branch reorganization. What will be left will be smaller and (we hope) more responsive to the needs of writers in Wales. The end of the subsidy culture and the literary gravy train operated from Cardiff HQ? Let us hope so.......

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Eastern Preseli







Occasionally Martha strays off her home patch and sets off eastwards towards the remoter end of Mynydd Preseli.  I've been over there a few times lately -- here are a few photos from my expeditions.

Monday, 15 May 2017

French investments in UK costume dramas?

Thanks to Deanna for the link -- interesting times.  I wonder of the French would like to invest in an Angel Mountain multi-part drama?

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/may/15/french-tv-company-behind-versailles-to-invest-in-uk-drama

Pwll Arian


This is a gorgeous little valley running down to the sea at Pwll Arian, not far from Strumble Head.  Translated, that means "treasure pool" or some such thing.  A perfect place for a picnic.  There is of course a legend attached to the name -- apparently a treasure was found here following a shipwreck, which led to the enrichment of the young man who found it, following a great storm.  This may be a very old story, and it may date from the time of the Spanish Armada of 1588, when Spanish galleons were driven along the west coast of Great Britain and where many were shipwrecked during a particularly vicious spell of stormy weather.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Brian's Updated Bibliography



It's been several years since I updated my Bibliography.  Around 90 books published thus far during my writing career.  Some are rather substantial, and some are rather slim, but ironically some of the slimmest have involved the most work.......

The list can be found here:

http://www.brianjohn.co.uk/full-bibliography.html

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Five years ago....



You know the way that people keep on referring to "prize-winning authors" when there is a need to impress people?  Well, in my own modest way I am one of that jolly band of brothers and sisters...... having won the Wishing Shelf Gold Award for my children's book in 2012.

One reason for being particularly pleased is that the judges for this competition were not adults, but the children themselves, from primary schools scattered across the country. 

In the strange way of things in Wales, I was barred from entering this title for any awards in Wales, because the rules state that self-published titles are not deemed worthy of consideration..........

Literature Wales announces £70K of new bursaries

Literature Wales has announced the names of the recipients of  21 writing bursaries for 2017.  Here is the press release:

http://www.literaturewales.org/lw-news/wealth-new-writing-wales-literature-wales-announces-writers-bursaries/

I still have serious reservations about the "subsidy culture" which permeates the writing and publishing industry in Wales, and wonder why writers who are motivated to write cannot just get on with it, do their writing, and then take their chances with publishers to see if their output is judged worthy of getting out there into the market-place. 

We just have to hope that the bursaries will bring out exciting new voices who can make real contributions to literature in Wales  -- and it is pleasing to see that 15 of this year's recipients are first-time recipients.  Too often in the past (as pointed out by our old friend Julian Ruck) the recipients of these bursaries have been old-timers who have not exactly been struggling along on the bread-line....... 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

The eight novels



I've just had another enquiry from a reader about where to get copies of the eight novels -- increasingly difficult, with hardly any local bookshops left open, and bookshops further afield reluctant to sell anything other than the big national best-sellers that have big marketing campaigns behind them.

Never fear -- all the west Wales shops that DO sell books should have all 8 titles (maybe with the exception of WHS branches), but if you still have a problem, you can get signed copies via the Greencroft Books web site:

http://www.brianjohn.co.uk/the-angel-mountain-saga.html 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The way it was..........


A fantastic photo from Stephen Hughes, on the Honey Harfat Facebook page.  An old lady and her hovel in St David's -- taken in 1880.

How times have changed........

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Legendary Locations Minibus tours


 This is past of the local effort on the Year of Legends.

If anybody out there is interested in any -- or all -- of these tours in May, please book ASAP via PLANED.  See you there!

New BBC drama filmed in Wales

BBC has announced the filming of a new drama (referred to as a psychological thriller) set partly in Wales -- and filmed mostly in the Newport (Gwent) area.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2017/requiem

Great -- let's hope it is a success.  It's good to see that  the Welsh Government is taking steps to attract film makers and to fight for filming actually to be done in Wales.  Is this a "Welsh story"?  Well, we don't know that yet -- it sounds a bit like an urban version of Hinterland, so it's not likely to be a bundle of laughs.........

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Silence from BBC Wales......

A couple of weeks ago BBC Wales announced big new plans for Wales -- and also said that there would be a further announcement (within the next few days) about its strategy for drama commissioning and other matters.   Two big drama series were due to be announced. There was due to be an announcement about the appointment of a drama commissioner for Wales.  I hope that these things are still going to happen -- or have the top brass in London been interfering..........?

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Parrog and Dinas Mountain

This is Parrog and Dinas Mounbtain, from the other side of the estuary.  It's all changed a bit since Martha's day.

Wonderful winter light today.........

Saturday, 25 February 2017

BBC promotion of its own activities



We have probably all noticed the adverts on BBC Wales in recent months, telling all of us what a wonderful job they are doing in promoting Wales and keeping  us all happy.  I thought the BBC was not supposed to carry advertising?  Ah well, let that pass........ 

Actually, I reckon the BBC Wales does a pretty good job -- its sports coverage is great, and it makes some excellent documentaries and reportage programmes.  It obviously feels rather sensitive about the criticism of its lack of a proper portrayal of Wales, made by the Assembly Culture Committee and by bodies such as the IWA.  So it is responding.  New drama announcements following soon, hard on the heels of news that an extra £8.5 million will be made available for programming in Wales.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2016/wales-on-screen

Although the BBC has attracted a lot of high-end drama productions to the Roath Studies in Cardiff, rumour has it that its commissions in Wales are so "tight" that the production companies who are commissioned to deliver the goods find it almost impossible to complete projects within budget and to make any money.  If that is true, that is not a good scenario......

That press release was dated October 2016 -- let's wait and see whether the promised changes actually do materialise.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

BBC Wales announces new plans



A big new announcement from BBC Wales today, taking everybody by surprise -- the announcement was expected in March.  Rhodri Talfan Davies spoke to the media and there was a considerable piece on the BBC web site:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-39046775

So the BBC has at last responded to the demands for better and more extensive Welsh content in English-language broadcasting -- but instead of the £30 million asked for by the IWA and the Assembly's Culture Committee, the extra amount allocated from BBC's London HQ is only £8.5 million.  Rhodri Talfan Davies says this will mean a doubling of the spend on drama and documentaries in Wales -- but these days you cannot do much with £8.5 million, unless, that is, BBC Wales makes such brilliant programmes that they can be widely sold and can turn a profit.

We shall see.  Apparently there will be two brand new Welsh dramas commissioned by BBC Wales -- and a new Head of Drama as well.  There will be a further announcement within the next few days......

There is another welcome development.  In response to the pressure from the Culture Committee the BBC now says it will introduce a number of steps to improve the "portrayal" of Wales on its network channels.  These include the appointment of a television drama commissioner for Wales; the introduction of a BBC Writersroom team; the introduction of a £2m portrayal fund; on-screen portrayal objectives across production teams; a commitment to produce at least 5% of network programming from Wales; and a commitment to work in partnership with the Welsh Government’s proposed Creative Wales body.

Monday, 20 February 2017

The BBC portrayal of Wales



A very interesting article by Angela Graham, with the title: 

The BBC’s Portrayal of Wales and the Welsh

http://angelagraham.org/2016/11/the-bbcs-portrayal-of-wales-and-the-welsh/

In the article she covers the Welsh Assembly's Culture Committee meeting in November 2016, to which Lord Hall and Rhodri Talfan Davies of the BBC were asked to give evidence.

There are many good points in the article, and this is a key paragraph:

"Although seeing Welsh characters portrayed, hearing Welsh voices and seeing Welsh locations are legitimate and welcome types of portrayal there should be, alongside these, an attempt to share the experiences and viewpoints of people in Wales, emerging from the country’s experience of itself. Lee Waters is right to be worried that the BBC may opt for material produced in and set in Wales but not about Wales in the deeper sense. That would be to treat the country as little more than a set or location-shooting opportunity with novelty value. We have yet to reach a stage at which seeing Wales portrayed, incidentally or directly, in drama and other genres is unremarkable."

Welsh TV support mechanisms -- why is there no requirement to promote Wales?





The Welsh Assembly's Culture Committee has been investigating broadcasting in Wales, and has issued its Report entitled The Big Picture".

www.assembly.wales/laid%20documents/cr-ld10916/cr-ld10916-e.pdf
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-38813102

In the Report, the Committee ponders on this question:  why is it that "the Welsh narrative" is not effectively told on TV and in film?  It refers to the need for a "portrayal objective" to be taken on board by BBC Wales, and asks the BBC to commit an extra £30 million per year "for English language drama and broadcasting about Wales."  It is not alone in wanting to see the BBC and the film industry doing more to reflect and portray Welsh society and perspectives, and indeed to sell Wales to the world.

I've done some checking to see the extent to which the Welsh Government itself is promoting those objectives through its grant aid / subsidy programme for the broadcasting and film industries.  The answer is "Hardly at all......"  I was a bit surprised by that!  We all know that Wales is now a fantastic location for shooting cinema films and TV series:
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuvfYgU_ItQ

The marketing approach of Screen Cymru is that Wales is a great place for telling other people's stories -- magnificent locations, easy proximity to London, favourable financial arrangements, top notch studios, expert crews, supportive and cooperative local authorities and property owners, etc.  That's wonderful, and the full "package" has brought £138.6m into the local economy since 2012.

www.o-spi.co.uk/wp-content/.../SPI-Economic-Contribution-Study-2015-02-24.pdf
http://www.theknowledgeonline.com/the-knowledge-bulletin/post/2016/12/19/wales-targets-high-end-tv

But when you look at the TV and film support mechanisms in detail, there is virtually nothing about a requirement to "reflect and portray Welsh society and perspectives, and to sell Wales to the world".  For example, the Welsh Government Media Investment Budget, with links to Pinewood and Sky Vision, is available to film and TV productions without any requirement -- or even encouragement -- to portray and promote Wales.

High-end TV drama -- tax relief
http://www.britishfilmcommission.org.uk/hetvtaxrelief/

Welsh Govt Media Investment Budget (£30 million)
https://businesswales.gov.wales/walesscreen/funding-and-support

Pinewood  -- http://pinewoodpictures.com/funding/

Sky Vision
http://www.skyvisionmicrosites.com/WelshFund/Home/Guidance
The only body that actually does encourage a real involvement with the story of Wales is Ffilm Cymru, with the following words:  "Ffilm Cymru Wales aims to identify and nurture Welsh filmmakers – particularly producers, writers and directors - by supporting and encouraging the development of their work and ambitions. We are also keen to encourage films with Welsh cultural content, reflecting Wales and Welsh life, as part of our portfolio."  So -- thumbs up for Ffilm Cymru!
Ffilm Cymru
http://www.ffilmcymruwales.com/index.php/en/
Although the boundaries between film and TV are now a bit blurred, Ffilm Cymru has traditionally concentrated on cinema rather than TV films -- and this means that as far as TV is concerned, there is nothing in any guidance notes or in any eligibility or selection criteria to encourage producers, directors and screenwriters to think that Wales has a story to tell and that the big wide world might be interested in it......

Parts of the Welsh budget are being disbursed here -- why cannot we have the words

"We are keen to encourage projects which tell the Welsh story, reflect and portray Welsh society and perspectives, and promote Wales to the world."  

That would not in any way discourage the making of global blockbusters, but it would at least give some encouragement to local Welsh talent in the creative industries!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Carningli Lodge slipping away......


Carningli Lodge, on the side of Carningli, is of course the inspiration for Plas Ingli, the house of angels as featured in the stories of Martha Morgan.  Over the years I have visited this spot hundreds of times, and have watched the old ruin gradually deteriorate.  Bit by bit, the walls crumble and a thick blanket of grass and moss spreads up and over the ruins.  A century ago, a family lived here -- this is where our neighbour Watkin Lewis was born.  This is what it looks like today.  How many more years will it be before it is entirely removed from view, as nature reasserts itself?  Quite reassuring, in a way........

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Writers' Bursaries 2011-2016



I came across this interesting list of writers who have collected bursaries from Literature Wales over the last few years.  The scale of subsidies is gradually dropping, but it is still £70,000 per year.  How well spent is all this taxpayers' money?  Good question -- the only way to answer that is to have another column with authenticated book sales in it -- but I don't suppose anybody is very interested in supplying that sort of information...... 

WRITING is the thing -- it is so sordid to think about sales, public demand and all that sort of thing, don't you think?

http://www.literaturewales.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Literature-Wales-Writers-Bursary-Recipients-2011-2016.pdf

Interestingly enough, none of this free money is available to self-published writers, on the basis that they are presumably not serious enough or skilled enough to satisfy Literature Wales.