Gary Raymond asks, is a united literary community in Wales, of publishers, writers, and publications, destined to just to be an annual oddity?
Vitally important news for the Welsh publishing industry was announced today just after noon. As the leaders of Wales’ independent publishing houses were presenting their case to members of the Welsh Assembly, Deputy Minister Ken Skates was already gearing up to announce his u-turn on the proposed cuts to the Welsh Books Council funding. As has been well-documented, 10.6% cuts to the budget would have been devastating for Welsh publishing, a real blow to the cultural and intellectual life of Wales.
That the cut has been reduced from 10.6% to 0% – perhaps more than anyone could have hoped for – is undoubtedly a victory for those who put their shoulder to the wheel and formed a coherent opposing argument, as well as a victory for the more abstract notion of the ‘Welsh soul’. The victory comes because people who were in the right made a strong case against the cuts, and the Welsh Government, and Ken Skates in particular, were magnanimous enough to listen to the argument and accept its power. It was mature democracy at work. Everyone deserves credit.
And there I mean everyone.
It was the only moment I can remember when the literary scene of Wales has come together and stood shoulder to shoulder and fought for the common cause, as if this is the first struggle, and this the only threat, Welsh creativity has ever faced. At the Senedd today, rival publishers stood side-by-side. Over the last few days, ‘rival’ publications have tweeted and shared and supported each other, pressed on from the front line and helped shine light on the desperate situation at hand. Hundreds of writers, an array of personalities (and not all friends), all with different agendas, beliefs and opinions on, to name just one subject, how a nation’s literature should be subsidised and guided, put their names to a single letter that professed one powerful message: supporting literature is vital.
Wales is a small place – I have been told this at least once a week, as a personal warning, for around the last ten years. What it means is, Wales is parochial. You piss off the wrong person at your peril. Wales didn’t look like a small place this week. Not from reading the letters of Kathryn Gray, Angharad Price and Caroline Oakley, or just scrolling through #WelshBooksMatter on twitter. As we all stood together and argued the government (not a government particularly renowned for it’s humility or its aural sensitivity) into a u-turn, we made Wales sound lavish in literary achievement. And that’s because Wales does have an awful lot to be proud of.
So what a shame it would be if we all went back to our corners in the aftermath of this impressive turnaround. This will not, after all, be the last time we will have to come together to fight this fight. The other day I asked, how many times will we have to win this argument?, and the answer is: probably annually, so long as the political establishment is made up the way it is. If… and I know it’s a big IF… the literary community in Wales was not to disband now, job done, but was to remain shoulder to shoulder, and work toward the creation of an industry and a literary culture that didn’t have to fight these fights, maybe something great would happen. What, is hard to say. But this week we did this.
So, I hope today is not just a victory we will be forced to try and emulate at the next round of budget barneys in twelve months time. Today was a massive moment. Perhaps it could be the start of something greater, rather than a story to tell our grandkids.