Next month, I’ll leave my role as editor of New Welsh Review. I’ll be succeeded by a woman. ‘Another woman in the role! Things are beginning to come on fantastically for women in Wales, aren’t they!’ a colleague recently exclaimed to me.
I pondered it afterwards. After all, the three major English-language literary/cultural journals have been in the hands of women for quite a while now. Poetry Wales since 2008, edited by Zoe Skoulding; Planet from 2006 – 2010 edited by Helle Michelsen (herself an Assistant Editor prior to that), recently succeeded by Jasmine Donahaye; New Welsh Review, edited by Francesca Rhydderch from 2002-2008, myself (a former Poetry Editor of New Welsh Review) from 2008-2011. New Welsh Review’s founding editor back in 1988 was a woman: Belinda Humfrey. Planet has enjoyed the skills of women who have gone on to become central figures in the literary-cultural life of Wales over the years, including Francesca and Gwen, and retains the talents of Emily Trahair as an Associate Editor. Cambria Magazine, which straddled politics, lifestyle, literature and more, was edited by Frances Jones-Davies. And let’s not forget that Gillian Clarke was a co-editor of the mighty, erstwhile Anglo-Welsh Review. If we take a look at the Welsh-language magazine scene, we see young talents Angharad Blythe and Sian Melangell Dafydd – editors of Taliesin – who succeeded two women – Manon Rhys and Christine James – when they took the helm in 2010.
Meanwhile, at the English-language publishing houses, Penny Thomas at Seren has been picking up some of the finest and most various new fiction from Wales, deserving a special mention for blending the old school with the quirky with sensitivity and style. Also at Seren, Amy Wack has edited a list of award-winning poets for many years with panache and considerable nous, and was also once an excellent Reviews Editor of Poetry Wales. At Richard Lewis Davies’s Parthian, Lucy Llewellyn has led the fiction list onwards with vibrant and unusual titles, and developed the Bright Young Things series from young, urgent, first-time authors Susie Wild, Wil Gritten, J.P. Smythe and Tyler Keevil. Jan Fortune-Wood is the founding editor and publisher of Cinnamon. Hazel Cushion is the founder of the successful Wales-based indie, Accent. And, last but not least, there are the industrious women at Honno, who have reprinted a back catalogue of once-forgotten women’s writing we all might otherwise have missed, and who are discovering new, exciting contemporary female writers even as I write.
So it’s less a case of sisters doin’ it for themselves, but rather the case that sisters have been doin’ it for themselves – for quite a while now. And they’ve been doing a pretty good job of scooping up talent, and shaping a robust and original output, as it happens.
A sense of novelty can, of course, afford a sense of excitement. Now, I’d never want to deny excitement in publishing at a time when people should feel excited about the scene in Wales (yes, Wales, in particular) – now more than ever, recession or not. And I’d never suggest that those who have noted with interest the rise in women in publishing in Wales have been anything less than supportive, welcoming and complimentary. So why am I troubled by the novelty attached to our dominance? I think novelty can be reductive. It can lead to the key becoming the mere curiosity. It can encourage a notion of chance rather than circumstance – and deny explorations of why and how women have entered into the culture in this way. Novelty is misleading. Encouraging a view of exceptions. It denies our momentum, forgetting a tradition of women as capable, very often inspired, editors in Wales along the way – front of house, behind the scenes. A tradition that I want young, literary- and culturally-minded women growing up in Wales now to see as something they can aspire to being a part of themselves, one day – in total seriousness and to be taken totally seriously. So, I just want to assure: we’re not new. We’re just news that stays news. Not quite the same thing.