Many of you will have heard about the brutal cuts to Welsh publishing proposed by the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Ken Skates AM. I have been very busy tweeting about this, as have my marvellous friends and colleagues – many authors, academics, and those who love titles published by our wonderful Welsh indies. I wrote a letter which was signed by well over 200 authors, academics, and movers and shakers in literature – signatories continue to come in. The brilliant Angharad Price has mobilized Welsh-language authors with her letter and achieved likewise – thanks to her for her great work and to all those who signed. We stand in total solidarity as writers. Welsh literary culture flourishes in both languages and deserves to be cherished and protected.
You might wonder from whence my passionate defence of Welsh publishing springs.
As a much younger woman than I am now, my debut poetry collection was published by Seren. Amy Wack, poetry editor for the press, walked me through the exhilarating process of preparing and publishing that collection; she held my hand every step of the way. She nurtured me and gave me confidence, and together we produced a book I felt represented what I was about, with a number of poems addressing my attempts to get to grips with my Welsh cultural heritage and who I really was. The book enabled me to live a life I could not have entertained when I first entered Michael Donaghy’s workshop group in 1998 as a rather dazed and confused soul at sea in London.
Later, I took on roles as editor at New Welsh Review and Parthian Books. Of course, such roles brought me immense joy, but they did not make me rich. Had I stayed outside of literature in career, I would certainly be a richer woman than I am now. Indeed, neither role paid more than my previous jobs outside of that sector. In fact, they paid significantly less. But, and forgive the sentiment, I wanted to put something back in. I wanted to be part of a community. I wanted to offer people the chance to enjoy some of the delight I had experienced in literary endeavour. Publishing can seem like a glamorous career. But it is crushingly hard work, being the invisible mender, as it were, and it involves long hours, significant stress, and no outrageous material fortune. Editors are the champions of literary culture. Their job description is complicated, as anyone who has benefited from their talents will know: grammar pedant, interpreter of dreams, therapist, literary critic, campaign manager, the best of friends. Beyond that, there are the designers, the marketing gurus, and the managing editors who work to killing deadlines and hold this fragile but vital operation together. They deserve our care and appreciation. They deserve our efforts to lobby on behalf of their interests and the vital public service they do in promoting our culture.
So here is a copy of the letter I wrote and many signed, on behalf of the talent of the future and their brilliant literary midwives.
Dear Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism
We are writing to express our dismay and grave disappointment at announced cuts to the Welsh Books Council budget, which will significantly impact on the publishing output of Welsh publishers. Under the adjustment, the Welsh Books Council will suffer a reduction of 10.6% in funding, equating to a financial shortfall of £374,000. This shortfall will be carried by publishing houses in receipt of publishing grants. For English-language publishers, this means a cut of £76,500. We note that this latest cut follows a reduction in the budget of the Welsh Books Council which has occurred annually since 2011.
The proposed cuts will have a significant and deleterious impact on a vibrant, bold, and highly acclaimed English-language publishing industry, which, although undeniably small, has proved its merits over the past decade – and which has a wide reach beyond Wales. The achievement in the wider context should not be underestimated. Publishers in Wales and their authors work within a complex and precarious economy. Competing with major commercial presses based in London, and with slight remuneration for both staff and authors for their dynamism and excellence, Welsh publishers, and their authors and titles, have nonetheless achieved great things, against great odds. Books from Welsh publishers are not only remarkable for their content, but also for their stylish and professional presentation, which underscores credibility in the contemporary market. Books from Welsh publishers have also led to a vital reassessment of our heritage – we are thinking here most particularly of the achievements of Honno, which has introduced readers to an array of exceptional female voices through its Classics series, and the significance of the Library of Wales series, published by Parthian.
UK and international prize culture should not mean everything in artistic terms, of course, but Welsh and Wales-based authors who publish with Welsh publishers and enjoy such success are ambassadors for our nation. And in prize culture, Welsh publishers certainly punch above their weight. In recent years, Welsh publishers and their authors have been nominated for the Commonwealth Book Prize, The Dylan Thomas Prize, The Betty Trask, the Orange Futures Award, the Journey Prize, the Jerwood Prize, The Stonewall Award, with frequent nominations for the T. S. Eliot and Forward Prizes. Welsh authors publishing through Welsh presses have recently been shortlisted for the prestigious BBC National Short Story Award and the Sunday Times EFG Award. Notably, in 2011, Patrick McGuinness was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Last Hundred Days, while in 2014, debutant Jonathan Edwards won the coveted Costa Poetry Award for My Family and Other Superheroes. These two titles, both from Seren, elegantly demonstrate the commendable breadth of concerns of the English-language literary publishing output – a novel set against the fall of the Ceausescu regime and a poetry collection with its deeply felt roots in the heart of the Valleys.
Welsh publishers understand the demands of the modern age and a changing relationship to books, and they have developed their commitment to digital publishing accordingly: over 1,500 ebooks are now available through gwales.com. An impressive number by anyone’s measure. Beyond literary titles, Welsh publishers also platform popular biographies, sports books, and, crucially, children’s books – enabling reach across a spectrum of interests and enthusiasms.
The impact of cuts will mean that publishers must now publish fewer books. This is the reality of what the cuts mean to the industry. This presents Welsh publishers with agonizing pressure – on top of pressure which already exists – and agonizing choices. Fewer titles annually mean fewer chances for the possibilities of commercial breakthrough, critical acclaim, and prize culture, all of which consolidates brand. Fewer titles mean that talented authors may be denied breakthrough and the benefits of working with a small but supportive team of staff with high editorial and production standards, since publishers have to negotiate these cuts alongside forthcoming titles from those established authors already on their lists. There is a fear that many vital voices of the future may turn to commercial houses and that, over time, there may be a gradual erasure of Welsh subject matter, as up-and-coming authors ‘neutralize’ their output to better fit the template of metropolitan publishers. This latter point, particularly if cuts continue at this rate, is particularly concerning, because they will undoubtedly lead to a loss of cultural distinction and an erosion of Wales’s clear artistic place within the wider UK firmament. Cuts will also mean marketing for authors and author advances – already at critical level – will likely be affected. As writers, readers, and those committed to the advancement of literature, we would also like to emphatically register our solidarity with those working in the Welsh publishing industry and our very real fear that jobs are imperiled by these cuts.
Welsh publishing houses offer a vital space for Welsh authors to interrogate the matter of nation and heritage, to explore the increasingly complex notion of identity in the twenty-first century, and to understand themselves both home and away. For readers, Welsh publishing houses offer the opportunity to enjoy high-quality titles which may often reflect their own domestic concerns, even as such titles frequently promote Wales within an internationalist scheme. We believe the health of a nation can be measured by its commitment to its writers and to those who seek to platform artistic talent with passion and skill. Wales has a long and deserved reputation for achievement in its literary endeavour. Dylan Day would seem to make little sense in a context which sees the contemporary output of great writing from Wales so undermined and apparently undervalued by its custodians. Great writing from Wales speaks of cultural pride and ambition, which are the twin markers of any confident nation. We therefore strongly urge you to reconsider these cuts and the impact they will have – not simply over the immediate years ahead, but as a long-term political legacy. We understand that we live in a time of austerity, but believe that in such challenging times this most vulnerable but crucial platform for artistic enterprise should be especially protected. The publishing industry of Wales is now facing a cut that is approximately double that of other prominent bodies which provide services to the culture of Wales. This is unjust and amounts to self-sabotage.
 We further note that the cut to the Welsh-language publishing grant, also set at 10.6%, will amount to £187,000.