August 25, 2012

“The Welsh publishing industry is nothing more than a parasitical, elitist carbuncle on the hide of a struggling Welsh economy”


No book prize longlist may stand without a backlash, and this year’s Man Booker is no exception.

Alan Bissett writes in The Guardian that the list, and the prize’s past winners, are evidence that the Booker is biased towards English writers, to the neglect of their Welsh, Scottish and Irish brethren.

“Since the prize’s inception in 1969, only one Scot has won: James Kelman in 1994 with How Late it Was, How Late. Even then, there came a storm of controversy, with the media and booksellers roundly denouncing the decision, one of the judges publically slamming the book, and Salman Rushdie calling it “the wrong choice”. In 1993, two judges successfully pulled Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting from the shortlist by threatening to walk out…Wales has produced only one winner – Bernice Rubens in 1970 – while Northern Ireland has none.”

While it seems sadly true that the Booker neglects the greater United Kingdom, I don’t think Bissett can really say that the Booker treats the former British colonies any better. Should we really be comforted that four Bookers have been won since the prize’s inception in 1969, by that mysterious country, “the African nations”?

“Booker is far more generous to former British colonies than it is to home Celts. Australia and the African nations have both won four times, Canada has won three, the Republic of Ireland three, India twice (thrice if one includes Anglo-Indian Salman Rushdie), and there are another two writers, VS Naipaul and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, whose nationality is difficult to pin down. New Zealand is an honorary Celt in this respect, with one winner, Keri Hulme.

This is not to say Bissett isn’t right, although one Welsh writer may disagree with him. Alexander Nazaryan reports in the New York Daily News that Julian Ruck made the blistering assessment of Welsh letters, quoted here in full glory in the title, at the conclusion of the Kidwell-e Festival.

Ruck was particularly offended that a number of Welsh publishing houses received 4 million pounds in subsidies via the Welsh Books Council and Literature Wales.

Ruck said,

“the Welsh Assembly feels it is morally right to dish out millions of pounds of your money for a few people to propagate a Welsh ‘literary’ agenda that few are interested in…Where are the giants of Welsh writing? Where are the Welsh Seamus Heaneys and James Joyces or for that matter the Jeffrey Archers and James Pattersons? Or even the odd bookish shade of grey? Did Lady Charlotte Guest or Dylan Thomas receive hand-outs from the tax-payer?”

Is it the fault of a Welsh welfare state that no-one Welsh ever wins the Booker? Hard to say.

Ruck has the final word,

“The hunger to create for an audience has been stifled, the warts and all of learning the trade have been burn way, the cleansing of rejection and reality of commercial brutality is no more.”


Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.