Alan Kellerman Dives into the debate of publishing v self publishing, traditional literary routes v indie begun in The Guardian by Ros Barber here on the divide between literary fiction and commercial fiction and who buys what.He asks who is reading off the shelves in Waterstones, Smiths and conveniently ignores local bookshops in his tirade at being drawn into a battle which he claims is about noise.
In his noise, he draws attention to the reader who chooses without guidance from stickers, neat one line reviews and recommendations from staff who just because they work in a bookshop are assumed to read.
Hello? Dr Kellerman? There are intelligent readers out here, living and working in the real world . Most of my friends are readers because they love literature, or because they keep up to date with their subjects.Some read because it sheds light on the experiences of people with whom they come into contact with . some of them even belong to reading groups and read a range of fiction from literary to commercial. Good Grief! There are even reading prescriptions and reading for well being groups .Sometimesreading groups prefer commercial fiction and are scathing about the occasional literary novel. Other times they rave about a literary novel. So what?
Reading is all about taste, pace and a cracking good story. The most perfect alliterative line with an appropriate metaphor and underlying symbolism, intertextuality and all that is only so much dead letters unless it hits the reader in the solar plexus. Yesterday, I loved and laughed and cried with Paige Toon’s The One We Fell in Love With, and that is what good writing does. It makes you cry as you turn the page, your eyes mist up so the text wobbles, and your children roll their eyes.
Towards the end of his editorial Kellerman points out that he is glad we stumbled over his editorial and a quick glance at the Swansea Review shows that submissions are not accepted because they only commission work. Further reading shows that most are affiliated to Academi and are creative writing tutors in the dept.
And for me therein lies the problem . Creative Writing has been sucked into Universities and away from the general populace. Creative Writing courses are now overpriced, and I can say hand on heart the expense of MA is unrealised in terms of impact on salary . When our ancestors gathered around fires, story telling was a a communal transaction not a commercial transaction, with perhaps ale and mead and bed for payment. Now there is an elite band of tea her-writers here in Wales, who while talented and good, are acting as arbiters of taste and excellence in their limited and rareified view. If they were more democratic they would accept manuscripts rather than commissioning in house as it were. You may assume Dr Kellerman your readers are not writing but there are many unpublished writers outside in the real world. And self publishing is the only route. And what is wrong with self publishing onlne anyway? If as Barber says poverty is necessary, it pays zero!
Academi is needed to promote and support writers in Wales, but a more democratic approach would benefit all readers and writers. This is not to say that writers should not get paid for their time in running courses but that more courses should be running in the community. There are so many stories out here. And an open window in the University Review would let in fresh air and blow the cobwebs away, as my grandmother would say ,on Swansea Beach. One way of doing this would be to secure funding for more community groups. The reason neither of my grandmothers wrote in the nineteen twenties and thirties is becuase they were too poor and raising families in the aftermath of 1926 and trying to survive the depression and then the war. In these days of austerity more community writers are needed to give voice to the concerns of ordinary people.
So much literary noise will only drown their voices.