NWR Issue 58

Everyone's a winner...

Even as the BBC's tired trot through the one hundred greatest Great Britons sent me to sleep in recent weeks, I couldn't help being intrigued by a recent item in The Guardian which reported that panels of librarians and booksellers are among those being polled to find 'books which say the most about contemporary England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland'. Apparently customers will be consulted too, and encouraged to vote in high-street bookstores across the UK. This is all a ploy, of course - the organisers of the poll are going to all this trouble simply to promote World Book Day (next March). Nevertheless, the four shortlists for the UK's various countries made for interesting reading, from England's Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby and Scotland's Adoption Papers by Jackie Kay, to Wales's Cardiff Dead by John Williams and Sugar and Slate by Charlotte Williams.

Serious critics might eye such shortlists with suspicion, if not derision, for there are of course limits to the extent of any debate that might be generated by an exercise like this; but polls and competitions do serve as a barometer of readerships, as well as an indicator of the cultural shifts that underlie them. And while prizes such as the Man Booker, for example, may seem Anglocentric to cultures on the so-called fringes of the UK, the success of a Scottish publisher this year has injected some cultural controversy into the debate. Jamie Byng, owner of Edinburgh-based Canongate Books, whose author Yann Martel won the Booker for his Life of Pi, has allegedly lashed out at the narrow, parochial, self-obsessed nature of London's literary world, which, he says (according to The Observer) has an imagination that stretches no further than the M25. Since this story appeared, Byng has angrily denied making these comments, but the reporting by the English broadsheet media on this aspect of the Booker remains significant nonetheless. Reaction to the success of a Scottish publishing house - will they, won't they move from Edinburgh to London? (as if this is inevitably the next step for Canongate) - reflects upon a new phase for the Booker, perhaps. It no longer 'belongs' exclusively to the London publishers, and now is the time for other publishers across the UK to make their mark.

Publishers aside, discussion of a shortlist of books also gives rise to debates about a body of work, in addition to discussion of the aesthetic successes and failures of books on the shortlist, and, better than anything else, it encourages a greater readership. With the recent announcement of a major Welsh new international arts prize, Artes Mundi, surely it is time to campaign for similarly weighty international Welsh prizes for literature which will attract world-class judges and world-class work.

'International' does not have to mean 'mainstream', of course, and with this in mind, New Welsh Review has just established an affiliation with the newly-established online Welsh European literary review, Transcript (www.transcript-review.org). Transcript features interviews, reviews and review articles on a range of writers from extremely diverse cultures and countries, from Welsh writer Wil Owen Roberts to Slovenian Drago Jancar. In future issues New Welsh Review will publish occasional articles commissioned in collaboration with Transcript, tasters of the contents of current issues of the European review, and even translated extracts of new work, thereby broadening Welsh literary horizons far beyond London's publishing houses.

Wales may not have a major fiction prize yet, but there are several well-respected and reasonably well-funded awards which are given out annually. This year's Tir na n-Og award, for a book of children's fiction in English with a Welsh setting or Welsh theme, was recently awarded to the outstanding and prolific children's writer Malachy Doyle. The importance of children's writing in the formation of a strong cultural identity for non-Welsh speaking children cannot be underestimated, and, with this in mind, I invited Malachy Doyle and Kevin Crossley-Holland (who, in addition to winning last year's Tir na n-Og has won a whole host of other awards) to record a conversation about their work exclusively for this issue (see page 4).

As for New Welsh Review's own review competition, I was delighted to receive so many entries from readers, and despite the fact that we could only have one winner - Tony Padfield, whose review of Sean Burke's Deadwater is published on page 92 - I have already commissioned many of the other entrants to review titles for the magazine. In addition to new reviewers, I am constantly on the look-out for good new writers, and this issue of New Welsh Review features two names to watch - short storywriter Penny Simpson and poet Zoë Brigley, in addition to some of the best established poets writing out of Wales - Ruth Bidgood, Paul Henry and Stephen Knight. Those readers interested in the process of writing as well as its polished results mustn't miss Stephen Knight's Writer's Diary on page 85 and Paul Henry's Bookmark on page 87, while Firenza Guidi's haunting and resonant performance diary of her recent production wwWoyzeck in the New Welsh Review theatre supplement (page 73) is an utterly compelling piece.


previous editorial: Imaginative Landscapes
next editorial: Shapes of Wales


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