Saturday, January 12, 2008

Arts funding

Some stuff in the Guardian today about the cuts in Arts Council funding which will affect small publishers amongst others. One of the publishers it discusses is Dedalus Books, a terrific company which publishes brave, uncategorisable books and which may well go to the wall if the cuts are implemented. I once met the guy in charge of Dedalus at a conference about writing in translation, and he struck me as incredibly committed to what he did.

One of my favourite books is published by Dedalus, Memoirs of a gnostic dwarf by David Madsen. It's every bit as eclectic as its title suggests. It's a superb romp, very funny, visceral, inventive, completely weird.

There is a petition to save Dedalus from the Arts Council cuts. You can sign it here.


Eric Dickens said...

Works in translation are usual in most countries in Europe - except in the UK, where people think it's esoteric Continental stuff. Dedalus has virtually monopolised one corner of translated fiction, i.e. fantasy - but the category is a broad one.

What is alarming is that so few publishing houses throughout Britain publish any contemporary fiction from the many and varied European countries around us. And now, the Arts Council of England (ACE, for short) is trying to close down Dedalus, and cripple Arcadia and the British Centre for Literary Translation (at UEA). Why?

British authors are translated, sometimes with indecent haste, as when the latest Rowling appears all over Europe. But British readers have no chance of seeing what is being produced immediately over the Channel, let alone further afield.

How many Brits could name one living Flemish author (or dead one, for that matter)? Yet the whole of the Belgian coast facing Blighty is Flanders. Not just where English poets died in WWI, but where Flemings write, right now. And what language do Flemings write in? Most Brits would look at you in dumb silence if you asked - because they haven't a clue. Belgian literature counts for nothing in the UK. Is it better or worse that EngLit? How can you know, if you have no access to it?

That climate of literary ignorance and indifference is what ACE should be trying to destroy, rather than destroying the very publishing houses that help us to understand what is written in "near abroad".

Tom Conoboy said...

Thanks Eric, I couldn't agree more. In a time when we are being increasingly cosmopolitanist and are embracing multiculturalism, and when Europe is coming closer together, it is perverse that our publishing industry should be so insular.

When you ask why this should be you get the tired old answer: "there's no demand for it." Of course there's no demand for it: you cannot demand what you don't know is there. But back in the days when I was a librarian I helped organise a collection of Eurofiction which toured my libraries. It was immensely popular. Through it I discovered authors like Torgny Lindgren, who I think is quite extraordinary (Light must be in my list of all-time favourites). There is no doubt that foreign authors, with different cultural backgrounds and different literary histories, offer a rich diversity which is lacking in parochial British publishing.

Eric Dickens said...

I agree entirely about the logic as to why there's so little demand for translated literature. If you don't know it's there, you're not going to ask for it. Absolutely.

It's the publishers wot done it. I fear that very few publishers have enough knowledge of any foreign language to be able to read a book in it. So they rely on Frankfurt gossip and a few publisher's readers. And publishing is going in a "stack 'em high and sell 'em cheap" direction in Britain. It's a vicious circle if Brits can't read things in foreign languages, but have no access to translations, either.

I've interested two different publishers in the States in novels by two different Estonian authors, and I've translated two Estonian novels for a third publisher. If I can do it with such a tiny language (one million native-speakers), there would surely be a market for things written in larger languages, too. But that's the States. I'd love to get more published in my own country, Britain.