There is a shelf in the McShandy Library given over entirely to copies of Scottish Literature Reports. It’s over a decade’s worth of initiatives, enquiries, consultations, proposals and schemes, from soft-loan funding ideas to analyses of the state of literary magazines, grandiose visions and bureaucratic hair-splitting. This week, I shoved another bundles of papers into those mouldering ranks.
The Literature Working Group was the one I had highest hopes for: firstly, it was set up by the only Culture Minister in Scotland who knew anything about culture. Secondly, the panel actually had proper writers and industry experts on it. But will it translate into action? I have my doubts.
Of course the first thing that happens when a review like this is published is there’s an almighty blast of outrage. But let’s have a look at some of the actual proposals.
“Establish a Scottish Academy of Literature”
My heart tells my head, yes. My head shakes and demands specifics. The surface question will always be about who’s in and who’s out; with howls of anguish if J K Rowling, literary talent notwithstanding, is excluded and groans of apathy if it’s the same old same old. The deep question is what’s it for? I don’t want anyAcademy, I want the right Academy, which genuinely rewards talent, influences policy and is difficult to get into. I don’t want every minor poet and moderately successful genre writer sticking FSAL at the end of their name.
“Make funding for writers broader and more varied, with support for fledgling writers predominantly through mentorship and retreats. Set up an investment model for writer’s grants”
This basically means don’t give money to dunderheids that never write the books. The funding bodies should reward success, not take a pitch on potential. One fact that the report doesn’t include is the disparity between funding to writers from the Scottish Arts Council and Arts Council England. ACE “rarely” give grants over £5000. SAC regularly gives grants of £8000 – £15000, for books that would be lucky to get 20% of that from an actual publisher… The “investment” thing worries me. SAC has always kicked itself it didn’t ask J K Rowling for a percentage royalty, since if they had, they could now fund every two-bit poetaster and hopeless wannabe in all of Caledonia. But most writers don’t earn back their advance even, and an in perpetuity tax on the lucky seems like a crazy inverse Lottery.
“Use libraries as writers’ centres”
Yeah, sure. They can have the writers’ centre bit where the books used to be.