The theme of freedom kicked off on Saturday with a discussion of the issues faced by today’s writers and publishers. Author and Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award judge Raman Mundair, board-member at Publishing Scotland, Moira Forsyth and Chair of Literature Alliance Scotland, Peggy Hughes, were joined by author Jan Carson, who was on the National Centre of Literature’s showcase last year.
The panel opened on the strength of publishing in Scotland today, with Moira citing the multitude of ways in which Publishing Scotland supports its staff and members with training courses, conferences and fellowships. Independent publishers in Scotland are thriving (her own publishing house, Sandstone Press, had to close its submissions in June after being inundated with over two hundred submissions). “It’s tough on writers these days with the big corporates insisting a writer must first be agented before submitting to a publisher. It’s driving more people to look to independents, which is great, but when you’re a small team it takes a long time to read through so many submissions.” Forsyth also raised the issue of a writer’s survival, saying “A lot of writers supplement their writing, which you have to do, because you won’t make a career out of it unless you hit the big time.”
When the discussion moved on to arts funding, Carson highlighted the importance of funding for literature, saying “The quality of writing coming out of Ireland today is the best ever.” But with harsh funding cuts, Carson worries for the future: “Community art is not about making something nice to look at; it’s integral to the peace process. Art brings communities together and it’s awful to see that being pared back.” Mundair added, “It’s the people in power who need to pitch the value of art.”
Access to the industry was a recurring theme for our panel, where Mundair shed necessary light on gate-keeping: “I’ve been in Scotland since 2002: A multi-award winning, Shetland-dialect-writing, woman of colour, and yet this is my first appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. So it’s a gate-keeping question. It took me a long time to feel my voice is valued.” In order that literature in Scotland thrive, Mundair asks the question, “How does Scotland make itself distinct from the rest of the world and Westminster? We need to have a voice. We need to reframe the narrative. We need to demand that the gate-keeping changes.”
The discussion resolved that the new writer must be tenacious and willing to trail blaze their way into the industry – and the industry needs to open the gates to them.