Friday, June 05, 2009

Books go SPLAT

An exciting and impressive venture, this:

Celebrating its 7th anniversary in 2009, the Warwick SPLAT Festival, is a non-profit annual week-long celebration of Student Performance, Literature, Art and Theatre. Since its inception in 2003, it has brought together diverse and creative individuals who have created the first and largest student run arts festival in the world.

I am chuffed to have been invited to read and speak at SPLAT this year. As there will be creative writing students in the audience, I think I could most helpfully spend my time warning them about the BLOODY HORRIBLE MESS that publishing has become in the UK.

Squeezed by profit margins, the evaporation of books coverage in newspapers, the desperate plight of independent bookshops and the recession, a culture of paralysis seems to have overtaken publishing houses (they weren't exactly dynamic in the first place). And writers like me probably shouldn't complain too loudly, as any number of publicists called Tarquin and marketing assistants called Cressida have lost their jobs in recent months. In fact, the only people who seem to be flourishing in the book world for the moment are celebrity ghostwriters.

Great days for Jordan, terrible times for people who actually read.

Still, periods of transition are always painful, and the ubiquity of readers' blogs and book groups testifies to a continued enthusiasm for good writing. The model is still vague in my mind, but something akin to the organic movement and the growing concern for locally-sourced produce is going to have to emerge in literary culture. The flog-em cheap supermarkets and promotion-stuffed book chains will continue to kill off diversity unless readers become aware of their power as 'consumers' to affect publishing for the better.

This country needs a 'farmer's market' approach to book-selling: bringing readers and writers together, so the latter can sell their wares without distortion. At the same time, a national campaign to support our local, independent book shops, which are capable of catering to the specific tastes of their communities, is sorely needed. In short, the greening of food culture may offer a blueprint for a healthier publishing industry. We have to do something; because as things stand I don't have high hopes for the future of Warwick's young writers.


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