A collective voice for literature and languages in Scotland

Headline notes on the International #LiteratureSummit 2016

We were delighted to welcome an impressive turnout of literary delegates and speakers – writers, publishers, literature organisations, literary agents, literary editors, translators and academics – to the Summit on the International Promotion of Literature & Books 2016 on 23 November for what many have described from the feedback as a stimulating discussion. We’re grateful to all the speakers, including Alasdair Allan MSP, Minister for International Development & Europe who delivered the opening address, and delegates for their contribution. Photos of the day are here.

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Dr Alasdair Allan MSP.

Below are the headline notes, including, at the end, the consensus reached and the agreed key action, on which we will move forward quickly, so watch this space!

Headline Notes

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Keynote – Dr James Robertson

  • Joined up thinking and acting to be done
  • Are Scottish Literature and Languages part of soft diplomacy’s toolkit and if so to build what, with whom and for what purpose?
  • With less money available, need to spend wisely and efficiently
  • Economically and ecologically best to send writers overseas? – use resources differently e.g. podcasts, more translations
  • How to judge success? Number of book sales or literary prize wins?
  • ASLS good example of how patience in building international contacts can yield rich outcomes over a long period
  • What do mean, whom do we mean by Scottish writers?
  • What does Scottish Literature look like from elsewhere?
  • If literature represents the kind of society from which it grows, historically, Scottish Literature tells the world a very different story to English Literature
  • Need to balance literary identities and aspirations with practicalities and the realities of the political world.

Session One – Literature Organisations’ Perspective: what needs to be done?

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Fiona Brownlee, Brownlee Donald Associates for Association of Scottish Literary Agents (ASLA)

  • Focus on best use of resources
  • Fund authors to travel with dedicated promotion
  • Point of contact in international / foreign offices, offering / driving coherent promotional support for authors
  • Promotion and book appearances tied together e.g. Saltire offices in NYC
  • Join up disparate organisations

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Duncan Jones, Director, Association for Scottish Literary Studies (ASLS)

  • University network as natural ambassadors for Scottish Literature, engaging with students internationally
  • Readers regularly not realising strong Scottish writers are actually Scottish
  • Scottish universities to recognise Scottish Literature alongside other courses
  • Availability of texts is vital, online and at home, classic texts to be brought back in to publication

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Eleanor Pender, Communications Executive, Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust

  • Balance of home and abroad working together to create a strong basis for international collaboration

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Nick Barley, Festival Director, Edinburgh International Book Festival

  • Authors needs to travel to develop relationships
  • Global relationships and exchange are vital in promoting Scottish Literature – it’s an ongoing conversation

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Marion Sinclair, Chief Executive, Publishing Scotland

  • Coming from a position of strength in collaborative working
  • Build on existing assets to work better internationally
  • Recommends new joint venture / service from a number of organisations rather than new body in charge – with dedicated staff to handle work

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Asif Khan, Director, Scottish Poetry Library

  • Sustainability – share authors and writers abroad, visiting poets and residencies, translation workshops and media collaborations
  • Joined up thinking
  • Historically Scottish poetry is more outward looking
  • Synchronise Scottish Poetry to where it’s looking out to the world

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Session 2: Public Agencies & Tourism Panel

Chair: Magnus Linklater; Panellists: Jenny Niven, Creative Scotland (JN), Cortina Butler, British Council – Literature (CB), Jeni Oliver, SDI (JO), James McVeigh, Festivals Edinburgh & Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (JMcV).

JN: important to consider what success looks like. Four key themes of CS’ framework for international approach: import, export, cultural exchange, and cultural diplomacy.

JMcV: Arts and tourism separated by semantics – visitors = readers, audience. Literary tourism generally packaged as heritage as easier to engage with place marketing. Challenge is how tourism sector works with contemporary writers. Engage with organisations to find the ‘hook’.

Soft power
JN: Cultural diplomacy and relationships are fluid. Difficult to match countries and agency objectives with artists’ creative suggestions and where they want to go.

Tourism
JMcV: Readers are the audience. Engage with the cultural tourism offering of all kinds of countries.

CB: We need to understand and recognise the differing priorities for organisations, agencies, writers, publishers etc. to find where they overlap – the sweet spot.

Branding a culture
JO: Need to understand what starts the conversation with a country, which varies from country to country. Need to start thinking about its audiences, tourists, readers – where do we want to engage? Don’t rely on what is already out there and the known writers. Need to do more about content that resonates here – different across Scotland. Businesses here are identifying new ideas, taking on the risk and offering support with that risk.

CB: English and Scottish book activity looks for a range of writers from across the country, depending on what the project is looking for.

JO: What is your audience, where are they and what is the hook? How to bring it all together?

JN: An atmosphere where organisations are championing each other’s efforts. Need for a collective mechanism to bring these efforts together. New agency not feasible, but tangible efforts can be made. Persuade Scottish media to focus on the arts more. Work in development visibility on increasing Scottish arts in the media.

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Session 3: Writers’ Panel – what additional support do writers need?

Chair: David Robinson; Panellists: Ronald Frame (RF); Gavin Francis (GF), Vivian French (VF) and Kathleen Jamie (KJ).

VF: When do you decide that an author is Scottish and that their work is Scottish?
Children’s picture books are a massive export. 80% of books in a Copenhagen bookstore originated from the UK. Live aspect is very important for children’s books.

GF: Attending events or travelling has been under different provisos, different organisations and mechanisms. It’s very precarious, often fortuitous. It would be useful for authors if they knew that British Council would help fly them if there was a bursary or more information available.

RF: Scottish fiction doesn’t seem to sell well. It sells well in the US but less so here.

KJ: Scotland is a country of landscape, not of crime.

VF: With the children’s book world, it’s our books going out but not many books coming in.

GF: There are hopeful signs with basic minimums to pay writers travelling to events. Most writers have a couple of jobs to support themselves too.

Jenny Niven mentioned Open Project Funding less than £5k – smaller pots of money available with quicker turnaround.

Key issues: writers and bureaucracy for applications and rights issues, points raised about the issue of selection of writers, perception that the same writers get chosen for agency projects, writers not being aware of how their work is used or what organisations offer.

Also highlighted was International Literature Showcase in Norwich, which CS is partner funding.

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Session 4: Publishers’ Panel – what more could be done internationally?

Chair: Jenny Brown; Panellists: Hugh Andrew, Birlinn (HA); Andrea Joyce, Canongate Books (AJ); Katy Lockwood-Holmes, Floris Books (KL-H); Adrian Searle, Freight Books (AS); Rosemary Ward, Gaelic Books Council (RW), Robert Davidson, Sandstone Press (RD).

AS: Sell more books to International publishers, more resource to Publishing Scotland to expand on success. Foundation of success based on books that have done well in their own country – over 10,000 copies. Build the market in Scotland. Pressure the media for support.

KL-H: Children’s part of Scottish Literature is building readers of the future. Authors & illustrators’ success overseas translates in sales and rights sales.

RD: Action on sales – we have a team in North America selling Scottish books. Face to face contact is key.

AJ: AJ: Key for Scottish publishers to get out and build relationships with international publishers to persuade them to take risk on a new voice and new writer. Need Go See follow up fund, Reverse Fellowship internship.

RW: Co-ordinated initiative to promote writers and authors.

HW: Home market is dysfunctional. If we don’t make any money at home, can’t expand and invest in foreign markets. Need self-sustaining home market.

Cortina Butler, British Council – on looking at other countries – recommended Polish Book Institute as a good example of online resource providing support and information available to writers. Translation needs with marketing component.

AS: Good examples is NORLA, great engagement, success in home market but doing it for 25 years – long term investment.

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Q&A highlights

  • New Books in German – Publishing Scotland produces similar title for Scotland
  • Invite translators to conferences
  • Irish Literature Exchange (name clearly says what it does)
  • Why does Irish diaspora support their books more?
  • Discover books via link with television and film adaptations / improve link with development directors
  • AS: need more independent bookshops – call to remove business rates

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Session 5: Resolutions & Next Steps

Magnus Linklater (ML); Donald Smith (DS); Marion Sinclair (MS)

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Headline discussion points

  • Need for coherence, communication and some co-ordination
  • No desire for uniformity or imposition of one single strategic line
  • Agreement for a shared strategy that encompasses the different aspects and is understood by all
  • How might this be expressed and developed?
  • Joined up thinking – can different bodies and organisations release boundaries in guarding own patch to work in coordination?
  • New agency model may be applicable in the longer term
  • At present, agreed that the model had to be structured co-operation amongst the existing lead organisations working closely with the public bodies and agencies
  • Consensus around the idea of a joint service – jointly between organisations. Detail tba – see key action below
  • Festivals Edinburgh suggested as a possible comparator.

Jeni Oliver, SDI, made a commitment for

  • Further support for Go See Fund for follow-up visits to new markets, showcasing a new product to a new market or looking to build new relationships.
  • More support for Translation Fund for marketing element

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Headline audience discussion
Donald Smith: Mission critical that Creative Scotland support those who already exist so it’s difficult to find new resources for a new organisation.

Jenny Niven: Some seed money is available from Creative Scotland to move things forward.

Joy Hendry: Literary editors and magazines not discussed. No recognition for literary editors’ unique links and relationships on international stage with writer networks. Need formal recognition and input from literary magazines.

Ian Brown: Problem of not overlapping – clear need for more coordinating and communicating within the sector.

Fiona Brownlee: Very positive day. Publishing Scotland and EIBF bring a great deal and should be involved.

James Robertson: Opportunity to promote literature in collaboration with other cultural forms – overlap with music and other art forms, especially film.

Ron Butlin: Need to help Scottish Government understand that the arts are cost-effective PR for Scotland.

Kaite Welsh: Soon to be four literature officers at Creative Scotland – please contact us to ask questions.

Linda Strachan: Authors don’t know what’s going on and how their work is being used. How to communicate information to the grassroots level? It needs to reach the writers and the creative people.

Robyn Marsack: Poets needs to try and subscribe to literature organisations such as SPL. Writers need to make an effort too – it’s a two-way system.

Graeme Hawley: Scottish Literature on Wikipedia needs updating. Far less info, photos, links available than Irish Literature – missed opportunity, can be updated by anyone!

Cathy Agnew: Highlighted DG Unlimited – new online membership organisation for those who care about Dumfries & Galloway’s creative sector and cultural life. Shared press & publicity.

In addition, Jenny Niven presented an update on work achieved or underway since publication of Creative Scotland’s Literature and Publishing Review in 2015, based on news release issued the morning of the Summit – Growing Scotland’s Literature & Publishing Sector

Key Action

A meeting will be convened, under the auspices of LAS, via an open call, that both members and interested non-members can attend to discuss and work out the detail of the Summit’s consensus for a joint service between organisations with a practical, pragmatic and focused universal approach.

Timescale: by end February 2017.

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Tags:
November 30, 2016

6 Comments

  1. Judy Moir December 1, 2016 Reply

    Sorry to have missed the summit due to illness. So much covered and it's looking very promising. I think a well edited and regularly published 'New Books from Scotland' (printed and online) would be excellent and long overdue. We have many fine literary magazines but none that is a suitable showcase for new works of literature which may genuinely appeal in the international marketplace ... and I would urge whoever funds/publishes this to look at samples not just from Germany, but also Scandinavia, Ireland, Netherlands and others before deciding on the most suitable content. Also, one thing not directly mentioned above is BOSLIT which, if kept up to date and easily accessible, could be a tremendous resource.

    • jenny December 1, 2016 Reply

      Many thanks for your comments and suggestions, Judy. They're much appreciated.

  2. James Robertson December 2, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for this summary of the day, Jenny. All useful for future discussion. One wee correction: in my keynote address I said 'If literature represents the kind of society from which it grows', not 'respects'. But of course respect is good too!

    • Jenny December 2, 2016 Reply

      Hi James, thanks for highlighting the correction, which is now made. Glad the summary is useful - huge thanks to Eleanor Pender of Edinburgh City of Literature Trust whose excellent note-taking did all the hard work on the day.

  3. Alistair Rutherford December 3, 2016 Reply

    Many thanks for these notes. I feel adapting more books for film has real potential for promoting of Scottish writers, and Scottish writing, internationally. Normal practice in the film industry is for a production company to seek to acquire film/TV rights. I wonder if publishers / agents could be more proactive in this and approach film companies themselves. Given the small number of Scottish-based film companies with the resources to develop and produce a film, the net would need to be spread wider than Scotland but that's the point, to promote our writers and writing internationally. At the US box office (2005-2014) the percentage of the top 100 grossing Hollywood films made from existing material never fell below 30%. Film is a great shop window for the novel and companies are crying out for strong stories to be adapted.

    • Jenny December 5, 2016 Reply

      Hello Ali, thanks for your excellent comments. We'll make sure they're fed back in the next stage, as all comments on here will be. Cheers!

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