A collective voice for literature and languages in Scotland

Notes on International Development Meeting

We hosted a Development Meeting for the International Promotion of Literature & Books on Wednesday 25 January from 12-2pm at Saltire Society, which was a very well attended, lively discussion.  

This follow-up meeting to November’s Literature Summit aimed to discuss the next steps in setting up the international promotion of literature and books. An attendee list is below followed by the notes.

ChairsLAS Vice-Chair, Donald Smith of Tracs
LAS Lead of International & Partnerships Group, Marion Sinclair of Publishing Scotland
AttendeesAngela Blacklock-Brown, Poet
Ian Brown, Playwright, Poet
Heather Clyne, Moniack Mhor
Avril Gray, Edinburgh Napier University
Graeme Hawley, National Library of Scotland
Peggy Hughes, Literary Dundee
Fiona Hutchison, Interface
Duncan Jones, ASLS
Andrea Joyce, Canongate Books
Asif Khan, Scottish Poetry Library
Carolyn McGill, Scottish Writers' Centre
Judy Moir, The Judy Moir Agency
Jenny Niven, EIBF
Tom Pow, Writer
Mario Relich, Scottish PEN, Poetry Association of Scotland
Alistair Rutherford, WGGB
Jenni Steele, VisitScotland
Gill Swales, Live Borders
Jim Tough, Saltire Society
Kathryn Ross, Fraser Ross, ASLA
Joy Hendry, SLAM
ApologiesDonal McLaughlin, Writer, Translator
Fiona Brownlee, Brownlee Donald Associations, ASLA
Julie Ann Thomason

Brief – purpose of meeting and role of LAS

Donald Smith, LAS Vice-Chair opened the meeting by thanking everyone for attending and reviewing the consensus of the International Literature Summit, held in November 2016.

The final session of the Literature Summit looked at the Festivals Edinburgh model – remaining independent but with an additional aspect of collaborative development and international engagement. SDI and cultural tourism were very interested and SDI is already actively engaged.

There was consensus to promote the work of Scottish-based writers and publishers on the international stage by coordinating a range of activities to a worldwide audience through a dedicated join venture / partnership front office.

It was put forward that LAS is not the ultimate vehicle to achieve this, its role is to help facilitate the set up – as a midwife or parent.

This collaborative vehicle structure needs to support and assist the advancement of the literature sector as a whole. What are practical next steps to advance this?

It was also agreed that the meeting should focus on where we could go on this issue, not discussing what organisations currently do on the international stage.

Summary of Literature Summit findings

Full notes on the Literature Summit are here and meeting attendees confirmed they were happy that they were an accurate depiction of the day.

Priority activities and how and by whom will they be delivered? (finance and resources)

Discussion was opened to the floor.

Donald Smith: Is there one place that holds what’s happening in literature in Scotland? No, there is a wealth of information and an abundance of confusion. This highlights a basic information function or a gap in provision – no centralized place capturing the breadth of what’s happening in Scotland.

Tom Pow: Don’t we need a name that everyone else can hang on, as there are so many disparate organisations. Organisation is one thing but centralisation is another.

Donald Smith highlighted that the Literature Review suggested a new brand such as Scottish Literature International but there wasn’t much support from the industry and, in the economic climate, funding is an issue for a separate vehicle.

Duncan Jones made the point that Scottish Literature International is already an imprint of ASLS.

Marion Sinclair: Just come from a meeting on what Brexit is going to mean for culture and tourism. Key thing that emerged was Scottish cultural differentiation and how important it will be not just in the short term but also in the next 20 years.

Judy Moir: Have we looked at other countries? We could come up with a model similar to those that exist already.

Marion Sinclair: Wales and Ireland have models. We need a partnership approach of writers, publishers, organisations and public sector agencies, using tourism as leverage, plus the combined intelligence of the organisations. We need to be doing something new, a wider model that gets the public sector and tourism sector involved. Irish Literature Exchange is a reasonable model but doesn’t leverage public and tourism sector.

Jim Tough: It’s important to factor in the feedback from the writers at the support. We need a means through which writers can see opportunities more easily. We need the bits that are outward looking and the other bits that maximise writers’ opportunities to work internationally – a mutual support mechanism.

Donald Smith: Writers exchanges don’t speak to each other – so there are gaps.

Ian Brown: The Literature Summit highlighted that Kathleen Jamie wasn’t aware of the ASLS using her work so the issue precedes promotion abroad, we need to open up better channels of communication within the sector. But people don’t want another bureaucracy. It would be easiest to appoint someone but no one wants that. We need to create a coordinating organisation to capitalise on variety. Should we use something that already exists and take it down a new path?

Jim Tough: Could it be an extension of existing organisations such as Publishing Scotland or Edinburgh Book Festival or an extension of LAS? Extra resource would be needed given that everyone is already working at full capacity.

Tom Pow: What about the Saltire Society?

Jim Tough: Resource is an issue. If the option is to associate with existing organisations we need to look at how best to do it.

Jenni Steele: The heritage model is a good example. We applied to universities to get funding for a research student to help coordinate collaborative opportunities, raise the game and exposure.

Donald Smith: Strategic initiatives like Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017 have little coordinated effort from the literature community for YHHA. 2018 is the Year of Young People. There is funding available but we don’t seem to have a way of getting together to take advantage of collaborative working.

Kathryn Ross: Should Scottish Book Trust have that collaborative function?

Graeme Hawley: Thought LAS was the umbrella group that knits everything together. All members should have LAS logo on their website.

Jenni Steele: The Festivals Edinburgh model – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts – is a good one. It’s not an exact match as it’s an external marketing tool – but it’s something to look at.

Joy Hendry: What about an amalgam of Scottish Book Trust, Publishing Scotland and Scottish Writers’ Centre – working together could form the focus.

Duncan Jones: There is a danger of being too focused on arts and cultural funding and bodies. Publishing is a major industry. Books are exports – Scottish Enterprise or Department of Trade & Industry could get involved. The availability of books is issue such as the problem with Alasdair Gray’s Lanark distribution, The House With the Green Shutters being out of print, and Sunset Song  has no US publisher. It needs a lot of money to help export Scottish products – millions of pounds, not thousands.

Marion Sinclair: The real question is the vehicle. LAS would need dedicated staff, maybe 3-4 years in future. At this point do we have the appetite? As no one wants to see a new organisation formed and has buy in. Could we develop LAS as that mechanism?

Jenny Niven: No funds for a new body. The options are LAS or a joint venture with a more powerful body to bring in the partnerships.

Duncan Jones: Could we possibly have secondments to LAS to take it forward – a joint venture under LAS?

Jenny Niven: Experimental approach would need clear values and goals.

Marion Sinclair: We need continuity. Do we think it’s a serious activity – to start building capacity for the future. Is it an important thing for writers, publishers and the economics of it?

Mario Relich: Is it something the LAS steering group could do?

Donald Smith: LAS is an instrument that allows us to take the first steps. It gives a collaborative structure with purpose and status. With the potential and challenge of the task, LAS isn’t the right vehicle or the longer-term home for this. It needs a serious vehicle – not just for information, but promotion – that can bring together key and large organisations to bang heads on joint initiatives and action and engagement with public sector. We want a body that can shift things in a new world.

Jenny Niven: It needs to be able to talk in the metrics that other organisations use.

Donald Smith: Some questions – is the focus on writers, publishers and translation, international promotion? Higher education – there is a huge international engagement with investment from literature. Is the cultural tourism aspect separate? Every area of Scotland has an important literary heritage. Is that the same business?

Jenni Steele: It’s not the same purpose, but is definitely connected, for example the link with ASLS on the literature guide to Scotland. There are lots of opportunities in Scotland and the UK before international.

Donald Smith: It’s a strategic information and promotion hub that could feed into VisitScotland and tourism programmes. It’s not a question of creating something that’s a mass marketing vehicle. If we set up a joint venture, we need to decide on the audience – world of tourists or festivals, libraries, literary umbrellas? Is this one instrument?

Ian Brown: It starts from LAS. ASLS works in the US who are asking for books but can’t get them. How do we make individual work coordinate – information, steering, co-ordination role? There’s a gap in knowledge so people can’t take advantage of opportunities. E.g. University degrees in Scottish Literature in India.

Jenny Niven: LAS need to sort the mechanism of coordinating communication – people don’t know about it.

Joy Hendry: LAS could produce a monthly newsletter for organisations to feed in and share knowledge.

Marion Sinclair: Do we want to do it at LAS?

Graeme Hawley: From this discussion, there seem to be four possible models

  1. LAS performs a cradle to grave function for international promotion of Scottish literature, including export strategy, coordinating literary tourism and so on.
  2. LAS is the literary partner liaising with other bodies such as Scottish Enterprise, HIE, VisitScotland and so on
  3. A new body is established to perform the function of promoting Scottish literature internationally
  4. Status quo, with no obvious umbrella lead, but with some LAS members individually addressing the topic

Jenny Niven / Marion Sinclair suggested a fifth option along the lines of a new body formed with people being seconded from LAS bodies.

Marion Sinclair: The Publishing Scotland part is key as books have to move, translation is important and we mustn’t lose sight of commerce and publishing matters.

Donald Smith: It needs a specific vehicle of which LAS is the parent with a defined role, strategy and funding activities.

Jim Tough: What does it do first? Internal audience, cultural, British Council, external international – 2/3 key things? Two-year project funded then take stock and review success & mechanism? Leadership is important – LAS as catalyst but for commerce and negotiations, leaning to Publishing Scotland, Scottish Book Trust, and Edinburgh Book Fest for right positioning as LAS is not in the correct strategic location to have that impact.

Donald Smith: There seem to be four key areas for the new vehicle

  • Strategy
  • Information
  • Promotion
  • Intervention

Tom Pow: Domestic and international are two separate issues. Will it displace what LAS does?

Donald Smith: It’s too early for LAS and this new vehicle doesn’t have the same purpose.

Marion Sinclair: LAS is not the vehicle but will have oversight. LAS is a democratic body.

Donald Smith: If we know what we want to achieve, what are the steps to get there? We need a clear sense of areas that need strengthening. Agree LAS to be vehicle to get this started and, if agreed, the first stage is to decide on a steering group to hammer out the four key areas.

Ian Brown: Agree that LAS is the parent to oversee and see it through.

Ali Rutherford: We need to go out and find the expertise to deliver the brief hammered out from steering group to solve this first. Identify first.

Judy Moir: It’s really frustrating. Ireland and Wales have done international from the start. Can’t understand why we can’t just get it going.

Donald Smith: The Literature Review recommended a new organisation and it was noted at end of the Literature Summit that we shouldn’t give up on it.

Jenny Niven: To provide a window on Creative Scotland’s international strategy, there are distinct advantages of Scottish cultural, but it’s also sitting in a difficult financial climate. Example of a collaborative mechanism – Muriel Spark centenary – more meaningful if collective approach of organisations who are doing things to celebrate the centenary work together to change perception, such as University of Glasgow, National Library, BBC. Creative Scotland and National Library of Scotland are jointly funding a co-ordinator post that will support the work of a number of organisations. It’s an experiment as a model, which might be a possibility for the international promotion. We need to be willing to take a leap. It might be an interim option?

Donald Smith: The outcome of that progress needs to demonstrate value to get more funding longer term.

Tom Pow: Who is the go-to person with expertise of coordination, for example Festivals Edinburgh?

Donald Smith: Festivals Edinburgh has staff of nine but it took time. Started with relevant people sinking collective funds to make collaborative impact. We need to create something for the medium to long term. We’re going through very long term adjustments. So now is the time to make a real shift, which comes back to the seriousness of the task.

Marion Sinclair: We’ve agreed that we want to have a service with a working group coming up with the nuts and bolts and the priorities of the service – writers, publishers, literary organisations, public sector, tourism and industry.

Jenny Niven: Also exchange and festivals, programming.

Fiona Hutchison: There are parallels with the Scottish food and drink sector. Find out how they do it and see if that model would work for us. Scottish Enterprise and HIE works slightly differently so have them involved only once we know what we’re doing.

Donald Smith: Scottish Enterprise’s structure is undergoing change.

Gill Swales: Wanted to highlight all the promotional work from libraries & live literature sessions. There is lots of work going on through the Literature strategy in the Borders.

Donald Smith: Libraries are really important.

Setting up a Working group

Donald Smith suggested the essential sectors to be represented on the group are

  • Writers
  • Publishing / industry
  • Festivals & programming
  • Higher education
  • Cultural tourism
  • Public sector – Creative Scotland, SDI, VisitScotland, British Council, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Government on policy

Funding is available – check with Creative Scotland and strategic partners.

Donald Smith: Literature is not successful getting maximum benefit from support of enterprise network. Literature is being under exploited.

Judy Moir: BOSLIT is a useful online resource from National Library to check who is published in which languages, but it’s hard to get access – be good to look at doing it again.

Mario Relich: Tom Hubbard was the main instigator of BOSLIT – worth getting in touch with him about it.

Asif Khan: Jackie Kay recently commissioned by VisitScotland. We need to focus on metrics – how to measure success of the work?

Jenni Steele: Look at how different organisations can promote literature and give other organisations content e.g. Outlander

Donald Smith: The level of cooperation between Government agencies is definitely increasing.

Jenny Niven: It’s important to find the right channel, language, metric and value (intrinsic cultural value). If we don’t have the expertise already, let’s find it.

Donald Smith: Higher education research is dependent on demonstrating an impact – to quantify how wonderful the literature sector is!

Marion Sinclair: It’s great that we have a huge amount of consensus. We need to keep that level of ambition, not just literature talking to ourselves, start leveraging intelligence from the industry etc.

Next steps

  • A five person group should draw up strategy, information, promotion and intervention key actions
  • It is the remit of LAS’ international working group to invite the right five people in key organisations to sit on the group
  • LAS will parent the group, which can invite others to offer their expertise
  • The group needs to advance quickly and should be established by February 2017.
January 31, 2017

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