Wales’ erstwhile National Poet, Gwyneth Lewis and the Guardian…….

The venerable and learned M/s Lewis decided to state her case as it were, or perhaps more accurately, her defence of state funding for Welsh poetry, Welsh literary tomes of excruciating genius and of course the effortless scribblings of Welsh celebrity and sports star ego-trip, in the Guardian last Friday (see below).

M/s Lewis, also felt compelled to imply that my statements in respect of the above, verged on the mendacious – don’t these academics get their knickers in a twist, when they feel their ivory towers are under siege?!

Well M/s Lewis, infantile mud-slinging and getting all personal, isn’t really my style; unlike your good self, I have been living in the real world  too long for that, so I will confine my reply to fact only, and verifiable fact at that.

My reply then, is as follows:-

1 The very title of M/s Lewis’s ‘defence’ is misleading and inaccurate. Nowhere, have I attacked tax-payer funding for Welsh language writing, indeed I have advocated the opposite ie if less money were wasted on questionable English language titles, there would be more money in the pot for the promotion and preservation of Welsh language writing, and I defy anyone to prove that I have ever said or written otherwise. Read the posts on this blog (including transcripts of public talks etc); my position is clear and unequivocal.

My writings and talks have concerned English language books only.

2 M/s Lewis rather insultingly asserts, that I have ‘duped’ the press and that I also have ‘a strong imagination’, particularly in respect of Treasury money to the Welsh Books Council and Literature Wales. Had she taken the time to properly research her facts, she would have quickly discovered that the figures she quotes in her ‘defence’, are exactly the same as those stated in the transcript of my public talk.

What the Daily Mail and Telegraph choose to publish is their own affair. The figures didn’t come from me.

3 M/s Lewis implies that I am lying, in respect of Geraint Talfan Davies’s autobiography ‘At Arms Length’ ie that since its publication in 2008 it has sold 176 copies. This figure was obtained from Nielsen Book Data, the most reliable and respected data base in the world for both UK and international retail book sales. Indeed, if it is good enough for the Times, it is good enough for me.

M/s Lewis claims four and a half times this figure. Well, let’s see her evidence for such a fanciful pronouncement. Verifiable evidence, M/s Lewis. Verifiable evidence.

4 M/s Lewis rather quaintly, or perhaps she is just a trifle on the modest side, omits to mention that she was a Special Assistant to Talfan Davies when he was Controller of BBC Wales.

5 I apparently, ‘completely misunderstand the complex relationship between the subsidised and commercial markets’. So, M/s Lewis is an expert on the commercial publishing industry, albeit that all her work has been tax-payer funded, her Welsh publisher Seren tax-payer funded, she has never had a literary agent, she has never had to live on an income from book sales (‘literary’ writing and poetry earn nothing) and has minus zero experience of the hard-core commercial world of London publishing.

She is a tax-payer funded poet, for heaven’s sake!

6 Indeed, she fails to mention one NESTA hand-out of £75,000 she received to swan around the world in a yacht,  looking for exotic ports with ‘a Cardiff connection’, her home town no less – yes I know, it would be laughable if it wasn’t true. £11,000 from Literature Wales (who probably put her up to the Guardian article in the first place!).£20,000 plus from Creative Wales Awards………good money if you can get it, you have to agree.


I must mention here, that I have never received one penny from the tax-payer for my own work, neither indeed have I ever even applied for it. Let M/s Lewis dare to call me a liar on this point, or any of the other points raised above.

7 M/s Lewis refers to her publisher receiving only ‘seed money’. What arrant nonsense. Welsh publishers are paid by the tax-payer for the whole lot, from commissioning through to production, printing, marketing and distribution. Y Lolfa even demands a contribution from the author, if they think the grant won’t cover all the costs.

8 M/s Lewis asserts that because funding is devolved, it is of no concern to readers outside Wales. Really? And who is giving Welsh publishers the money to publish their books and poetry? As far as I know 80% of Welsh GDP comes from the rest of the UK. I imagine English, Scottish and Northern Itreland tax-payers would have something to say about that! ‘Devolved’? Ha! Ha! I’d stick to the Mabinogion if I were you Gwyneth.

9 I am apparently a ‘self-described’ author. What does that mean? Is it not simply a rather unimaginative put-down?

10 She maintains that public subsidy supports books of value. Oh, does it indeed? What value and to whom exactly?

11 She argues that the Welsh Books Council and Literature Wales are investing in a cultural sector which cannot operate under usual market norms – why not?

12 She again asserts that public funding supplies important gaps in the market – erm, what gaps exactly? Books that don’t sell are hardly filling any gap, apart from those gaps which exist in the coffers of Welsh publishers!

Our Gwyneth, lionises a number of Welsh writers, Rachel Trezise, Flur Dafydd, Deborah Davies…….well, put simply, if they are so good, what the hell do they need to nobble the tax-payer for?

She mentions Patrick MacGuiness, published by tax-payer funded Seren (£600,000 over the past couple of years) and winner of the Wales Book of The Year. What she doesn’t mention is that the said Mr MacGuiness, is also a  director of Seren. Conflict of interest? Don’t be silly, this is the Welsh ‘Literati’??

M/s Lewis alludes to the ‘commercial success’ of Welsh publishers, enabling them to subsidise works of ‘literary’ merit but commercial duffers. Madam, what planet are you on? Welsh publishers wouldn’t know commercial success if it beat them over the head and why? They don’t get any grant, unless ‘the title is expected to run at a deficit’! Mad, I know but fully verifiable.

Without the tax-payer, there isn’t ONE Welsh publisher that would last five seconds in the real ‘commercial’ world  M/s Lewis, and you know it. Or at least you should.

Welsh publishers never, ever lose, their risk is non-existent. And why? They don’t have to sell books, because the tax-payer pays them anyway! I have the FOI data to prove it, what do you have M/s Lewis??

To conclude, I challenge you Gwyneth Lewis to prove me wrong on all the above facts, in a public arena, with plenty of press and media around – English press and media!

BBC WALES etc cannot be trusted to be impartial, as the blog post above makes patently clear.

Meet me in a debating chamber and state your case, but please make sure you have irrefutable evidence and data to back it up.

The squeaky leather armchairs of an academic staff room are all very well, for the lyrical protestations of artistic outrage, but they don’t really cut any ice in the real world, do they? – if you want to write poetry and books that no-one reads, apart from the smug so-called Welsh intelligentsia, who sit all day in pretty Cardiff coffee shops sipping Cappuccinos, self-publish, blog the material or whack the stuff up on Amazon. It won’t cost the tax-payer a penny.

I know exactly what your answer will be. The same as the Welsh Books Council’s, Literature Wales and every single Welsh publisher.

No evidence to back up your claims. No Nielsen Book Data. No sales figures and no response to my challenge.

Now, why would that be?

Put your tax-payers’ money where your mouth is M/s Lewis, and if you can’t (or more likely won’t, because you have none of the evidence I speak of or if you do, it would be far too embarrassing to place in the public domain), then may I respectfully suggest, that you remain caressed by the more comfortable, rarefied and less worldly arms of academia.

Believe me, you are not cut out for the ruffian tactics of commercial fiction thugs like me.

If we ever meet up, I’ll buy you a large whisky and we can kiss poetically and make up. I might even share a roll-up with you!

No hard feelings.


PS Forgive me, but I’m still trying to work out these ‘Buy Time Bursaries’ ie Welsh writers can sting the tax-payer for thousands of pounds (gold-plated dole if you like), courtesy of quango Literature Wales, to stay at home and write, regardless of whether the work is published or not (M/s Lewis has received two, as already stated, amounting to £11,000). I mean, call me a Philistine and all that, but how long does it take to stay at home to write a stanza or two?


8 thoughts on “Wales’ erstwhile National Poet, Gwyneth Lewis and the Guardian…….

  1. What ‘moral high ground’ can these Guardian reading ,middle – class ‘poets’ have ,funded up to the eye-balls by the ordinary man and woman in the street ?
    Not quite like the bard said , ” Oh for a muse of fire that would ascend /The brightest heaven of invention.” [ Henry 5] are they now ?

  2. Julian,

    This a brilliant counter argument to Gwyneth Lewis’s pretty poor excuse of an article in the Guardian, but do you really have to deal with that disgusting excuse of a paper, the Daily Mail?


    • Andrew, I assure you, the Daily Mail article had nothing to do with me.

      This is what happens with the press, one newspaper runs with the story and the rest pick it up. I assume the Mail took a quick glance at my blog, transcript whatever, and drew their own conclusions.

      All the best,
      PS The Telegraph interviewed me, the Mail did not.

  3. Can’t believe that bloke I’ve never heard of managed to sell 167 books – bet that’s a record for the LW Taffia! Surprised they haven’t been shouting that from the Millennium Centre rooftops and giving him a Wales Book of the Year award for that one!

    I have a friend who self published a poetry book (always crap sellers btw) a few years back and that sold over 200 in the first year! Another friend of mine self published a short story book and she sold nearly 500. What a shame these Welsh writers couldn’t get some arts council cash for their efforts!!

    Keep up the good work JR. Strange how BBC Wales aren’t running these stories though??? 😉

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