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Welsh books need Michael Sheen-style champion

Rebecca F John's novel

Rebecca F John thinks that stories from Wales are universal, and have the potential to have a great impact internationally

A prize-winning author believes Welsh literature could do with a “champion” like Hollywood actor Michael Sheen.

“In Wales we do really well with our publishing,” said Rebecca F John. “It is world quality, so there is no reason why it can’t reach a wider audience.”

Publish Wales is a new trade organisation representing publishing houses to grow literature’s profile.

Its acting chair Ashley Drake said: “It is important for publishers from Wales to have a presence across the world”.

Sheen is known for enthusiastically promoting Wales, and the author, who lives on the outskirts of Swansea, believes someone like him could give literature a lift.

“I think the main problem is probably exposure and very often exposure comes with money and we don’t have a lot of that in Wales,” she said.

“We need to be a lot more confident in what we do,” said the writer.

Her book The Haunting of Henry Twist, published in 2017, was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, and her short stories regularly feature on BBC Radio 4.

“We need to look at other models such as Irish publishing and see what they are doing really well.”

Book fairs and literature festivals like Hay are essential for reaching a wider audience, but she believes a big name pushing the cause would help.

Rebecca F JOHN

Rebecca F John’s The Haunting of Henry Twist was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award

“Perhaps we need a Michael Sheen of literature who has got a bigger platform and can put the word out there a bit more perhaps,” Ms John said.

She believes that getting on the “world stage” is hugely important to most writers.

“We are telling stories that are universal, and there is no reason why they shouldn’t appeal to a wider audience. They are about love, friendship, history – all of those things that people read about from authors from all over the world.”

Ashley Drake

“We need to attend international book fairs such as London and Bologna, to meet the companies to help us sell our books around the world,” says Ashley Drake

Mr Drake, said: “It is important for publishers from Wales to have a presence across the world.”

But he admits that breaking through on the international stage is difficult.

“To do that we need to attend international book fairs such as London and Bologna, to meet the companies to help us sell our books around the world”.

There are already a host of Welsh authors whose books are selling to international readers, but Mr Drake said that could be increased.

“We need to build on that and sell more of our titles through those channels right around the world.”

Elin Haf Gruffudd Jones

Elin Haf Gruffudd Jones says getting books accepted for translation is important

There is a network of people and organisations helping in the effort to promote and sell books abroad.

Elin Haf Gruffudd Jones, director of the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, said: “Our key role is to put people in contact with each other and to make those connections.

“We select a bookshelf every year of around 20 titles that we think might work in other countries. So we connect with publishers from different parts of the world usually in book fairs.”

Getting a book accepted for translation immediately opens doors for Welsh writers and publishers, she said.

“It means that your stories and work as a writer can be read by a wider audience. It means your work can travel to other cultures.”

Publishing Wales member Penny Thomas, from children’s publisher Firefly Press, said: “There are so many outstanding authors from Wales, and books published by Welsh publishers that can and should reach an international audience.

“Since Firefly employed a rights agent a few years back our international rights sales have grown hugely and we’ve sold rights everywhere from the US to Europe and China.

“But there is still so much work to do to present books from Wales on an international stage, at fairs such as Bologna and Frankfurt.

“And given the small size of individual companies, working together is the obvious way to do this.”

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