Authors being told to ‘be less Welsh’ to appeal to readers, publisher says
Writers and publishers are being told to “be less Welsh” to appeal to readers across the border, a publisher has said.
Penny Thomas of Firefly Press said that she had come across instances of publishers and authors being told to move Wales-set stories to other countries and not include images that seemed “too Welsh”.
She said that “uncomfortably there appears to be an undercurrent in the book trade that actively looks to move books out of Welsh settings”.
“An aspiring YA writer with significant potential was told by an agent to try shifting her contemporary ghost story, rooted in Welsh history, to Ireland, to make it more appealing,” she said.
“Romance writers have been advised to transfer the scene of their protagonists’ passion to balmy West country pastures, and a novelist writing about a Welsh mining tragedy was advised it might work better set in Yorkshire.”
Penny Thomas, who was born and brought up in Hertfordshire and moved to Wales in 1988, said the trend could be depriving Welsh children of books about the culture, people and history of Wales.
Writing for the Bookseller she recounted one meeting with a London-based head-office buyer for England and Wales at the London Book Fair.
“He liked our books apparently, but commented that the one with the dragon on was ‘too Welsh’ for his shops,” she said.
“The dragon wasn’t a Welsh green but yes, it was red. For the record, the author was English with an established reputation, and as for the story, we weren’t asked about it.
“Apparently the younger generation of UK readers, so happily training their own fire-breathing dragons, competing for goblets of fire or perhaps tiptoeing into Smaug’s mountain stronghold just wouldn’t be interested in this particular baby dragon from Wales.
“It wasn’t the only time we were to meet this reaction. But a good story will bring pleasure to any reader regardless of location, and that location can be enticing whether familiar or new.
“More uncomfortably there appears to be an undercurrent in the book trade that actively looks to move books out of Welsh settings to appeal across the borders.”
She added: “Be less Welsh’ is a message some young Welsh writers seem to have been given.
“Does any of this matter? Of course it does. What price identity, empathy and regional diversity for starters? Might it not be an idea in this disunited age for children to read stories set in other parts of the UK from their own now and again?
“Just as it might well encourage children in Wales to read for pleasure if they sometimes met children recognisably like themselves having amazing adventures in their stories.”
Penny Thomas is a co-founder and publisher at children’s and YA publisher Firefly Press, which was the winner of the British Book Awards’ Wales Small Press of the Year Award in 2020 and 2021.
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Incredible that such an attitude is still evident when sensitivity to identity issues is so prevalent. What is their justification for this advice? One wonders why the UK still wants to hang on to its constituent parts.
I highly doubt this to be the feeling of actual UK readers, certainly not this Englishmans, just the stupid opinion of some editor that only certain stories sell. There’s a reason indie markets are starting to thrive. Publishers stick with only what they know will sell, so they’re falling behind as other markets grow.
This report is very revealing of the attitude towards Wales on the part of certain people from over the Clawdd. Try as I might, I can’t figure out what their problem with Wales is, or why a novel set in Ireland would sell better than one set in Wales. It seems to be a historically conditioned mindset based on inherited prejudices.
This American reader/reviewer wants books set in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England to be distinct one from the other.
What an insult to Wales and it’s great history of literature , would they have said that to Dylan Thomas ? Shows small mindedness and quite frankly gross prejudice.
I experienced this myself from publishers and an agent. One advised I reset a novel in Cornwall. I stuck to my guns with my Welsh setting and found a publisher who wasn’t bigoted. If this attitude was applied to most other cultures, they’d be accused of discrimination.
Good for sticking to your vision! There’s always other publishers and even other markets.
Unfortunately this attitude is applied to other cultures all the time. Meanwhile Black and Asian writers are being told to write in a way that conforms to a stereotypical view of their communities.
Why should the Welsh be denied any more than other cultures?
I must admit, though, a glossary would be helpful sometimes.
However, I guess that could be true for all of the countries in the UK.
Oh my goodness! THIS! I have just published a book set in Laugharne (a romantic comedy). My next book is set in Llanelli. I was very determined. However, I was told by an agent that ‘I might get away with Cardiff!’ I was so shocked. As ever though, my determination kept me going and I’m hoping to break boundaries with books set in west Wales and older protagonists! It’s time to change from the more usual 20-30 year olds in London. Let’s have characters from all walks of life.