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.