Wales - land of the level playing field. That’s what people want. But in a country that consists mainly of hills, crags and mountains these things seem so hard to provide. What I’m actually talking about is publishing. It amazes me but there are still plenty out there who imagine the whole thing to be an enormous fix.
The great Welsh conspiracy theory, which has been around for longer than I have, still has a long way to run. This theory says, depending on where you stand, that Dafydd Elis Thomas is a CIA plant, that Cardiff is run by Roman Abramovich and that the Masons are in charge of Snowdonia National Park. Why else such beautiful curtains in the new café? It also says that publishing in Wales is in the hands of a self-perpetuating cabal of men who only ever let their friends into the inner circle. This explains, apparently, why Robert Minhinnick and Gillian Clarke always seem to get their work into the spotlight while Wyn Islwyn Davies and Laurence Eau de Cologne Jones never get past the editor’s doormat. The fact that Minhinnick and Clarke are actually good writers is ignored.
Conspiracy theories run deep. The most civilised and considerate of our authors can be seen as part of some pre-ordained plan to keep the wannabes out. Dannie Abse wins Book of the Year because he’s a mate of Nigel Jenkins. Tony Curtis gets a special issue devoted to his work because he secretly owns the publisher. Gwyneth Lewis headlines the festival on the grounds that as well as the organiser she too is a member of the order of the water buffalo. I’ve made those things up but that doesn’t stop some out there believing.
For the talentedly challenged (as well as, come to think of it, the actually talented) competitions provide a way out. Once your entry is in there no one knows who you are. You and Roger McGough and Stephen King all have your work in the same bag. Being judged on its quality alone. Your name has no bearing. It’s a beguiling thought.
Loads of organisations have now latched onto this desire on the part of the unpublished to get on board as soon as possible. There are competitions for novels, pamphlets, essays, single poems and fifty-word short stories. Dark Tales Monthly offers £100 for the best piece of goth short fiction. The Harry Bowling Prize offers £1000 for the best new adult novel (send chapter one and a synopsis). The Troubadour Poetry Competition has Maura Dooley awarding £1000 to the best poem entered. No length restriction. Brevity offers £50 for the best flash fiction submission. What’s flash fiction? Short. Fuller details of these and other competitions can be found at http://www.academi.org/opportunities/
An earlier version of this posting appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of September 5th, 2009