Admin is the bane of our lives, whether we are teachers, nurses or literary magazine editors. At New Welsh Review our bid to the Welsh Books Council’s just gone in: our plan for a further three years’ funding. Not fun but instructive, since it pins down ideas, contributors, directions for digital development and how to face standstill budgets. Since our funding category is the ‘literary quarterly’, we’ve committed to our remit rather than straying into the general arts. Nevertheless, literature is rightly part and parcel of arts and culture. Recognising this, as well as bringing in new readers interested in general culture, is what my revamped magazine is about. We have new contemporary culture and publishing columns, for example, and match up authors with topics from philosophy to cooking traditions and psychology. We also invite theatre practioners, visual artists and radio producers to spill secrets on the way they work.
Writers are enrichened by exposure to hip-hop opera or photos of our ‘manufactured coast-scape’. Likewise, artists, venues and fans need elegant, enlightening commentary on whatever they produce, promote or experience. These beliefs, and a commitment to raising the level of arts criticism in Wales, are at the heart of a joint venture by National Theatre Wales and Literature Wales showcased on Saturday afternoon at New Critics Day, a free debate at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.
This event marks the end of a pioneering scheme which matched four emerging arts critics –– Ben Bryant, Megan Jones, Dylan Moore and Adam Somerset –– to top mentors, Guardian critics Lyn Gardner and Elisabeth Mahoney, and offered them reviewing opportunities based around NTW’s first year of work. The fledglings shared their experiences alongside their mentors in a line-up including Matt Wolf of the New York Times; Arts Desk founder Jasper Rees; journalist and broadcaster Aleks Sierz; Arwel Gruffydd from Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, and academic Hazel Walford Davies. NTW Artistic Director John E McGrath will chair panel discussions on ‘the Welsh context’ (including the potential of our media outlets), how to write a good review, and the future of arts criticism in Wales.
So that was the cerebellum and Sat pm sorted. In the morning literary types loved their bellies at Seren’s all-day street party celebrating their thirtieth birthday at 57 Nolton Street as part of Bridgend’s Food Feastival [sic]. Cake; meet the editor surgeries; book trail with Robert Minhinnick and Mike Jenkins; raffle with signed new book prizes from the New Stories from the Mabinogion set to Patrick McGuinness’ Booker longlisted The Last Hundred Days; ‘open mic’ slots; Dannie Abse reading, and treats from Deli-licious! Happy birthday, Seren: hope you remembered to feed any passing critics: it pays to keep them sweet….
A version of this was first published in Gwen's Western Mail Insider books column on Saturday 1 October 2011.
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Next week's blog: Smithy, Super Thursday and the evergreen book as gift.