Wales Book of the Year 2011

Is it really that time again? How the last 12 months have flown by!  I’d better get cracking on my annual denunciation of the Wales Book of the Year awards!  It was all change this year: supervising quango Academi has been rebranded as Literature Wales and the ceremony moved from the “5 Star” St David’s Hotel down the Bay to the popcorn’n’pee-encrusted Cineworld on Mary Ann Street in town – as sure a sign as any that funding cuts are beginning to bite.  Hang on a minute, I feel a sudden urge to launch a gratuitous attack on Peter Finch…

“…and the Arts Council purse was this big…”

For those of you who don’t know, Peter Finch is the head honcho at Literature Wales. The  card-carrying Cardiffian, decent poet, and writer of the interminable Real Cardiff  books (there are four so far; I gave up half way through the second) was once an avant-garde enfant terrible who wanted to change the world; nowadays he’s a terrible old showoff who ‘aven’t-garda clue. His career trajectory has taken him from the radical counterculture to a column in the Western Mail in 40 years. I wouldn’t mind so much, but his Mail pieces, supposedly an insider’s insight into the literary scene, were so fatally compromised by his scrubbed-up, establishment repositioning that they always ended up saying little more than 2+2=4. Nor did they ever explain why, despite Finch’s long stints at the controls of every literature gravy train going, Wales hasn’t been so illiterate for 200 years. However, if soothing bromides were your thing, then his column was unmissable. He’s now taking a break from trousering the Media Wales silver to concentrate on churning out TWO more of his rueful-but-reconciled, status-quo rubber-stamping “psychogeographies”.  Mercy, Pete, mercy! The very concept of a ‘writing community’ upon which Literature Wales depends is, of course, an oxymoron. Since writing is as solitary a human pastime as there is, the notion is even sillier than a ‘wanking community’ – and yet, on such tenuous quicksands the entire edifice of Arts Council-approved Welsh literature wobbles. Strip away all the waffle and weasle words and what you are left with is just one more middle class fortress for a mutual congratulation society of elitists, deluding themselves that “writing” makes them special. Let me tell you Fincho, there’s nothing special about writing; why, any dysfunctional sociopath with a keyboard and an axe to grind can do it……

Ahh…that’s better…pulse rate slowing…fever ebbing…deep breaths…deep, deep breaths…ommmmmmmmmmm…

“And the winner is,” intoned the managing director of Cardiff’s John Lewis branch, into whose sponsorship web Literature Wales has crawled, “…Cloud Road by John Harrison!”  My first thought was: “Fuckin’ hell, he doesn’t need the money, he’s got a mews house overlooking Hyde Park as well as that large second home in Pontcanna…”  But that was ungracious and cynical, I can’t think what came over me; I should concentrate on the work.  And Harrison’s account of his wanderings in Ecuador and Peru is…er…um…er…listen, to be honest, like everyone else bar the judging panel, I haven’t actually read it yet – but I’m sure it’s a brilliant, uh, well “psychogeography” is a word that springs to mind.  I’ll wait 6 months then get it out of the library for nothing.

So, another year, another £10,000 not transferred into my bank account, another middle class Englishman heading home with the lolly and another book about faraway places and exotic peoples to add to the roll-call of winners of this ‘Welsh’ prize.  Wales is that bit richer culturally for John Harrison’s labours, and a deeper knowledge of the plight of the Incas can only help us put things in perspective when the red bills land on the doormat.  I anticipate reciprocal interest from writers in Quito and Lima, resulting in lyrical Spanish-language laments for the faded glory that is Wales.  Nurse!…Nurse!…Where is that blasted nurse?…Nurse!…