Anakana Schofield – Author of Martin John and Malarky

Band of rain

Last Monday pour la soiree we were promised bands of rain and they arrived. It was a major weather event. I was delighted to have this confirmed by email from a friend out in it, with a headache. One would not want to be alone in the knowledge.

I noticed the arrival of one particular and specific band of rain. We were caught in its grime, more glue than fog and yet it had this slurry quality. I tweeted something to this tune and my favourite weather forecaster called it “rain poetry”. In any case it has strengthened my resolve to write a weather novel.

And beyond the same window right now, it’s lifted! A dazzle out there, blue and white and leaves between yellow and red with the sunlight zapping them. Violin solo on the e and a string happening out there. It would nearly send you outside with your spade to the garden. (or community garden in my case).

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I’ve been pondering more and more the shift from a critical or thinking culture to a prize culture or I might term it, the Pavlovian drift from a critical culture to a prize culture, specifically in the literary culture. Prizes were once a small sideshow now they appear to be the only means by which writers can sell books. It seems other art forms have held onto critical spaces or create them. Is this engineered from within disciplines, is it the artists/the practicioners who create and demand this? Are writers now merely sock puppets for the market is my next pondering? Was there ever a critical culture in literature in this country? What would you call the culture where a small press collection of short stories could travel around the country in and out of communities, to packed readings, to discussions — as one author described to me used to be the case. And how to look forwards rather than wistfully or otherwise backwards? There does seem to be a correlation in the diminishing opportunties for writers to be paid to write and think about literature (and related arts) and the massive upsweep in the emphasis on prize lists, prizes and this system of bingo by which it all operates. Also, an increasing emphasis on writers telling us (or we are chronically asking them) how they write and get published rather than inquiries about what they’ve written and how it might sit beside some of the many other works that have been written.

What prompted me to think on this was reading Woolf dissecting Joyce. Historically writers wrote a great deal more criticism or were at least able to secure critical writing as a source of income, which meant people were reading more criticism. Appetites were different or now differ which in itself isn’t surprising, however it pays to pause and contemplate what we are or have drifted to. It’s important to examine the implications and directions of market forces on shaping our reading and how and where those locus of power presently lie. I believe the effect of those forces to be a truncating one, which is actually anti literature, anti reading. But I’ve always thought that the organization or sorting of information will be the story of the next decade. How to find things amid the pile of (now) endless possibilities ? Perhaps this in turn will revitalize us in how we also seek out and uncover and desire to uncover literature. I certainly see subcultures already emerging and engaged with this, in response perhaps to the aforementioned truncating.

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