Monday, 17 October 2011

Five Leaves and the Arts Council

In a one-star-out-of-five review of one of our books, The Battle for the East End, on Amazon, the reviewer remarks that the book looks "at the events of the 1930s from a pro-Communist viewpoint" rather than being "objective", noting that the book is supported by the Arts Council. The reviewer asks whether the Arts Council would "stump up cash to fund a pro-fascist book". I think the latter unlikely, as the Arts Council has an equal opportunities policy, but it does, for example, support Faber which publishes Ezra Pound, who was an active fascist, and TS Eliot, who wrote anti-Semitic verse. ACE also supports Carcanet which publishes Wyndham Lewis, who was, for a long time, a supporter of Hitler. So the situation is not so clear cut. I'd also argue that the author, David Rosenberg, who is not a Communist, reports favourably on Communist Party actions against the British Union of Fascists because they were the right actions, against the quietude of the Labour establishment and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
But that is to perhaps miss the point. Why should the Arts Council fund those of our books that are not what you might call creative non-fiction or fiction, and have a left-wing stance? Any reader of this blog will have realised that Five Leaves is hardly a contributor to the Adam Werrity Travel Fund.
The Arts Council currently funds Five Leaves through its Grants for the Arts scheme, a competitive scheme, where we submit a programme of activity for, in our case, three years. We receive a modest annual grant towards that modest programme ("Year One - bring down the Tory Government; Year Two - elect a Labour Government; Year Three - oversee the withering away of the state"??) but it can be rather difficult to ascertain how many square feet of our office are devoted to, say, social history, and how many to introducing new young adult fiction writers, or organising States of Independence, so rather than applying title by title, event by event, we apply for the press as a whole. The irony is of course that our social history titles in general do better than the "creative" stuff, so rather than the Arts Council subsidising social history, it is the other way round as our successful social history books enable us to put in smaller bids than would otherwise be the case. This is also a hedge against the day the Arts Council can no longer fund us, or does not wish to fund us. We intend to survive, which would be less possible if our backlist comprised poetry, young adult fiction and other slower selling items. We can see how an Arts Council logo on a book of clearly left-wing provenance might be a red rag to a right wing bull. But wouldn't taking the logo off such books indicate subterfuge on our part?
Finally - a reasonable test of our "objectivity" - would Five Leaves publish writers from the right? Yes, I am sure we do already. In general I would not ask someone's politics before publishing them, but I know that, for example, Colin Wilson, whose second novel we republish next month is hardly a foaming lefty. Would we publish, say, some pastoral poems about the deserts of Dubai by Liam Fox (who will now have some time on his hands to write a sonnet or two). Probably not, but if Ken Clarke ever offers us a book of his writing about jazz (an area we are moving further into next year)? Now you're talking.

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