Monday, 5 October 2009


A friend rang me this morning to alert me to the fact that my name was mentioned in a Sunday Times article about Irish language publishing. The article by Eithne Shortall is typically negative and wrong-headed about books in Irish and the support for writers who write in Irish.

Firstly the shock headline, which is inaccurate and actually contradicts the content of the article:
'€74,000 grants for writers who sold 76 books'.

I could use bad language about that headline but I won't. Let me just say, as those interviewed for the piece said, sales of Irish language books rarely take place in book shops. They are more often sold at book launches, readings and literary festivals, or directly from the publisher. This reflects the realities that a) bookshops will not give shelf space to anything other than surefire sellers, and b) Irish language books have a smaller audience than English language books. These are facts, accepted by those who write and love Irish language books.

Also, why shouldn't Irish language writers receive grants? These grants are also received by writers in English (I received €5000 in a very welcome Arts Council Bursary recently) but there is no huge backlash against them.

To say, as this article does that 'Irish language books are not popular; writer Darach Ó Scolaí was awarded €30,000 in grants but clocked up 6 sales' is frankly, ridiculous. Even if each of Darach's siblings bought his book, he'd have more than 6 sales!! Darach ó Scolaí's books have sold in their thousands. FACT. Mostly his books have not been processed through Nielsen BookScan. FACT.

As for my name being mentioned as an Irish language writer, this is a partial inaccuracy. I am in fact a translator; I have an MA in translation. I write the very odd poem in Irish but mostly I translate, both my own work and that of other writers. It is accurate to say that I received a €900 travel award. I went to a Welsh university to deliver a lecture on translation to a creative writing MA; I also read to them and did a further bilingual reading in the Dylan Thomas Centre, with Welsh writer Menna Elfyn. Is the journalist objecting to me getting that money? If so, why?

What is this absolute negativity towards the funding of Irish langauge literature about? Why is there almost a hatred towards the writers who choose to write in Irish and who receive government support to do that? Eithne Short's reporting is as gleefully negative as it is inaccurate. I don't understand her motivation.


Anti-Laureate said...

I really think this article was motivated by that spiteful begrudgery whose aim is to attack the soft underbelly of the arts and culture sector. A personal column in the same paper a few pages on attacks the Artist's taxation exemption with equal ignorance. The philistinism of the hacks who work on the Irish edition of this paper contrasts sharply with the literature-loving policies of the London staff whom I'll be meeting soon and giving a piece of my mind.

Nessa said...

Hi Nuala

I empathise utterly with your annoyance. I think this type of journalism is very symptomatic of a current trend, however. Post FAS and Government Ministers' expense rows, there is a huge focus on state spending and every Lois Lane out there wants to uncover another 'scandal'. Unfortunaely most of the time they don't understand what they are writing about. I think the Sunday Times came across the Nielsen measure during an article they were writing about Cathal O Searcaigh and his new memoir a few weeks ago. I'd imagine some bright spark at an editorial meeting chimed in with: 'I know, let's see how many books are being sold by other Irish-language writers ... they all get grants, don't they? Tax-payers' money being wasted etc etc'. And of course, as you pointed out, they don't realise that for the vast majority of writers, we sell far less through book-shops than through readings and festivals etc ... in fact the launch is probably where most books are sold anyway. I'd be curious as to how many literary publishers are even measured by the Nielsen scan.

Don't let it annoy you too much. Journalists are very fickle ... there will be another target along any time now.

Kar said...

It’s a pity the journalist didn’t get her facts correct before publishing her article.

How dare she make presumptions about a writers sales! Where did she get her information? did she just make it up?

It is disgusting to see her remark on the €900 you received, a ‘travel award’! Your writing is your work, and as part of that work you were asked to lecture/read etc. Would this journalist suggest you pay for this yourself? I would like to ask her did she pay the Times to print her article or do they pay her??? As the saying goes work for nothing and you’ll never be idol..

It’s disgraceful that the editor of the Times let this go to print before checking the relevant backup.


v narky baby here at mo, will reply to y'all later...

Aidan said...

I am amazed that your name is mentioned in relation to such a small amount. That part of the article seemed to be a bit of a pointless add-on.
At the same time her article does touch a point that I have seen discussed a lot lately. There was a big debate on href="">iGaeilge recently about how few people read books in Irish.
I can see why the various bodies want to support Irish language writing but they don't seem to care too much about whether this work is actually being read.
I read a few books from Open Doors as Gaeilge last year and I enjoyed them a lot. One of my colleagues is reading the one by Roddy Doyle right now. Initiatives like that are important to get people to get over the barrier of reading in a what is a second language for most Irish people. For my own part I just took delivery of three books in Irish ordered on, I am sure that I cannot be the only one.
Unfortunately many Irish speakers don't seem to agree that well-known writers in English would sell well in Irish too. People tend to want to read writers they know even in English. The threshold of reading in another language is quite high so it needs to be made as easy as possible. I read countless blogs about learning foreign languages. The most common thing for people to read when learning another language is a Harry Potter translation, after that it seems to translations of Le Petit Prince.


OK, baby is calmer...

Anti-Laureate - yes, it's the ignorance with which these things are approached that is annoying. Sloppy journalism.

Nessa - yes, the same writer wrote the article about Cathal O S's memoir. She is obsessed with (or has just discovered) Nielsen BookScan!

Kar - Thanks for the outrage in support!! I always think discussions of writers' sales are a bit funny. People ask me OFTEN: is the book selling well? How the hell am I supposed to know??!!

Aidan - you've made lots of good points. People DO only seem to want to read books by people they 'know' - that's frustrating on so many levels.
I just hate all this begrudgery towards Irish language writers as if they have no right to exist or be supported.

BarbaraS said...

Not only do they not understand what they are writing about (Nessa), they don't bother to follow up the research properly - this is what gives journalists and journalism a bad name.

Niamh Griffin said...

how annoying!! Just read the article and there is a quote from the head of Publishing Ireland sandwiched inbetween all the figues making exactly your point about where Irish-language books are sold. Lost in the sensationalism.
And can I say I agree with Aidan - it's less daunting to read a novel in Irish when I've already read the English version - it's like a training ground for reading original fiction as Gaeilge. It can only help raise the profile of the language until people do write more often in Irish to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Ick. There's actually some interesting quotes and information in the article, but it's all skewed horribly by that headline (probably not written by the journo) and the first three pars (which, as journos know, is often all that anyone will read of a news story).


Eimear - the quotes from Alan Hayes, Sarah Bannan and Darach O Scolaí are perfectly sensible.
The 'statistics' from Nielsen are irrelevant and misleading but they are what they article is basically about.

Rachel Fenton said...

Do you not think that it is, for journalists floundering in an overpopulated pond of similarity, just a ruse to get noticed? Hey, I know, I'll piss off this bunch and lo and behold my name shall be known! You know, like, maybe she's taking the "all publicity's good publicity" too far?

It is a ridiculous way to go about getting herself famous if it is, granted, but heck, short of writing herself a novel like every other journalist seems to at some point, what's she supposed to do?

More likeliy the article originated from wanting kudos for investigating Irish arts because that's where the talent's at right now. Riding on your coat tails springs to mind. And "if you want to fight like a lion, you have to think like a wolf" ( I have read The Prince - it comes in useful) !

Do not let this "spiteful begrudger[or]" get to you!


Thanks Rach - it's really the others mentioned I'm outraged for, not myself. TO list writers and say none of their books have sold, just because they are not on Nielsen, is just ridiculous and contradicts her interviewes who actually know the biz of Irish lang books.