Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Diane Williams and the Conservative Party conference

Diane Williams will celebrate the publication of the UK edition of Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine at the London Review Bookshop next Monday, 10 October (more details here) and at the English Faculty in Cambridge on Thursday, 13 October.

Just in time. Following the logic of this week’s Tory Party conference, official government Dept of Culture, Media & Sport policy will soon be: British publishers will have to explain/justify the presence of all non-British writers on their lists. And similar for British theatre companies, orchestras, art galleries, football clubs … (And Oxford Dictionaries will have to revise their definition of ‘economic migrant’ – ‘A person who travels from one country or area to another in order to improve their standard of living’, an entirely non-judgemental definition – to fit the Tory agenda.)

Here’s a link to two stories (one of them in Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine) and an interview with DW at The White Review.

Here’s a link to the page at McSweeney’s where some of the reviews of the US edition are excerpted.

Diane Williams is doing things with prose, with sentences, that sometimes make my heart burn and laugh, often at the same time, things that no current British writer is doing. I exaggerate: there are some, if you go looking, hard, very hard indeed. But DW, who has been publishing for more than a quarter of a century, is herself a chief reason why there are such. She liberates others. This is what writers worth their salt do, whether they want to or not. It’s about time we welcomed her.

I doubt, at the LR shop event or the Cambridge event, the whole issue of British/non-British will crop up. Diane Williams is white, and writes in English. She doesn’t fit what the Tories generally mean by non-British – other-language-speaking, other-skin-coloured. But Diane Williams is, I think – I haven’t met her yet – as non-British as they come. As non-British as the Canadian governor of the Bank of England. As non-British as most of the managers and many (most?) of the players in what is claimed as the ‘national game’. As non-British as many of the doctors and nurses who have kept my children, in countless emergencies, alive. As non-British as the Chinese investors they court to keep this ‘tight little island’ (Byron) well-lit and afloat.

I’m conflating things: enthusiasm, anger. Laughter, despair: the usual.

The Arts Council, ACE, meanwhile, committed in its funding decisions to diversity and access, the standard mantra but rightly so, is surely now in even more of a mess, depending on a government that is clamping down, closing off, and the minister - can anyone reading this even name her? Culture in the UK could hardly be taken less seriously - having to toe the line.

A quite large proportion of the CBe books are in translation. This isn’t a deliberate policy, it’s just how I read, and walk about the streets. Last Saturday’s Guardian review of Ananda Devi’s Eve out of Her Ruins, a novel about young people on the backstreets in Mauritius – try asking any minister in our government where that is; no, don't bother – quotes one of the characters: ‘I read as if books could loosen the noose tightening around my throat. I read to understand that there is somewhere else. A dimension where the possibilities shimmer.’ In isolation, that sounds pat, literary. In context - the character's, mine, yours - it’s not.

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