Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘J K Rowling’

Literature in Britain Today

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th March, 2017

j-k-rowlingrsl-logoLiterature does not enjoy the same status in Britain as it does just over the Channel in France, for example. Maybe that partly explains why politicians are far more eager to talk about football in public than about books. Yet a new survey published by the Royal Society for Literature (RSL) this week suggests that three quarters of the British public does read literature (they were allowed to define for themselves what is meant by “literature”) and a significant proportion would like to be able to read more. More women than men consume literature, as apparently do white British rather than ethnic minorities; the fact that more highly educated Brits read more than those with minimal qualifications is hardly surprising. The most common reason given for not reading more is lack of time, though some people said they wished books were cheaper — a problematic response for the RSL as writers need to be able to make a decent living if literature is going to continue to be produced. In reality, according to an earlier survey carried out for the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) writers’ annual incomes have fallen in recent years, to an average of just £11,000. The general public is more aware that a few authors such as J.K.Rowling earn millions, which is the exception rather than the rule. Interestingly, Harry Potter’s creator figured third behind Shakespeare and Dickens in the list of authors cited by respondents to the RSL survey as being “literature”. Otherwise that list of writers was encouraging eclectic, including a sizable proportion of foreign writers. But for me the single most encouraging thing about the RSL survey’s findings was that far from reducing people’s interest in reading literature, using the Internet seems to stimulate it.



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Writers in Parliament

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th December, 2016

simon-rendell-and-valerie-amosYesterday the House of Commons terrace hosted the Winter Reception of the All Party Writers Group, sponsored by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), on whose Board I sit. These events seem to grow each year, which is a good reflection of a growing awareness in both the Commons and the Lords about the challenges facing writers today. The creative industries contribute at least £70 billion a year to the UK economy and writers are a vital part of that production, yet writers’ incomes have in general fallen drastically in recent years. The J. K. Rowlings of this world are the exception, as the average professional writer these days earns only about £12,000 a year, which is barely enough to subsist on. Moreover, tough challenges are coming down the line, not least Brexit and the advance of the digital age. This means a lot of uncertainty lies ahead, which is why it is so important that writers have allies in Parliament to intervene as appropriate when relevant legislation is being discussed, from the digital economy bill to EU copyright directives. In recent months a new body, UKWriters, on whose steering group I sit, has been coordinating some of the lobbying work and priority-setting by writers’ organisations, including ALCS and the Society of Authors.

andy-mcnabSeveral of the MPs and peers present at yesterday’s receptions are authors themselves (and therefore beneficiaries of secondary royalties from ALCS, as well as Public Lending Right (PLR). It was good to see, among others, Tim Clement-Jones, Valerie Amos and Richard Balfe. However, the peer most in people’s minds was the late Ruth Rendell, in whose name an award was created, to recognise the work of someone who has promoted literacy brilliantly. I was honoured to be the ALCS representative on the judging panel and delighted that the first winner was Andy McNab whose back-story as a writer and brave exploits in “unsafe spaces” for literature (such as factories and prisons) richly merited the accolade. He was alas unable to be present to accept the award from Ruth Rendell’s son, the psychiatric social worker, Simon, as he was yomping somewhere far-flung. But Simon had come over from Colorado, where he lives, and Andy McNab was represented by a witty and impressive recorded message redolent of the sort of originality and quirkiness that makes him so special.

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Writers Hot under the Collar

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th September, 2012

The AGM of my trade union, the Society of Authors, held at Conway Hall in Central London this evening, was unusually contentious, as various members objected to the way things have been handled recently. But those concerns were postponed to another day, when an extraordinary general meeting can be summoned. In the meantime, we got the panel (minus one person who had already left) most of us had come to hear, on The Best of Times, The Worst of Times, moderated by my fellow biographer Anne Sebba. The publisher Larry Finlay (Transworld) and literary agent Anthony Goff (David Higham Associates) shared their impressions of the literary scene today. Anna started the discussion gloomily by pointing out that one new book is published in the United States every 10 seconds every day. Small wonder that many authors struggle to get noticed, even if they are published. At the same time, megastars such as J K Rowling (though one could argue she is one of a kind) can command front page coverage in every UK newspaper just for bringing out a book that isn’t about Harry Potter, as she did today. Nonetheless, Larry Finlay argued that we writers owe a debt of gratitude to J K Rowling, for making reading hip among young people. He was also quite upbeat about the rise of Kindle and other electronic reading devices, pointing out that most people who use Kindle also read physical books. Anthony Goff, in contrast, declared that the degree of author-care on the part of publishers is the lowest he ever remembers. He also bemoaned the fact that many publishers now oblige their authors to do most of the publicity for their works themselves, on blogs and social media such as twitter. There was general agreement that the upsurge in free content is undermining authors’ rights. However, Larry Finlay stressed that in Transworld’s case, at least, they employ piracy monitors who issue take-down notices when they locate pirated material.

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