NWR Issue 92

Paper Clues v McKindless

'McKindless, three stories plus attic, deceased, valuation and clearance.' So Louise Welsh's literary crime thriller notes the scale of the job in The Cutting Room (2002). The attic hides secrets, sweating pages bound in leather: awkward to shunt down the roof-hatch and a devil to sell on. Welsh fetishises books, or rather indulges such tendencies in her readers, making it harder for us to condemn the grimmer penchants of McKindless. In contrast, last year's Naming the Bones gave protagonist Murray few paper clues to go on aside from one slim volume of verse accredited to the poet he quests, three tarot cards and a stick-woman sketch. But Welsh revels in the ritual of a writer's research in Scotland's National Library, handling 'valuable documents you had to sign for then glove up to protect'. Her latest novel, with its totemic image of peat-preserved baby curled around a manuscript, is clearly fixated to the same degree as is her debut, on books as artefacts.

Fflur Dafydd is just as proud of our own National Library in her satire Y Llyfrgell [The Library], even though she has a funny way of showing it. Dafydd's nation and Library are yet to come and never to happen: a near police state run by women, a literary culture funded to the hilt and digitised to the penultimate comma, where critics have the power to kill and armed librarians delete male authors off the learning platform. But the author reverses her satirical telescope to show a scene through pity's lens: neglected volumes mulching into a papier maché tomb for a half-forgotten culture. And we can see the author's true love: physical books.

So some authors are already in mourning. But with the first Kindle Christmas past, reviews routinely scanned online and book-bloggers pimping themselves out, what's a paper mag to do? There has been talk of Wales' 'benign' magazine culture, supportive of writers, happily rubbing shoulders with its stable-mates. Well, that may not last once the hay runs short. And as Jon Gower's reference in this issue to the fated Welsh-medium daily newspaper Y Byd reminds us, 'let them stick it online' is too easy a cry in a funding crisis. But with a few niche exceptions, including The Times' efforts to get paid for its digital content, the world's news industry has so far failed to create a palatable paywall formula. And until that happens, systematic public funding for extensive online magazine content will undermine the principle of treating arts bodies as sustainable businesses.

Welsh's soggy manuscript; Dafydd's bibliowalls: what are they except pulp? And why not embrace pulp, while we may? Literary crime author Gee Williams is this magazine's first superchef in a new regular, Pulp Kitchen, a chance to mull about things tangential to high art: Wallander and Scandilit this time, or in future Manga comics, True Blood and Twilight, the Juno soundtrack or trends in teen abduction novels. I hope our fine writers will sink to the occasion! And rise to another: writing commissioned stories or nonfiction pieces based on the classics of Welsh writing in English, pioneered here by Maria Donovan's 'Slaughterhouse Field'.

]World Book Night hinged on an important truth: we like book recommendations from people we trust. Literary taste, as numerous surprise Booker winners attest, is intensely personal. As editor, I claim to do no more than share my tastes with you. Whether you identify with my personal experiences as a reader is out of my control. My affinities with the cultures and placeness of Wales may chime with yours, as may my interest in world literature, translation, adaptation, film, narrative voice and philosophy. Should an understanding of childhood, sexuality and psychological dysfunction be the workaday tools of a good novelist? Could our authors could engage more in print with each other's work and with broader ideas rather than letting academics take all the criticism? If this lights your spliff, perhaps we can stay loyal to each other and our context. Pause, reflect, and keep the faith in paper!

Highlights here include Kirsti Bohata on rural gothic in Tristan Hughes' novels; Dai George on the perils of interpreting Gwyn Thomas; campus-set fiction from Patrick McGuinness and newcomer AP Jones; and Jamie Hamley's illustrations. Finally, with a toast to lucky timing and their own sheer talent, I give you newly minted major prizewinners: poet Elyse Fenton and novelist Roshi Fernando.


previous editorial: The Quick, the Dead and the Daschund
next editorial: Somebody, Someday


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