At London Book Fair: Brexit and Creative Industry Funding

In News by Olivia Snaije

Describing an ‘inward-looking atmosphere,’ panelists at London Book Fair explored some of the funding impact of Brexit on the literature market.

Participants in London Book Fair’s Brexit panel included, from left. Mathias Rambaud, Rosie Goldsmith, Alexandra Büchler, and James Urquhart. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Olivia Snaije

By Olivia Snaije | @OliviaSnaije

Goldsmith: ‘Brexit Has Changed Our Lives’
On the final day of London Book Fair (April 20), the participants in a professional seminar session called Europe/UK: Opportunities and Challenges Post-Brexit seemed devastated that Brexit has become a reality.

Rosie Goldsmith, a journalist and director of the sponsoring European Literature Network, chaired the panel and began by reminding the audience that a survey made several years ago of workers among the United Kingdom’s creative industries found as many as 96 percent of the respondents saying they favored the country remaining in the European Union.

Brexit has changed our lives,” Goldsmith said. “We won’t just be whingeing here. We’ll try to come up with how we can collaborate better and create literary cultural hubs.”

Panelists included:

  • Mathias Rambaud, who is co-president of EUNIC London (the name stands for European Union National Institutes for Culture); attaché for books and ideas at the French Embassy; and head of the book department at the French Institute in the United Kingdom
  • Alexandra Büchler, who is director of Literature Across Frontiers 
  • James Urquhart, who is senior manager for libraries and literature at Arts Council England
Rambaud: ‘Sustainable and Long-Running Projects’

Mathias Rambaud provided a PowerPoint presentation on the British book market and how Europe, prior to Brexit, had provided translation funding.

Some 200,000 books are published yearly in the United Kingdom, which makes it the third-largest market worldwide. By contrast, roughly 100,000 books are published yearly in France, although both countries have approximately the same population, around 67 million. This is explained by exports from the UK which represent 60 percent of all revenue, whereas in France exports represent 17.5 percent of all revenue. However, only 5.6 percent of books in the UK are translations while in France 16 percent of books are translations. Until recently French was the number one language for translation fiction sales in the UK, but Japanese has just overtaken French.

The United Kingdom was part of the Creative Europe program until 2020. The withdrawal from the European Union resulted in a significant decrease in funding for translated literature, Rambaud said, describing additional funding that had been available, provided by the French Institute and the Centre National du Livre.

On a brighter note, Rambaud said his work with the European Union National Institutes for Culture in London means trying “to develop sustainable and long-running projects in the United Kingdom. One of these includes the European Writers Festival, which grew out of the European Writers Tour that was created in 2017. This year’s festival will be held on May 20 and 21 at the British Library and will feature 30 European writers in partnership with EUNIC London, and the European Literature Network.

Büchler: ‘You Can’t Have Exchange Without Translation’

The United Kingdom could have remained part of Creative Europe despite leaving the European Union, according to Alexandra Büchler. She pointed to the examples of Norway and Iceland, both of which are participants in Creative Europe while non-EU members.

At Literature Across Frontiers, which is based in Wales, Büchler said, “All projects are coordinated with partners. We advocate for literary translation because you can’t have exchange without translation. What we do has been diminished because we don’t have access to funding. [With Brexit], we ended up with a trade deal that didn’t make any provision for the creative sector.”

Büchler described books being held at customs and restrictions on people’s movements when writers who have residencies must travel to the United Kingdom. We’ve remained part of networks, but we have had to work very hard at it.”

Urquhart: ‘International Activities’

James Urquhart talked about funding available from Arts Council England, saying, “Our investment focuses on England, but we can fund international activities.” There are opportunities for writers, he said, and the Arts Council does fund publishers who publish literature in translation. Incidentally, the council also supports London Book Fair’s Literary Translation Centre.

In closing, Goldsmith asked, what would be some ideal solutions?

She proposed that the United Kingdom rejoin Creative Europe and keep its European partnerships going. 

Rambaud said that translators are an important focus that shouldn’t be neglected, as are literary festivals that include authors from abroad. More private funding is available than one might expect, he said.

Büchler said she couldn’t think of a solution, and that she has noticed an “inward-looking atmosphere.”

“On a micro-level, I would encourage writers and translators to be more positive about recognizing funding that does exist,” Urquhart said. “We’d like to fund more translators and writers for individual projects.”

“We’re in a transitional stage,” Goldsmith said soothingly.


More from Publishing Perspectives on London Book Fair is here, more on Brexit is here, and more on politic and publishing is here.

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.