Thursday, 29 December 2011

News for a New Year in which New Things May Happen

I've been rather quiet recently. Partly down to fluctuating health, partly due to a seasonal yearning to retreat from the world for a bit. Unsurprising, anyway, considering that I've spent about half this year online, attempting to persuade, enlighten, cajole, inform, to draw attention to the necessity and the beauty of the short story on radio, and to list all the reasons why the BBC's decision to cut their commissioning and broadcasting of said short stories was A Really Bad Idea.

On December 20th, there was a second meeting about the short story cuts on BBC Radio 4.  Those invited to meet BBC head of Audio & Music Tim Davie & Controller Radio 4 Gwyneth Williams were: General Secretary Nicola Solomon and Assistant General Secretary Jo McCrum, from the Society of Authors, Bernie Corbett from the Writers' Guild, Christine Payne and Sheila Mitchell from Equity, and author Margaret Drabble. 

The outcome - as given in brief on the Society's website - seems to have been more assurances from the BBC about how much they value and intend to showcase the short story, with promises of other openings for new writing, though the only figure offered is "60% of output across the year will be bespoke commissions with the remaining 40% largely new recordings of extant texts and some repeats."

Quite honestly, I do not know what to say about this - and that's probably what I'm intended to feel. Steamrollered, flattened, exhausted by the process of six months of campaigning, and in the end - shut down, empty, silenced.

I've not yet been able to talk to Nicola or Jo about the meeting, but gather that the almost 9,000 strong petition against these cuts was treated as insignificant by Ms Williams and Mr Davie.
"Polite, articulate listener protest provokes no reaction - shock!"
Perhaps we should have set up an Occupy camp on the pavement outside BBC HQ on Portland Place? Perhaps we should have arranged for a Controller-Scarecrow to do an Archers-style header off the roof? Shocking? Shocking enough?

Regarding the "we fear the BBC may be in breach of its charter" argument, apparently it was simply defused by Mr Davie & Ms Williams discussion of short stories as part of their overall 'Drama' output. This is fudge, of course, because the short story on Radio 4 does not actually come into the Drama output in any other way, and never has; it's not trailed in the Drama e-newsletter, it's usually not even produced by Drama producers.

The clue there is in Mr Davie's job title: he's head of 'Audio & Music' not of Drama.

Still, never mind, as far as BBC Radio 4 is concerned there wasn't much of a protest, was there?  Besides, it has the highest ever listener figures, so everything is going to be just fine...

This is my blog space, I can cry if I want to - but I don't think that would be useful. You, dear reader or dear tweeter, who've followed my part in this, can very well imagine what an effort it's been, and imagine, too, how I feel. 

Instead of cursing and wailing and kicking things, it might be more useful if I express some thanks.

I'm enormously grateful to Ian Skillicorn of National Short Story Week who first spotted the tiny small print about these cuts in a BBC press release, and tweeted it, and whose steady hand and sound thinking have been invaluable in this multi-faceted campaign.

I'm very grateful to the Society of Authors, to Equity and to the Writers' Guild for taking this argument to the BBC; hugely grateful to the Society in particular for their inspired Tweetathon, and to all who took part in it. (You can read more about that here)

I'm vastly grateful to all those who've signed the petition, who've urged others to do so, and who've supported this campaign - and me - on Twitter. You know who you are.

As for my own part... I have to accept (can't don't won't ...must) that I've done all I can. I hate to give up, but that corporate steamroller action is pretty difficult to counter. Is there anything I could have done differently - or better? Not sure, except, perhaps - and this does strike me as ironic - not be a short story writer nobody's ever heard of.
Had I been a novelist with the same number of books behind me, might I have had a little more clout in the 'meeja' world, and the literary world? Perhaps The Story About Story-Cuts could have got more attention faster, gained more support from other writers..? I don't know.
Anyway - as the writers among you will know, when you feel angry, powerless, despairing at how to make others understand something vital, when you feel you have no voice, no status, are being rendered invisible, the remedy is to go away and write, write, write. 

On Christmas Day morning I woke at 5.30 full of indignation and fury and with the nugget of a story idea. It's about - well, it's about power and the absence of power, perhaps... If it goes well, perhaps I'll send the finished story to the BBC-sponsored National Short Story Prize.

This year, it's going to be an Olympic-sized short story opportunity, as the competition is open "to writers writing in English anywhere in the world who have been published in the UK." Hm. No pressure then.

Still, it's the taking part that counts, isn't it? And, as my sister reminded me, in the immortal words of Lance Corporal Jones, "they don't like it up 'em, you know!"

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.