Spring 2020

Season of change

By James McConnachie

Attentive readers will notice that this issue of The Author looks a little different. This is not just about aesthetics; there are reasons for the changes. One motivation is that we want to ensure that The Author is a key part of the SoA’s communications with its members and the outside world – and this redesign will allow us to be more present online. We also want to do more to celebrate the work of illustrators, and this new, full-colour design will enable us to do so. After all, Pictures Mean Business, as the campaign puts it, and illustrators are too often the neglected partner in the business of publishing.

The changes are also prompted by reconsidering how sustainable we are. This Spring issue focuses on climate change: we report on how publishers are greening up their act and what authors are doing to contribute – including Liz Jensen’s account of how she took part in Extinction Rebellion. But we also have our own part to play – and The Author, accordingly, is now printed on 100% recycled paper using 100% renewable energy.

Climate change often feels like the great topic of the moment, of the generation, even, but other subjects in this issue are no less vital and urgent. Barney Norris writes passionately on how authors can reimagine the notion of mental health. Rebecca Wait considers how we should handle writing about suicide. The writer and illustrator Sarah Lightman offers her thoughts, and drawings, on combining motherhood and work.

We also tackle the drier but still crucial issues of taxation and copyright. Many people know that VAT is levied on chocolate-covered biscuits but not on chocolate-covered cakes – a fact that has been famous since McVities forced the Inland Revenue to accept that Jaffa Cakes are indeed cakes. Many know, too, that tampons attract VAT as a supposedly ‘luxury’ item (admittedly at the lower, 5% rate). Far fewer people are aware, I think, that when you buy a printed book you do not pay a penny in VAT, whereas when you buy an ebook the government levies the full 20%. The Publishers Association is duly campaigning to ‘Axe the Reading Tax’ and the SoA supports that campaign. Charging VAT on ebooks is not just anomalous, it is scandalous. [Online Editor's Note, 20/03/20: This has, of course, now been implemented – and VAT on ebooks scrapped.]

Equally scandalous, in my view, is the UK Government’s recent refusal to implement the EU’s Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. The Directive was formally adopted in June 2019, with UK support, but the deadline for countries to implement it is in June 2021 – and the government has now announced that it will not do so. The result will be that authors in the UK will not enjoy the same protections as their European colleagues. They will not have a right to transparency (meaning better, clearer reporting by publishers), nor to a contract-adjustment mechanism (a fairer share where a work sells much better than expected – the ‘bestseller clause’), nor to reversion (claiming back rights where the publisher isn’t exploiting them – a crucial but often neglected point which we cover in detail in this issue).

These are significant blows. The Copyright Directive was not perfect but it was the best opportunity in years to redress some of the worst asymmetries, inequalities and abuses of too many author-publisher contracts. We look to the government, now, for a UK alternative.

James McConnachie

mcconnachie.tumblr.com | @j_mcconnachie


Cover artwork by Henny Beaumont:

'I wanted to produce a [cover] image that was a warning, but also hopeful. A celebration of creativity and the imagination in the face of the imminent catastrophe
that climate change represents. I wanted to capture the threat we are facing and, at the same time, show that writers and artists have a role to play, that they can have a positive impact on the way we think about climate change, and that we can be inspired to alter our behaviour.'

From a Q&A with Henny in the Spring 2020 issue, coming soon online.

In this issue


Writers on a storm – Authors and climate change, by Caspar Henderson

A gig, a protest, a rebellion – Liz Jensen reports from Trafalgar Square

Greening the book business – Alison Flood on the publishers leading the way

Q&A: Henny Beaumont – This issue’s lead illustrator



Reversion around the world – Joshua Yuvaraj and Rebecca Giblin on reversion rights

A female pursuit – Why women read fiction, by Laura Pearson

Proper people – Colin Grant looks at the value of oral history



Ask an Author: Cressida Cowell – Talking to the Waterstones Children’s Laureate

The language of recovery – Rethinking mental health, by Barney Norris

No harm? – Rebecca Wait on writing about suicide

With the crying still coming out – Sarah Lightman on illustrating motherhood

Within repair – Khairani Barokka on author-translator conversations

Grub Street – Andrew Taylor's quarterly digest



‘Soft power of diversity’ – Translation Prizes 2019

Q&A: Joanne Harris – New Chair of the SoA’s Management Committee

Spotlight: Special interest groups – Latest activities and events

Letters to the Editor

Journey to Jilin – Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s McKitterick trip

... and more