Great book: But is it art?
“The Arts Council is right to be worried as the exemption has been given to frivolous books of no literary merit. It therefore gives the public a very false impression of writers’ lives. The scheme has been vital for literary writers such as myself. I finished a novel this month that I spent eight years writing. If the advance were taxed, it would be on one year’s earnings.”
SELINA GUINNESS Author of a memoir, The Crocodile by the Door, which is shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards
“I have applied and I am waiting to hear the outcome. If the Arts Council is holding firm to the odd idea that a nonfiction book has to be about the arts to qualify, that rules out a whole range of books. I got a bursary from the Arts Council to help with my book, which took me five years to write. The bursary allowed me to pay for childcare but when averaged out it amounted to €2,000 to €3,000 a year. I pay income tax on every other aspect of my work and the exemption applies only to my book. Book publishing is a shrinking industry, and the scheme provides a way of recognising its importance.”
JOHN BANVILLE Novelist and winner of the Man Booker Prize
“It was brought in, as far as I can recall, for creative writing. The problem is that term is very broad. You could say an accountant’s report is creative writing. It is a very ambiguous area and very hard to decide . . . It should be good books that get it. The scheme itself is a huge help. I worked most of my creative life as a journalist and I earned a living but people who have not got that rely on the exemption and it has helped a lot of people. Some couldn’t live without it.”
PAUL LYNCH Author of Red Sky in Morning, which is due out in April
“I will apply for it. Having made the move from
journalism to full-time writing I think it is essential, because you are never really guaranteed when you will get paid. I got a book advance and I can live off that. But I don’t know if I will make money next year, or the year after that.
“How do you draw the line between what is artistic and what is not? A well-written autobiography has artistic merit. I think if people are supporting themselves solely from their writing, there is a genuine case to be made.”
EOIN PURCELL Commissioning editor at New Island Books
“The criteria look a bit broad. But I’d rather it was broad and we made mistakes giving it to people whom we could argue over, rather than make it narrow and it end up being a very elitist thing. It would be nice if we could figure out a tool to make it target emerging writers and artists.
“It is not a crazy investment and if we sometimes get it wrong, then it is a small price to pay for people whose works may be remembered in years to come.”
- BRIAN O’CONNELL