Writers during Covid-19: ‘I have no work in my diary for the first time in eight years’

Words Ireland group calls for increased funding for arts sector in Budget 2021

Belfast-born author and playwright Paul McVeigh (52) says for the first time in nearly a decade he has been left with "no work" in his diary, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the space of a day the virus had wiped out the prospective earnings he had been relying on to pay his mortgage. “I’ve worked really hard to build a career, that disappeared,” he said.

“All my earnings come from writing and the industry around that – readings, chairing panels, judging competitions, programming and teaching.”

Mr McVeigh, whose debut novel The Good Son came out in 2015, said he now had “no idea” how he, and other writers, would cope financially while waiting for things to return to normal.


“In one morning, I lost earnings that would have paid my mortgage for a year, and over the duration of lockdown my loss has doubled,” Mr McVeigh said.

“I’ve had trips to Australia, Cork, Spain, Dublin and Liverpool and west Cork cancelled. I have no work in my diary for the first time in eight years and after many years of building my career,” the author said. “I would have things in my diary 16 months ahead, [now] my diary is suddenly empty,” he said.

Increase in funding

Words Ireland, which represents seven literary organisations, has called for extra funding to the arts sector in Budget 2021, announced next Tuesday.

The organisation called for funding to the Arts Council to be increased by €35 million to €135 million.

In a pre-budget submission, it has lobbied for Culture Ireland funding to be increased to €10 million, and the reintroduction of a library fund for schools, to encourage children to spend more time reading.

Michael McLoughlin, Words Ireland chairman and managing director of publisher Penguin Random House Ireland, said there was "a worrying misconception that writers and illustrators have not been affected by Covid-19".

Mr McLoughlin said while the Government supports for the arts sector in recent months had been “generous”, only a “small fraction” of authors’ income came from book sales.

“Writers and illustrators make the majority of their income in the community, visiting schools, libraries and prisons, at literary festivals and arts centres and teaching creative writing classes,” he said.

Due to restrictions on gatherings and events to prevent the spread of the virus these sources of income had been “decimated”, he said.

“Independent publishers are also struggling, with so many lost opportunities to promote new Irish writing and reduced footfall in bookshops. Now, more than ever, the literature sector needs Government support,” he said.

The effect of the virus on Mr McVeigh and several other writers’ earnings were outlined by Words Ireland.

Author Louise O’Neill, who recently released a new novel After the Silence, said she had a number of festival appearances cancelled due to the virus.

“It’s unfortunate to lose out not only on the opportunities to earn, but also to build buzz for the new book,” she said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times