How Will Brexit Affect Authors?

How might Brexit affect the publishing industry and those who depend upon it?

It seems few have thought to consider us literary types amid the jingoistic celebrations or quiet despair, the worry around food availability, hard borders, air traffic control, and so forth of Brexit. But to those who deal in words, we arty intellectuals, unbound by borders and whose markets are international, who very often rely on European grants to see us through the leaner years, there’s bound to be an effect. Perhaps it’s my politics, my temperament, my age, or my world-weary cynicism, but I suspect that effect will predominantly be negative.

Travelling will become more difficult. A dozen authors were refused visas to attend the Edinburgh international literary event last year, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, and this before our borders clang shut: post-Brexit, how many authors will even bother trying? For British authors hoping to visit Europe for research or to attend events, conferences, award ceremonies, there’ll be more expense, more waiting, more red tape to endure. It costs $100 for an American to obtain a visa to visit Spain; Brits may well face a similar cost, so if you’ve plans for a Kerouac-style driving tour to include in your blockbuster, I’d go before March.

Sending books to Europe will become more expensive too, and more mired in bureaucracy. Books will need to be cleared for customs, even those headed for Ireland, which will necessitate an awful lot of form-filling. Will the smaller publishing houses bother? It seems unlikely, in the main. They’re already struggling, under-funded and under-staffed.

The European Union offers bursaries, travel grants, and funding for learning and research to many struggling authors, all of which will vanish next year. Will the UK government hurry to replace them? Certainly they’ve insisted scientific endeavour will remain properly funded, but literature? With an entirely imaginary £350 million once promised weekly to the NHS, I somehow doubt artistic endeavour will be prioritised. The European commission also has a fund which pays for translations of literary works from European languages into English, and this too will cease post-Brexit. For lazy monolinguists like myself, not only our geographical horizons will dwindle, but our intellectual horizons too.

It all looks pretty bleak. But let’s consider any possible advantages Brexit might proffer. I’ve come up with two: one pretty flimsy, the other genuinely hopeful.

Flimsy first: I sell my novels on Amazon and get paid in dollars, so the weakening pound has actually seen my income rise over the last few months. Not much, but a tiny bit. Bully for me. If I were a proper author with actual physical books to sell in actual British shops, there’d be no impact. My failure to land a publishing deal means the desecration of my motherland affords me an extra couple of quid a month. Pardon me a moment while I weep with joy.

But then, consider this: challenging circumstances, whether social, cultural, economic, political, invariably produce the most beautiful works of art. Changing times—darkening times—inspire artists in an effort to create sense and order from the chaos, while readers flock to art for comfort and illumination. So many incredible novels and works of poetry were created during or immediately after the First World War; hundreds of great works have been produced in prison. The grimy, impoverished, crime-riddled streets of Victorian London have given us some of the greatest works of literature I’ve ever encountered.

Perhaps we’ll all be inspired by our new straitened circumstances and outlook. Art exists to give structure and cogency to our ramshackle, random lives; it thrives on change, on hardship, and Brexit promises a whopping dose of both. I wish it weren’t happening, but nonetheless I predict a bumper crop of literature in its wake.

Melissa Todd completed an MA in creative writing at Canterbury Christchurch in 2009, and writes novels, short stories and opinion pieces.

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