Pat Barker says she has a distrust of the publishing industry’s regional and class diversity drives because it could be “fashionable” and may not represent a long-term commitment.
Speaking at the Hay Festival, Barker said she had particularly noticed a drive to get more voices published from outside London and more working-class or ethnic minority authors since the Brexit vote, the Guardian reported.
She said the EU referendum had sparked a realisation in London that it didn’t understand other parts of the country and this had led to the publishing industry seeking new voices.
Barker said: “There was this feeling that London seemed to have been governing a country, or countries, that it knew absolutely nothing about. Suddenly, there was this rather frightening sense of ‘what has been going on out there? Why did nobody tell us?’”
She said of the diversity push: “I welcome it, but I also distrust it because I think it can be quite fashionable to do this. Working-class writers in the north in the late 1950s like Alan Sillitoe and John Braine became, briefly, very, very fashionable. And then it suddenly became old hat and it was almost completely dropped. So one swallow doesn’t make a summer.”
However, Dialogue publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove, who co-chair’s Hachette’s Changin the Story programe, said tools like her publisher’s recent ethnicity pay gap report were measures the industry never had before and showed real action was being taken right now and publishers were asking the right questions.
She said: “With the ethnicity pay gap report we now know where we want to be and we also know where we are now. Before we didn’t have that information, it was anecdotal.”
Lovegrove said authors looking from the outside might not fully appreciate what was happening inside publishing houses. She pointed to Saskia Bewley, Hachette’s first diversity and inclusion manager, as the kind of role the industry didn’t have in the past.
She said: “We’ve never had the kind of commitment before. It’s not that she [Pat Barker] is wrong, that in the past it didn’t work, but the measures are now there to show it isn’t a phase, it’s not a fad.”