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Charlie Hebdo: We must protect free speech

on Thursday, 08 January 2015 12:15. Posted in General

Bernie Corbett, General Secretary of WGGB, said: “We deplore the shocking murders of 10 journalists and two police officers in the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.

“While journalism is not the prime concern of the WGGB, nevertheless all writers, whether dramatists, novelists, poets or whatever, need the oxygen of free speech to deliver meaningful and significant work.

“It is not free speech to say that we can publish only material that will not offend or upset anyone. The whole point about free speech is that anyone can say anything they like, whether it is unkind, offensive, satirical, obscene, defamatory or even plain untrue.

“In our society, we have those rights and we must protect them. Of course we have to accept the consequences of exercising those rights. If what we write is against the law of the land we can be prosecuted. If it is defamatory we can be sued. If it offends a particular group, then we must be prepared for them to exercise their own right of free speech and argue against us and perhaps even demonstrate against us in the streets. But murder is simply a crime, and the ultimate denial of free speech.

“The guiding principle is that there must be no prior restraint, no censorship, no arbitrary limits. If we can’t uphold that principle, free speech will be extinct.”

The Federation of Screenwriters in Europe, which WGGB is affiliated to, has issued the following statement:

"European screenwriters, represented by the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe, are horrified by the cowardly, murderous attack on the creators and editors of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7th. As screenwriters we are shocked by this assault on our freedom to speak our minds, our freedom to create. Freedom of Expression is the essential prerequisite of creativity. The slaughter in Paris is an attack on our right to speak, to voice our opinions, to tell our stories. In solidarity with those who lost their lives, we reject terror, silence and submission."

What rights for writers in the new Europe?

on Tuesday, 06 January 2015 09:26. Posted in General

Britain’s relationship with the European Union will be one of the issues in this year’s General Election. WGGB’s Europe Consultant, Pyrrhus Mercouris, warns writers to pay close attention.

I started working on a Policy Paper for the WGGB only to blunder on an obscure European Commission “policy paper”.

Just before Christmas the EC published a “Communication” which sets out its approach towards the next five years. I can conclude that it is rather unpleasant reading.

The newly appointed Commission is planning to be as “business friendly” as possible. That means its funding programmes more than ever will focus towards business interest and projects enhancing the “free market”. Meaning less money for culture and for tackling social problems.

Plus the regulatory and legal framework of the EU is to be reviewed with a focus on simplifying the rules for business. That is coded language to go after social and employment laws, health and safety and environment rules. The document even says that any ideas on standardising maternity leave are out.

The Communication has half a page on “a Connect single digital market”. It states: “The Digital Single Market holds one of the main keys to a new dynamic across the European economy as a whole, fostering jobs, growth, innovation and social progress. All areas of the economy and society are becoming digital. Europe needs to be at the forefront of this digital revolution for its citizens and its businesses. Barriers to digital are barriers to jobs, prosperity and progress”.

The document goes on to say that the EC is developing a strategy around six strands:

1. Building trust and confidence,
2. Removing restrictions,
3. Ensuring access and connectivity,
4. Building the Digital economy,
5. Promoting e-society,
6. Investing in world-class ICT research and innovation.

To do these six things the Commission will continue “ongoing” inter-institutional negotiations on proposals such as a common European data protection reform and the regulation of a “Connected Continent”. But what kind of consultation does “inter-institutional” mean? The parliament is still new, they have only just now started talking about it.

There will also be new initiatives, legislative and non-legislative, “to bring the Digital Single Market to the level of ambition needed to respond to the existing challenges”.

In this context, the Commission will:

  • Tinker with or radically change rules applied to telecoms (does this mean making the rules even more “business friendly”?),
  • “Modernise” EU legislation on copyright and audiovisual media services (does this mean reducing authors’ rights?),
  • Simplify the rules for consumers making online and digital purchases,
  • Facilitate e-commerce,
  • Enhance cyber-security,
  • Mainstream digitisation across all policy areas.

If you are a professional writer, you need to worry about all these trends. The EU is looking to reform the relationship between businesses and consumers – but is ignoring the creators whose work is essential to our culture and entertainment.

One thing is for sure – the WGGB will continue and strengthen its work in lobbying senior European Commission executives and key members of the European Parliament.

Obituary: Robert Adams 1944-2014

on Tuesday, 06 January 2015 09:02. Posted in General

Robert 2jpg

 Robert V. Adams, Chair of the WGGB Books Committee from 2004 to 2009, and also a member of the Guild’s Executive Committee, died on New Year’s Eve at the age of 70.

He had a marvellous career, starting work as a gardener, hotel cellarman and prison officer at Pentonville, but before long becoming governor of a young offenders' institution, resigning to become director of a Barnardo's community project keeping young people out of the criminal justice system. He became an academic and held several professorial positions relating to social work.

Robert Adams edited and wrote many books about crime, protest, empowerment, social work and complementary health. But he also wrote children’s books, poetry, short stories and novels, under different names. His novel Antman was published in 2005 and is a psychological thriller about a man who uses ants to kill people. He also wrote the crime novel The Really Dreadful Crime Company and was a member of the Crime Writers' Association.

Many of his books are centred on Hull and East Yorkshire, where he lived with his wife Yasmeen in a house they designed and built, with a garden running into unspoilt woodland, on the outskirts of the ancient town of Hessle, a stone's throw from the Humber Bridge.

As Chair of the WGGB Books Committee, Robert was enthralled by the possibilities of new technology in publishing, and his big project was to set up the Writers’ Guild Books Co-operative, intended to help authors to publish their own works as ebooks and by print-on-demand. Unfortunately the project foundered, as most participants wanted the WGGB to be their publisher, rather than participating in a true co-operative, which was Robert’s vision.

But even when he became ill, Robert was still enthusiastically working out new ways to regenerate the idea of the co-operative.

WGGB General Secretary Bernie Corbett said: “Only a few months ago Robert was phoning me and emailing me, keen to get working on some new projects. We have lost a truly original and committed author. Everybody who knew him in one part of his multi-faceted life is amazed to learn how many other lives he was leading simultaneously. What an inspiring colleague we have lost.”

Robert Adams’s funeral will take place at 1.30 p.m. on Friday 16 January 2015 at Haltemprice Crematorium, Main Street, Hull HU10 6NS. Afterwards, Tranby Lane, Anlaby, for burial; at 3 p.m. a reception at the East Riding Rooms on the Weir in Hessle.

Sheila MacLeod, former Chair of WGGB, said of Robert V. Adams:

"I was really saddened to learn of the death of Robert Adams, whom I knew from the Books Committee, of which he was Chair for several years – beyond the call of duty, it seemed to me.

"We had a really good committee (again it seems to me) in that we all liked and respected one another. Robert was the sort of person you instinctively trusted to take charge, whatever the situation might be. And whatever that situation might be, his integrity shone through and won the day.

"We did argue, but nothing ever got nasty or out of hand, thanks to the ever-temperate and judicious supervision of our Chair. Being of a more cynical turn of mind than Robert (and having been lobbied by many of our me-me-me members), I felt from the beginning that the publishing co-operative wasn't going to work, but I really regret for his sake and for all the others who got involved that it foundered.

"On a personal level (which in fact probably comes down to a few conversations in the pub along with other colleagues after our meetings) I have to say that Robert was consistently sympathetic, responsive and friendly. I may have made him sound humourless in being such a good person (which he undoubtedly was) but in fact he was always witty and that twinkle in his extraordinarily blue eyes had us all captivated.

"RIP, cher collègue. I'm glad and privileged to have known you."

 

West Midlands Writers’ Guild condemns Birmingham Library cuts

on Monday, 15 December 2014 09:28. Posted in General

The West Midlands Writers’ Guild has joined library staff, visitors and campaigners in condemning planned cuts to the new Library of Birmingham, which opened last year.

The plans, announced by Birmingham City Council last week, would mean the loss of around 100 staff, and opening hours cut from 73 to 40 hours a week.

"In its short time, the Library of Birmingham has become a huge focus for every kind of artistic, educational and media work that goes on in this exciting and vibrant city,” said Writers' Guild West Midlands regional representative William Gallagher. “You can't make a building be important but when it is, when it has become vital, you can easily throw all of that away.

"A Library of Birmingham that is staffed, open and used to the potential we were promised and that we have seen in action is a cause for civic, artistic and regional pride. A library that is closed is a defeat.

"That we have to fight for the library after only a year is an excoriating embarrassment for Birmingham. But that we will fight, that the writers and artists and public of our city are fighting for the library, is testament to what this building and its staff mean to us."

The £188-million library is Europe’s largest and the Labour-controlled Birmingham Council said it had no choice but to press ahead with plans in the light of Government cuts, which have seen the number of libraries in the UK fall by 7.5% since 2010.

“As the largest and most visited public library in Europe the Library of Birmingham is not only of regional importance but of national and international importance too. It should be treated as such,” said Writers’ Guild Deputy Chair and Birmingham resident Tim Stimpson.

“At a time when Manchester has just been awarded £78 million by central Government for a new ‘flexible art space’ it is not acceptable that Birmingham’s cultural sector has been left to fend for itself yet again.

“The West Midlands Writers’ Guild calls on the region’s citizens, its institutions and interest groups to come together to demand that the Library of Birmingham is given the financial support it requires.”

To get involved, contact West Midlands Writers' Guild regional representative William Gallagher by email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Mike Leigh and other Guild members out in force at BFI London Film Festival

on Wednesday, 08 October 2014 09:56. Posted in General

Writers’ Guild member Mike Leigh’s much-anticipated Mr. Turner receives a gala screening at the 58th BFI London Film Festival, which runs from 8-19 October 2014.

The portrait of the artist JMW Turner is played by Timothy Spall, who won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year for the role. The film focuses on the last 25 years of Turner’s life when his painting moved towards the Impressionist style for which he became remembered. It also probes the colourful life of a character who famously strapped himself to the mast of a ship so he could paint a snow storm.

Writer/director Mike Leigh has described Turner as "a great artist: a radical, revolutionary painter… I felt there was scope for a film examining the tension between this very mortal, flawed individual, and the epic work, the spiritual way he had of distilling the world."

The UK release date is set for 31 October 2014.

The BFI London Film Festival will bring 248 films to 17 venues across the capital over 12 days. It will feature screenings on themes including love, family, treasures, cult and thrill; and competitions, including the Best Film Award and First Feature Competition.

Other Writers’ Guild members whose work is being shown at the Festival include Gregory Burke ('71), Joe Fisher (Electricity), Leslie Stewart (Moomins on the Riviera) and Jack Thorne (War Book).

The full programme, including bookings, can be viewed here.