I became a freelance writer in the mid-1980s, and since then I’ve lived through at least three major recessions, several smaller ones, and major changes to the business in which I work. Publishing today is a very different industry to the one I first encountered. It wasn’t quite all quill pens, dusty ledgers, payment in guineas, and hot-metal type, but I have to say there were certainly some fairly Dickensian elements to it. I’m certainly more than old enough to remember a time before computers and email, e-publishing and websites.
Looking back, I can see that those changes were relatively slow. They rippled out over months and years, giving me time to adapt – even the recessions took a while to bite. Change is always hard to deal with, and sudden changes are the hardest of all, which is why the last few months have been so difficult. For most of us the current COVID-19 crisis seemed to come out of blue, and the lockdown was shocking. Almost overnight it felt as if the script for normal life had been re-written as a science-fiction dystopia.
The psychological impact has been bad enough, but as we all know, there has been a massive economic impact as well. Many sectors of the economy have been hit, among them the creative industries. It’s certainly been very hard on writers across the board. Darkened theatres, TV and film projects cancelled or put on hold, book publishing dates pushed back or postponed indefinitely, fee-paying events and school visits drying up. It’s never easy to make a living as a writer, but for many the impact has been devastating.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. Several good things have emerged in the crisis. One of those is the way in which the creative organisations have pulled together to take action. For instance, an Emergency Fund for writers was set up very quickly. It’s administered by The Society of Authors, and money has come from a wide variety of sources, including ALCS, the Royal Literary Fund, The T.S. Eliot Foundation, English PEN and Arts Council England. Many writers in financial need have been helped with grants of up to £2000.
It’s also been brilliant to see that CLA has continued to work just as hard on behalf of its members as ever – the authors, publishers and visual artists it represents. CLA isn’t anywhere near as well known as it should be at the best of times – the money it collects is sent on to its member organisations, ALCS for authors, PLS for publishers, DACS and PICSEL for visual artists. It’s even more impressive as like everyone else in March, the entire CLA team had to switch to working online from home pretty much overnight.
They have continued to collect money that’s owed to rights holders and send it on. I know that our members at ALCS are always very happy to receive payments, but in times like these they will appreciate them even more. The work that the team at CLA does – quietly and efficiently as ever – is a vital part in supporting the lives and endeavours of writers. I often think that you get the best insight into someone’s character from how they deal with adversity. Well, I believe that the same test can be applied to organisations.
For this writer, CLA has definitely passed that particular test with flying colours.