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State funding eases writers' misery

Paul O'Mahony · 12 Nov 2006, 12:53

Published: 12 Nov 2006 12:53 GMT+01:00

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One of the central functions of the Swedish Authors’ Fund is to administer state grants to authors, playwrights, translators and journalists.

Expressen’s controversial columnist Linda Skugge recently put the issue of state-financing for authors back in the news when she penned a virulent denunciation of the current system.

“If readers don’t want to read you and nobody buys your books, why should the state give you money?” Skugge asked.

According to Dagens Nyheter’s report, the Fund receives an average of 1,100 grant applications for every six month period.

A thirteen-person team then decides whether to approve or refuse the applicants, many of whom write anxious cover letters begging for state support.

“I am sitting here in a basement and am sick to death of this miserable existence,” wrote Per Hagman in 1998. The successful author’s application was turned down.

Two of Jan Guillou’s letters to the Swedish Authors’ Fund contain the same sense of impending doom.

“After ten years as a journalist I am now unemployed and lack even the slightest chance of getting a new job,” wrote Guillou in 1975. The letter made him 8,000 kronor better off.

“My work situation as a freelance journalist is beginning to look hopeless,” he wrote in 1980.

Again Guillou’s correspondence bore fruit and, 10,000 kronor richer, he composed a reply.

“Thank you for the food,” he wrote.

Reidar Jönsson, author of My Life as a Dog and one of 188 recipients of a cherished life-long state salary for writers, has not written a book since 1994.

“I am working on two books now. Thanks to the money from the fund I can sit and write in peace and quiet.

“There is no reason to rush out a book. There is so much trashy literature out there,” Jönsson told Dagens Nyheter.

Jesper Söderström, head of the Swedish Authors’ Fund, has no problem with the pace of Jönsson’s production, despite the organisation’s stated expectation of a “reasonable level of continuity”.

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“It sometimes comes up in debate that there are hordes of lazy artists and writers out there raking in state benefits.

“That is a grave misconception, which displays contempt for the artistic drive. It doesn’t work like that,” said Söderström.

With a new culture minister in place it remains to be seen whether Söderström or Skugge will prevail.

“Everybody can continue writing crappy books but they can finance them themselves, with their own hard earned money. That’s the way life works, honeys,” wrote Skugge.

Paul O'Mahony (paul.omahony@thelocal.com)

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