National book council members considering resignation

Chairperson Mark Camilleri says shortcomings inside book council are being addressed

Board members say publishers' sales during the last book fair almost dropped by half.
Board members say publishers' sales during the last book fair almost dropped by half.

Several members of the national book council have told newspaper Illum they were seriously considering their resignation in protest at the way chairperson Mark Camilleri is leading the council.

Members who spoke with Illum claimed Camilleri "acts alone without consultation", and that this led to serious shortcomings in the last book fair edition in November.

"The last National Book Awards was mediocre and ridiculous. Judges were reduced from three to two, and they were only requested to name the books that came first and second. Detailed analysis of the book were no longer provided, and authors had to pay €25 to have this critical feedback. This goes against the spirit on which the book council was founded, which seeks to encourage and nurture new talents in literature," the sources said.

They accused Camilleri of deciding single-handedly which categories books were to be included in, leading to some controversial decisions. "A particular book under the translation category did not satisfy the entry requirements, but instead of being disqualified it won first place in its category," they claimed.

They also said that at the last National Book Fair, publishers' sales almost dropped by half compared to previous years.

When contacted, Mark Camilleri said that lack of agreement within council members was down to different backgrounds, but stated that he was happy with the work done.

The chairperson acknowledged several shortcomings in the past months but said that they were being addressed.

While recognising "some shortcomings", Camilleri said that these were being addressed. "They are being addressed and I am confident that the next book awards, with amended rules, will take place in the best way possible. These changes are currently being discussed at council level, and I am sure that the national book prize will be better than last year's, bringing Maltese talent to a wide platform."

Camilleri said administrative fees were being introduced, but that these were relatively small fees when compared with the costs of the work and resources required for the awards.

"For the first ever time, the national book festival did not enter into any debt. The little money that was saved in the last festival will now go towards various initiatives we have planned. Among these priorities are spending budgets in a sustainable, transparent and efficient way."

Mark Camilleri, who in the past headed a campaign against censorship laws, was appointed chairperson of the book council by the Labour government in 2013, replacing Gorg Mallia.