Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Great Franschhoek Bonfire of the Pencils



Last year judges for the Wine Writer of the Year at the Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF) decided no entries were good enough for the prize money.  John Maytham has again been appointed to judge at this year’s competition, despite some apparently unethical behaviour surrounding his judging during last year’s competition. 
 




We know, for example, (as do the FLF organisers) that:


-          During judging Mr. Maytham discussed the quality and quantity of entries with a long-standing wine writer from whom he solicited further entries;

-          Mr. Maytham later claimed he had a mandate from FLF organisers to conduct such discussions yet wrote in an email to this writer (after the above discussion but before it became publicly known) that “it would be inappropriate for one of the judges to comment on this matter in private”;

-          The wine writer in question wrote “Please, no mention to or discussion with FLF of my correspondence with John. If he wants to mention it that is his decision…about John discussing the entries with a senior long-standing wine writer could be interpreted as mentioning individual entries, rather than the overall number, which was the subject”. Mr Maytham believes the conversation was also about the quality of the writing. 

However Mr. Maytham may have been caught up in FLF’s incompetence or even – one for the conspiracy theorists - a sinister plot (the rest of the fest appears well run?):

-          FLF organisers rather resented the prize money of R25 000 (but given wine’s macro-economics can be regarded as modest);

-          FLF only invited a handful of writers to submit entries, excluding two of the previous winners, and our most highly regarded wine writer Michael Fridjhon, while two of the three have won international wine writing awards and the third has been short-listed (all of whom entered after a deadline extension, presumably at Mr Maytham’s request);  

-          Despite the presence of outside (paid for?) media and publicity professionals, the only wider solicitation of entries was a request to sponsor Sunday Times to forward the invitation to their two wine writers - specialist publications like Classic Wine were ignored;

-          None of the entrants were advised why one of the judges withdrew, nor of his replacement;

-          Until this year, FLF organisers have ignored suggestions to break down the prize money into different categories and expand on the meagre judging criteria;

-          A previous winner was given permission by FLF to submit a piece from the Classic Wine magazine published in late 2011 (dated December 2011-January 2012), despite the unmistakably clear stipulation that a submission had to be both written and published in 2012.  

-          The 2013 prize money apparently went to charitable causes in Franschhoek but no official announcement, to my knowledge, has been made in this regard.



I won’t be surprised if those writers who were particularly vitriolic (privately at least) in their criticism of last year’s events enter the competition again this year, anyway back to Bonfire of the Vanities.


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