LAST week, I travelled down to Southampton for a symposium run by the Arts Council about literature in the South West. Symposiums, back in the days of Ancient Greece, were lively discussions that followed a banquet – indeed, I think the term symposium comes from the Greek symposio, which means to drink together.

It was probably because of government cuts that there was no banquet or drink provided, though I did get a sandwich and a very interesting discussion. The meeting had been called to discuss why funding for literature in the South West – in Arts Council terms everything from Hampshire down to Cornwall – was disproportionately lower than in the rest of the country. Literature provision is a small part of Arts Council spending at just 7%, but in our region it isn’t even that: out of the 46 not-for-profit literature organisations that the Arts Council supports in its portfolio, just two are based in our region.

Not only that, but in terms of infrastructure the South West suffers in other ways as well. There are fewer independent publishers than the national average; and fewer independent bookshops as well. The comparison was drawn with literature hotspots elsewhere in the country, places such as Hebden Bridge and Norwich, which boast a wider range of publishers, bookshops and resources for writers.

The symposium heard from what was clunkily described as ‘literature practitioners’ from around the region. The passion and commitment was clearly there, but how you joined all that up into something bigger was a different, more difficult question. The geography of the region might have long proved an inspiration to writers, but is it also a hindrance in competing with the rest of the country?

Locally, I’ve been trying to play my small part in all of this by helping put together the programme for this year’s Salisbury Literary Festival, which is running from October 17-22. As described elsewhere in this week’s paper (see Entertainments page 82), we’ve got an amazing selection of authors coming in October, all kicking off with the fantastic Val McDermid, who will be speaking at Salisbury Cathedral on Wednesday, October 17. Following on from the success of last year’s inaugural event, we’re hoping this year will establish the literary festival as a regular fixture on the Salisbury calendar.

It’s hard not to be moved by the sense of community you come across when working on something like this: from Salisbury Cathedral to Wiltshire Creative, the City Council to our media partner, the Salisbury Journal, I’ve been struck by the city’s warmth, support and friendliness in helping us succeed.

If that spirit could be bottled up and spread across the South West, then the region’s literature problems would disappear at a stroke.