I was delighted to learn that my essay ‘The Wood That Starts The Fire’ – about Raymond Carver’s short story ‘Kindling’ – made the longlist of the Thresholds Feature Writing Competition this year. I think this is possibly the first essay I’ve ever written so it was very nice for it to be chosen. It’s also the first time I’ve referred to my issues with anxiety and panic publicly – something which I’ve been uncertain about doing before, perhaps because it feels so personal.
I’ve pretty much neglected this website for about a year, so I thought it was time to give it a bit of attention. If you look back over my previous posts, you’ll see that last year was all about rejection, with my own story of having my first novel rejected featuring as well as a series of interviews with a number of authors about their own experiences of being turned down. The interviews were all I hoped they would be – not negative or bitter but inspiring and uplifting. And from the comments I received from people who read them, I know how helpful they were to all those struggling along the writing path. I’m sincerely grateful to the authors who agreed to be interviewed and who helped all of us feel a little less alone in our travels.
‘As someone who comes from a black and working class background, who was not raised with a sense of entitlement, I’ve since developed a very strong sense of it. It is my duty and my right to believe in myself because this keeps me on track. I’m one of the few black British writers continuing to publish and I’m never giving up.’
In my latest interview for Writers on Rejection, I talk to award-winning writer Bernardine Evaristo. Bernardine is the author of seven books and other published and produced works of fiction, poetry, verse fiction, short fiction, essays, literary criticism, radio and theatre drama. She has also edited anthologies and special issues of magazines and is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University in London. She has won numerous awards including the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize and she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004. Her latest novel, Mr Loverman, is currently in development with the BBC and the Bush Theatre, London. She is also passionate about opening up opportunities for artists and writers of colour and has initiated a number of schemes such as founding The Complete Works mentoring scheme and the Brunel International African Poetry Prize.
‘Mainstream traditional publishing is focused on making money. I mean, Ronnie O’Sullivan? I love watching him play snooker but I won’t be going out to buy his novel.’
Today I talk to short story writer, poet and debut novelist Neil Campbell. Neil has published three collections of short stories – Ekphrasis, Broken Doll and Pictures from Hopper – as well as two poetry chapbooks – Birds and Bugsworth Diary. More recently, he published his first novel, Sky Hooks, about a young warehouseman whose promising football career is cut short by injury. Neil was the editor of the literary magazine Lamport Court from 2003–2008 and has an MA and an MPhil in Creative Writing. His short stories were chosen for Best British Short Stories 2012, 2015 and 2016.
‘Sometimes… it’s because you are a BAME writer, or a woman, or working class, or your face doesn’t otherwise fit. It’s because whoever you are, your stories, your world view, your sensibility and your voice, don’t quite make sense to the people in charge of opening the gate. Then it’s your job to stop knocking at the door and blow a hole in the wall.’
For my fourth interview, I talk to novelist and short story writer Jenn Ashworth (no relation) about her thoughts on and experiences of rejection. Jenn is the author of four novels – A Kind of Intimacy (which won a Betty Trask Award), Cold Light, The Friday Gospels and, most recently, Fell. She was featured as one of the BBC Culture Show’s 12 Best New Novelists in 2011. She is also a member of Curious Tales, a publishing collective which she runs alongside fellow writers Richard Hirst and Emma Jane Unsworth. Jenn also writes short stories, some of which have been broadcast on Radio 4, and she lectures at Lancaster University.
AA: How do you view rejection – as ‘failure’ or something else?
JA: I see it as an entirely inevitable part of my job. It means I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, which is creating new work and sending it out to editors who have some kind of selection policy.
‘I realise now that the most valuable thing I learned over time was to shrug rejection off. Like a beating from a wooden sword in gladiator school.’
For my third interview, I’m talking with Stephen Gallagher – a novelist, short story writer and screenwriter (as well as director). When I was growing up in Lancashire and wondering about writing, Stephen was the only writer I knew of who lived nearby, which really helped to inspire me into believing writing could be more than just a dream. He is well known for his associations with Doctor Who, for which he wrote novelisations and scripts, and for books such as Rain (which I have great memories of reading and loving while I was under the weather and the rain poured outside), Down River, Oktober and Chimera, both of which he adapted and directed for television. He also wrote and developed Eleventh Hour (which starred Patrick Stewart and was later acquired for a US remake starring Rufus Sewell). More recently he wrote an episode of Lucky Man (starring James Nesbitt). Stephen’s most recent books are a historical series featuring former police detective Sebastian Becker – The Kingdom of Bones, The Bedlam Detective and The Authentic William James – and a short story collection, Plots and Misadventures.
My writer friend Sarah Dobbs has started a project called Life Support to encourage kindness – in word and deed – over on her blog. And I was so moved by her video, which remembers her brother Steven, that I wanted to contribute. I have therefore written a few words in memory of my grandma who died a few years ago but is still much missed – and I’ve donated to Age UK to help support them in their work with the elderly. Please consider writing a few words about someone you care about and then give a little to charity if you can. Here are my words:
‘We can feel rejection as physical pain, as a kind of heartache, but you just have to learn what you can from it and press on.’
In my second interview, I talk to Alison Moore about her experiences of and thoughts about rejection. Alison is the author of three
novels (The Lighthouse (one of my favourite novels of recent times), He Wants and Death and the Seaside) and a short story collection (The Pre-War House and Other Stories). The Lighthouse was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012 and the National Book Awards (New Writer of the Year) and won The McKitterick Prize. Her short stories have also featured in the Best British Short Stories and Best British Horror anthologies as well as broadcast on Radio 4 Extra. She also very kindly donated a story, for free, to Red Room: New Short Stories Inspired by the Brontës (edited by me) to help support The Brontë Birthplace Trust.
AA: What was your first taste of rejection – and how did it feel?
AM: My first rejections as a writer would have been when I was a kid entering writing competitions. I think the rejection was often just silence. Whether it’s that silence or a kindly worded letter, it does hurt of course – it gets you right in the tender spot. I learnt very early on to love shortlists – for a story not to just disappear into a void meant a lot; it wasn’t necessary to win.
‘Rejection is a fact of life – we can console ourselves that we’re not as completely rejected as actors… With them, they really are being rejected as people’
Today, in my first interview for the series, I talk to Scottish writer A. L. Kennedy about her thoughts on rejection as well as her own experiences of it. A. L. Kennedy is a novelist, short story writer and dramatist whose work has won or been listed in numerous prizes, most recent of which was a longlisting for the 2016 Man Booker Prize for her novel Serious Sweet. She has also previously won the Costa Book of the Year for her novel Day and was selected twice as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She writes a regular column for The Guardian.
Rejection. The dreaded ‘R’ word. For writers, it is the one thing we fear as well as the one thing we try our hardest to avoid. But all writers – no matter whether we’re just starting out or we’re further down the line – experience it. From standard rejection slips and emails from journal editors to funding application failures and responses from agents and publishers, it can come in a variety of forms. Continue reading