‘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.
A. L. Kennedy (photo by Campbell Mitchell).
‘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.