Persist and be published

Liz Lochhead

Writing is a dawdle; anyone with a pen and a piece ofpaper can do it. Getting published is another story. According to The Guinness Book of Records the greatest recorded number ofpublishers‘ rejections for a manuscript is 108 for Gilbert Young’s World Government Crusade. Not everyone has to endure quite so many slaps in the face but there are few authors who have not known the pain of disappointment. There is no stigma attached to this: a library of literary heavyweights have not had their genius immediately recognised by publishers.

For the aspiring author, however, there a few points worth filing. First, buy a copy of The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook (A & C Black £5.95). As well as giving a list of publishers and their specialisations. it also offers advice on how to submit manuscripts, the labyrinthine copyright laws, and the dos and dont’s ofword processing— the burning topic at Hampstead soirces. It pays. says Peter Kravitz of Polygon, one of the liveliest publishers around. to revise your work thoroughly before sending it off- poor publishers. to the chagrin of authors. reviewers and readers. stint on editorial fees. It‘s also worth using your contacts; it‘s a myth that new geniuses are discovered through unsolicited manuscripts. Ifyou know someone who knows someone the chances are you might be able to jump the queue.

The truth is that the ways into print are many and various. As Frances Horsburgh discovered when she talked to six Scottish-based writers. if you believe in your work and have a hide like a rhinoceros, eventually you‘ll get your reward.

Bernard MacLaverty: My first book was Secrets and other stories. a book ofshort stories for Blackstaff Press in Belfast in 1976. The first people I sent it to published it. Most people said to me that you need to get a novel published first but I bundled up a collection and sent it to Blackstaff Press and was delighted to hear back from them that they‘d like to publish. I was working as a lab technician at the time. My advance was £100 - £25 for the stories and £75 for some children's stories I sent in with them which weren't very successful in the end. Before that I‘d had a number of stories on radio and in small magazines. My first novel was Lamb which Blackstaff Press and Jonathan Cape published jointly and that‘s happened ever since. Secrets and other stories is being reissued by Penguin in July. Agnes Owens: The first thing I had published was a short story in an Arts Council magazine called ‘Words' then after that it was Gentlemen of the West with Polygon. I didn't have a lot of rejections because I didn‘t send many things away. for example I sent Gentlemen of the West to two Scottish publishers. Polygon was one of them and they rejected it and I let it go at that. After a while. it must have been a couple of years. another writer approached them and they looked at it again and accepted it. That was in 1983 and I'd been going to writing classes for 2—3 years before that. Ionly went to the group for the sake ofa night out and after a while I got into it. Gentlemen ofthe West was written as stories every fortnight to show the tutors and I carried on when the classes stopped for the summer. I was fortunate in that I had the support of a couple of writers who were just getting established themselves. Iain Banks: The first book I had published was The Wasp Factory by Macmillan. I was working as a lawyer's clerk in London and I used to go round the publishers dropping off the manuscript in my lunchbreak. I had seven rejections before it was accepted. lwasn‘t giving myselfany breaks Wasp Factory was the sixth novel I'd written but the first I put through more than one draft the next project was always more interesting. The Player of Games is the only novel since published that was written before Wasp Factory. I had been writing for about twelve years when The Wasp Factory was accepted in 1983. I got an advance of £2500. Liz Lochhead: My first book was Memofor Spring published by Gordon Wright Publishing in Edinburgh a one-man firm in 1972. He had heard a poem

on the radio I'd won the BBC Student Verse competition in 1971 and then the first time I read. as a support act to Norman MacCaig. he was in the audience. At the end he came up to me and asked ifI had a book ready to publish. My friend Alasdair Gray had recently paid to have my poems typed up so I sent them off and he phoned up a few days later saying that he'd got an Arts Council grant and he was going to get the book out in May. This was in March so it was very sudden. That‘s why it‘s got a title I don't like. He reprinted after six weeks because he had printed 1500 and they all sold out. He printed another 3500 and eventually sold 5000 copies which is a hell of a lot for poetry. I was 24 and that was five years‘ work so I didn't publish for a long time after that. William Mellvanney:

Remedy is None. a novel published by Eyre and Spottiswoode in 1966 in London. was my first book. I sent it to a publisher who rejected it with a strange letter saying they thought it ought to be published but they weren’t going to publish it. I put it aside and then heard of an agent in London called George Greenfield and [sent it to him and he accepted it. About a month and a half later he sent me a telegram saying it had been accepted by Eyre and Spottiswoode so there was really no fuss about it. Getting an agent was the crucial thing. They make a terrific difference ifthey‘re reputable because publishing houses often have outside readers. It‘s like the Grand National. it can go over a few hurdles before it reaches the desk of someone who can actually make decisions. The agent circumvented all that. It was my first novel and I was teaching English at the time. I had been writing since I was about 14 but in my own terms. for myself. Janice Galloway:

It‘s classic stuff I'm afraid. I entered a short story competition and it was Jim Kelman who was judging it and at the end he came up and said I should send it to Edinburgh Review, which I did. This was in 1986. So Peter Kravitz had been publishing my stories in the Review and when I said I was writing a novel he asked to see it when I had finished. I wasn‘t asked to do a lot of rewriting but I did I‘m one of those people that cannot leave something alone. Initially it took about eight months to write and adding the rewrites on top of that it took about eighteen months. I gave up teaching at Christmas, thank God. and now it's all writing writer‘s workshops, my fiction and I‘m also music critic for the Glasgow Herald.

The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway is published by Polygon.


Summertime reading . . .


A novel by Alan Spence £12.95 libk .‘lztailahle .\ lay l 990



Diaries and Letters from India 1895—1900 Edited by

Carol Anderson £16.95 libk


Canongate Classics:


(Introduction by the author) By Naomi Mitchison £6.95 pbk


(Introduction by james Campbell) By Edward Gaitens

£4.95 pbk

(Introduction by IR. Armand) By Robert McLellan £5.95 pbk


(Introduction by Tom Crawford) By Catherine Carswell pbk





17‘]ef'frey Street Edinburgh I‘ZHI IDR

The List 20 April - 3 May 1990 79