'I almost gave up' - Booker Prize winner Marlon James reveals he was rejected by publishers 70 times
Published 14/10/2015 | 09:25
Marlon James, winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize, almost gave up his writing career after receiving 70 rejections for his first novel.
The Jamaican author was so despondent that he deleted the novel, John Crow's Devil, from his hard drive and it was only at the urging of a fellow writer that he was persuaded to recover the story and finally saw it published in 2005.
'A Brief History of Seven Killings is violent, shocking - and a worthy winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize'
Two novels later, he is the first Jamaican winner of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for his book A Brief History of Seven Killings, triumphing in a shortlist that included the veteran author Anne Tyler and the bookmakers' favourite Hanya Yanagihara.
"I'm not an easy writer to like and I remember the lengths I went to just to get my voice heard," the Jamaican author said after accepting the award at London's Guildhall.
"Almost exactly 10 years ago, I had given up my writing. I had written a novel and deleted it and destroyed it."
Then he met the author Kaylie Jones who, after hearing about his discarded manuscript, insisted on reading it. After much searching, he unearthed a version of the novel "on an old laptop in an Outlook Express outbox" and Jones had it published.
"I am eternally grateful to her," James said. "I sort of gave up on writing and the idea that people wanted to hear these stories. It is kind of affirming, especially because this is the riskiest novel I've ever written and not just in terms of subject matter but in terms of form. I would have been happy with two people liking it."
The 44-year-old writer said he was stunned to win. "This is so ridiculous, I think I'm going to wake up tomorrow and it didn't happen," he said.
Asked how it felt to be the first Jamaican winner, James said: "Jamaica has a really rich literary tradition. It's kind of surreal being the first. I really hope I'm not the last, and I don't think I will be, because there is this real spunky creativity that's happening.
"To be first just means I'm the first one to get some attention, and I think there's a lot more coming. I hope it brings more attention to what's coming out of Jamaica and the Caribbean because I think there are some brand new voices coming out. We're exploring contemporary society, what's beyond politics, what's beyond colonialism, looking at queer issues, comics, humour. And I hope there is a greater lens turned towards that."
He joked that he would spend the £50,000 prize money on a trip to Savile Row tailors Gieves & Hawkes or Ozwald Boateng. After half-heartedly suggesting "doing the sensible thing and putting it a bank account", he settled on a shopping trip to London's antiquarian book dealers.
"There are so many great rare bookstores here and I cannot be let loose in a rare bookstore because I'll see something like James Joyce in hardcover and say, 'How much is that? 400 bucks? Here's money!'
"I'm going to find [out] who has every William Faulkner novel in hard cover and buy them."
And if James spots one of his own books in a shop somewhere, that will be the icing on the cake. "I'm not above looking at a shelf and going, 'I wrote that'," he said.