I was even more excited when she said she'd like to write about perseverance in writing - a subject very close to my heart!
Over to Kate...
Carry On Writing
The best advice anyone ever gave me about writing was ‘zip up your rhino suit’. To write well, I’m convinced you have to have a ‘permeable’ skin – not necessarily thin, but sensitive to the world around you. This kind of nature doesn't sit well with the rejection that is an inevitable part of writing. How is someone capable of interpreting the world around them in an engaging, emotional way supposed to cope with a crushing ‘no’ – or worse a deafening silence?
Vadim Jean was right – to succeed as a writer, you need a suit of armour. You have to find a way to cope with rejection, to mentally put on a second, tougher skin than yours. There’s a well known American writer who starts her stage talks by emptying a couple of suitcases of rejection letters onto the floor. Who hasn't heard how many times people said ‘no thank you’ to Harry Potter or the Beatles? If you write, sooner or later there’s going to be a sniffy review or rejection. It’s about the only certainty with writing.
I had beginner’s luck – the first story I ever wrote was published. I was seventeen, and blew the winnings on an antique Turkish lamp for my purple tented, incense filled bedroom. After that, I learnt the business and craft of writing the hard way. In 1999, I started writing a novel, balancing my keyboard on my boyfriend’s sock drawer in the corridor of our tiny flat in London, writing before and after work. The rollercoaster with that book lasted nearly ten years. Meanwhile, we moved homes and countries so many times I lost count, I had two children, and amassed so many rejection letters for stories and articles, I started using them for kindling when we were hard up in Spain.
Maybe there is something to Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that it takes ten years to learn how to do something well. It’s a long time. A lot of work. A lot of rejections. At the end of 2008 I was pretty much ready never to write anything more than a shopping list – but then I read Zadie Smith quoting Beckett: ‘Ever tried, ever failed? No matter. Try again, fail again. Fail better.’ That was my lightbulb moment.
I put the book I loved so much aside for now, and pinned that quote over my desk, along with a clipping from a flying magazine about a woman who flew Spitfires during the war. I started an MA in creative writing, and began a new book. This became ‘The Beauty Chorus’, which is being published next month.
There’s another quote I love, and keep at the front of my diary – the newsprint is yellowed now, but John Mortimer’s words never fail to hit me: ‘All this points to one of the most precious pieces of advice I can offer: namely the importance in a long life of changing the script now and again, especially if you feel stuck in a rut.’
So, perhaps rejection is not a bad thing, if you use it to your advantage. Take constructive criticism on board. Use it to test your mettle. Clip out the good bits from a rejection letter, (‘shows promise …’ ‘we loved it …’), and use the rest as compost or kindling. Don’t fear failure, or rejection – perseverance is the single best quality for a writer. I learnt a new word today – ‘sitzfleisch’. It literally means ‘sit flesh’ ie, apply bottom to chair and do not get up until you have written ten, twenty, a thousand words – whatever your goal is for the day. That’s the key. Maybe, like me, you need to change the script (literally), but if as you learn to be a better writer, you can manage to ‘fall down seven times and stand up eight’, you will succeed, and you will get better. Keep going – carry on writing.
‘The Beauty Chorus’ by Kate Lord Brown is published on April 1st by Atlantic.
And there’s a preview, here: Waterstone’s http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/kate+lord+brown/the+beauty+chorus/8239200/Kate worked as an art consultant, curating collections for palaces and embassies in Europe and the Middle East. She was a finalist in ITV’s the People’s Author competition in 2009, and has written for magazines including Condé Nast Traveller and Blueprint. Her debut novel ‘The Beauty Chorus’ is being published by Corvus, Atlantic in 2011. She lives in the Middle East with her family.
Thanks so much Kate and all the best with the book. It looks like a fabulous read!
(Poster image courtesy of