Write-Off with Francesca Steele
Season 3, Ep. 7
Last year, Alan Garner became the oldest person ever to be shortlisted for the Booker prize, at the age of 87, for his novel Treacle Walker. Alan has been writing novels and other books for more than 60 years, many of them rooted in the folklore and mythology of Cheshire where he is from. His first novel The Weirdstone of Brisingamen had people calling him the new Tolkien and he received an OBE in 2001 for services to literature. Among Alan’s books is his incredible memoir Where Shall We Run To, in which he describes his childhood. He was a very sick child and spent days, weeks, staring at the wall of his bedroom during the second world war, thinking and dreaming, and perhaps sowing the seeds of becoming an author years later, But he also describes the pain of being cast out of his community when he got into grammar school. A rejection that still seems to pain him today and which feeds into the type of writing that he does. Alan has an unusual writing process, that often involves years of what he calls gestation, where he barely writes at all, waiting for the subconscious part of the brain to come up with the goods, and I think there’s something to learn from this - that a writer’s work really isn’t all done at the desk, and that patience isn’t just a virtue but a necessity. I loved chatting to Alan about writing swear words on the first manuscripts he was throughly dissatisfied with, thinking T.S. Eliot’s wasteland was a load of rubbish and giving up academia to write even when he had no idea whether he’d be any good. Do come find me on Twitter - @francescasteele - or Instagram - @francescasteelewrites - I'd love to hear your stories about self-doubt, rejection and – of course – success!
Season 3, Ep. 6
Jenny Jackson’s forthcoming novel Pineapple Street is one of the best books I’ve read in the last year, but Jenny is also a Vice President and Executive Editor at Knopf, so she knows all about publishing from the other side of things too. She has an incredible list of authors, from Emily St john Mandel, to Cormac McCarthy, Helen Fielding, Katherine Heiny, who we’ve had on this podcast before. And she says that after 20 years in publishing writing has taught her to be a better editor. Finally she says she understands why it is that authors can be so reluctant to revise. Jenny actually wrote another novel right before Pineapple Street that she’ wasn’t able to publish and the experience left her heartbroken. Luckily for us, she decided to jump straight back in and write something else. I’m so grateful to Jenny for sharing that experience here, and also for her advice on fufilling and subverting reader expectations, rejecting authors she’s already worked with and what it felt like to have frievds in publishing pass on pineapple street. Pineappe Street isn’t out in the UK until 13 April but I really recommend that you pre-order it. It really is that good. And I will rerelease this episode coming up to publication. Do come find me on Twitter - @francescasteele - or Instagram - @francescasteelewrites - I'd love to hear your stories about self-doubt, rejection and – of course – success!
Season 3, Ep. 5
Good news for Peep Show fans! I am so delighted to have Robert Webb on the podcast today. Rob's memoir How Not To Be A Boy is one of my favourite books ever, a brilliant look at Rob's background and what I think we would now call toxic masculinity – it's the best exploration I've ever seen of how gender stereotypes serve men as badly as they serve women. Rob has also written an excellent novel, Come Again, about a woman grieving her late husband who suddenly finds herself back at university meeting him for the first time. Rob is, of course, best known as the star of the comedy Peep Show, which he worked on with David Mitchell for 12 years, before which the duo spent years in the wilderness taking random writing jobs and being rejected all over the place, like most freelancers. Rob talks insightfully about that time, and also about how hard it is trying to write a second novel when the idea for the first came to you like a lightning bolt. Do come find me on Twitter - @francescasteele - or Instagram - @francescasteelewrites - I'd love to hear your stories about self-doubt, rejection and – of course – success!
Season 3, Ep. 4
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Deesha Philyaw’s book of deliciously vibrant and rebellious short stories about sex and black women navigating social pressures, won the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 2021, and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction in 2020. What I love about Deesha’s writing journey is that she did so much other stuff before she even thought about writing. It was only really when she quit her more high-flying job and began teaching the creative processes of writing as an English teacher that Deesha began to learn those creative processes herself. She’s now 50 and her debut, that award-winning book, Church Ladies – which was initially roundly rejected by mainstream publishers – was published in the UK last year. It’s now being turned into an HBO show. Deehsa and I talk about how her mum’s life and death affected her writing, about learning to write as an adult and about trying again and again to write the novel that she kept on not getting quite right. I so enjoyed this interview and I hope you do too.Do come find me on Twitter - @francescasteele - or Instagram - @francescasteelewrites - I'd love to hear your stories about self-doubt, rejection and – of course – success!
REPLAY Meg Mason
I am on a little break from Season 3 for Christmas this week, but I thought you might enjoy a replay of my interview with Meg Mason in July last year, in which she talks about the traumatic experience of writing her "untitled Christmas novel"!Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!Do come find me on Twitter - @francescasteele - or Instagram - @francescasteelewrites - I'd love to hear your stories about self-doubt, rejection and – of course – success!
Season 3, Ep. 3
Who deserves to be a writer? When Sarah Turner was in her early twenties she had a baby, found it challenging and, unable to find writing online to match her experience, set up a blog. A couple of years later that blog, The Unmumsy Mum, had nearly 100,000 readers and landed Sarah a book deal. Her three very funny, honest non-fiction books about parenting have all been bestsellers, as has her debut novel Stepping Up, which came out this year. So why is Sarah on Write-Off. Well, because of that question: who deserves to be a writer? Sarah has more than 400,000 followers on Instagram and is famous to many people as an influencer, posting frequently about her three adorable sons, the daily difficulties and the magic of parenting and their house renovation in Exeter. As such she knows she’s seen by some as someone who has just been handed book deals, someone who maybe can’t or shouldn’t be allowed to write. But Sarah got the book deal because she was already writing stuff that resonated with people. And those books are really well written.I absolutely loved dissecting this question of who deserves their place in publishing with Sarah and discussing all the self-doubt that comes with this sort of advantage. Because whatever you think of this sort of route in in the end putting a pen to paper as it were and hoping to do a good job is never easy. Do come find me on Twitter - @francescasteele - or Instagram - @francescasteelewrites - I'd love to hear your stories about self-doubt, rejection and – of course – success!
Season 3, Ep. 2
My guest this week is so well-known that his unfinished manuscripts and first drafts have been displayed at the National Library of Scotland. Sir Ian Rankin has published more than 35 books in his 36 years of writing. That includes 24 novels about the Edinburgh police detective John Rebus, which have sold over 30 million copies around the world. His latest, A Heart Full of Headstones, came out this year. What is so interesting about Rankin’s publishing history is that he really didn’t make it straight out the gate. In fact it took him a while writing in quite difficult circumstances, including a time when he suffered panic attacks in London and a period living as an impoverished artist with his wife in France, where he was living in fear of not being published again before the Rebus series really took off. I love talking to him about the rejections for the first Rebus novel and how he still receives rejections today (can you imagine?!), about how he turned to thrillers thinking he’d write the next big airport book, before find his way back to Rebus and, about how writers are the weird kids at school. Do come find me on Twitter - @francescasteele - or Instagram - @francescasteelewrites - I'd love to hear your stories about self-doubt, rejection and – of course – success!
Season 3, Ep. 1
My guest today is the fabulous Bonnie Garmus! Despite wanting to be a writer all her life, Bonnie’s debut Lessons in Chemistry was published when she was 64. The book, about Elizabeth Zott, a formidable 1950s chemist and reluctant cooking show host, has gone on to sell in 40 countries, has been sitting on the bestseller lists for months and is being made into a TV show.But before this Bonnie wrote several books, the last of which was sent out to and rejected by 98 agents. Wow! We talk about her husband asking her why she was continuing to send things out amidst all that rejection, repurposing stuff from past books in new ones, and the best advice she’s ever been given – if you get stuck make something happen.Do come find me on Twitter - @francescasteele - or Instagram - @francescasteelewrites - I'd love to hear you stories about self-doubt, rejection and – of course – success!Many thanks to The Novelry for sponsoring this episode of Write-Off.
Season 2, Ep. 10
It’s hard to express quite how much I love Liane Moriarty's writing. I have read all of her books, some of them many times, and I just think she combines such a good eye for women's interior lives and the complex issues we confront in ordinary, everyday life with a great sense of humour and unique momentum. Liane published her first novel at 38, spurred on when her sister Jaclyn, also an author, was published. Her first attempt, though – a children’s book – was, she says, rejected by everyone. I love listening to Liane talk about sibling rivalry and support and the embarrassment of that first rejection.Before The Husband's Secret and Big Little Lies became bestsellers, Liane spent years as a mid-list author and is very honest about the little humiliations she endured before hitting the big time, like doing events where no one turned up. I love Liane’s observation that she’s always trying to get back to the simple joy of writing as a child, unencumbered by publishing needs or expectations. I hope you enjoy listening to her as much as I did. This season is sponsored by the wonderful Jericho Writers https://jerichowriters.com. Listeners of the podcast can get an exclusive 15% discount on membership by going to www.jerichowriters.com/join-us and entering the code Write-Off.You can find me on Twitter at @francescasteele and Instagram at @Francesca_steelePlease do rate or review the podcast on your Apple podcast app – it helps more people find out about Write-Off, and also I just really like seeing the reviews!