Write-Off with Francesca Steele


Meg Mason

Season 1, Ep. 11
What do you do when you've written an entire book you hate? Martha, the narrator or Sorrow and Bliss, is intelligent, critical, loving, cruel: an incredibly nuanced unforgettable character. She suffers from an undiagnosed mental health condition and when we meet her she has just split up with her husband Patrick. It's a very wise, sad funny book, with a unique, dry tone. I absolutely loved it.I love it perhaps even more now that i know it was born of failure. Meg Mason is a journalist, originally from New Zealand now living with her family in Australia, who had previously publishedtwo books: a memoir about young motherhood called Say It Again InNice Voice and a novel, also about young motherhood, called You Be Mother. Under contract to write a third book, Meg laboured over a project she loathed for a year beforehanding it in and feeling so wretched that she declared that she was done with fiction altogether. Until suddenly she found herself sneaking back out to her writing she’d and writing secretly just for her ownpleasure about two characters called Martha and Patrick and how their marriage had failed. Meg is very gentle, self-deprecating, insightful and very surprised and curious herself about this extraordinary U-turn. We talked about how Martha and Patrick actually existed in her failed novel in a different form, banningthesaurus.comand how to tell the difference between a difficult project that's worth pushing on with, and one that isn’t.You can buy Sorrow and Bliss and books by all my guests here, along with the excellent George Saunders book and the Ann Patchett essay collection Meg mentions in this episode: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/francescasteele

Julian Fellowes

Season 1, Ep. 6
Julian Fellowes is, of course, rather well known for creating a little TV series you might have heard of called Downton Abbey. And that wasn’t his first screen success either, having already won an Oscar for his screenplay for Gosford Park in 2002. Julian has hadan eclectic career, appearing on the long-running series Monarch of the Glen and a Bond movie. His accent, his family background, the subjects of class that fascinate him - all of these have sometimes led to people accusing him of being a snob and perhaps assuming that everything has come easy to him. And yet. In the late 90s, despairing of an acting career that wasn’t going so well at that point, Julian wrote a novel called Snobs, a book that looks at the flailing British aristocracy of the late 20th century through the eyes of a sort of outsider. He sent it out - and no one wanted it. In fact, some people said some pretty mean things, Several years later, after the success of Gosford Park, a publisher took it on and it became a bestseller, as did Julian’s two later novels. Just as I was talking about last week with the writer and editor, Phoebe Morgan, sometimes it really is a matter of getting a book on the right desk at the right time. Believe it or not Julian Fellowes found rejection as hard as the next person, although he is, I think, an optimist at heart. We talk about that, Downton Abbey, his upcoming show The Gilded Age, about how people have alwaystold him every project of his was unlikely to work out and aboutthe difference between putting something in thebin and putting it in a drawer. Here’s Julian.You can find Julian's books, and those by all my guests, at my online bookshop here: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/francescasteele

Harry Parker

Season 1, Ep. 4
My guest this week is Harry Parker, a writer and artist who had a very interesting route to becoming an author. Harry is an army veteran who lost his legs following an IED explosion while on tour in Afghanistan.Several years later and back in the UK, Harry wrote a novel, Anatomy of a Solider, which tells the story of Sergeant Tom Barnes, who also loses his legs in an explosion, through the perspectives of 45 inanimate objects: a gun, a bag of fertiliser, a prosthetic leg, a grieving mother’s handbag and so on. It’s an extraordinary book, disorienting and incredibly moving, and in 2016 when it was published, Harry was featured as one of The Observer's new faces of fiction. the book got rave reviews and won the Waverton Good Read Award the following year. Overall, a pretty incredible experience for a debut novelist.But his second book did not go so well. It didn’t sell andHarry, who is clearly an extremely resilient guy, is nonetheless very candid here about how personal that rejection felt, and how hard it has been to get over. It’s a great reminder, I think, that writing success is not linear, even for established authors. You have to be prepared for bumps in the road and allow yourself time to accommodate them.Thank you so much to Harry for being so open about it all.You can find Anatomy of a Soldier and books by my other guests at my online bookstore:https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/francescasteeleYou can also find me on Twitter - @francescasteele. Do come along and let me know what you think of the podcast and the authors' experiences.

Katherine Heiny

Season 1, Ep. 3
My guest this week is Katherine Heiny, who I’m happy to report is as funny in person and she is on the page. When I first approached Katherine for this podcast she told me that she had 9 million insecurities but rejection wasn’t one of them, and I thought, ok, maybe she’s not right for Write-Off. But then she kept writing back over the next couple of days adding caveats and comments and it became clear that in fact she did have things to say about rejection but perhaps not things that we all usually think of.In a way that makes a lot of sense. Katherine had her first published short story - How To Give the Wrong Impression, about a woman secretly in love with her flatmate, published in The New Yorker when she was 25 and had recently finished a writing masters at Columbia. She’s since written a short story collection that is one my favourites ever, Single Carefree Mellow, and two novels, Standard Deviation, a tender, hilarious book about marriage and parenting that Kate Atkinson called "a marvel", and her latest recently released novel, Early Morning Riser, which is also so incredibly funny, wise and warm. Katherine is very good at finding the comedy in everyday life.But there were two decades between that precocious New Yorker success and the publication of Single Carefree Mellow - Katherine was in her forties with she became a debut author under her own name - and they were not always easy years. Katherine and I talked about how she writesjokes, writing YA under a pseudonym in her twenties, what it felt like to take years off from writing to raise her children and the meanest knock backs she’s ever had.Just a reminder that you can find and buy books by all my guests here: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/francescasteeleYou can find me on Twitter here: @francescasteele