Write-Off with Francesca Steele


Deesha Philyaw

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!

More Episodes


Alan Garner

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!