LITERATURE

How Man Booker winner Marlon James almost quit after 78 rejections

Author whose A Brief History of Seven Killings was announced as this year's winner of the HK$600,000 prize last week, briefly stopped work on his first novel

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 October, 2015, 8:18am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 October, 2015, 8:18am

Marlon James,  the Jamaican  winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize for fiction, has revealed that he briefly abandoned writing after his first novel was rejected more than 70 times.

The author, whose A Brief History of Seven Killings  was announced as the winner of the £50,000 (HK$600,000) prize at a black-tie dinner last week,  told the BBC  that his first novel, John Crow’s Devil,  was rejected 78 times by publishers, before it was eventually published in 2005.  “I had to sit down and add it up one day and I had no idea it was that much,” he says.

Despite the success of his latest novel, which the Man Booker judges described as “an extraordinary book” after a unanimous decision, James says he thought the publishing industry had not changed that much since his first book was repeatedly turned down.

“There was a time I actually thought I was writing the kind of stories people didn’t want to read,” he says. Asked if he had considered giving up writing, the 44-year-old writer says: “I did give it up. I actually destroyed the manuscript, I even went on my friends’ computers and erased it.” He retrieved the text by searching in the email outbox of an old computer.

James is the first Jamaican writer to win the Man Booker prize. His winning novel is  an uncompromising fictional history of the attempted murder of Bob Marley in 1976.  The chair of the judges, Michael Wood, admitted that his mother would “not have got beyond the first few pages because of the swearing” in the book.

Asked about the “bad” language in the book, James says: “Bad is relative. I’m writing about a lot of violent, not good people and I think the story called for it.”

The Guardian