Leader comment: Perseverance is the write attitude

Ali Smith is a previous Scottish winner in the Costa Book Awards. Picture: Getty Images

Ali Smith is a previous Scottish winner in the Costa Book Awards. Picture: Getty Images

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It has happened to the most successful of writers. JK Rowling and Ian Rankin are among those to have spoken of their dismay at having their early attempts at Harry Potter and Inspector Rebus rejected when they were complete unknowns.

But if there was an award for perseverance at being turned by publisher after publisher, Coatbridge writer Brian Conaghan must be a strong contender.

He was painting clothes poles and railings as a council apprentice when he left school with just ‘O’ grades, but went back to college to seek better qualifications and, after an unsatisfactory foray into the world of acting, eventually managed to carve out a career teaching English and theatre studies in Italy.

He came back to Scotland a decade ago to take up a creative writing course at Glasgow University and had three three novels rejected by 217 publishers before he got a break. Now signed up to Bloomsbury, one of the biggest players in the industry, Conaghan has found himself in the running for one of Britain’s leading literary prizes.

His first novel with the publisher, When Mr Dog Bites, was shortlisted for the Carnegie Award, one of the leading prizes for children’s literature, last year. Now his follow-up is in contention for the Costa Book Award, and he will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of last year’s winner, Frances Hardinge, the first children’s writer to claim the title since 2001.

The story of Conaghan – one of just three Scottish writers to make the coveted Costa shortlists – should provide ample inspiration to any writers struggling to make a name for themselves and offers hope that if the talent is there it will eventually be spotted and developed.

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