Tag Archives: year of the black snake

Snakes and Ladders


No, they’re not snakes. It’s drying seaweed. I was in Ireland. Everyone knows there are no snakes in Ireland…

I asked a Chinese friend of mine yesterday if the Year of the Black Snake was a good or bad one (let’s face it, it doesn’t sound like a carnival, does it?) Chen tells me it’s good and bad. So, snakes and ladders – or a regular year, then, with all its ups and downs, triumphs and rejections.

Triumph in any form is marvellous, and for a writer, so used to rejection letters, a small success can propel one to the moon. What I find difficult is to keep an even keel, not to go under when the rejections roll in (and roll in they do) and not to lose the run of myself when I win an award or get a story published (which thankfully is happening with increasing regularity these days).

I when I was 22, I wrote seven short stories. They were bad, really pretentious, crammed with adjectives and adverbs and with no theme or character development or point to any of them at all but I thought they were pure genius. I sent them off to every magazine I could find in the bookstore. And waited. And waited. And waited… until I became convinced that they had all been lost in the post. It was the only explanation, surely, as any editor would recognize my genius immediately, no? A couple of months later, I received a single rejection letter. And the truth dawned. No one else even bothered replying. It was 100% rejection. I was floored. I burned the stories I was working on and I didn’t send anything else off for a long time.

That was very stupid of me. I should have brushed myself off and tried again. I would be in a much better position and be a better writer now if I had. But I wasn’t strong or  mature enough to know that then. Ah, well. After a few years, I returned to creative writing and during my first year on my MA at UEA, I sent out another batch of stories. I’d had a few shorts published at this stage and was confident that I’d now win every competition going and it would pay my MA tuition. And, again I got nowhere. I was pretty down but I recalled how I’d let rejection defeat me before and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. I sent out more, and then more. And after six months, I won the Mary and Ted O’Regan Award, and then the Annaghmakerrig award and the Molly Keane Award, the HISSAC, the Meridian and the Sussex Playwrights’ and this year I’ve been selected as an Escalator Literature Artist and have just recorded my first radio drama, ‘Cow’.

Anyway, the moral is don’t give up – look at how you can improve your rejected story and send it out again. Remember, much depends on what the magazine or the competition judge is looking for at that particular time, it may not be a comment on your writing skills. Do a bit of research, try to find a suitable home and try and try again. You will get there in the end.