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Index: Dossier: Literary Rejections

6. Patrons and toadying.

Stephen Wade: In the early eighteenth century authors became something reasonably close to what they are now: hard up, desperate and alone. But they could add that word to themselves and set up a stall, or at least a desk, somewhere in a tiny attic or cellar, and work day and night. The profession of jobbing scribbler became a possibility, and we are fortunate that the diary of one such early literary man has come down to us. This is the work of Abraham Poges, epic poet and social nuisance.

5. Rejection before slips.

Stephen Wade: ‘Early man and woman must have known literary rejection. Violence, aggression and downright open attacks are not uncommon and they are certainly not new. Today the poet is able to supply a retort to the editor by e-mail, writing ‘You know diddly-squit about good writing, you penny ha’penny hack.’ ‘

4. Cut with a dull blade.

Stephen Wade: ‘Arguably, the main barrier to attaining that is a quality of dullness. The snag is that a poet may be dull and not know it. That’s why critics exist. Though they may also be dull, so other critics are needed to tell them. But these critics may be dull so…That’s why we have literary theory.’

3. Gigs Gone Wrong.

Stephen Wade: ‘I have been, over the last thirty years or so a Russian-Yorkshire poet, an aesthetic Wildean, a Nervalian flaneur inhabiting literary cafes, a stand-up embarrassment purveying Yorkshire dialect verse, and a writer walking the wings in prisons. All this activity springs from my love of the spoken word. I put it all down to hearing the great Irish poet W B Yeats, who ill-advisedly recorded his poem on some kind of early His Master’s Voice disc, chanting “I will arise and go now…” in a tone somewhere between a guy eager for the loo and a vicar giving a sermon on a cold Sunday in Upper Swagdale.’

2: A philosophy of rejection.

Stephen Wade on A Philosophy of Rejection: ‘I exist as a general non-fiction writer, my most detailed specialist subject, should I ever be called to appear on University Challenge, is literary failure. Hence this series. Rejection is many things, if we search for images to explain it: like being hit by an iced-water spout; being slapped in the face by a wet haddock; being pole-axed by a thump to the midriff; being told to get off the pitch and have an early bath.’

1: The rejected authors’ chat-lines.

Stephen Wade: ‘As time pressed on and publishing became established as a money-making notion, writers became a nuisance. Basically, there were too many of them. Most failed scribblers could be picked out in society by their flat noses, caused by the door slamming them against the wall as they loitered outside a patron’s door. With literary failure came its trappings and side-effects: most affected areas of the body were the bottom (writers’ bottom’ entered the medical vocabulary in the nineteenth century); the pen-pusher’s palsy (affecting the cheek, which twitches after too much false smiling at agents) and most deadly of all, depression of course, brought on by rejection, and known as the ‘sighing sickness.’ This was caused by too much automatic sighing through boredom and misery.’