Thursday 13 October 2022

Hooray for Hopeful Signs by Sheena Wilkinson

 I was standing outside Waterstone’s in the centre of Derry, which is my nearest city.

‘I’m not going in,’ I told my husband. ‘It’ll only put me in a bad mood.’


He looked bemused. ‘But it’s a bookshop. You love books.’


‘You don’t understand. Bookshops are no longer the emporia of delight they used to be. If they don’t have any of my books then it’ll make me feel sad and angry and a failure.’ 


But I went in anyway, partly because I wanted to buy the new Kate Atkinson and the new Maggie O’Farrell, and partly because I’m 54 and I need to put my big girl pants on sometimes. And lo! They had four of my eight novels in stock, two of them turned face out, which is always gratifying. And when I approached the bookseller and offered to sign the stock, she didn’t seem to think I was a weirdo, but responded with enthusiasm, a good pen, a photo on Instagram and an invitation to do a signing when my new book – my adult debut – comes out in the spring.  

I love the description 'fab and quirky'!


I’m so glad I didn’t just scuttle in and out. Sometimes, as writer, it’s easy to feel despondent. 

We all know about the need for unpublished writers to be tenacious and not to be knocked back by rejection. But rejection, or disappointment, can happen at every stage of your career, even for established and successful writers. Tastes change. Gatekeepers wield ever-more-baffling sets of keys. Shops don’t stock your books. Festivals don’t invite you. You send stories out into what seems an uninterested void even though you know they are better than the stories you were wining prizes with ten years ago. But then, every so often, something happens to buoy you up. That encounter in Waterstones was one. Last month, a short story I wrote six years ago, and had always believed in, even though it had never found a home or even a longlisting, won first prize in a competition, and another story, taken from an unsold novel, was shortlisted in another, really big competition.

A lovely win at a lovely festival -- Write by the Sea

I feel almost as encouraged when good things happen to other writers, as if good luck is infectious. I’ve been so delighted, over the past couple of weeks, to see Rachel Ward’s Ant and Bea mysteries, a series I loved and thought should be much better known, enjoying a second lease of life, five years after the first one was published. Joffe Books licensed the e-rights for the series from Sandstone Press and relaunched them with a new look as The Supermarket Mysteries. The first two are riding high in the Kindle charts. ‘Not quite an overnight success,’ says Rachel, ‘but extremely welcome!’ 

Zoe Marriott agrees. She’s recently had a story shortlisted in the Oxford Flash Fiction story, and like mine, hers is a story that has been out in the world for a while. ‘I love my weirdo little story,’ Zoe says, ‘and this is validation that it was good all along.’ I’m thrilled for Zoe, and I recognise so well that need for validation – after all, we wouldn’t bother sending our work into the world if we didn’t hope it would connect with people. Zoe, widely published and acclaimed as a YA novelist, nevertheless felt frustration at the ‘near misses’ she had previously had in competitions: ‘I felt as if I’d never win anything. but this has reframed it all for me: now I can see those near misses as hopeful signs.’


Hooray for hopeful signs! And for anyone reading this blog, who might also have experienced disappointment and frustration on their writing journeys, I hope you’ll be encouraged too. 

autumn flowers -- a rather obvious metaphor 


Lynne Benton said...

Congratulations, Sheena! A bookshop stocking four of your eight books really does count as a success!

Anonymous said...

That's brilliant seeing so many of your books in the bookshop. Just read the new Maggie O'Farrell and I'm half way through the new Kate Atkinson but I got the the hardbacks from the library. I'm still not brave enough to venture into too many shops and book shops xxxx