Man Booker Prize winner “gave up” after 78 rejections of first novel

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Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James on Wednesday said he once gave up writing after agents and publishers rejected his first novel 78 times.

“There was a time I thought I was actually writing stories people didn’t want to read,” the 44-year-old US-based Jamaican writer told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“I did give it up, I actually destroyed the manuscript [of the first novel],” James said.

“It was, if I remember the exact number, it was probably around 78,” he said when asked about the number of early rejections he received.

“I had to actually sit down and add it one day,” he said. “It was like, ‘Oh my god, I had no idea it was that much’.”

James said he hadn’t slept by Wednesday morning after Tuesday night’s award of the prize for his 686-page novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, inspired by an attempted assassination of musician Bob Marley by a group of young gunmen in 1976.

“A lot of it is based on true events, but quite a bit is made up and that’s sort of the reason for the book itself because there is no history,” he told the BBC.

“We’re not quite sure what happened to these men and I figured I could make a reasonably educated guess,” he said.

James, who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the first Jamaican to win the 47-year-old prize.

Writing the novel in the United States had helped him, he said, “because I think distance can sometimes equal perspective and I’m not sure you get a real 20-20 vision when you’re right in front of it.”

“I was being a reporter for events I don’t really know about,” he said.

Michael Wood, chairman of this year’s Booker judges, said the book was “startling in its range of voices and registers, running from the patois of the street posse to The Book of Revelation.”

“It is a representation of political times and places, from the CIA intervention in Jamaica to the early years of crack gangs in New York and Miami,” Wood said, predicting that the fast-paced, epic novel “will come to be seen as a classic of our times.”

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