CANBERRA (Reuters) - As a writer, Valerie Martin found she quickly became tough-skinned, with rejection par for the course as she set out to build a career.
But her determination to be a writer never wavered, and her years of hard work were validated in 2003 when she won Britain's Orange Prize for her novel Property, beating out Zadie Smith, Carol Shields and Donna Tartt for the award.
Her recently published ninth novel, The Confessions of Edward Day, takes place in the 1970s theater world of New York, centered on a talented young actor who is saved from drowning by a somewhat sinister man who becomes his rival.
Martin, an American who grew up in New Orleans, spoke to Reuters about her writing:
Q: It's been a couple of years since your last book. Is that your usual pace?
A: I think it is getting to be about two years, although it could take a little longer. I am going to be teaching for the next two years, so that will slow me down a bit. My next book requires a lot of research as it is another 19th century novel, whereas this book was in the 1970s, so the research I had to do was more in my own head.
Q: Did winning the Orange Prize change your approach?
A: It didn't change the way I approach my writing. I go at it in the same spirit. But I was very surprised so many people were attracted to Property in Britain, and it was very reassuring. In some ways it made me feel better about writing just for myself, which is what I do. I don't think about the audience.
Q: Does such an award help your career?
A: Definitely in Britain, as it allowed by backlist books to come out, but not really in the United States because the Orange Prize is not known. But any positive response is good for editors and helps them to get more excited about the next book. Frontlist sells backlist, as my agent always says.
Q: Did you always want to write?
A: As early as high school it was what I wanted to do. My father had wanted to be a writer as well but ended up being a sea captain instead. I think he did regret not being a writer, but he couldn't take criticism. I think when he started watching my career and saw how much rejection you have to take, he was pretty impressed, although horrified.
Q: Was it hard to get started?
A: I didn't have too much trouble, but then I went to graduate school and took a degree in creative writing, and that allowed me to meet a few people who knew people. It took me about a year to find my agent.
Q: In Edward Day you focus on actors. What drew you to that industry?
A: I got commissioned to write a play of Property some years ago, and although the play never worked out, I got interested in actors because it struck me that their lives are worse even than writers', and what a cruel, excruciating business it can be. They really are artists, and the competitiveness is so brutal. Then I heard a story of someone who had almost drowned and was saved by a stranger who moved into his life, and the whole idea of owing your life to someone appealed to me.
Q: Any advice for aspiring writers?
A: There really isn't any idea that you can give that is useful, but just keep working and get things out there. You have to take a lot of rejection at the start of your career and it can be very hard going.
(Editing by Miral Fahmy)