Rejected 47 times, Irish novelist finally wins recognition

Donal Ryan's now-successful debut, "The Spinning Heart."
(Doubleday UK)

Every rejected and unpublished novelist harbors a secret and implausible fantasy: One day, not only will she (or he) be published, but the sleeping literary world will also awaken and recognize her (or his) genius and pile accolades and prizes upon her (or him).

This week, Irish novelist Donal Ryan became that writer. His debut novel “The Spinning Heart,” rejected 47 different times by publishers (or 50 in some accounts), was one of a baker’s dozen of books chosen for the longlist of one of the world’s most prestigious (and lucrative) literary prizes, the Man Booker.

“I was literally speechless [when I heard],” Ryan told the Limerick Leader. “I was getting phone calls from people and I couldn’t speak.”

“The Spinning Heart” is actually Ryan’s second attempt to write a novel. According to the Independent of Dublin, it was “plucked out of the slush pile” by an intern working at the appropriately named Lilliput Press in Dublin. That intern then “raved about it” to publisher Anthony Farrell who, in another lucky twist of fate, actually listened to the intern and read the manuscript.


“The Spinning Heart” is told from the points of view of 21 people struggling to survive the modern day Great Recession (as we call it on this side of the pond) in a rural village in southwest Ireland.

“I didn’t really set out to write a recession novel or make a chronicle of our times,” Ryan, 36, told the Guardian earlier this year. “It’s just that I chose to describe the lives of a group of people in Ireland, so the recession had to feature strongly in the background. In most of our communities, it is the first topic of conversation and it shapes our perception of who we are.”

Ryan is a father of two whose book advance wasn’t big enough to allow him to quit his day job. He’s a civil servant who works for the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in Limerick. His roundly rejected first novel will soon become his second published book -- it’s set to be released in the fall of 2014.



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