Jonathan Lee

Maker of Dismal Days



William Heinemann 238pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

The manuscript for Paul Harding’s first novel, Tinkers, accumulated dozens of rejection letters and sat in a drawer for nearly three years. Eventually Bellevue Literary Press, a tiny, not-for-profit imprint affiliated with a New York mental  health institution, paid him a reported $1,000 advance and released the book in 2009. It garnered some word-of-mouth interest but was ignored by key taste-makers like the New York Times, just as it had been ignored by all the big publishers. And then – can you feel the back-of-the-neck prickle of an underdog story coming together? – the book was selected as a surprise finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It went on to win the award. The last time a novel from a small independent press had won a Pulitzer for fiction was A Confederacy of Dunces in 1981.

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