This is what it’s like to be a writer. You become aware in your teens that you’re different. You’re more sensitive than other people. You feel more deeply. Then you start writing with a feverish compulsion. You scribble things in notebooks, on the back of your hand, on the backs of other people’s hands. You keep a sheaf of foolscap by the bed so that, if you wake in the night, your ideas won’t be lost to posterity. Publication ensues, then acclaim, followed by spinning-reel sales and, more often than not, the adulation of the opposite sex.
I’m kidding. Being a writer is nothing like this. To learn what it’s really like, pick up a copy of Chris Paling’s amiable, ambling literary diaries. For anyone not familiar with his oeuvre, his literary career – Paling has also held down day jobs as a Radio 4 producer and a librarian in Brighton – consists of writing quietly touching novels such as A Town by the Sea (2005) and Minding (2007). Critically, his books have earned approval from the broadsheets. Nick Hornby called After the Raid (1995) ‘enviably accomplished’.
Yet somehow Paling has never made the big league of such near-contemporaries as Ian McEwan, say, or Martin Amis. One of the gentle pleasures of A Very Nice Rejection Letter is its portrait of the mild humiliations of being a mid-list novelist. Even the title is an example of one