In the land of publishing, persistence is king: Rosie Garland gets a break

Kate Feld
Rosie Garland photo by Rachel Saunders

After years of rejections, the Manchester novelist strikes a six figure, two-book deal – and her new book hits the shelves this week.

A story like the one Rosie Garland tells is harrowing enough to make a dewy-eyed young writer reconsider ditching that law degree, happy ending or no happy ending. A writer slaves away on her fiction, working for years to get a novel published, collecting rejection letters by the bale, and at the very last moment – just when she’s ready to pack it in and do something else – the publishing world finally wakes up. Garland’s debut novel, The Palace of Curiosities, is the fantastic story of a romance between two outcasts of Victorian society: Eve, The Lion-Faced Woman, and Abel, The Flayed Man, star attractions in Professor Josiah Arroner’s eponymous freak show. It’s an intriguing tale in which the narrative deftly alternates between the two lead characters, drawing readers ever deeper into a world that is horrifying and dazzling but seems every bit as real as our own.

The characters reflect Rosie Garland’s lifelong fascination with outcasts and outsiders, “people who don’t fit what is lazily or casually defined as normal” – people like her. Growing up adopted, she was always aware of being different. “I never fitted anywhere,” she said during a recent chat at Richmond Tea Rooms, one of the Manchester-based writer’s favourite city centre haunts. Garland cut her teeth performing as a singer in Goth band The March Violets in the 1980s. She still sings, and frequently performs in cabaret and live poetry events as her sinuous PVC-clad alter ego, Rosie Lugosi the Vampire Queen, a much-loved figure on the Manchester literature scene.

A year ago nobody wanted to look at it, & then suddenly there’s a bidding war

Her craft has been honed over many years of writing poetry, and she has published several collections, including Everything Must Go, a book of poems about her battle with throat cancer. But The Palace of Curiosities is actually the fourth novel Garland’s written and submitted to publishers. In 2011, disheartened after years on the publishing roller coaster with little to show for it, she decided she’d enter her latest manuscript in Mslexia’s Women’s Novel Competition and then give up on fiction for good. To her great surprise, it made the shortlist. “I had 12 years of my agent saying no, I can’t get it in anywhere,” she says. “So when it got on the shortlist I thought hello! I am good at this. I can write. I’m not going to give up.”

Of course, she went on to win. And in a development whose irony is certainly not lost on Garland, publishers ended up competing for the right to publish the book. Harper Collins won, paying a reported six-figure sum for a two-book deal. “A year ago it was pretty much the same words, but nobody wanted to look at it,” she notes wryly. “Suddenly there’s a bidding war.” And this week that book hits the shelves with cover endorsements from Sarah Waters and Jenni Murray. Though Garland says she does feel a bit like “Mr. Spock dancing the can-can”, she’s enjoying every minute of her success, no matter how surreal it feels. “I’ve been working damn hard for a damn long time and I feel quite content and happy about the fact that no one can say this is a flash in the pan.”

Culture Guides

Theatre: RASA and Contact: Handlooms


Let us chase off those winter blues with our picks of the best theatre and performances happening in Manchester and beyond.


From the astounding new movie from Lynne Ramsay, to HOME’s One Film Wonders and Cumbria’s Picnic Cinema, we round up the best films showing in Manchester and the North.

Sonia Boyce at Manchester Art Gallery, exhibitions in the North West


In the wake of nation-wide controversy, Sonia Boyce opens at Manchester Art Gallery; Liverpool Biennial reveals its 2018 programme; and a Lake District-wide trail of contemporary art responds to the region’s new UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Feast of Fire


Outdoor feasts of fire, indoor theatrical adventure and space sagas with the Soyuz capsule that brought Tim Peake back to earth. March is looking hot to trot.

Poet and performer Hannah Silva. Photo by Field and McGlynn


March ahoy, and we can even spot April on the horizon! There’s lots of brand-new work from both established and emerging writers, and plenty of prose, poetry and performance to fill your mornings, afternoons and evenings, weekdays and weekends.


From death-themed musicals to day-long explorations of the current freakscene, via rising country stars and celebrations of our shared heritage with South Asia, the musical calendar for Manchester and the North is packed to the rafters.