After 19 Rejections in Britain, Walsh Self-Published “Knowledge of Angels”

(p. B11) Jill Paton Walsh was greeted with acclaim in the 1960s when she began writing young-adult books that challenged her readers in both plotting and messaging.

. . .

But in 1994 Ms. Paton Walsh achieved a whole different level of acclaim, by an unlikely route, with a book for adults, “Knowledge of Angels,” a genre-defying medieval fable about an atheist and a girl raised by wolves. Here she delved into themes of faith and reason and more.

Yet despite her success with books for young readers, “Knowledge of Angels” struggled to assert itself: No one in her native England would publish it.

. . .

And so, in a move that was rare for the time, she published it herself — and had the last laugh. The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, one of the top literary awards in the world, and is said to be the first self-published book to make that elite list.

Peter Lewis of The Daily Mail had a crisp rebuke for all those publishers — 19 was the final count — who had said no to the book. “To open it and start reading,” he wrote, “is to be appalled by their lack of judgment.”

. . .

. . . when she shopped the ambitious “Knowledge of Angels,” there were no takers in her home country — though Houghton Mifflin had already published the book in the United States. The Guardian would describe it as “a compelling medieval fable centered on the conflict between belief and tolerance, and veined with a complex philosophical argument about the existence of God.”

. . ., Ms. Paton Walsh self-published the book in England, and though it did not win the Booker Prize, its nomination drew considerable attention.

After the nomination, Ms. Paton Walsh chided the British publishers, telling The Times, “They’re all afraid of their jobs, and they make their decisions by committee.”

For the full obituary, see:

Neil Genzlinger. “Jill Paton Walsh, 83, Author Who Scoffed at 19 Rejections.” The New York Times (Monday, November 23, 2020): D7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Nov. 19, 2020, and has the title “Jill Paton Walsh, Multigenerational Writer, Dies at 83.”)

A later edition of Walsh’s successful self-published book is:

Walsh, Jill Paton. Knowledge of Angels. reprint pb ed. London: Transworld Publishers Ltd., 1998.

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