Former painter up for book award

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A FORMER council painter who faced over 200 rejections from book publishers is in contention for one of Britain’s top literary honours.

Brian Conaghan, who left school with just two O Grades before working as a painter and decorator, is up for this year’s Costa Book Award.

The 44-year-old from Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, is in the running for his teenage novel ‘The Bombs That Brought Us Together’.

Conaghan, who was diagnosed Tourette’s Syndrome in his mid-twenties, abondoned his job as a painter and decorator before working as a barman and a DJ.

He eventually went to Coatbridge College to do his Highers and acheived a place at Glasgow University before going on to become a teacher.

His shortlisted novel tackles issues such as war and nationalism, and follows Charlie Law, a schoolboy from the fictional ‘Little Town’ who meets a 14-year-old refugee from the nearby ‘Old Country’.

The story was inspired by his own childhood in Coatbridge and the changing world around him when the book was written in 2014.

The conflict around the globe, coupled with divisions in Scotland sparked by the referendum campaign provided the base for his novel.

The talented author didn’t start writing until he was in his mid-thirties and gave up teaching when he was taken on by publishing giant Bloomsbury in 2012.

He is one of four writers in the running for the £5,000 prize for which a winner will be chosen in January. Winners from each category will go on to compete for an overall £30,000 prize.

If he wins, he’ll join the likes of English writer, Angela Readman and the internationally acclaimed Zoe Gilbert, whose short stories have been sold around the world.

The writer shot to prominence last year when he was nominated for the Carnegie Medal for his book When Mr Dog Bites, which was inspired after he was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome.

He said: “I’ve only really been writing seriously for about ten years. I’m a bit of a late developer and it doesn’t feel as if I was destined to be a writer.

“I was working out in Italy before then, teaching English and theatre studies in high schools.

“Before that I had co-founded a theatre company and tried to live the life of an actor for a couple of years but I was rubbish and didn’t really have the stomach for it.”

Conaghan was inspired to write ‘The Bombs That Brought Us Together’ by the civil unrest in the Ukraine and the Arab Spring and wanted to write about what may happen if a large military power invaded a smaller country.

Despite his success, the Scotsman faced hundreds of rejections before getting his break.

He continued: “I came back from Italy to do a creative writing course at Glasgow University and was teaching three days a week.

“My wife’s Irish and I was over teaching in Dublin when I got the contract with Bloomsbury.

“I had only had one book published before by a very small company but before that I had 217 rejections.

“But if you want to do anything creative, you are going to have to face rejection along the way.”

Conghan is one of three Scots in the running for the Costa Book Award. Edinburgh-based writer, Maggie O’Farrell, is in contention for her love story ‘This Must Be The Place’.

And Perth-born Sylvia Patterson is up for her memoirs which detail over thirty years in the music industry.

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