Bocas Lit Fest

Trinidadian author Kevin Jared Hosein recently pinned an enlightening and entertaining post to his personal Facebook page, where he chronicles more than a decade of writing and submitting to prizes, anthologies, agents and publishers before landing a “big” publishing deal in 2021. Like all good stories, this tale takes many unexpected turns – make sure you pay close attention to the dates in his timeline! We asked his permission to share his post here on our website so more Caribbean writers can read it. We are extremely grateful to have writers like Kevin in our community who document their personal experiences so other writers can benefit from it!

Read his story below:

KEVIN JARED HOSEIN’S PUBLISHING TIMELINE POST

(Originally posted to Facebook on 18 April 2021)

𝐅𝐄𝐁𝐑𝐔𝐀𝐑𝐘 𝟐𝟎𝟎𝟔

At 19, my father signs me up for a two-week workshop held by the University of Trinidad and Tobago, hosted by T’dad-born, US-based author Elizabeth Nunez. The crazy plan in my head is to ‘wow’ her with my writing so much that she’d recommend me to her literary agent or editor or publisher or whoever. It would be so good, it would be criminal for her not to do so! Me, I am some kind of writing wunderkind! I want to publish – and I want it now!

She hands me back my writing with critiques, semi-impressed but very willing to help. There’s a lot of red ink on it – which is something you should always be grateful for, by the way, as you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’d take that kind of care with your work. But at this time, it feels like she has taken a bloody knife to it.

The idea hits me and hits me hard: 𝘐 𝘢𝘮 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘢𝘴 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥 𝘢𝘴 𝘐 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘬 𝘐 𝘢𝘮. Now, if I want to learn anything, I must accept that I know almost nothing. I cannot show up for a meal with my bowl already full. This will become one of my most important lessons.

𝐒𝐎𝐌𝐄𝐓𝐈𝐌𝐄 𝐢𝐧 𝟐𝟎𝟎𝟏

I finish my first novel at age 15. I’m in Form Four. Double-spaced, it’s about 400 pages. I believe I know everything and can conquer the literary world. In my mind, I’m ready to publish, but how?

𝐌𝐈𝐃-𝟐𝟎𝟎𝟓

I apply to do Literatures in English at UWI St. Augustine, despite having done Sciences in school. I try to convince a few UWI professors and the Dean of Humanities that I know everything about Literature and would make a great student. I even bring that manuscript I wrote when I was 15. It’s gotten some water damage. Them watch me like I mad. Rightly so – even though I have 400 pages of imagination, I have no paper indicating that any of it is worth reading. I successfully enroll for a double major in Biology and Environmental Management.

𝐀𝐏𝐑𝐈𝐋 𝟐𝟎𝟎𝟔

V.S. Naipaul makes his first visit to Trinidad in 15 years. I’m in attendance as a university student. I somehow manage to get my old copy of  “A House for Mr Biswas” signed, despite Lady Naipaul’s call for only new books to be signed. A fellow student asks him for a writing tip. His tip is that you shouldn’t bother to write anymore, as most stories have already been written.

𝐀𝐔𝐆𝐔𝐒𝐓 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟖

I’ve won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for my story, “Passage”. Commonwealth Writers has taken me to Cyprus, where I meet the other regional winners. On my way back home, I have one last stop in London at BBC World Service. Publicist Daniel Kramb, who’s helped get the word out, meets me there, even though he doesn’t need to. Many people at the station have read “Passage” and comment that it’s a story like nothing they’ve ever read before.

Naipaul’s response comes to mind as I head into Gatwick, as well as the great unread plethora of Caribbean stories

𝐎𝐂𝐓𝐎𝐁𝐄𝐑 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟐

I enter the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for the first time out of a total of seven times. I get a rejection email. Turns out it’s rejection season, so a series of other rejection emails soon follow from a bunch of other online publications and competitions, including Small Axe, Guernica, Breakwater and much more. It is quite overbearing and stressful. I think I might be rushing. I need to be strategic.

𝐌𝐈𝐃-𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟑

I decide that if I want to traditionally publish and get attention, I need to make a plan and get something out there. Anything – but something good. So I semi-self-publish a children’s book called “Littletown Secrets”. Semi, because the publisher, Lyndon Baptiste at Potbake, is helping me get the books into stores and some readings. He meets me at TGIF in Price Plaza to hand me the first copy. I become quite proud of it, especially the fact that the intended age group seems to actually enjoy it. I do some school visits and even sell them at a Christmas Upmarket. The stint with self-publishing is fun at first, but a hassle in the long run.

𝐃𝐄𝐂𝐄𝐌𝐁𝐄𝐑 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟑

I receive an email from the senior editor at Akashic Books, Ibrahim Ahmed (now at Viking). Turns out they’re partnering with Peepal Tree Press to form an imprint called Peekash, and publish an anthology of the best Caribbean entries of the 2012 CSSP. My story, “The Monkey Trap”, is one despite not being on the shortlist.

𝐒𝐎𝐌𝐄𝐓𝐈𝐌𝐄 𝐢𝐧 𝟐𝟎𝟎𝟑

After seeing on a local newspaper that a local man has won a competition from Poetry.com, I decide to enter a poem. They write to tell me that I’m a winner of the competition. Poetry.com turns out to be a scam. There are literally thousands of winners and you have to spend money to get your prize.

𝐍𝐎𝐕𝐄𝐌𝐁𝐄𝐑 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟕

“Passage” (under a different name) is rejected by Granta Magazine during their open call for submissions.

𝐀𝐔𝐆𝐔𝐒𝐓 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟖

Granta Magazine publishes “Passage” after it wins the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

𝐎𝐂𝐓𝐎𝐁𝐄𝐑 201𝟑

I accidentally put my name on my Commonwealth Short Story Prize submission. Immediate disqualification.

𝐌ID-𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟒

I submit a manuscript for a novel called “The Repenters” to Peepal Tree Press. Months go by.

𝐌𝐀𝐑𝐂𝐇 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟓

I’ve been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for my story, “The King of Settlement 4”. One week later, Jeremy Poynting, publisher at Peepal, emails me to say he’s read my novel and would like me to do some tweaks on the manuscript before Peepal would consider publishing. He assigns Jacob Ross as the editor. Energized, I spend the Christmas vacation rewriting a third of the novel.

𝐀𝐏𝐑𝐈𝐋 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟔

“The Repenters” is published by Peepal Tree Press. It longlists for the OCM Bocas Prize for Fiction, expectedly loses to Kei Miller’s “Augustown”. And what better to lose to? I feel fortunate to be in good company. I give Jeremy Poynting a massive hug when I see him at the launch of “New Worlds, Old Ways”, which I also have a story in. He flinches — I suppose what I just did is weird. Not many people have read “The Repenters”, but that’s OK. He and Jacob have done a good job with it, and I’ll remain very proud of it.

𝐌𝐀𝐑𝐂𝐇 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟕

I’m a second-place winner for the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature. “The Beast of Kukuyo” is the name of the manuscript and you would be surprised how different the final product turns out to be, when compared to the initial manuscript. It is almost embarrassing. Tanya Batson-Savage from Blue Banyan Books is one of my favourite people I’ve worked with. She spots a hideous goof where a character hot-wires a car, goes somewhere and then turns the key in the ignition. This is why you need an editor.

𝐒𝐄𝐏𝐓𝐄𝐌𝐁𝐄𝐑 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟔

Colin Robinson (may he rest in peace) messages me to come onto The Morning Brew with him. He’s been invited to discuss his book, “You Have You Father Hard Head”. He’s done this because we launched our books together at Bocas, and thought it only right we speak together. I brave two hours of northbound traffic, excited to be on TV. Before the segment, Fitzgerald Hinds is making angry phone calls to the show about a comment directed at him in a previous segment. He is still calling during our segment, so they put his call on-air, where he overtakes our segment. So our segment lasts all of 4 minutes.

𝐌𝐀𝐘 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟖

I’m on a school-to-school book tour of “The Beast of Kukuyo”, coordinated by Bocas and the Ministry of Education. St. Augustine Community College’s librarian has rallied an entire discussion circle about the book. The energy is real and the feelings of validation is incredible. Not too long after, a denominational school on the Catholic Board bans the book and asks all students who were reading it to immediately return their copies or face suspension.

𝐋𝐀𝐓𝐄 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟕

Unknown to me, a librarian from the National Library Service of Barbados takes a chance and submits “The Repenters” for The International Dublin Literary Award, one of the most lucrative in the world (€100,000 for the winning book). It ends up longlisting. It doesn’t make it past that stage, but, still, I’m very grateful. Thank you, National Library Service of Barbados.

𝐒𝐄𝐏𝐓𝐄𝐌𝐁𝐄𝐑 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟖

An agent at a major New York literary agency has read “The Repenters”. He is extremely impressed and expresses willingness to sign me, but doesn’t sign any clientele without a completed manuscript. When he messages, I’m very far from completing an unpublished manuscript. So it goes.

𝐀𝐔𝐆𝐔𝐒𝐓 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟖

Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. I sit with the writer, Sarah Hall, in a cafe, who offers to put up my name for Wylie Agency. We converse at moderate length about the many ups and downs of this ‘business’ aspect of writing, sales expectations, agents who’ll cast you aside for their bigger clients, and the fact that you need to cast all those fears aside to keep sane and produce your best work.

𝐒𝐄𝐏𝐓𝐄𝐌𝐁𝐄𝐑 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟖

An agent, Chris Wellbelove, from Aitken Alexander Agency signs me, even though I have no completed manuscript. I assume it’s because I’d had two books with smaller presses already. He’s contacted me after my 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize win, thanks to a tip-off from Marina Salandy-Brown from Bocas Lit Fest. I tell him I’m halfway through a novel, even though I’ve barely begun. For the rest of 2018, I hurriedly try to complete the novel.

𝐀𝐏𝐑𝐈𝐋 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟐

I’m reading a short story at the arcade outside NALIS, during the NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Marina Salandy-Brown is in attendance and commends the readings.

𝐄𝐀𝐑𝐋𝐘 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟗

I abort the manuscript, scrap every single damned word and decide to restart. Imposter syndrome takes over big-time. What am I doing? What am I really doing here?

𝐀𝐔𝐆𝐔𝐒𝐓 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟕

I’m one of two Trinidadian Literature representatives for CARIFESTA XIII in Bridgetown, Barbados, one of the worst experiences I’ll have on this journey. There is no forum for me to read, so I’m told to read to passers-by at an intersection of the Grand Market. A jazz band would play to an audience of one later that day, and a play troupe will put on a performance for the security personnel. I know it’s the fault of the Bajans but that doesn’t stop the bad feelings, the bad thoughts. What am I doing? What am I really doing here?

MA𝐑𝐂𝐇 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟔

Commonwealth Writers is about to launch a new platform called adda, which will serve as a collection of fiction and non-fiction for writers from all the various regions. They commission me to do one of the first pieces – something, anything on Trinidad, and I’m assigned an editor, Sunila Galapatti. On a whim, I decide to do something non-fiction on the place I was born, La Paille Village, Caroni. I interview my grandfather and a village elder, and obtain information from my own parents and my in-laws. Angelo Bissessarsingh agrees to help me when I tell him about it. We meet at his home mere months before he passes away from pancreatic cancer. Even then, he is quick-witted and sharp. He relays an invaluable amount of historical information to me, and I write a piece called “Children of Straw”, which is well-received.

𝐍𝐎𝐕𝐄𝐌𝐁𝐄𝐑 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟕

University of London and Peekash Press are doing an anthology called “We Mark Your Memory”. I fictionalize my piece to adda as my submission. It’s accepted, with a very nice note from the editor, David Dabydeen.

𝐌𝐀𝐘 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟗

“We Mark Your Memory” is launching in Guyana. None of the Guyanese contributors of the anthology live in Guyana, so Trinidadians will have to suffice. Gabrielle Hosein and I do readings at Moray House in Georgetown. I’m only there for one night. I leave work to go directly to the airport. I become a fan of the Guyanese overnight, except for the one customs officer who took a smoke break in the middle of processing arrivals. The flight is in the morning and I’m back to my day-job by lunchtime.

𝐉𝐔𝐍𝐄 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟗

I restart my novel for Wellbelove and decide to expand on the story I’d written for “We Mark Your Memory”. It will make a good novel, is my thought. This will eventually become “Devotion”, later picked up by Bloomsbury and Ecco for a massive advance.

𝐋𝐎𝐂𝐊𝐃𝐎𝐖𝐍 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟎

I regularly go to sleep at two a.m. trying to write this novel and do lesson plans for insanely depressing remote learning. Wellbelove and I play ping-pong with this manuscript, and sometimes I wonder if I am an idiot for some of these errors. Sometimes I disagree with what he is saying. But I make sure to fight for the things I want to keep. Other things – I just keep in mind that he knows what publishers want. He’s the agent. I have to trust him.

𝐌𝐀𝐑𝐂𝐇 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟏

After several ping-pong matches with the “Devotion” manuscript between Wellbelove, his assistant and I, he finally decides it’s ready to be sent out. Two days after it’s sent out, several editors have already read it and made offers. I meet with each editor over Zoom and we speak for about an hour each on average. It feels like the London BBC office all over again—commenting that it’s like nothing they’ve ever read before. We do an auction and I end up going with Bloomsbury for UK/Commonwealth rights.

𝐓𝐇𝐑𝐎𝐔𝐆𝐇𝐎𝐔𝐓 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟐-𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟎

I’m rejected by Wasafiri four years in a row. And then Rattle for four years in a row. But Rattle mails me very nice chapbooks in exchange for the submission fees, so it’s not so bad.

𝐄𝐀𝐑𝐋𝐘 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟗

An editor at Ecco (HarperCollins) randomly messages me on Facebook, saying she has read my work and has been following my career for a while. Then tells me to send a manuscript to her when I’m ready. Of course, I have nothing but an aborted manuscript when she messages.

𝐓𝐇𝐑𝐎𝐔𝐆𝐇𝐎𝐔𝐓 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟐-𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟎

Rejected by Mogford Writing Prize, Trouble the Waters anthology, So Many Islands anthology, every Burt Award that wasn’t 2017, every Hollick Arvon Prize, V.S. Pritchett Short Story Prize twice, Hemingway Short Fiction Prize, Masters Review Flash Fiction, Madison Review, Breakwater Review three times, Puffin Review, Bridport Prize, Electric Literature three times, Guernica twice, SX Salon, Philosophy Through Fiction, Sci Phi Journal, Nightmare Magazine, Sextant, Bath Novel Award twice, Moth Magazine four times, Caterpillar Magazine (children’s version of Moth) twice, turned down for a Bread Loaf Fellowship in Fiction. Was supposed to attend Miami Book Fair but didn’t receive US visa in time. I even ghost-wrote a poem for a child submitting to a “What I Love About [redacted] Supermarket” competition. Rejected. I hope the child didn’t feel too bad.

𝐌𝐀𝐑𝐂𝐇 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟐

I’m scrambling to get a short story ‘officially’ published just so I can be eligible to enter for the Hollick Arvon Prize for Fiction.

𝐀𝐔𝐆𝐔𝐒𝐓 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟖

In Nicosia, Cyprus, I’m being interviewed by Theo Panayides at the Cleopatra Hotel and he asks me if I’ll leave Trinidad to explore publishing opportunities. I hesitate a little.

𝐀𝐏𝐑𝐈𝐋 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟏

I inform Wellbelove about the editor’s random Facebook message two years back. He gets the book to Ecco and they pull a Don Corleone, making an offer I cannot refuse. So Ecco ends up with USA/Canada rights. I remain amazed that all of this has transpired despite having never physically met anyone, not even my agent.

𝐒𝐎𝐌𝐄𝐓𝐈𝐌𝐄 𝐢𝐧 𝟏𝟗𝟗𝟓

The Sunshine Magazine in the Sunday Guardian publishes my short story, “My Transformed Neighbourhood”, for a $25.00 book voucher in St. Aubyn’s Book Services.

𝐀𝐔𝐆𝐔𝐒𝐓 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟖

Cleopatra Hotel, Nicosia. My answer to Theo Panayides is ‘no’ to leaving Trinidad.

FEBRUARY 2023

A lead title in both sides of the pond backed by a significant marketing campaign, in early 2023, my manuscript “Devotion” will be published as 𝑨𝒅𝒐𝒓𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 in the UK and the Commonwealth (including Trinidad and Tobago, of course) by Bloomsbury Publishing UK, and 𝑯𝒖𝒏𝒈𝒓𝒚 𝑮𝒉𝒐𝒔𝒕𝒔 in North America by Ecco Books. I assume there’s still a lot to learn until then. And from there. And beyond.

With great thanks to the editors from both publishers, and my agent — this novel is better than I thought it ever could’ve been. The writer researches, dreams and writes the book, but it is the team that makes the book. And I couldn’t have asked for a more professional, more devoted team. I really think this novel got the best of the best. They have helped shape this novel into a colossus.

Written by Kevin Jared Hosein in April 2021, updated in 2022 for the Bocas Lit Fest website

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