Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

Writing, perseverance, crushing disappointments

In his article for The Argus, Paul Malone wrote that while Halliday Sutherland believed that a writer should not presume to advise other writers, he did give two brief pointers during his Australian visit of 1939. They were:

Avoid textbooks on ‘How to Write’ and learn to persevere in the face of crushing disappointments.

Persevering in the face of crushing disappointments? As Sutherland wrote in his book Control of Life:

In December, 1930, I saw no prospect of giving my six children an education as good as that which my father, by great self-sacrifice, had given me. In less than four years the following story was starred in the Sunday Express, 28th October, 1934—


“This is the true story, told for the first time, of one of the most extraordinary book romances of recent years.

“It is the story of a man whose only previous books were technical ones. He was persuaded to write his memoirs, and did so with infinite labour. His manuscript was refused by publisher after publisher. Finally, when he had abandoned hope, it was accepted and published. From the first week it became a best seller. For nearly two years it has remained a world best seller. Today it is selling every week more copies than were sold in the first week of publication. Wherever books are discussed you hear talk of it. It has transformed the life of its lucky author, bringing him both fame and fortune. This romantic best seller is The Arches of the Years, a volume of reminiscences, written by Dr Halliday Sutherland, a fifty-year-old physician.”

Sutherland had worked on his manuscript between in the evenings and weekends December 1930 and November 1931, writing in longhand.

“There had been times when Dr Sutherland had set [his manuscript] aside in despair. Somehow or other it would not go. There were other times when he wrote from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. without hesitating for a word.

“This,” said the agent finally, “is a winner. I guarantee it will sell ten editions.”

Yet the “guarantee” appeared worthless as the manuscript was returned by the first publisher, then the second, and so on. It crossed the Atlantic twice, and was returned each time accompanied by polite letter declining the book. Sutherland despaired that he had wasted ten months of his life. The dream of improving his finances through writing a book had been a delusion, an adventure which now appeared to have taken him in the wrong direction.

Perseverance is best experienced in hindsight: it is a demanding companion in one’s daily life. A constant nagging that you have failed, that you have spent a sizable part of your life writing a book that no one will publish and having the strength to accept your fate, cheerfully, to live the day-to-day, to go to work, all the while intensely hoping, until another rejection letter confirms that the feeling in the pit in your stomach was right.

In all, twelve publishers rejected the book until Geoffrey Bles agreed to print it. The Arches of the Years sold 8,355 copies in its first week and made the Publishers Weekly list for 1933. It eventually sold 280,000 copies over 31 editions and was translated into German, Swedish, Dutch, Danish, Czechoslovakian and Polish. The book is a good read today and inexpensive second-hand copies are available online.


  • “On Writers Then and Now – Halliday Sutherland’s view” by Paul Malone in The Argus Saturday November 4th, 1939 (see: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/11289910).
  • “Control of Life” by Halliday Sutherland pages 191-4, Burns, Oates and Washbourne, Ltd London 1944.

One comment on “Writing, perseverance, crushing disappointments

  1. Pingback: Waiting for the new normal c.1936 - Halliday Sutherland

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This entry was posted on 15 March 2015 by in Books, The Arches of the Years.

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