Self-Publishing my Rock ‘n’ Roll Love Story
Music writer, Zoe Howe, took her first foray into self-publishing with her debut novel, Shine On, Marquee Moon. It’s since received rave reviews and is available in a range of formats. She tells us a little about the book itself and outlines the reasons for her decision to self-publish – despite being an accomplished non-fiction writer already…
I didn’t set out to write a ‘rock ‘n’ roll love story’, although that’s what it became. I just wanted to get some of my own experiences down and transmute them into something new, partly for my own entertainment, partly as a cathartic exercise.
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It’s a cliché but it was natural to write what I knew about and was close to. I’ve spent much time over the years in and around bands or theatre companies, and wanted to write about life on and off the road, and how disorientating it can be once a tour is over. It’s all too easy, certainly once you get to a certain level, to become insular and cosseted by touring life – there’s always someone to pick you up, tell you where you’re going, what you’re doing, where you’re eating, pick up the tab, take you home and practically put you to bed when it’s all over. ‘Normal’ life – from the fridge that needs filling to the bills that need facing to the family that needs attention – can be discombobulating. Rock and pop mean fun and freedom and intense experiences, unusual characters, stupid trousers and disappointing riders (I remember once being backstage and finding nothing more than a zip lock bag of broken biscuits and some thin plastic cups that melted as soon as you poured hot water in). Naturally, I felt the world needed a book to encapsulate all of this.
Why I Chose to Self-Publish
I first started writing the book about seven years ago – I know, it really should be a lot thicker for seven years’ work, but a great deal of time was spent chopping it back, rewriting it. It’s evolved a lot, and it needed to. I cringe when I look back to my early drafts (and the fact that I showed them to people), but it’s all part of the process, as painful as it may be!
I’d decided in my heart that I wanted to go DIY and retain control.
My usual genre is non-fiction music books, so this was a departure for me and a hugely enjoyable one to work on, but I knew I had no form in fiction and it would be a job to try to get an agent, let alone a publisher, to take me on, even if I did have a number of rock biographies under my belt. Hence why I decided to do it myself. It was a positive decision – it wasn’t because ‘no one wanted it’. I didn’t really pitch the final manuscript around very much because I’d decided in my heart that I wanted to go DIY and retain control. I worked with an editor and readers, of course, which is something I definitely recommend; you become way too close to the work to be objective and need a fresh pair of eyes to make sure things are on the right track. But I wanted to be as autonomous as possible, as I think all artists should be where possible.
My Book in a Nutshell
The main protagonists in the story are Sylvie, a strong, warm-hearted, bohemian heroine who works for an ageing 80s pop band as a wardrobe mistress and Nick, her fiancé, a troubled pop star with a secretive nature and a ‘square peg/round hole’ complex. It’s kind of an intense hothouse world they’re living in – things happen fast if they’re going to happen at all. Nick is gifted but unfulfilled. He’s basically in the wrong band; as a teenager he was swept up into a manufactured New Romantic group and became too indulged and too rich to really want to do anything about it, even if he’d rather have been in Bauhaus or The Cult. Nick falls for Sylvie because she’s one of the few people around who isn’t brash, isn’t a hustler and isn’t a fan who sees him through a gauze of starry-eyed awe. They also share a favourite album – Television’s Marquee Moon (which just turned 40 last week). Yes, when he isn’t on stage pouting and plonking away on a synthesiser, he retreats into his rather more tasteful record collection, and Sylvie, fortunately, loves exactly the same music as he does.
There’s plenty of twisted romance, obsession, a lot of irreverent humour, some mystery (someone recently told me it was ‘like Smash Hits edited by Scooby Doo’ – could there be a higher compliment?) and, naturally, a lot of music in Shine On, Marquee Moon. At the same time, the book has quite a dark heart, but I wanted to reflect the extremes and heightened colours and frequent ridiculousness of rock ‘n’ roll in the story as well as the dark corners, the anxiety and the trap-doors one can all too easily – and sometimes willingly – fall through.
It means a lot to me that the book is read and enjoyed by men as well as women, even though I realise it falls naturally into the ‘women’s fiction’ category. I was told by a couple of people in the publishing industry that ‘women don’t want to read about rock ‘n’ roll’, which I don’t particularly agree with, although I understand that publishers are reluctant to take a chance on anything that might seem like a bit of a wild card by someone with no particular form in fiction. I jokingly called it ‘rock chick lit’, for boys as well as girls. All the same, I’ve had so many messages from people – men AND women – who have enjoyed it. I’m tremendously honoured to say that the book was also shortlisted for the Virginia Prize For Fiction (still can’t believe it) and it was proclaimed an ‘instant rock ‘n’ roll classic’ by the wonderful Blackwell’s bookstore, so while I still have my moments of self-doubt about it, I’m pleased I went ahead and did it myself, with Matador. If I’d just waited to get it published the traditional way, it might never have happened, I very likely would have lost confidence in it and it would have remained firmly in a folder on my hard drive. He who dares, Rodney…
You can buy Shine On, Marquee Moon in paperback or audiobook format from zoehowe.bandcamp.com
Meet Zoe at her upcoming events:
23rd February, 17.30 – Victoria Library, London SW1
22nd April – Kentish Town Library, London NW5
3rd May – Barbican Library, London.