My first love was music with renegade heroes like Keith Richards, Lou Reed and Joe Strummer, but intertwined every note of the way were its two cousins, literature and cinema (or books and films to you and me). Certainly the stuff I was into – Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Performance – are saturated in the imagery of rock n roll, never mind their soundtracks. And the corrupting influence and danger injected by On the Road, Junky, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas unquestionable. In a nutshell… writing is the new rock n roll!
But how do you write a novel? I had no idea…and didn't really want to. At that time the idea that someone could teach you how to write a novel seemed a bit like painting by numbers. I've come to be less arsey about the merits of creative writing training the more high quality stuff I read by such trained people, but the old punk/beat, three chord, first thought best thought Hendrix and Buddy Rich were self-taught dude was alive and kicking for all he was worth... and still is. In my mind at least, untrained = unconstrained. It also meant I could just get on with the fucking thing, which is always a very attractive and convenient notion.
For my first novel The Search for Ethan, I planned pretty much nothing other than it would be about two boys, one good, one bad, drugs would be involved, a tragedy would occur, a tiger mum would try and protect her son, whichever one that turned out to be, and redemption would form some part of the story. Then I dived right in. I would just sit down and write at least 1,000 words, whatever came to mind, linked however tenuously with that theme. No two chapters were written in order, which is pretty easy when you don’t have a story. As my moods can swing about a fair bit I decided to put that to use. When upbeat I'd tried to write funny (hopefully) material. Angry, write dark, bitter and twisted material. Depressed write despair (or nothing). The story developed by itself, as did the characters who really are the story, driven mainly by dialogue. A pretty anarchic way to write, but it works for me.
And suddenly… it was done. The Search for Ethan, a novel by Robert Cowan. So, what now? Well like most aspiring writers I jumped on the 'Find an agent express', with eyes on the prize of a deal with one of the big publishers and a huge advance which would allow me to write full time under their benevolent patronage, encouraging and developing my undoubted genius to greater and greater… Aye right. This was obviously going to take time and being patience free that’s when I looked into the self-publishing option. The ebook explosion has destroyed the previous publishing models in the same way that punk did with music. Now with the digital revolution it's even easier. The down side is quality control is essentially eliminated, left to the 'market', to use a political/economic analogy. But who says what is good and what is shit? I'm a colossal music snob, despise the XFactor, but what are the quality control alternatives? One thing that became obvious very quickly is that the big publishers, especially post financial meltdown, were very risk averse, only interested in things which fell into readily marketable genres. Oh, and celebrity books, lots and lots of celebrity books. Now from a business perspective it makes perfect sense, but if publishers have tossed their creative pretentions to get down and dirty with the rest of the business world, i.e. in the business of making money above all else, to my mind they have abdicated their right to be the gate keepers of literature. If you think of some of the classics, would they be published now? Many, I doubt. Also, the idea of being told to change this, add that… fuck right off! And that’s the absolute beauty of self-publishing. You have the opportunity (no more than that) to keep your own voice, write and publish your book, not someone else's version, uncorrupted by commercial concerns.
If writers viewed each other in commercial terms, we are competitors. That’s just a fact, especially if writing in the same genre. That for me is one of the major differences between the traditional publishing business and the indie scene. One is competitive, the other supportive. I have been blown away by the support of strangers who through social media have become friends… and now there's the McRenegades.