Mick Rooney is an author, editor and publishing consultant from the Republic of Ireland. He has published nine books since 1990, through his own imprint, using author solutions services, and he has also published through mainstream publishers.
Welcome to my Guest Page Mick!
Thanks Helen for having me along as a guest for the blog book tour of my new novel The Memory of Trees.
Welcome to my Guest Page Mick!
Thanks Helen for having me along as a guest for the blog book tour of my new novel The Memory of Trees.
I wanted to talk about the rebirth of the culture of the spoken word. In spite of the growth of ebooks, the competition from entertainment mediums like TV and gaming, and not to mention the challenges facing authors and the publishing industry in difficult economic times; the spoken word as a vehicle for the delivery of literature appears to be undergoing quite a renaissance. While we hear a lot about digitalisation in publishing and sales of ebooks soon to go into double percentage figures in the UK, we should not overlook the significance of the boom in audiobooks as well.
For me, in all the books of fiction I have written, short story collections and novels, I performed the work publically at readings and also set much of to spoken word and music performance. My new novel will be no different. When I write, I am usually writing with music in the background, so sound and rhythm permeates every word I write. That process of creation has become second nature to me.
Music and literature have always had a unique relationship, with both composer and writer in a never-ending struggle to perfectly construct and record their definition of experience through seduction and mystery.
Spoken word can be used to describe a musical or term of entertainment, referring to works or performances that consist mostly of one person speaking or reciting literary work (published or unpublished). Music in spoken word, more often than not, plays a background or accompanying role enriching rather than overpowering the word. The work may be written by the speaker (sometimes improvised in performance) or originate from a renowned writer, but the key should always be to deliver the words in a natural voice. Though presented musically, the song "Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen)" by Baz Luhrmann, is an ideal example of this, as distinct from modern rap music where rhythm and melody is intrinsically interwoven into the overall performance. In entertainment, spoken word performances generally consist of storytelling or poetry, best exemplified by artists like Hedwig Gorski, the originator of performance poetry, British punk poet John Cooper Clarke, the monologues written by Spalding Gray, and the spoken word improvisations by Henry Rollins. In the 1980’s, the BBC began broadcasting British playwright Alan Bennett’s series of monologues called “Talking Heads”.
Spoken word as we understand it today in the western world—as a delivered performance—did not fully evolve until the late 1980s with the emergence of "Poetry slams," where spoken word artists would square off in duels (the equivalent of poetry’s X-Factor). Slam poetry and vocal events have been popular in India and Pakistan and many areas of the Middle East for centuries as part of the cultural ritual to weddings and other celebrations and festivals. In the United States, the competition of slam poetry arose in the 1980’s from rap music and competitions for rap vocalists. Like the previous Beat generation of the 1960’s, the common elements were political activism, social commentary and self-exploration. Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City is one of the earliest venues where poets could go and protest in spoken word about the ills of society. Def Poetry on HBO became the most visible venue for slam-type protest poets, but the poets did not necessarily compete against each other for audience approval. Indeed, every nation perhaps has its own story and folklore on the history and emergence of spoken word artists through culture and song.
Spoken Word as a new wave of cultural expression, just like the writers of the Beat Generation, was adopted by the youth of college circuits to describe a performing art form that began with the Postmodern Art Movement. Spoken Word has become something of a catchall phrase to describe anything that doesn’t fit into the already established categories of performance arts such as music, theatre or dance.
Two prime examples of the explosion of the live spoken word circuit closer to my own home are the Glor Sessions, streamed live across the globe with poet and MC, Stephen James Smith. It takes place in Dublin City every Monday night, featuring a host of local and international writers and musicians in an intimate and impromptu setting. The success of the Glor Sessions has led Stephen and some of the performing artists and writers on to large European music festivals such as Electric Picnic. Dublin also has its own Poetry slam in the guise of Literary Death Match.
Another example of spoken word flourishing is London’s Book Slam. Book Slam was London’s first true literary nightclub, featuring writers, live music and a Serbian DJ. Guests over the years have included the likes of Hanif Kureishi, Dave Eggers, Adele, Nick Hornby and Kate Nash. BookSlam was founded in 2003 by ex Everything But The Girl musician, Ben Watt, and author and Whittbread Book Award winner, Patrick Neate. Elliot Jack, promoter and producer, and Canongate’s Head of Publicity, Angela Robertson now run the event on the last Thursday of every month. This year BookSlam has taken its first step into book publishing with the release of an anthology of written material—appropriately, considering the subject of this article—inspired by music. The anthology features writing by Irvine Welsh, William Boyd, Hari Kunzru, Simon Armitage, and several other established and new authors.
For the record, Armitage chose to write a poem based on Joy Division's "New Dawn Fades" to explore lead singer Ian Curtis' suicide, Kunzru piece is based on "New Gold Dream" by Simple Minds, Boyd chose Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' "Tears of a Clown", and Welsh went for Republic of Loose’s “Comeback Girl”.
And in the digital age of publishing, BookSlam’s first published anthology will be available as an ebook, multi-platform app, and audio download as well as hardback. The stories will also be available individually.
However, many more spoken word artists and poets have not chosen publish their work in book form, preferring instead to use video and audio recording and the reach that mediums like You Tube and live performance can deliver. Spoken word artist Hedwig Gorski rejected what she described as the "dull-drums" of book publishing in the 1980’s. What is very definitely clear about the place the spoken word movement has in our oral culture and literature today is its continued rise across the world in all languages. The new wave of self and digital publishing has given a voice to many writers without a formal academic background, and whether live on a stage of performance, or through digital and audio platforms of distribution, the modern writing community is embracing spoken word in a way not seen since before the days of the Guttenberg Press.
Believe me, this whole digital age of publishing is not all bad news for the book reader and purist. Now, more than ever before, there are more and more chances to get close and personal with local and international poets and authors. Check your event listings for literary events, slams and festivals in your local area.
More about Mick:
Several years ago he began researching the publishing industry, and in particular Independent, POD (print-on-demand) and subsidy/self-publishers. Many of the findings of his research can be found at his site, The Independent Publishing Magazine together with his own experiences in the world of writing and publishing. He is the author of To Self Publish or not to Self Publish? A Seriously Useful Author's Guide.
He is also a contributor to many magazines and online resources including, Writers’ Forum, Publishing Basics Magazine, Publetariat, Carnival of the Indies, selfpublishingreview.com, Irish Publishing News, as well as many writing and publishing forums.
In September 2011, he published his latest novel with Book Republic, The Memory of Trees, available in hardback and Kindle ebook. When he completed writing the novel, he launch a spiritual site, Strength Through Joy featuring the serial pieces, Things That Happen, chronicling his own spiritual journey.
Mick Rooney can also be found on Facebook
H.H. The Memory of Trees: So what is your book about?
M.R. The Memory of Trees is the story of Carlos, a shepherd boy, who travels from his village home in Cyprus. He feels driven to following in the footsteps of Saint Paul, and his uncle, into the Middle East, through Israel, into Syria, and along the road to Damascus. Carlos is a teenage boy, bright, thoughtful and passionate, brought up on the traditions of his village and wise elders. So many of the experiences in the book for Carlos are microcosms of what we all have to experience in life loss of loved ones, exile from our natural environment—that safe place we all want to hold on to—and the journey of risk we all take in life without always knowing why we put one foot in front of the other.
I wrote The Memory of Trees very much in the style of a parable. It’s deceptively simple, and it was a change from what I had been writing up till then. In a nutshell – it’s a parable about listening to the inner voice, seeking our truths, rather than seeking inspiration or motivation from others in your life. I think it’s great to be inspired and influenced positively by others, but only so long as you understand what has made those people around you reach the decisions they make. Too often we follow footprints in the sand ahead of us without being willing to carve out our own track and plan.
H.H Is this your first book? If not what else have you written?
M.R. No, Helen, it’s not. I’ve think this is number nine! I’ve actually been writing and publishing books since 1985. I started out self-publishing my first book in 1990 with my own publishing imprint, long before the days of POD (print on demand) and ebooks. Back then, for a number of years, I was desktop publishing the print proofs, guillotining, sewing, binding and making up the hardback cloths and boards myself. I was a micro-publisher, packager, distributor and marketer all rolled into one!
I had an equal passion for the world of publishing as well as writing. I think even in my early twenties that I understood the life of a writer was a marathon rather than a sprint; a passion and dedication rather than a career move; and every book I wrote became a long book project—many revisited and rewritten over the years. I’ve written everything from poetry, experimental fiction, historical fiction, and literary fiction, articles on music and the publishing industry, and even managed a self-publishing guide! I’ve always prided myself in the fact that the written word can be published, read to an audience, performed, set to music—you name it. Certainly today innovation and reinvention are critical for authors and publishers.
H.H. You seem to be a bit of a champion for self published authors who have run into trouble? How did you get involved with this?
M.R. Ah, Helen, we’re in the gondola of self-publishing now, sailing down a tricky waterway! I’ll leave the romanticism to one side. Yes, I’ve self-published a number of books, but in the past two years I’ll been involved and published with a couple of mainstream publishers – Troubador in the UK, and Book Republic, an imprint of Maverick House in Ireland. Both have proved themselves to be very innovative publishers, way ahead of many big publishing houses in the manner both have operated their publishing models for their authors.
I don’t consider myself a champion of self-publishing, as such. Self-publishing is a very personal decision for any author, and for many, it isn’t the right way to go unless you have a grasp of how publishing really works, and you have considered all the reasons why you are looking at the self-publishing avenue.
I started The Independent Publishing Magazine in late 2007 as a resource for authors, because back then—and even now—there are just not enough information portals demonstrating a critical and objective eye on so-called self-publishing services, or as I’d rather refer to them as – author solutions services. That label brings together everything from printers, binders, packagers, subsidy, self-assisted and even out and out vanity presses.
I’ve always preferred to be called an author advocate, rather than some kind of champion or promoter of self-publishing services. It’s a bit like teenage sex. It’s going to happen no matter how much a parent can advise against it, so as a publishing consultant, I’d rather an author be well informed and advised on all the avenues and paths to publishing than see them make ill-informed choices or lose a lot of money on a poorly considered publishing venture.
H.H. From experience I have learnt that there are pros and cons in independent publishing - self or assisted. What advice can you give for authors who are thinking of going "independent"?
M.R. Helen, firstly, authors need to ask the question why they are self-publishing. Then, very critically examine what expectations they have for their book and career as a writer. None of those answers can come unless authors understand how publishing works, and unless their work has undergone proper and professional review in manuscript form from a skilled editor or writing workshop class or group. In the publishing world, and for perspective future readers – what your Aunt Mable or spouse thinks about your book really isn’t going to cut it as a marker of its true value. So—in short—write, write, write; edit, edit, edit; and research, research, research; before you ever consider approaching a literary agent, publisher, or the self/subsidy option.
As a consultant and research editor of The Independent Publishing Magazine, I’m inundated with emails every day. The two biggest bugbears I have are the emails that ask – What publishing service should I use? And, I self-published and got burned. That can be frustrating, because it tells me many don’t know how the publishing business works, and worse, report back to me of bad experiences with a service I’ve flagged as poor, or where there are outstanding problems. It was one of the reasons I introduced my Publishing Index on the site – a sort of stock exchange evaluation of 70+ services worldwide for authors. It gets updated about every two months, includes review ratings, email feedback from authors, updates and improvements on the services, and many other statistics I have built into the evaluation engine.
H.H. Tell us about where you live - Ireland isn't it? A town, a village....?
M.R. I grew up in a south suburb of Dublin City. Dublin is a thriving city of culture, literature, art galleries and music. Irish people are instinctively chatty, open and helpful, so it should be on any tourist’s literary holiday spot. I actually divide a lot of my time commuting between Dublin and Amsterdam (close to where my girlfriend lives), and another very classy, literary and cultural city!
My Dinner Party Ten Guests
I think it would just rude not to invite my hostess to the top of the table, Ms Hollick! (HH - thank you - I accept!)
Samuel Beckett is my favourite Irish author, but I’m not sure if he were alive today that he would take up the invitation! He could be a grumpy reclusive sod when he wanted.
Every dinner party should have a master of ceremonies, and Mr South Bank Show, Melvine Bragg, fits the bill for me. I haven’t read any of his fictional work, but during the 1980’s he wrote a wonderful book called Ten Great Writers.
Dennis Potter, gritty British playwright and writer of The Singing Detective. Who can ever forget that final interview with the above on Channel Four in the 1990’s.
R. D. Laing, the brilliant Scottish psychiatrist and author. I remember reading a book he wrote on Alchemy when I was researching my next novel (many years ago!) and when he turned up ‘tired and emotional’ on Ireland’s national chat show, confronted by his ‘condition’, snapped out of it and tore the host apart in one of the most sober and eloquent tirades I have ever heard.
Edgar Allan Poe, another of my favourite authors, and one we’ll have to keep an eye on as the night progresses. I reckon if we seat him next to Potter, he’ll be able to handle any political manifestos Poe sprouts during the evening.
Ernest Hemmingway. The only author, if pushed, and knows the guest list, he will bring a secreted revolver with him to the party. Hemmingway will definitely be the last to leave, and may insist on stopping over for the evening. He won’t be short of conversation and talking about himself.
Edna O’Brien, Irish novelist, having the advantage of living, she will be well able to deal with the many male egos around her. A cutting and brilliant literary tongue! She is one of the true respected voices of literary Ireland.
I think William S. Burroughs will do well to last past the starter once he knows Hemmingway is at the table, and chances are, both of them will end up in the back garden playing some form of dare game for keeps. Remember, Hemmingway came with the gun, but I reckon Burroughs it good with sleight of hand. Burroughs, for me, remains one of the true experimental mavericks of US literature.
I’ve long been a reader and admirer of what British novelist and feminist, Eva Figes, represents. She was born in Berlin, a Jewish survivor, and great supporter of all that is different and experimental about literature in England for many years.
It’s best if we put Franz Kafka sitting in between Figes and Bragg, both will listen entertain him in short bursts, but we need to keep him away from Hemmingway. I wouldn’t want any harm to come to the master of the physiological, but he will spend his evening watching everyone!
All in all, we might be able to pull this dinner party off with some delicate seating arrangements, and at worst, we might have a couple of manly brawls in the back garden and a few hastily-called midnight taxis.