We’re delighted to be joined today by the critically acclaimed Dublin author, Rónán Hession, who tells us about taking the indie press route to publication
What led you to write your debut novel Leonard and Hungry Paul, which was the 2021 One Dublin One Book choice?
I hadn’t planned to write a novel. I had been carrying around the idea of the gentle melancholy character and would get flashes of who he was, so I sat down to write about him to get to know him better.
He eventually became Leonard. I had heard that 10,000 words was an important threshold for a book – I hit that quickly and kept going. I wrote in a very free way, for my own enjoyment really.
I had been involved in music since the early 1990s but had stepped back from it in 2012. My albums had all been five years apart – right on schedule my biological creative clock was activated in 2017, only in the form of prose rather than songwriting.
Did you ever doubt that you would get published and, if so, was there anything that helped you to stay motivated?
I had heard interviews with Kit de Waal and Donal Ryan about how they were published with their second books. I decided I would write one book and if it didn’t get published, I would write another – if that didn’t get published I would go do something else.
My only motivation was to give expression to my creative impulses; that remains the case.
I’ve read that you didn’t really see Leonard and Hungry Paul appealing to agents and so you submitted it directly to the small UK indie publisher Bluemoose Books. Are you glad you decided to take the unagented route to publication? Do you feel like you might need an agent in the future?
My view wasn’t an antipathy towards agents specifically – it’s more that I didn’t (and don’t) trust publishers who don’t deal with writers directly.
I have always preferred to work with a small number of people and to have direct relationships with people rather than having those relationships intermediated.
However, as I write more books and there are translations and other things, the business side becomes more complex, so I’ll keep these things under review.
Was Bluemoose Books the first publisher you submitted to? How did you select them? And can you tell us a little bit about how the deal with them came about in the end?
Yes – I had read Man With A Seagull on His Head by Harriet Paige, which Bluemoose published. It has a nice clean energy to it and had an outsider perspective I liked. I was also drawn to their cover design aesthetic and their gentle punk attitude.
I sent the opening three chapters to Kevin Duffy on Friday evening (a terrible time of the week to do this – don’t copy me). Kevin has a dog, so is an early riser – he emailed me first thing the next morning asking to see the rest of it.
A couple of weeks later he tweeted that he had read a manuscript and couldn’t wait to tell the world about it and included a line from my book. He emailed me later that day, we spoke that evening and a few days later the contract was all done.
That’s the advantage of indie publishers – you are dealing with the decision maker the whole time, so you’re not being passed around among a rotating team of junior people who have no decision making role.
Can you remember the moment when you realised you were going to be a published author? Did you do anything in particular to celebrate?
I read Kevin’s email while I was trying to calm my excitement in Books Upstairs in Dublin. I let out a silent joyful expletive.
I don’t recall if we celebrated, but we probably had a takeaway or cake or something. I remember I was in London that weekend for a Watford match, so that helped me let it sink in.
You have a full time job in the civil service and a (no doubt!) busy family life. What kind of discipline does it take to fit writing into your daily life? Do you mainly write at night after your children have gone to bed?
I wrote my first two books in the evenings after the kids’ bedtime; however, I realised that if I am going to sustain this, I need to pace myself a bit.
For the book I have just finished (called Ghost Mountain) I rationed myself with two writing slots per week and wrote in short bursts and over a much longer period.
The first drafts of my first two books were done in three or four months, whereas Ghost Mountain took over a year.
Do you have any rituals that help to inspire your writing?
No – I consciously avoid rituals etc. I did a lot of my early writing in a room with young kids, where the TV or Xbox was on in the background. I also wrote on public transport and planes, so I’m pretty bullet proof.
One thing that doesn’t get discussed that often if how important it is to cultivate the ability to maintain deep concentration for long periods, which is essential for writing. The obvious way to do that is to have a consistent reading habit where you’re reading for two or three hour stretches.
What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?
I think One Dublin One Book was very special, but also seeing my work getting translated has been hugely meaningful for me.
Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring authors trying to crack the world of publishing, but who might be getting disheartened?
The main thing is to give expression to your creativity and your art. It takes great fortitude to resist the pressure to compromise your art in order to meet the demands of a publishing industry that likes to engender a serf attitude among writers. You are the artist, not them. It’s good to remind yourself of that.
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