Martin Roach Interview
Martin Roach is the author of – gasp – 102 books and counting. Some of his more well-known titles include tomes on Take That and Westlife. He has also penned books on Justin Timberlake, Coldplay, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Radiohead and Limp Bizkit. His most recent tome is Grumpy Old Rock Star with Rick Wakeman. His books have sold over a million copies, collectively. In 1992 he founded the respected publishing house Independent Music Press which publishes music books and cult novels. Visit www.impbooks.com
Can you give me a brief history of your writing career so far?
I wrote my first book aged 21, a biography of three bands from my local town: The Wonder Stuff, Neds and PWEI. No one would publish it so I set up Independent Music Press and did it myself. It sold 7000 copies and my publishing business was born. Then in about 1994 I started to get approached by other publishers to write for them and so I run my own writing career in tandem with my publishing label (which is now almost exclusively for other writers). Then after about 80 biographies I began to receive calls about high profile ghost-writing contracts.
How many books have you written? And which one has been the most successful?
102. The book I did with The Prodigy Fat Of The Land was huge internationally; my Take That biog is one of the best-selling music books of recent years and, of course, the Westlife autobiog I ghosted was a Number 1 best-seller for a month in 2008.
Which of your books are you most proud of?
Hard to choose but the David Coulthard book was a fascinating project, he is an amazing character, full of hidden depths; the recent Rick Wakeman Grumpy Old Rock Star books have been great fun and, from a writing point of view, a real challenge in terms of structure and flow. Westlife was a real eye opener too!
How do you juggle writing books and running your own publishing company?
With very long hours and a lot of systems! It is demanding, for sure, but in 2007 I had to take on a PR and media manager, Dave Hanley, who has enabled me to expand IMP and take on increasingly high profile ghost contracts which take me out of the office for long periods of time. Dave is also very astute with social network sites and new bands coming through, so he’s been a brilliant addition.
Why did you decide to create your publishing company IMP? Can you give me the lowdown on the kinds of books you publish under the IMP moniker?
As I mentioned, it was initially a self-publishing venture to get my first book out there. Then it was just a natural progression to write something else and keep the business operating. We now have 60+ titles. We pride ourselves on first-to-the-market music biography but I also have a penchant for quality subculture/youth/fashion/photography titles which I really enjoy working on.
Your bibliography is pretty eclectic with books on film stars, bands, general pop culture and ghost written autobiographies. Which book was the hardest to write?
Grumpy Old Rock Star was a real challenge, not because of Rick – the quality of material he supplied was exceptional and hilarious. But structuring a book with no chronology, no obvious themes and no obvious narrative was very demanding. I spent a month on prep alone.
Have your books given you any paid luxuries (such as a trip abroad to interview someone)?
Certainly. It’s one of the best perks of the job! I’ve been in the pits at Silverstone, spent time in Monaco, been on stage for an hour with Westlife in Glasgow in front of 12,000 fans and on too many tour buses to mention.
What’s your take on unauthorised bios? Many fans often look down on these but in truth they are actually more meaningful, aren’t they?
Official books can often be little more than glorified press releases (there are obvious brilliant exceptions). Unauthorised books have to be thoroughly researched, with plenty or primary interviews and a great writer. We usually approach the artist/subject and ask if they wish to see the manuscript before publication both as a simple courtesy and because they often offer alterations and/or additions.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I’d say it is very hard to get started but don’t be disheartened. You will probably need to work for very little initially – maybe an advance-free book for example. And don’t confuse being a good magazine writer with being able to write a book. Those are two mutually exclusive skills.
Do you have a literary agent?
I have a non-exclusive arrangement with a couple of great agents but the vast majority of my work is done direct with me.
What are your favourite music books?
The Dirt, obviously; Ian Hunter’s Diary Of A Rock And Roll Star on my label.
Of all the interviews you’ve done, who has given you the most enjoyable and interesting interview?
Again, I’ve been lucky. Coulthard was a constant surprise; Wakeman makes you cry till your sides ache; Westlife were a hard-working, candid and very balanced bunch; Matt Goss from Bros was also astonishing to listen to, he’s led an incredible life.
Who has given you the least pleasurable interview?
No one really. Been lucky.
What was it like working with Rick Wakeman on his recent memoir?
What I would say is regardless of his music, you need to listen to his stories or read them, the guy is one of the country’s great raconteurs.
What’s next for you and IMP?
Interview by Neil Daniels 2009