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The British newspaper, The Midweek, once said that Robert Rankin was "a sort of drinking man's H.G. Wells." I personally see him more as a thinking man's Monty Python. With that in mind I had a chance to discuss strange unexplainable rashes, car key gnomes and the general oddness of life with a master scribe.
I had read that after you released the novel Armageddon: The Musical you had received death threats from Elvis fans. Did you know that in Memphis, Tennessee there is actually a cult dedicated to Elvis Presley named the First Holy Church of Elvis? (This is the truth. They believe that Elvis was the Second Coming of Christ.)
I saw a documentary about it once. I never cared much for Elvis while he was alive, but as soon as he'd died and started appearing at supermarkets dressed in his glittering jumpsuits I became a fan. The dead Elvis was so much more interesting than the live one. Sadly this does not translate to the virgin Mary, who when she makes one of her regular appearances to poor village children somewhere or other in the world, never has anything remotely interesting to say. One wonders why she bothers to manifest at all. Perhaps she's merely under some contractual obligation thing with The Big Figure.
Do you have any pet peeves, such as annoying telemarketers, country music or green hair?
Just about everything really. It's a bit like that bit in The Wild One: "What are you rebelling against?"
"What have you got?" I am supposed to be a mellowed out middle-aged fellow. But the way I see it is, I'm too old to grow up. So I constantly get angry, but more than anything about being ripped off. I can take inefficiency, I know what it's like to have a crap job and not give a damn for the company ethic. But when dodgy builders or such like try to rip me off, I am seriously offended. I take it as a personal slight, an insult to my intelligence. But I know that they don't really look at it like that. They're being democratic, they treat everyone like shit. Religious cults and quack medical practitioners probably receive my most vehement hatred. And anything 'New Age' naturally. Oh, and those 'manufacturing a pop star' TV programmes. And... pretty much everything really.
With a writing career focusing on satirical science fiction/fantasy writing (and I hesitate to label your novels as such), have you ever had an inkling to branch out and write in another genre or style?
I write Robert Rankin books. That's what I've always written and probably always will write. Because that's what I can write. I write Far Fetched Fiction. It doesn't have boundaries. I'm often asked why I don't write a book on the occult, after all I've been studying it for 35 years. It's because I don't know. Too many people write books that claim that they know. I know that I don't know. So I do what I do and I'm really lucky to be able to do that for a living. How lucky do you want to be in a single lifetime?
Have you ever discussed with Terry Pratchett about writing a novel together?
No! I know he's a big fan of my stuff, he's told me enough times. But as I haven't read a novel in 20 years and so have never read one of his, nor wish to collaborate with anybody for any reason at all, it's not very likely to happen.
What would you say has to be the oddest moment that you ever experienced in your life thus far?
Well, I've had quite a few. The most recent was in New Zealand last year. We were taken into this forest to see the biggest tree in the southern hemisphere. It's about a thousand years old. So we looked up at it and went "Oooh that's big" and posed in front of it and took pictures and then stood about and then suddenly... suddenly, the feeling that we were in a sacred place, because this tree is sacred to the Maoris, swept right over us, well certainly me. It was an amazing experience. This tree had a presence, an amazing presence. It was with me all day. I can't possibly explain it, but anyone who has experienced anything like that will know exactly what I mean. I hope to go back there one day and spend a lot of time with that tree.
Have you ever had a UFO encounter? Have you ever assisted in creating a crop circle?
No on both counts, but not for the lack of wanting to. I did however help to create The Brentford Griffin, a hoax back in the 1980s, which got onto TV and into the newspapers. That taught me a great deal about what you can believe. I was very disillusioned when I found out that the likes of Lobsang Rampa and Carlos Castaneda were fakes. That really hurt. But when I did my own hoax for a laugh and found that people really believed it, one even wrote a book about it, I felt very very guilty.
What types of music do you enjoy listening to and who would you consider to be your favourite musical act?
I come from a time called the 1960s. I personally liked the weird shit. I personally adore Captain Beefheart. I've been searching for anyone as wonderful as him ever since, but with no success. My son is a DJ and creates his own electronic Drum and Bass music, I'm quite a fan of that. But I have an extensive record collection. It's full of weird shit. I even have Charles Manson's album.
One thing that bugs the hell out of me is when academics start to belittle genre fiction as nothing more than disposable, trash fiction. I usually tell them that Shakespeare wrote for the masses, and no one else. Have you ever 'butted heads' with the academic writing folk over your writing style or had to defend your novels?
Literature, like anything else, attracts its own snobbish element. Who's the guy who once said, "99 percent of all science fiction is rubbish" Adding "but then 99 percent of everything is rubbish." I certainly believe in the concept of 'good taste'. Some things are better than other things and some people are capable of making the distinction. I think the best thing to do when you meet people who say such wicked things is simply to kill them. It's better for everyone really. You have to be cruel to be kind.
I know that you have had your novels translated into stage productions and that you have had several novels opted for movies rights including The Antipope, yet none have made it to the big screen. Have you considered having a movie based on one of your novels done through anime or another such graphic arts medium? Have you ever been approached about the development of a comic book series based upon one of your books or characters?
Joe Dante wanted to buy Armageddon The Musical, but the Elvis Presley Company, or whoever owns Elvis TM, wouldn't allow the King to be used in the way that I'd used him. I think they'd have banned my books but it was too late. Of course it is the ambition of most novelists to see their work on the big screen. Wouldn't that be amazing? But there are simply too many books and too few films of books. I doubt whether it will happen in my lifetime. But I'll take pretty much any offer that's on offer. So, if you're out there, make me an offer, I'll accept it.
You once said, "I don't believe that with age comes wisdom. I think that's nonsense. What comes with age is age." Have any unexplainable rashes developed since your turning 50? As we age we seem to misplace things. Have the car-key or haberdashery gnomes struck at your house in recent times?
Fu_ _ily e_ ough, _ot u_ til right _ow. But sudde_ ly I seem to have mislaid a letter of the alphabet. I k_ ow I had it here a mi_ ute ago.
You are a 12th Dan Master of Dimac, is that related to the Chow Mien province practicium of Penjaak Sylock?
You are looking for a fight, aren't you! Right, outside now and bring your cat!
I think humour is one of the main ingredients to a happy and fulfilled life. Did you know that Buddhists have a word to describe humourless, dour people? They call them 'shitsticks' - do you agree with this analogy and what would your philosophy on life be?
The finest philosophy for life I ever read was printed on the back of a box of matches, it was "Keep dry and away from children." Naturally I jest. Or do I?
I understand that you do all the artwork for the cover of your novels now. Have you ever thought about having an art gallery showing or selling the signed templates?
My partner Sally helps me to create the sculptures that are used for the covers. We've exhibited twice in branches of Waterstones Booksellers. I'd love to get it all into a gallery, but this isn't easy. Because it's commercial art, which isn't the same as 'real' art. Those snobby gits again. But no matter, they will all die.
You also once said that, "one of the reasons I write is because I want to leave something behind when I'm dead." That is indeed a noble gesture. Have you ever thought of creating a Rankin Foundation and/or Library?
I doubt whether it's really a noble gesture, more a bit of self-important cult of the self stuff. But I'd love to create a foundation or a library, but who's going to pay for it. Not me matey, I spend all my money on purchasing weaponry for the fight against literary snobs. Do you know how much it costs nowadays to put a hit out on someone? A lot, I can tell you. So I'm doing it myself. Well, we are doing it. Me and Borris who lives in my shoe. Borris tells me what to do, he advises me. And he says that I have spoken enough now, We must retreat to our place of safety beneath the stairs and count our screwdrivers. There may be an odd number tonight, which means that I must wear blue tomorrow. You know how it is.
Robert Rankin on writing
Most of the time when you ask a professional writer what motivates them or what is their muse, more times than not you get some condensed Book magazine/Writer's Digest blah-blah that really isn't worth its salt. Well, below is a quoted paragraph from Rankin, that I found on the Internet, while doing research for this interview. I personally think it is one of the best 'advice' statements on the craft of writing that I ever read. I think his words sum up everything an aspiring writer should know and understand.
"When I sit down and write that's all I do, sit down and write. I'm contracted to write a book every six months. A book's only 80,000 words long... you write 2,000 words a time, that's 40 sittings. I really don't know how long it takes to write a book. I wrote A Dog Called Demolition in 23 days. Not 23 days in a row, but I keep a record of how much I've written and when I looked back I thought 'you can't write a book in 23 days' but I had. If you're working at your full mental potential - but usually it takes three or four months.
"I got into it because I wanted to be master of my own life. I wanted to get out of the nine to five day. And for the most part it seems to work, although mostly I go over the deadlines by about a month, mind you."
Rankin's next release entitled, Hollow Chocolate Bunnies Of The Apocalypse, is due to hit bookshelves in September.
It was a great pleasure to discuss life's many quarks and side nooks with such a talented writer as Robert Rankin. On an interesting side note, I found many things in common with Mr Rankin besides the love of satirical fiction, in particular, we have both had a rather dubious past as it pertains to garden gnomes. He used to sell them, I used to steal them and place them on other people's lawns.
Books by Robert Rankin (A to Z):
The Antipope (1992), Apocalypso (1998), Armageddon: The Musical (1990), The Book Of Ultimate Truths (1993), The Brentford Chainstore Massacre (1998), The Brentford Triangle (1992), A Dog Called Demolition (1996), The Dance Of The Voodoo Handbag (1998), East of Ealing (1992), The Fandom Of The Operator (2001), The Garden of Unearthly Delights (1995), The Greatest Show Off Earth (1994), The Most Amazing Man Who Ever Lived (1995), Nostradamus Ate My Hamster (1996), Raiders Of The Lost Car Park (1994), Sex And Drugs And Sausage Rolls (1999), Snuff Fiction (1999), Sprout Mask Replica (1997), The Sprouts Of Wrath (1988), The Suburban Book Of the Dead, Armageddon III: The Remake (1992), They Came And Ate Us, Armageddon II: The B-Movie (1991), Waiting For Godalming (2000), Website Story (2001)
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