Interview: Robert Rankin, Author of the Brentford Trilogy!

Robert Rankin is often regarded as one of the kookiest authors in the land, and with good reason. Many of his books’ plots take nonsensical twists and turns that, ultimately, feel absolutely right in the wacky universe that he’s created...

Robert Rankin is often regarded as one of the kookiest authors in the land, and with good reason. Many of his books€™ plots take nonsensical twists and turns that, ultimately, feel absolutely right in the wacky universe that he€™s created. Made famous for the Brentford Trilogy, a series currently spanning nine books, classed as €˜Far Fetched Fiction€™ by the man himself, he€™s written and published over thirty novels, to critical acclaim. I bumped into him recently at the London Film & Comic Con and conveniently had a Dictaphone on me (though, do you really believe I just happened to have one on me?). I just had to fire some questions at him, and Rankin gave some remarkable advice that people hoping to break into the publishing industry, and the future of the industry that is slowly becoming electronic, as well as some talking about himself, his work, and what€™s in store for him in the future. Me: What€™s your next book?

Robert Rankin: My next book comes out in September, it€™s called The Mechanical Messiah And Other Marvels Of The Modern Age. It€™s the sequel to The Japanese Devil Fish Girl And Other Unnatural Attractions and it€™s the one before The Educated Ape And Other Wonders Of The World. They€™re really memorable titles, aren€™t they? I€™m really glad I wrote such long titles €“ even my publisher gets the names of the titles wrong, every time they write a letter to me. Good idea €“ they€™re gonna sell big, right?
Me: Will Neville the Part-Time Barman be returning in a future book?
RR: **laughs** Neville retired€ all the people in the Brentford books are based on real people and Neville retired some years ago to Windsor to run a little pub; I never saw him again. And most of the people from Brentford, they sort of uh, got old and died. It€™s all a bit creepy now €“ I go there and somebody comes up to me and says €œHey, remember me?€ and I realise I can€™t even picture what they used to look like. It€™s awful. But I mean, this year is the thirtieth anniversary of The Anti-Pope, it€™s a long time ago, y€™know. So no, I don€™t think he€™ll come back. I apologise€
Me: That€™s alright. What made you want to write kooky sort of material?
RR: Gives me a humoured look.
Me: Oh come on, you€™ve got to admit, it is pretty kooky!
RR: Oh alright, when I first started writing I didn€™t set out to do it, it€™s only been over the last few years. A few years ago, Terry Pratchett said to me: €œYou shouldn€™t put your own feelings in your books, you should treat the books as being entities all of themselves. Your trouble is you put yourself and your feelings into it.€ And that€™s really it €“ you can tell which ones I€™m having the mental breakdowns in quite easily. And some of them are really quite scary, y€™know€ Fandom of the Operator was the scariest one, it€™s only halfway through when you find out the guy€™s a serial killer, and people wrote to me and said they thought it was auto-biographical, and actually I€™d really done these things. It€™s awful.
Me: So you killed people on a whim, reanimated your dead girlfriend and battled a dead author for the future of mankind?!
RR: Oooh, you€™ve read the books! **laughs** Well, I came from the 1960s, I wanted to live out of my head and do something creative. I started life as an illustrator, I couldn€™t make a living being an illustrator, I was then given the opportunity to write €“ so yeah, I€™ve been very lucky to still be in print after thirty years. And, y€™know, you live in a state of perpetual fear of not getting another contract, but€ I can€™t sell out now, can I? I mean, I€™ve got to get on with writing what I write. I€™d love to have written Harry Potter, I€™d love to own an island, but it€™s not gonna happen€ so if I had written, in the end, a cannon of work and they say €œRankin€™s work isn€™t quite like anybody else€™s, is it?€, then I€™ve succeeded in achieving what I set out to do. I didn€™t want to be like other writers, I wanted to do something different. I think I have done that€ I€™m proud of what I€™ve done. But I never made any money out of it. **laughs**
Me: Do you have any tips for fledgling writers that are hoping to break into the world of writing?
RR: If you love it like crazy, and love every moment of writing, then do it. If, when you sit down, every word is torn from your soul, do something else, because if it€™s gonna be that much of a struggle to write your first book, then you€™ll never write your second one or your third one. Imagine trying to write your tenth one! Or even your thirty-third one, y€™know€ if it€™s the most important thing and you love it, you love sitting there and doing it, then you should do it. But you€™re going to have to fight for it, because quite honestly, nowadays, it€™s very, very difficult to get published. I don€™t think I€™d get published now. It would just be too difficult. I spoke to my publisher quite recently, and she said to me: €œWe don€™t really, in a way, need to take on any new authors. We€™ve got authors. They€™re gonna be bringing out books each year.€ And it€™s the truth. Publishing companies are closing down and the whole publishing world is changing with e-books€ I wouldn€™t want to start now, I think it€™d be very, very hard.
Me: What€™s your opinion on e-books, then?
RR: They€™re going to bring the publishing world to its knees. It€™ll go down the toilet. And the publishers all think they€™re going to be smart and get around it, but come on, man! Young guys on computers are smarter than the people working on e-books. They€™ll find a way round it. If every one of my books gets uploaded to the internet because some swine has stuck it up there, they wouldn€™t think €œOh, that€™s his living€, they just think €œHey, I€™m beating the system.€ Alright, fine, sticking it to the man and whatever, I gotta say that half of me loves it, but the other half says €œI don€™t know why you€™re doing this, you€™re taking bread out of my mouth.€ It€™s tricky, isn€™t it? So yeah, I€™m not a fan of e-books. Plus, I don€™t want to read a book on a computer. I want to read a book that looks like a book and smells like a book, y€™know? Books are lovely, they€™re made for the right size for your hands. Everything about the dimensions of a paperback is good. It€™s€ pure. God invented the paperback.
Me: Clearly you haven€™t read Lord of the Rings.
RR: **laughs** Does it give you hand-ache?
Me: Maybe€ and finally, have you got any tips for continuing writers who have been in the business for ten, fifteen years and are facing the woes of online publishing? Can continuing authors survive in this changing industry?
RR: I guess, well€ you€™ve got to be in touch with the zeitgeist, haven€™t you? I mean, I went to my son€™s first gig, he was a DJ, and this manager bloke wanted to put him together with a proper band, and I went to see them do their first gig on Wednesday, and I thought €œthis is kind of a natural development, you take drum and bass and put female vocals on it, and you put a live drum on it€. That€™s €˜Now Music€™, y€™know? It may not be to my tastes but it€™s €˜Now Music€™. And I guess, the books that are trying to sell, they€™ve got to be €˜Now€™, haven€™t they? And they€™ve obviously got to appeal to people €˜Now€™. I don€™t know how many of my books are €˜Now€™€ I dunno, I dunno, I€ dunno. And on that bombshell!
Rankin€™s next book, The Mechanical Messiah And Other Marvels Of The Modern Age, hits the shelves this September. Photograph by Richard Neal http://richardheneal.blogspot.com

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Half-man, half-tree and with a penchant for hats, Josh spends his free time writing opinionated rants on the internet, rocking out on guitar in desolate bars to crowds reaching as much as twelve and a half people, and drinking endless cups of tea to sustain himself. His favourite colour is purple.