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The Brentford Mercury

An Interview with Robert Rankin

Robert Rankin nabbed at an art exhibition

by Michael Carroll


Exercise books

At this point, liquid sustenance arrived in the form of three cokes and a pint of Large. Sorry, lager.

Michael Cullen said that Rankin sounds like he'd rather be telling these stories than writing them down. Do they start when he's telling someone a story, or do they start with blank paper?

"Well, I start off with two things. The title and the end. If I've got them, then I can make things move towards the end and get there when they're supposed to get there."

He doesn't find himself talking to the typewriter, does he?

"Well, the exercise book, yeah."

The interviewers three were aghast! Robert Rankin really doesn't use a word processor!

"I've got this beautiful study, filled with stuffed animals and Victorian nasty things - it's a serious museum. But I sit down at my desk and I can't write. I can play with things, move the books on the shelves about, read a bit, polish something, but I can't write. So I take my exercise book and go down the pub. I destroy my liver for the sake of my art."

He doesn't find it distracting?

"No. As long as there's no music. Because if you get a pub with music it's inevitably a pub with violence, and whenever they fight they can nudge your elbow. You know, when people kind of fall by, and you get blood on the exercise book, I find that a distraction. No, I do use an exercise book, because the cost of a 25p exercise book times twenty isn't very much. But I do type them out myself, because I refuse to pay the two hundred and fifty quid to the typist."

And how long does it take to write the books?

"Well, an awful lot of months go by when you're negotiating with the publisher, coming up with ideas, getting the synopsis together, and so on. And you give the synopsis to the publisher when you're absolutely sure that what you want the book to be. What he usually says to me is `I've read the synopsis, yeah, we'll have it. Is that actually what the books' going to be about?' And I shake my head and go `Nah. Changed me mind.' He says `I thought so. I'll throw this synopsis away, you just get on with the book.' And the last time was really flattering. I said `What did you think of the synopsis?' And he said `I didn't bother to read it, Bob. It's not what you're going to write, is it?'"

A discussion about books brought up the subject of Bare-Faced Messiah, Russell Miller's unofficial biography of L. Ron Hubbard.

"My wife wanted to buy it for Christmas, and she went into the shop and asked for it. The woman took it out from under the counter and said that the Scientologists used to come in and tear the pages out. `You're not a Scientologist, are you?' she asked. `No, no,' said my wife. `All right, well, give me the money first.'"

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