I can still vividly remember my first Robert Rankin book. Sometime in the summer of 1981, I was in Dun Laoghaire waiting for a bus to Dalkey. Then, as now, I couldn't bear to travel without something to read. There was a little newsagent beside the bus stop, with a few shelves of books. 'Comparable to Douglas Adams,' it said on the back. 'Sounds good to me,' thought I. (I was suffering an Adams phase at the time - so sue me.)
Ten minutes later I arrived at McDonagh's Select Bar of Dalkey, gibbering incomprehensible nonsense at anyone who would listen, and wildly waving my book at them. The book, of course, was The Antipope, and I've never been the same since.
Moving forward nine years, I find myself working in a secondhand bookshop. Enter Robert Elliott and Michael Carroll. After we got talking about favourite authors and such like, I said 'Have you ever read Robert Rankin?'
'No,' they suggested.
'I'll lend you mine,' quoth I, enthusiastically.
I eventually did, too. About a year and a half later.
It was after they had read the first few Brentford books (Just two days before Robert made his now legendary appearance at SFEX, the ISFA's [Irish Science Fiction Association] art exhibition in 1991. At that time we all fell to discussing the man's work again. I think it was then that I first mentioned the 'Sproutlore' the Robert Rankin fan club. 'Can we join?' they pleaded. 'Ah,' I said.
You see, the problem with Sproutlore was that it existed entirely in my head. The Name, the Logo, the badges, the Tee-shirts: You name it, it was in there. The membership consisted of one: me.
'Go on,' they said. 'do it,' they said. 'OK,' I said.
So I wrote to Robert. 'Great,' he said. 'I love it,' he said. What, in God's name, had I let myself in for? Needless to say, time passed and I got nothing done.
Skipping forward through time one last time, we revisit the bookshop where I work. One of the good things about working there all the people you get to know. Like Michael and Robert. And James.
James used to be a very quiet young man when he started coming in. All this changed when he started reading Robert's books. James immediately completely took 'Sproutlore' from me, wrote to Mr. Rankin on his newly printed 'Sproutlore' headed paper (which surprised Robert not a little - I mean how often do you get a letter out of the blue, from someone you've never heard of on behalf of your official fan club which you never expected to hear of again?) (Mind you, Robert got his own back by phoning James a few days later (James mostly stood there doing goldfish impressions, from what I hear)), and we were off at last.
So we formed a committee, which I was immediately thrown off for not being at the inaugural meeting.
I persuaded my long-suffering girlfriend to join, and the last (but not least) committee member was my long-lost cousin, Eimear.
The meetings are completely anarchic, James's minutes are works of art in themselves and I find myself back in Dun Laoghaire, twelve years on, launching 'Sproutlore'.
These things take time, you know.