Well I am feeling very lucky as two of my favourite authors have kindly undergone the intense bookish pressure of enduring a Savidge Reads Grills. First up last week was Xiaolu Guo and now we have the pleasure of Dan Rhodes who’s latest book ‘Little Hands Clapping’ I raved about yesterday, seriously its brilliant and is already one of my favs of the year and even the new decade! I decided to try and find out just what goes in on the marvellous and quirky world of Dan Rhodes… (oh and don’t read on if you don’t know how Tess of the D’Urbervilles ends)
How did Little Hands Clapping come about, where was the idea born?
I had the first ideas about fifteen years ago, and it very very slowly grew into the beast it is now. It went through lots of changes along the way. For years I didn’t feel ready to write it – I just had to be patient and wait for the time to be right. The donkey work took three years.
Your books are all very different but they all seem to centre, as far as I have read so far, on people who are a bit unusual, slightly alienated characters as well as a fairly macabre look on love. Do you agree this is the case and why do you think it is or isn’t so?
A lot of the time I would put a Me character in. Particularly in the first couple – the hapless boy on a quest to find true love. I used to have plenty of excruciating romantic misadventures, and these found their way into the books. It was an attempted exorcism, I suppose. It didn’t really work – the misadventures continued – but at least I got some books out of it. I still write love stories, happy and sad, but then most stories are love stories, aren’t they?
Some of your books, particularly Timoleon Vieta Come Home (for its ending which we won’t give away) have caused a stir for being shocking is it your intention to shock? How have you felt about certain reactions?
I don’t set out to shock, but I don’t see why I should sugar coat human nature. There’s a certain kind of reader who feels entitled to a happy ending, and they can get stuffed. Here’s a world exclusive for you (I think) – the dog in that book was based, in large part, on Tess from Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I expect Thomas Hardy would have received angry letters from people asking him to sell out completely and save her from the gallows. Until that book came out it didn’t occur to me that there was this army of wimpy readers out there who think that every book needs to have a happy ending, and who will hit the roof if they don’t get one. A lot of my favourite books end on pretty bleak notes – Brighton Rock, Madame Bovary, much early Evelyn Waugh… Films too – Billy Liar, A Taste of Honey, The Incredible Shrinking Man. To me it just seems normal, if it’s right for the story. These are great works – imagine if their creators had wimped out and had everyone smiling at the end. My favourite readers – in fact the only readers I’m interested in writing for – are the ones who appreciate the ending of Timoleon Vieta Come Home. Anyone who’s given me a hard time about it can chew my sock. People can be terrible – why not write about that?
As well as being shocking, sometimes graphic and often moving too your books are also absolutely hilarious in parts. In Gold the scene where Tall Mr Hughes came back from the loo forgetting to button up had me in tears of laughter for a good ten minutes. Is this intentional? Is it hard to be funny and do you make yourself laugh?
I like to have a mixture of serious stuff and daft stuff because that’s the way life is. Nailing the comic timing is one of the hardest things about the job – and yes, on a good day I do make myself laugh.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an easy thing for you to do? How long have you been writing for?
I’ve always mucked about with writing bits and pieces, and from my teens I had a vague idea that I would like to think things up for a living, but I started writing seriously – publishably – in September 1996. I was first published in 2000, so I didn’t have decades of struggle prior to my first book coming out. But no, it’s not easy to write, and it doesn’t get any easier. Six books in, I don’t feel as if I’ve got the hang of it. That’s the creative side, and the financial side is pretty dicey too. I wouldn’t recommend it either way.
Which books and authors inspired you to write?
In the days when Waterstone’s had an imported fiction section I chanced upon a book with a magnificent title – The Sadness of Sex by Barry Yourgrau. It’s a great book, and I really recommend it. It taught me that it was possible to write very short stories about girls, and that’s what I started to do. Up until that point I’d been too evasive. That was also when I started to put more serious, emotional stuff in – almost everything before then had been purely facetious, and often an in joke with myself. Terrible writing, really. Another motivating factor in my early work was that I just couldn’t find people who were writing fiction then (the 90s) who really blew me away. There seemed to be plenty of writers up my street working in TV and on the radio, but not so much in fiction. I remember either Jim or William Reid saying that nobody was making the music they wanted to hear, so they had to make it themselves, and that’s why they formed the Jesus and Mary Chain. I felt the same way, although it’s possible that I just wasn’t looking in the right places.
Which contemporary authors do you rate who are writing right now?
Simon Crump is great. Rachel Trezise kicks all kinds of arse (Dial M for Merthyr by her is brilliant). I really hope Sylvia Smith writes another book one day. Magnus Mills. Ben Rice. Lots of others too. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of writers I like any more.
Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?
Writers love having rituals, but it’s just rubbish really. As long as you can find a quietish spot you can write. Everything else is just excuse-making.
Which book, apart from any you have written, would you demand Savidge Reads and this blogs readers run out and buy right this instant, a book you would call your favourite?
The Young Visiters by Daisy Ashford. It’s everything you could ever ask for in a book. And if you’ve already read that, then Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky by Patrick Hamilton.
What is next for Dan Rhodes?
World domination. But I’ll have a cup of tea first.
A huge thank you to Dan for giving me up some of his precious time to be grilled here at Savidge Reads, I was well chuffed. If, and I hope it has, this interview has left you gagging for more Rhodes then do pop to Dan’s website and have a gander at http://danrhodes.co.uk/