Fool’s Gold: An Interview With Dan Rhodes
3:AM: Where did the idea for your new novel Goldcome from?
DR: I remember first having the idea for the book when I was in my last flat, and the radiator in my hall was looking really skanky. I’d heard about this radiator spray paint you can get, and I thought: I’m going to spray that silver, so that it looks like a nice, shiny new silver radiator rather than a skanky old one. And I sprayed it silver, and it looked fantastic. It looked really, really good. I was really, really impressed with myself, having sprayed this thing silver. And then I looked at the rest of the hall, and I thought: wouldn’t it be nice if I sprayed it all silver. So I did. I went back and got more of this paint, not the radiator stuff but just standard silver spray paint, and I sprayed all the walls. I even sprayed the ceiling silver. I drove my neighbours insane. Understandably, they were not happy. This stuff absolutely stinks, it stank the whole building out. And then I was looking at the doors, because the doorframes were white. And I thought, well wouldn’t it be nice if the doors and the doorframes were gold? So I got some gold spray paint and sprayed them gold. And it looked fantastic. It looked really, really, really good. It was exactly the look I was going for.
3:AM: And how long did you live with it like that?
DR: For about a year, although the gold on the doors started to tarnish quite quickly – it wasn’t a professional decorating job, as you might have gathered. I had it for a year or two, I think. And I’d bought a few too many cans of spray paint so I was just going around spraying things. That’s where the whole spray paint idea came from, and that’s when I started thinking about the story, I suppose.
3:AM: In Gold one of the things that jumped out about Miyuki as a character, at least to me, was her pervasive love of junk food. Some of it slightly bizarre, to be honest. Does it reflect your own diet?
DR: In the book she reverts to her default settings. When she’s at home she’ll eat healthy, normal food, but when she’s on holiday she eats the food she wants to eat, she eats whatever she fancies. And it’s all the crap that’s supposedly bad for you. I suppose I’m the same. If I take my eye off the ball I do tend to live on instant noodles. I can only have so many instant noodles in the house, otherwise I’d have a load of them, and then I’d eat nothing but instant noodles until they were gone. Especially those Korean ones you get in Chinese supermarkets, they’re just fantastic. And yes, she likes crisps and peanuts, as do I. My life is a constant battle against crisps and peanuts, particularly salt and vinegar peanuts. Some people have commented that Miyuki and I are pretty similar.
3:AM: What about the sneezing superstition that runs through the book? Where did that come from?
DR: I’m a big fan of superstitions, although that one I invented. I always like hearing new superstitions. I was walking down Lothian Road with Emmily [Rhodes, Dan’s wife] and looking at Edinburgh Castle, and there was this rainbow right over the castle. So I said ‘Look, a rainbow,’ and Emmily said ‘Don’t point at the rainbow! It’ll make your fingers go shorter!’ I like the way that, even if you know them to be a load of bollocks, superstitions still seep in somehow. I think a lot of superstitions are just practical advice – things like ‘Don’t walk under a ladder’. So when something stupid comes along, like ‘Don’t point at a rainbow,’ there’s a tiny little part of you that will actually worry if you point at the rainbow.
3:AM: I noticed that Little White Car is finally attributed to you in the front of the new book.
DR: I’ve come out of the closet. Finally.
3:AM: How did you feel about that book? Because it didn’t seem to be as critically well received as Timoleon Vieta.
DR: Whenever I put a book out they always have pretty much the same critical response, which is half very good reviews, a quarter really, really bad reviews – people who are made really angry by the book – and then another quarter who just don’t get it, for whatever reason, they just don’t see what I’m trying to do. I think the critical response to Little White Car was pretty much the same as always.
3:AM: What was the thinking behind the decision to do it under the rather transparent pseudonym?
DR: Originally I thought I’d have to write that book in deep stealth, because I was embroiled in a battle with my publisher. I didn’t know when that was going to end, so I thought that if I was going to publish a book I’d actually have to pretend to be someone else and put it out under a deep pseudonym. Which I’m sure would have been a terrible breach of contract, and I’d have been sued into oblivion if I’d done that. That was initially why I decided to publish it under a pseudonym. And then I just really enjoyed being an incredibly glamorous young Frenchwoman, really. Who wouldn’t. So I kept it up, and eventually I gave it a very, very flimsy pseudonym because I ended up being as pleased with that book, and as proud of it, as I was all my other books.
3:AM: Do you think you’ll return to short stories? You seem to have found a certain length of book now that you quite like.
DR: Two hundred pages, that’s all you need. All books should be two hundred pages long. There’s no excuse for waffling. It’s a length of novel that I like to read, I love reading two hundred page books. I like reading the Bandini books for instance, and Patrick Hamilton’s pub trilogy – these are some of my favourite books, and they’re that sort of length. It’s a length I’m very comfortable with. Maybe one day I’ll write a nine hundred page epic but, if anything, my books will get shorter, I think. I’m a big fan of slim volumes. They’re not very fashionable, but I’m a big fan of them. I quite like the idea of writing what would be considered by the biz to be minor books. Books that don’t really fit into any particular niche. But we’ll see what my brain churns out, really.
3:AM: So is that a yes, no, or maybe to short stories?
DR: I’d like to. And maybe I will do, it’s just really a question of whether I get the ideas or not. I’ve been to a few short story festivals and I’m getting embarrassed to accept invitations to them now, because I haven’t actually published short stories for about five years. I think there’s something very pure about short stories, because you know you’re not going to make any money out of them.
3:AM: Now that books have to compete with TV you’d think that short fiction would be more popular, not less — but short story collections still seem to struggle.
DR: Yeah, you would. I can’t work it out, I can’t fathom it at all. But I’m a big fan of short fiction, and there are a lot of short fiction fans out there… well no, there aren’t a lot of short fiction fans. There’s a small, but loyal, band of short fiction enthusiasts around the world. I think people have a perception that short stories are sometimes throwaway pieces, maybe a scene from a novel that didn’t quite fit in and the writer’s tried to find a home for it, and that home is the short story. I think that’s true in some cases. Sometimes authors will use the short story as a sort of receptacle for cast-off ideas, which is a shame because there are plenty of people who write brilliant short stories. I was at a short story festival in Sussex last year and William Trevor came on, and he was just brilliant. This is a bloke who’s written I don’t know how many short stories, and every one I’ve read has been of exceptional quality. But he played to a packed house, which was nice. He was great — he just came on, no natter, read a really good story for fifty minutes, and went off. Not even a ‘Thank you, goodnight.’
3:AM: Last time I saw you do a reading you quite willfully didn’t read much of your own stuff.
DR: I like to do cover versions. I quite often read short bits by Chekhov, and also I quite often read from Jane Austen’s juvenilia, because there are some cracking short pieces among that.
3:AM: I think last time you read something you’d written when you were young. Something about a mouse…
DR: That’s my most requested work, actually. Almost every time I do a reading, someone will say ‘Can you do the mouse story?’
3:AM: You described yourself as a ‘miserable git’ once, but things seem to have changed.
DR: Well yeah, my life has transformed since my last round of interviews. I’ve found domestic bliss. I’m still a bit of a miserable git, mind. It’s still there inside me, but a lot less so than before. My writing routine used to be sitting up all night drinking, and drinking, and drinking, and I just don’t do that any more. But there are still times when I have to work through the night. With booze. I found with Gold that it had to go through that phase. Also, I did spend a few weeks in Pembrokeshire, where it’s set, sitting in the corners of pubs watching the world go by.
3:AM: A lot of the story’s based around pubs, isn’t it?
DR: I think it was inevitable that I was going to write a pub book at some point, because my family had a pub for years, and I’ve spent so much time in pubs. On both sides of the bar.
3:AM: You used to have a general discontent with the publishing industry and the way it worked, too. Has that mellowed out a bit?
DR: All that stuff’s under the bridge now. Also I’m quite keen not to get sued these days. Back in the old days I didn’t give a fuck what I said about anyone in the business, because if they sued me they’d have got nothing, because I didn’t have anything. But now I’ve got a nice two bedroom flat in Edinburgh, and a baby on the way, so for legal reasons I have to bite my tongue. And also it’s not as big a deal, I’ve said all I have to say about that. There’s no political reason for me to jabber on about it anymore.
3:AM: I know that you were mistakenly tagged as a Welsh writer for a while. Are you at all concerned about being tagged as a Scottish writer, now that you’re living up here, and have a Scottish publisher? Or has it happened already?
DR: It hasn’t happened, no. It’s too late for me ever to be considered Scottish. I think the Welsh thing was just an honest mistake by someone. I always used to say that I didn’t have a drop of Welsh blood in me, but in fact I discovered that my great-great grandmother was Welsh, so I do have a drop of Welsh blood in me. I think I’m one thirty-second Welsh, or one sixty-fourth, something like that. But I’m lumbered with being English for the rest of my days.
Read 3:AM’s 2003 interview with Dan Rhodes here.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER:
Dan Coxon is a freelance journalist and writer based in Edinburgh. He contributes regularly to Is This Music? and Disorder magazines, although his work has appeared in a variety of publications, from Endeavour to the Scottish Cricketer. He is also the author of the Wee Book Of Scotland.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, March 30th, 2007.