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Interview with Rodrick Gordon and Brian Williams

UK Bookselling Series

by Claire Main

#102, 27 August 2007

So it must be time to meet this dazzling duo of the Fantasy Fiction world. But how to approach them? I open a box of finest milk chocolates to assist thought, its amazing how chocolate does not put on weight. Perhaps I am in fantasy fiction land already! I prepare to suspend reality, open my mind and start to expect the unexpected. Where shall we meet, an inter-galactic cafe accessed through the back of a toy shop, the court of King Henry the Eighth or a graveyard at midnight?

I settle for the Macondo Cafe in Hoxton Square, Shoreditch, London at 10.00 AM on a Saturday morning and stride off purposefully in that direction. Rod had waxed lyrical about their banana and yoghurt smoothies and I couldn't wait to meet the authors and try them out.

BOOKTHINK: So where are you from, Rod and Brian?

GORDON: London and Norfolk, or somewhere in between.

WILLIAMS: Do you mean mentally or physically?

BOOKTHINK: Tell us your latest news?

GORDON: Well, we're published, finally!

WILLIAMS: And not before time.

GORDON: We often wondered if we'd ever make it.

WILLIAMS: Not sure if we have ...

BOOKTHINK: When and why did you begin writing?

GORDON: Ever since I can remember, but until relatively recently without any real direction, conviction or the experience to make it meaningful.

WILLIAMS: It all depends on what you mean by "writing."

BOOKTHINK: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

GORDON: I still don't, and neither do some reviewers, apparently.

WILLIAMS: I never have. Writing is simply one more tool in the box.

BOOKTHINK: What inspired you to write your first book?

GORDON: Frustration with myself.

WILLIAMS: Frustration with others.

BOOKTHINK: Who or what has influenced your writing?

GORDON: Where do I start?

WILLIAMS: Many, many things, too numerous to list.

BOOKTHINK: How did you come up with the titles The Highfield Mole and Tunnels?

WILLIAMS: The Highfield Mole - "Highfield" is an amalgam of places in London - Highgate, High Barnet, Enfield, etc, and it was also the name of RG's primary school in north London. The "Mole," of course, refers to Will Burrows, and was influenced by "The Edge Hill Mole," namely Joseph Williamson, whose network of tunnels beneath Liverpool was a great inspiration for the book. We thought it was a memorable title, but Chicken House wanted something with a more modern feel that reflected where the series of books will be leading. And we all felt it was important to have a fresh name for the re-edited book. Barry and Imogen from Chicken House came up with the first alternative, which we all kicked around and finally Tunnels was chosen.

BOOKTHINK: What books have most influenced your life most?

GORDON: Far, far too many to list, but a series of thirteen paperbacks called the Pan Book of Horror Stories, which I sneaked from my parent's shelves when I was nine or ten years old, and were so gruesome they made me feel sick. Lord of the Flies by William Golding and also his book, The Pyramid, which blew me apart when I read it in the early nineties - I thought it was so blindingly brilliant, it stopped me writing anything at all for almost a year afterwards, and I haven't looked at it since!

WILLIAMS: Dickens, of course, Golding's Lord of the Flies, all Edgar Allen Poe, all the short stories of Hemmingway, "A Diamond as Big as the Ritz" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck, Dr. Sax by Jack Kerouac, the poems of Allen Ginsberg, Rimbaud's A Season in Hell, Lautremont's Les Chants de Maldoror, Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, The Ubu plays of Alfred Jarry, Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly, Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition by J.G.Ballard, The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien, every play by Samuel Beckett, The Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, the short stories of Dylan Thomas, Atomised by Michel Houellebecq and, of course, every single book by William S. Burroughs, etc., etc.

BOOKTHINK: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

GORDON: Tommy Cooper.

WILLIAMS: William S. Burroughs.

BOOKTHINK: What book are you reading now?

GORDON: The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers.

WILLIAMS: The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq.

BOOKTHINK: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

GORDON: Not at the moment - life is rather too frenetic.

WILLIAMS: That depends on what you mean by "new."

BOOKTHINK: What are your current projects?

GORDON AND WILLIAMS: The further adventures of Will Burrows.

BOOKTHINK: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

GORDON: A vainglorious need to be heard.

WILLIAMS: The possibility of making an internal dialogue an external reality.

BOOKTHINK: What do you see as the influences on your writing?

GORDON: A word processor, a lake of instant coffee and iTunes.

WILLIAMS: The eyes and the ears of "The Others."

BOOKTHINK: Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

GORDON: D.H. Lawrence for his short stories - I love the clarity in them, and find them so incredibly moving. I read somewhere that he complained that it was too much when he had completed his fifth edit on one of them. I wish we had his editor!

WILLIAMS: William S. Burroughs for taking writing by its complacent laurels and beating it into a living, modern art form capable of making things happen.

BOOKTHINK: Do you have to travel much concerning your books?

GORDON AND WILLIAMS: Yes, if you count Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

BOOKTHINK: Who designed the covers?

GORDON: Ned Hoste of 2H assisted us with the cover for The Highfield Mole, and Chicken House used their designer, Ian Butterworth, for Tunnels.

BOOKTHINK: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

GORDON: People who told me it should be a hobby.

WILLIAMS: Knowing when to cut loose and allow it to be printed.

BOOKTHINK: Do you have any advice for other writers?

GORDON: Stop reading interviews and just get on with it.

WILLIAMS: Get obsessed, stay obsessed, and have nothing in your life more important than your work.

BOOKTHINK: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

GORDON: Thank you for giving us a chance.

WILLIAMS: Dust is the enemy, dirigibles are our friends.

The pair made a striking image in their black attire - Rod in a corduroy suit and Brian in a long coat (he'd kept his sunglasses on throughout the whole interview). At last I understood. As the boys disappeared, I noticed they left chalky footprints on the floor and chalky fingerprints on their glasses. They looked a little pale, no tan even in this hot summer.

So the question is, "Is it fantasy fiction or fantastic reality?" I suggest you read the book and make your own mind up! As I ordered another glass of luxury banana and yoghurt smoothie, I noticed the boys had left a parcel on the table. Inside was a box of handmade chocolates from Fortnum and Mason. On it was a note that read "Up your cludgy!" from Tam and the boys - see page 276. I pinched myself and said out loud, "I'm back in reality!"

Questions or comments?
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