Open Rhodes: Dan Rhodes in Interview
Dan Rhodes chats with us about mainstream acceptance, mellowing with age, and what to expect from his Jura Unbound event
The last year or so have been pretty productive for Dan Rhodes, what with the release of his fifth novel, This Is Life, and then Marry Me, a collection of witty little pieces on that holiest of unions. Both have been very well received, and his list of admirers grows and grows (he's the only writer Stewart Lee reads that isn't dead). Having kindly agreed to take time away from the pressures of work, family and... urm “trying to get the tumble dryer fixed,” Rhodes ponders whether mainstream acceptance bothers him, especially as it generates less and less material for the ‘Dan Rhodes is disliked by...’ part of his website. “My acceptance hasn't been that mainstream,” he explains.“You won't have seen my books anywhere near the charts. Unfortunately my readers can rest assured that they aren't following the herd.”
Anniversaries are definitely the order of the day, with the Book Festival celebrating its thirtieth and it being ten years since Rhodes' debut, Timoleon Vieta Come Home, was released. This was the catalyst for his inclusion in the 2003 Granta Best of Young British Novelists list; a number of the writers featured on this year's once-in-a-decade list are also performing at Jura Unbound. At the time Rhodes was quite outspoken about the value of the list and the refusal of other writers on it to sign a statement protesting the Iraq war. Looking back on that and how his career has progressed, Rhodes reflects “I leave the Granta list off my CV, so I’m not exactly setting off fireworks to mark the occasion. I was full of piss and vinegar back then, as any ‘young' writer should be, but now I'm a serene elder statesman I try my best to take a least-said-soonest-mended approach to the whole sorry business. My advice to anyone on it this time around? Squeeze some free travel out of them, then put it behind you.”
"The idea of mixing book readings with music and alcohol is a splendid innovation. These days I won't do a reading anywhere that doesn't have a bar" – Dan Rhodes
His event at Jura Unbound is listed as ‘Dan Rhodes & Friends,’ raising hopes he may be accompanied by some of the musicians and comedians who recorded videos of themselves reading stories from Marry Me – Stewart Lee, Tim Key, Josie Long and Aidan Moffat to name a few – some of whom he has performed with in the past. Rhodes has new names up his sleeve though: “My first choice for the role of other writer was Neil Forsyth” – writer of the Bob Servant character, recently adapted for TV – “whose books I've been lapping up this year. It was a long shot, but it turns out he'll be in town and has agreed to join us. Treble twenty with the first dart. He's not a friend though – I've never met him, and as far as I know he's never heard of me.” Whether or not that is true, the potential for hilarity is pretty high with both involved.
Jura Unbound is about more than just straightforward readings though, and in the way of music Rhodes has enlisted “Richard James, who used to be in the sublime Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and who now makes wonderful records in his own right. We're hoping to get another illustrious participant or two, but it's all TBC at the moment. We'll see who's around on the night.”
This eclectic mix of performers suits Rhodes, who admits, “I don't really enjoy droning out chapters from novels (I didn't tour This is Life at all for that reason) so I think I'll be doing shorter stuff – bits from Marry Me, a few oldies and some cover versions.” Considering how prolific he has been in the decade since his debut – four more novels and three collections of short stories – it doesn't seem too cheeky to ask if we might hear some new material debuted. “I doubt there will be any brand new material," he explains. "I have a knackering day job and small children, so I can't find the time to write at the moment. And besides, the poor human race needs a break from my output. There's even been a petition from Venezuela, and I can see where they're coming from.”
On his opinion of Jura Unbound as a whole Rhodes admits, “I've not seen the programme yet, but the idea of mixing book readings with music and alcohol is a splendid innovation. These days I won't do a reading anywhere that doesn't have a bar.” I think we can all drink to that.
Dan Rhodes & Friends is on Fri 16 Aug in the Guardian Spiegeltent, part of Jura Unboundhttp://www.edbookfest.co.uk