Richard Asplin – The Interview

by Melanie Gow on November 26, 2009

Richard Asplin

What made you realise you are a writer?

Blimey. Paxman-esque dilemma right off the bat, you rascal. If I say “being taken on by an agent”, then aren’t I Snooty McSnobface? Yes, viewers, I am. Because that means by extension I’m saying no agent means not a writer, which is clearly hog-nonsense. But that’s when it felt like I was a writer, rather than a bloke who wrote. If you get me. (If you don’t get me, then I’m not putting myself across very well. So I’ll have to rethink calling myself a writer. So there’s a good way to start. Tch).

What was the last book you read?

Well much like most men of my age, height and haircut, I am currently wading through Simon Goddard’s absurdly minutea-packed yet shamefully page-turning “Mozipedia – the Encyclopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths.” My wife tells me it’s a book designed to be dipped into and enjoyed as a work of reference, which any Smithsette will tell you is twaddle of the first order. I am working my way like a med student through every entry page by page. Currently I’m up to E and the following entry: Ecover: Brand name of ecologically friendly (‘100% bio-degradable’) washing-up liquid which became something of an obsession with Morrissey shortly after the release of Viva Hate.

Vital stuff as you’d no doubt disagree,

The last fiction I read was the new Ben Elton – Meltdown. I stick with Benjamin through thick and thin, devouring his knee-jerk reactionary tabloid-baiting novellas as an annual ritual. The ritual of closing them, sighing and saying “not as good as they used to be” is another annual event. If his next one isn’t called “Bandwagon” I think we need to ask why.

What achievement in your life are you most proud of?

Oh for heaven’s sake, I don’t know. Absurd question. I’m going to claim a couple, for I change my mind on a whim. My first appearance as a stand-up comic, February 28th 1993 at the VD Clinic in Hampstead I suppose. Meant a lot. And finishing my second book. And my wedding day’s right up there as well. Those three change order almost hourly.

If you were stranded on a desert island which three fictional characters, who would you like to be there with and why ?

Donald Trefusis: Don, boffin and general good-egg from Stephen Fry’s The Liar. Very good company indeed, for word games and improving discourse.

Jeeves, from the sublime Wodehouse naturally. I’m certain he’d be able to rustle up something for breakfast with just some coconut and a bit of bamboo. Bamboo & Coconut casserole, for example. And Zaphod Beeblebrox from The Hitchikers Guide To The Galaxy. Yes, having two heads means he’d eat more thn his fair share of the Bamboo and Coconut casserole. But as President of the Universe he’d know a good restaurant.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money?

Well I was a library sort of youth, so I read lots of the usual Dahls and such without expending a penneth of my pocket money. Pocket money much better used on  Masters Of The Universe and Star Wars figures. But I have a distinct recollection of heading down to Preedys – the local bookshop/stationers/art-supply store in Harrow as a boy and picking up a Spiderman Annual. I would have been about 8 or 9 I think. I came home and sat in the lounge while my father painted the ceiling and I read the main story from beginning to end in one sitting and Gwen Stacey was murdered by the Green Goblin and my life was never quite the same.

What phrase do you find is the most played in your head?

So how are you, Rich? Part of my daily and slightly unnerving self-assessment.T-shirt and Genes

Was your debut novel “T-Shirt and Genes” influenced by The Rachel Papers in any way?

My entire life was influenced by The Rachel Papers. I found Charles Highway’s deceit, deception, rehearsal, self-consciousness, self obsession and complete need to fabricate the most desirable  personality for any given moment at the drop of a literary-reference to either

a.     Be deliciously appealing

b.    Mirror my own fragile adolescence

that it was something of a well-thumbed bible. Even now, twenty years since I read it, phrases still echo. “It’s a rangy, big-cocked name,” for example. Nice.

Stand up comedian, film critic, marketing assistant, underpant salesman, or writer which is funnier to do?

I enjoy the company of comedians more than the company of novelists I think. Both professions spend far far too much time bitching about the success of others and moaning about the industry, of course. As I’m sure they do in ll industries. It’s like the old joke about how many actors it takes to change a lightbulb. Two. One to change it, the other to say “it should be me up there, y’know.” But without doubt I have been at my happiest in the small hours after a comedy gig, the audience gone, laughs still echoing from the walls, enjoying a drink with the other comics, mind still buzzing into the night.

Writing or performing which is harder?

Oh performing, no question. No hesitation. When writing won’t come, then one can just grind it out. Keep hammering away, word after bloody word, line after bloody line, page after sodding page. And you can write your way out of the struggle. You may bin the 50 pages it took you to get free, but you’re free. There’s no such luxury in performing. The next line out of your mouth better be funnier and cleverer than anything the audience can think of. If it ain’t, they might forgive you. But the line after that better be a bloody zinger. The pressure is intolerable but, hell, when it works? Nothing like it on earth.

Tell us more about

Well all right, if you want. A mock web-site designed to promote my latest book CONMAN. What tiresome twits in the publishing industry call e-marketing, or viral-piblicity or web-presence or some such twerpery. It’s a pretend shop site for Heroes Incorporated, the comic/film memorabilia store that acts as the location for the majority of the novel. The site was fun to do and caused the tiniest stir among about 6 people who took it for a real site and tried to bid for the £80,000 copy of Action Comics I was pretending to sell. The weekly blog set up the world of the novel prior to chapter one – in the guise of the lead character – and was my first attempt at an online diary.

You seem to be on LinkedIn as a “Lead Inspection Coordinator at Chicago Bridge & Iron”, if not, do you Twitter, blog or can we be Facebook friends?

Well you can be my Facebook friend however I’m exactly as maddeningly selfish and egocentric a face-book interweb avatar as I am a flesh and blood chap. Those who were foolish enough to either accept my request or offer their own have spent the last five years having me ignore pokes, probes, poker games and parties. I send a self-promotory wall-post once in a blue e-moon to announce book-readings and suchnot. Apart from that, nowt, tedious git that I am.

I don’t twitter or tweet neither. I do, however, post a semi-regular online diary thing on my site – a collection of idle musings and ill-informed drivel and all early work and what like collected for nobody’s amusement but my own. Feel free to join the mailing list and get regular updates of fatuous crapola direct to your inbox or recycle bin.

Do you still have two cats?

Oh a sad sad thing. Why did you have to bring that up? I’m now plopping great fat tears onto my Qwerty. The two cats – Ralph & Teazle – were brother and sister who my then girlfriend and I got when they were tiny, squeaking 9 week old kittens. I have never loved an animal more than I loved Ralph and when he passed away at the vets during surgery to remove a bit of bin-liner string that’d got wrapped around his tongue, I cried harder than I ever have cried. I think of him daily, still. Teazle still lives with my now-ex in Cardiff and is lovely.

Which Woody Allen film do you think Richard Dawkins would like, and why?

Oh he’s a bright chap and I would recommend Crimes & Misdemeanours for its bitter sweet melancholic look at a meaningless world filled with the shambolic and clumsy love of the human race, the planet’s most resilient virus.

Which is your favourite, T-Shirt and Genes, Gagged or Conman, and why?

T-Shirt & Genes has, I am confident, more jokes in it than any other novel of the 21st Century so far. Which is both its triumph and downfall. It’s like being trapped in a lift with an autistic stand-up after 10 sugary doughnuts. Gagged is my longest, most ambitious and most personal novel, dealing as it does with stand-up comedians and is I guess my favourite. That’s the one I think that I would recommend above the others. Conman is probably the best novel I’ve written. The one where everything – the thrills, the twists, the jokes, the pace – come together most sucessfully.Conman

What about Conman grabbed you so much that you want to spend the time with it, why should we put it in my shopping cart at Amazon?

All fiction is deceit. All novelists are liars. And I wanted to take the idea of the unreliable narrator as far as it could go. The two-faced amoral world of the confidence trickster seemed the best place to unravel a twisty tale such as this. Plus I’m an absoute drooling sucker for a sassy double cross so I got to add my take on the Usual Suspects, House Of Games, Spanish Prisoner, Sting schtick.

The reason you should put it in your Amazon cart is that I’ve yet to meet any reader who’s seen the final twist coming. So if you think you’re smart and you like to second guess, then this one’ll put you through the wringer. And there are very good jokes.

How did you get involved in the Book Swap night?

A mutual friend suggested I send a copy of CONMAN to Scott Pack for him to review on his “Me And My Big Mouth” site. Which he kindly did, bless the little poppet. Scott then put out a shout for guest bloggers to take over his site while he was away, so I shoved my name forward for that, never having done anything like that before. A couple of positive remarks about that and Master Peck approched me for a BookSwap appearance. That’s it really. Merely the price one pays for shameless self-promotion and throwing my lot in with “the Pack.”

What do you hope to achieve with the evening?

I’d like to swap my copy of Ben Elton’s “Meltdown” for almost anything else in the world. And, I hope I haven’t misunderstood the evening, but I’m looking forward to meeting Keith Chegwin and Maggie Philbin as well.

Can you give one good reason to come along?gagged

I’m a lot taller in the flesh. And people who read tend to be nicer people than those who don’t, in my ridiculously narrow experience, so a room full fo the damn things – plus cake – should be more enjoyable than is legally permitted.

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