Friday, 9 October 2015

Interviewing Rodge Glass On ‘The Jim Hangovers’ And The ‘Being Dad’ Anthology

It is a surreal moment when you are approached about interviewing an author, but to interview two authors and meet one of them in person is a whole other kettle of fish.
During the interview Rodge told me I am the third person to read his short story. The first person is the editor of the collection Dan Coxon and the second person is Victoria Briggs who also interviewed him. This was a bizarre moment. Not only was I reading a story before it was even published, but I was also the third person to read it. Mind-blowing.
So there I was in Rodge’s office, this established writer looking to me to begin the interview as I fumble through documents on my laptop to find my list of questions. My mouth immediately goes dry and I’m taking sips of water every ten seconds. I’m also begging the God’s that I could type as fast as he could talk.
Then, I begin. Immediately I was put at ease, though an established writer, he seemed very down to earth, which I admired about him.

Do you have a specific place you like to write? Or do you just write wherever and whenever inspiration hits?
Rodge admits he used to write wherever and whenever inspiration hit. Interestingly, his first novel was written mostly under the stairs. With his second novel he upgraded to writing in a cupboard. Yes, it made me laugh too. I thought I was the only person who chose interesting spots to write. These days, after the birth of his daughter, it became impossible to write at home while having a baby daughter to look after; therefore he took to writing in his office at Edge Hill University where he works as a Senior Creative Writing lecturer. He also uses train journeys as time he can use to write.

How organised are you?
Rodge’s organisation used to be very scattered, though he is now very OCD with his work. He believes if you’re not organised then you will get nothing done. Rodge is an editor for Freight Books, which is one of the reasons he’s had to become obsessively organised.

What made you choose to be a part of this anthology?
Rodge saw a call-out via Twitter for writers to be part of this anthology. Rodge hardly ever enters things like writing competitions; however after having just become a father himself, he believed it would be a great opportunity to get involved with. He wrote the story for himself, but believed it would fit into the anthology perfectly and if it didn’t happen, then he would use it for something else. Rodge believes Dan Coxon, the editor, knew of his work and after enquiring about the anthology, Dan encouraged him to submit a story to the anthology.

Is it a true story? If not, are there any elements of your real life in there?
All of Rodge’s stories have one element that is absolutely true. He then takes this element and expands it, adding in fiction. He doesn’t generally write about himself, he uses something from his life (no matter how small) and uses it for more unorthodox angles. Unlike in the narrator in the story, Rodge was never a big drinker, he’s never lived in London and he’s never known anyone called Jim, however what he has experienced is friendships fading and realising you don’t quite see the world in the same way afterwards.
When Rodge’s daughter finished breastfeeding and moved onto food, he used to be up in the middle of the night feeding her. It was a special moment for him because he was finally able to feed his daughter. He realised it was at this time of the night where your mind wanders like you’re still in dream mode. This was another element from his life he decided to include in his story.

How did the anthology come about being made?
It was Dan Coxon’s enthusiasm for the concept of being a father. There was a kick-starter campaign for the anthology, once Dan had collected enough writers. There are so many stories out there about being a mother, but not many about being a father and this was another reason Dan was so determined to make this anthology happen.

How long did your story take to write?
It took Rodge three or four months to write. He’s much more fragmented now his writing time. He writes a couple of pages and then comes back to it later. In the first draft, the story was more about friendship, then when he came back to it, he layered the story with references back to the narrators father and his relationship with his son.

Describe your story in one sentence.
‘A man feeds his child at sunrise, while reminiscing.’

What was your motivation/inspiration for this piece? Were there any writers that inspired you for this?
As an undergraduate, Rodge was majorly influenced by his lecturer and writer, Robert Alan Jamieson who he used to give his stories to, to give him advice on. Robert really helped him develop as a writer and whenever Rodge heard him say “you know what, that’s not awful” was what spurred him onto writing even more. It was his goal to impress others like Robert.
Another major influence was writer and artist Alasdair Gray, who he spent a lot of time with as he wrote his biography. Alasdair is old fashioned, dictated his words and he learnt from him. Rodge considers him his main mentor. He was so important to him, he dedicated knew he had to dedicate a whole book towards him.

At times it seemed Jim is the narrator’s father, other times he sounds like his brother and then his best friend, was this intentional?
It was intentional. Rodge believes a good short story only works if the writer is thinking all the time. Who are these characters? What are they doing? Why are they in this piece? He thought it would be intriguing having this ambiguity over Jim’s character.

Talk a little about how you structured your story.
A lot of Rodge’s stories have a scene he focuses on, but he cuts in and out of that scene. In this story, he’s having breakfast with his son, it is very much fragmented, as his mind begins to wander. He intentionally begins and ends the story with Jim. He doesn’t worry too much about the structure in the middle of the story.

I thought it was brilliant the way you set up the story as if a father is talking to a baby. It almost felt like the reader was the child. Was there any particular reason you decided to do this?
Yes, this was exactly his intention. Putting the reader in an interesting position. A baby can’t speak, and neither can the reader, so it became the perfect parallel. The reader can’t interrupt and express their views, just as a baby can’t. This wasn’t something he was consciously aware of when he first wrote it, it was something he later realised and played on this. He began writing the story almost as if the baby is listening and understanding the story, which obviously isn’t the case.

I’m loving the distinction between the narrators father being the complete opposite of the narrator and Jim’s mother. Was this done purposefully to make his father seem all the more terrible?
It wasn’t about making the narrator’s father look bad at all, just that he wasn’t a fan of the narrator’s mother. As a child this is something that affects your world and your view on things, which has made the narrator himself want to be different and be a better father than his was. Rodge discovered it was more of a challenge to represent a family that’s functional than a family that isn’t functional during the writing process.

Despite the narrator seeming not to have the best relationship with Jim, I found it interesting how they always used to go drinking together, what was your reason for this?
Some friendships are like this, they share a purpose in each other’s lives. For certain people, they want somebody to talk to, others want friends to go on wild adventures with. These days people don’t seem to expect too much out of friendships. Of course, the narrator is massively irritated by Jim, he believes he’s selfish, but Jim enables the narrator to drink. That is Jim’s purpose to him.

The narrator and Jim drank a lot. Like a lot. I’m guessing this means they were both alcoholics?
They were definitely alcoholics. Rodge mentions how he included anniversary dates in the story as an excuse for them to get drunk together. “Shakespeare’s marriage to Anne Hathaway (November 27th, 1582) celebrated.” They never cared about the actual events; it was just something to justify drinking in the day.
Edge Hill University provides diaries, at the bottom of each page are anniversary dates. Rodge flicked through each page and chose the dates he thought would work best with the story.

Why was there no mention of the narrator’s mother?
Rodge did mention the mother, but only in relation to the father. It’s a short story and therefore he doesn’t believe the mother needs to be mentioned. Furthermore it’s a story about fatherhood therefore only featuring men.

The narrator seems a little cynical when he mentions him and Jim were stuck in bad jobs and then says to his child, he will inevitably have a bad job too. Is this a character trait you intended?
It wasn’t a character trait he intended for; he also doesn’t see this comment as being cynical. Rodge imagined the father to be sending his child out to work from a young age, even something as simple as a paper round. Ask anybody, they will most likely have had a bad job sometime in their life. It’s just something people will go through and this is all Rodge intended this comment to mean. Rodge himself has been working since the age of thirteen. Though he did state the beauty of writing is the reader seeing something in the writing the author didn’t intend.

I absolutely loved the ending. By the way the narrator was talking I assumed it was Jim who stopped talking to him or they just lost contact, but to read he actually ditched him in a pub was pretty shocking. Why did you decide to end at this point?
Rodge decided to end at this point as a metaphor for Jim outliving his usefulness as a friend. The narrator at this point has realised he’s had enough of Jim. He’s not totally sure if Jim even realises he’s there while he talks. The narrator enables Jim’s rambling, which is the reason he is useful to Jim. By leaving, this is where his life really begins, when he can put his life back together. He gets a wife, has a child and he stops drinking.

Is there anything else I haven’t asked you, that you think should be included?
Recently Rodge has been reading a lot of Roberto Bolaño’s work for his next novel. The novel is about Chile, which is where Bolaño was born. In The Jim Hangovers the narrator mentions Jim saw himself as a young Roberto Bolaño (a great artist in the making) when in reality he’s somebody sitting around talking about it, when the reader knows they’ll never get around to actually doing anything.

And thus concludes my interview with the wonderful Rodge Glass.
Hope you enjoyed this insight to the writing process of ‘The Jim Hangovers’.


Rodge Glass is a novelist, short story writer and editor who was born in Manchester. He was educated at the University of Strathclyde and Glasgow, where he obtained his PhD.
He has published three novels, a literary biography which won a Somerset Maugham Award, a graphic novel and has edited two short story collections.
Rodge now works as a Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing at Edge Hill University. He regularly appears at literary festivals and events.

Yours weekly,
Jennie Byrne
@mustbejlb (on Instagram and Twitter)

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