By Roy Kettle
Like a few of us here today, Rob was a fairly obsessive reader and collector of science fiction. In the 1960s, before the Internet made it much easier, he used to buy 20 year old American science fiction magazines from an English book dealer in Singapore. So did I. In 1967, a batch of magazines meant for Rob was sent to me by mistake but with his address included as well. One of the best decisions of my life was resisting the temptation to keep those magazines and instead send them to Rob. We made contact, him at Bangor University and me at Warwick.
We both became friends with other science fiction fans, went to conventions, and wrote for fanzines – Rob even published his own. At the same time he was making a living by churning out hack novels – books that he could produce quickly and frequently, often based on second-rate movies or TV series. And, in Rob’s case, they were often much better than that sounds.
He combined these two parts of his life – the professional writer and the fan – when he wrote an article in 1976 for a fanzine about how he was doing as a hack writer. The article was called Eight Days a Week and here, some years before Rob met Sarah, is how he described two of those days.
TUESDAY Delivery day for Shadow of the Wolf, first of a great historical fantasy hack series. Awake at seven-thirty with the sun, the birds, and the fire alarm in the Flour Mill across the road. Ah, this is country life. Lie peacefully and happily staring at the ceiling, then remember with a great surge of sickness that I haven’t yet finished the bloody book. Leap out of bed and begin typing in considerable panic; the book has gone on ten days over my private schedule already. Ten pages still to do and a full three hours to do them in. Ought to be a cinch. I promise myself that I shall never again be so lazy as to leave the completion of a book until the morning of Delivery Day. Sheila slams the bedroom door pointedly. Feeling guilty about typing so early, but the thought of being dragged through the courts in front of my buddies adds life to my fingers.
The book is finished at eleven o’clock, and a two minute dash to the station gets me to London on time. Deliver book to Rosemary Daughton at Sphere, feeling proud, wanting everyone to know that this is my first novel. Deflated as mine is bunged on big pile of other commissioned manuscripts. Aren’t you even going to glance at it, I wheedle. Once started, I know, she’ll be hooked, she won’t be able to put it down. She picks it up and leafs quickly through it, and manages to find the one dirty bit. The page looks greyer than the rest and I realise that repeated reading of my own pornography has marked the manuscript for ever as being the work of a mental juvenile.
WEDNESDAY Beginning of new book. Clear away all the crap involved with Shadow of the Wolf and look contentedly at empty desk. Check diary casually, and feel horrendous surge of nausea as I notice that the great new work has to be delivered in eight days time. Surely this is a mistake! Count the days, over and over lips moving as I frantically flip the diary pages, but sure enough it has to be in one week tomorrow. I can’t believe it, but the extra time on Shadow of the Wolf has buggered my schedule all to hell. Do sums. 180 pages in eight days means 23 pages a day. Ought to be a cinch.
Heartened I draw a film script from the pile and read it through. The book is The Satanists, a novelisation of the film of the same name from Tyburn Films, the group who gave us such memorable classics of the cinema as The Ghoul, starring Peter Cushing, The Legend of the Werewolf, starring Peter Cushing, Persecution, starring Peter Cushing …. Who’s the star of The Satanists, I wonder. Good grief, what a surprise, Peter Cushing. Baddy to be played by Telly Savalas. Must remember to ask Kojak fans for a few Kojak jokes.
I sketch the characters quickly. Lesley Anne Down is playing the girl. Who the hell’s she? No matter. Auburn hair, big breasts, slim legs, and ginger pubic hair that will be revealed in the last chapter. Well, that’s the characterisation over, now to work, reading the script. By midday I feel queasy. I have to write a novel based on this? I rant around the flat. I throw the script around. Then I remember eight days. I run whimpering to the typewriter and begin to churn.
And that’s a side of Rob that people who read his novels rarely saw. But all of us who were lucky enough to know him as family or friend also know what a great sense of humour he had and how he could get everyone laughing with wild exaggerations about his misfortunes as a writer or gleeful stories of how he had embarrassed himself and everyone around him by committing some dreadful faux pas. We all loved him for it. He never had any misplaced sense of his own dignity and was as happy behaving with very few inhibitions as he was joking about it afterwards. He was someone who could literally be the life and soul of any party, with no side to him and just a desire to be with his friends and family and to help us all enjoy life as much as he did.
Rob was a lovely man, a great friend, a terrific writer and very special for all of us.