|Robin Ince - comedian and broadcaster|
Robin Ince, comedian, writer, broadcaster, presenter and Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association was recently at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, presenting Funny Way to Make a Living, and was kind enough to spare a few minutes to talk to GeekChocolate about good books, bad books, the sceptical movement, and his upcoming tour with Professor Brian Cox, Ben Goldacre and Simon Singh, the Uncaged Monkeys.
Geek Chocolate – You like books about giant crabs. When do you think rampaging mutant animals will once again light up the silver screen?
Robin Ince – Well, there is the possibility that the giant rampaging mutating creature will return now, because it wouldn’t surprise me if what happened in Japan will now mean there’s going to be some spill. In fact Godzilla is about to be remade by Gareth Edwards. We’ve had Megashark and all those kinds of things, but I think it’s time to get them out of the sea and back on land.
GC – Surely not all the science fiction and horror books you read as a child were wretched tales of mutated crustaceans rampaging through the home counties?
RI – The odd thing is, apart from James Herbert, I read very few books when I was a child. I was surrounded by books, but I didn’t like them until I could read grown up books. I would read Douglas Adams over and over again, and then I read James Herbert’s The Spear, which was about some Nazis, I think. I do remember it was particularly blood-curdling. I think there is always a selection of youths who go into the woods and imagine the most unpleasant things happening, gory things, and buy Fangoria. And then normally grow into the most timid vegetarians.
GC – With all the time you dedicate to scouring charity shops, do you get to read any modern books – preferably good, although if there is anything spectacularly bad you need to draw our attention to…
RI – I actually haven’t read a contemporary bad book for some considerable amount of time, apart from Ann Coulter’s Godless: The Church of Liberalism, but I knew what I was walking into there. Most of my time I’m researching. I’ve just read Superstition by Robert L Park, who wrote Voodoo Science, which is absolutely great, a very enjoyable read. I had a few weeks where I would read as many books by one person as I could in a week, so I did Jacob Bronowski, Ascent of Man, then collections of his lectures, I did Steve Jones, Almost Like a Whale, Language of the Genes, then got distracted and that had to end. I was reading Tim Flannery, Here on Earth, a very interesting explorer and scientist, which has just come out. He wrote a very interesting book about climate change, and he’s now working with the Australian government on that. He’s travelled the world and clearly has that great eye for detail and imagination that inspires you to read about science.
GC – Did you have to get approval from all the authors included in Bad Books prior to their inclusion, and how did you persuade them to agree?
RI – Well that’s interesting, because I’m not entirely sure how that worked. The quotes had to be short, because then you can get around stuff. The strangest one was probably getting the drawing of the rabbit being held by a strange hand, from The Book of the Netherland Dwarf. The wonky hand, the strange scared rabbit, and a military sleeve, and I think that was probably the strangest request to a publisher, because the Netherland Dwarf book has some very bad illustrations, and I don’t think the publisher had ever been asked before, "Could I print this in something?" Why would you want this? There were a couple of times when they had to be tender in their requests.
GC – You said earlier that you would have liked to have done more with the book, had you the time.
RI –I’d liked to have analysed how very cheap literature really gives you a sense of an age more than great literature, which is often dealing with philosophical ideas, which will go on forever, whereas something like Suedehead or The Devil’s Rider and other thrill-seeking novels of skinheads and Hell’s Angels and even giant killer crabs novels, they give you a certain idea of what were the opinions of the day. There’s not a deliberate idea to encapsulate what maybe bigots of 1975 thought were the general day to day opinions of people, but I think by chance they happen to give you that, and I wish I’d dealt more with that. I wish I’d done less about my bugbears. I’d just read too many newspapers, too many bigoted columnists. I was writing a stand-up show at the same time, and some of those ideas work perfectly well in spoken word, but I’m not sure if they work so well as furious sentences.