Will the real Fat Roland please stand up?

Will the real Fat Roland please stand up?

When I started talking to Fat Roland for this interview, we got onto the subject of a recent flowering of literary nights across Manchester. “You need to talk to Gerry Potter about the old Manchester scene,” he said.

You know who Fat Roland is, don’t you? He’s the one that later generations will be namechecking, saying, “If you want to know about that, about the time when fiction nights took off, you need to talk to Fat Roland.” I hope he’s ready for legend status, because it’s coming…

Fat Roland

We’ll talk about the names first. Fat Roland came to life as a DJ in the late nineties, moving on to the new art of blogging in 2004. This he took seriously, even giving up his TV to keep up with his self-imposed quota of posts. Before this, he was Ian Carrington, journalist, working straight out of school with the South Manchester Reporter and living the life of The Shipping News – writing features, being the darkroom assistant, running production and anything else that came up – just with less extreme weather and presumably fewer chances of slipping out for some seal flipper pie.

And because he was first noticed in a more writerly sense (through the Manchester Blog Awards of 2010) for his Electronica blog, written as Fat Roland, Fat Roland he remained as a writer. And it was Fat Roland’s voice – “bitchy, sour and funny” – that gave Ian the journalist the confidence to write more widely. “It’s very difficult to stop being a journalist and to care about what you write, because journalists don’t care, it’s just a job.” So, I ask, will there come a time when Fat Roland will be turned off? I don’t really get an answer to this; maybe it’s just not the time yet for The Artist Formerly Known as Fat Roland.

So, if the recognition from the Manchester Blog Awards was a big moment, letting loose a flow of short stories, the impetus for his first collection, Adropiean Galactic Lego Set Blues, came from last year’s Manchester Independent Book Market. None of this messing around with Lulu or CreateSpace: Ian typed ‘How do you typeset a book’ into Google, taught himself Photoshop, drew the pictures (holding them up in the brightest room in his house to photograph them before uploading, because he didn’t have a scanner), and sent PDFs off to the printers which came back as a book, which he then sold at the Market. The collection, in a way, represents closure. “As a journalist, writing is very temporary: you write something to a deadline and as soon as it’s published, it’s dead and you can move on to the next thing. Until it’s published, it’s very much alive and in your face. In the middle of last year, I’d been commended in the Manchester Fiction Prize, which was amazing, but it felt like a section of my life which I wanted to draw a line under and try and move on as a writer, so the Adropiean book was me publishing the stories and letting them be dead.”

He didn’t plan on a second book. His follow-up publication, created for the Manchester Zine Fair, was going to be a pamphlet, using work that didn’t fit into Lego, but it grew into a book, Hey Hey Hey Hey Hey Hey Hey Hey And Other Short Fiction (that’s eight ‘heys’, by the way). Produced in the same way, it has full colour graphic design, a ten page DVD-extra-type commentary at the back (designed to be read alongside the stories) and an overall sense of disconnect and isolation. Is this a comment on the modern world? “Yes. I certainly feel that, where I live. Even in friendships my natural inclination is to push people away, family away. It fascinates me, how every person is an island, if you’re not careful. So this is full of people who live in weird isolation.” So a bit downbeat? Not really. Here’s the blurb: ‘There are cable ties and robot dogs and dead Santas. There is a regretful ghost and a buffalo and a man who climbs inside people. Some of the stories are just people looking at stuff. Some of them aren’t.’ “People can be critical of existential ‘I look at this thing and that’s the story’, but actually it can be really fun and funny, if you play it right.”

The stories are short, some wafer thin, but don’t make the mistake of labelling them as flash fiction. Ian is a founder member of the Flashtag writing collective, a group which grew from writers who all won stuff at the Manchester Blog Awards, and is not so much a feedback group as a new literary movement, all about live events, cross promotion, and coming up with new ideas. It is passionate about short fiction – short, short fiction – and about standing up for fiction writers in a city full of poets. But it’s not necessarily about flash fiction. “I don’t believe in flash fiction, even though we did 25 gigs in one day for National Flash Fiction Day, which was an immense experience. Calling it flash fiction makes it sound disposable, and my short, short fiction is just not written that way. For me, they’re short stories, and the length is irrelevant.” So you mean the sort of flash fiction that’s written in five minutes? “Yes, because everything happens in the edit. Nothing to do with the first draft, the edit is where the story happens.”

We come back to names, or rather the lack of them. How some names are intrinsically funny. Like Susan. A lot of Ian’s characters don’t have names, because “a character wouldn’t maybe mention that they were wearing jeans, why would I mention their name? If it’s not adding anything, then let’s do without it. And it then creates a little bit of a weird vagueness and numbness in the stories, which helps with the whole interest in disconnect as well.”

So what do we have? A writer who, although a master of the compact, is not a poet, and not a flash fiction writer. Who is Fat Roland, but is not Fat Roland; who is many things to many people. Who, if Googled in a certain way comes up as:

Fat Roland

…which feels like a good place to stop.

 

If you are reading this at the right time, you’ll be able to meet Fat Roland, and buy your own copy of Hey Hey… at the Manchester Zine Fair, which is at Manchester Art Gallery on Thursday 31st January, from 5-9pm.

If you’re just too late for that, then you can still buy both anthologies on his blogspot here, which is also a great place to keep up with performance news, find out interesting stuff, play the Andropiean game and watch videos of Fat Roland.

Find him on Facebook, find him on YouTube (although this is just a taster: searching for ‘youtube fat roland’ brings up 4,710,000 results. They’re not all him, but …) Find him on Twitter. Find him on so much of the internet that I’m not even going to try to link to them all. And find him performing pretty much any week you care to try at a venue somewhere in Manchester.

Like I said, the man’s a legend.

 

 

 

1 Comment

  1. jpm
    30 Jan 2013

    The man is indeed a legend. And this interview captures his spirit perfectly.

    I’m amused by his comment “journalists don’t care, it’s just a job”… maybe that’s why I spent so much time re-writing his stories before they made the paper.

    For many years a legend in Heaton Mersey, the bright lights of metropolitan fame await….

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *