Rob Grant (2006)
A profile on another top creative guy I’ve interviewed a few times now. Meeting Rob was a very rare fanboy squee moment for me, as I try hard to maintain a shell of supercilious indifference towards celebrity, but I grew up on Red Dwarf, and was very excited. I’m glad to say we hit it off, and it’s always a pleasure to see him.
This interview was conducted on the publication of his novel, Fat, in 2006, for SFX 151. Read my review of it here.
Rob Grant Profile
Red Dwarf co-creator Rob Grant is feeling bullish, and there’s little that will get in the way of his iconoclastic ire. Right now his target is scientific orthodoxy, in his path the vast China shop of obesity and diet. His latest book, Fat, is a hilarious attack on the fatuous nature of statistics and how most of us swallow them whole. According to the near-future Fat, the only diet that works is the poor-quality brain food we scoff down every day, and the only thing it slims is the intellect.
Despite the tightly written nature of this eye-opening novel, its conception has the entertaining smack of low-grade charlatanry. Mr Grant made up this one on the spur of the moment, he confided in us.
It was while enjoying the fruits of his last book, the hit Incompetence, that he was called up by his agent. Grant takes up the story. “‘Let’s have a discussion about your next book. You have a two book deal and your publishers are chomping at the bit,’ my agent said, which I forget immediately, as you do. I remembered a couple of days before we met, so I went out for a drink, and thought, ‘Fat’. And literally, that’s all I had, three letters. When I went to see him and said, ‘The book – it’s fat,’ his eyes lit up. Of course I had no idea what it was going to be about, so I was doing some bullshitting and serious back-peddling, saying ‘Well, it’s very early days yet, very early days.’ Besides this, I also said, ‘Please don’t tell anyone’. I mean, I needed time! So the next day I got a phone call from my editor, ‘Hey, we love ‘Fat’, we’ve got the cover people working, and marketing are going crazy’. And I’m thinking about my agent ‘You bastard, you’re fired for a start’. The next day it was on Amazon. I was stuck with it, so I got all these books out and started researching the subject.”
Grant found himself astonished. Not only was there a book in the idea (he was relieved) but that, “Almost everything we know about diet, obesity and body image and its relationship to disease and the heart is crapulous!”
Fat seeks to set the record straight, demolishing received wisdom and lampooning the way Cartesian method has been put off the straight and narrow track.
“Take salt. There is a lack of evidence in salt’s case that it’s harmful for you in any way,” he cites. “Any substance is poisonous if taken to absolute excess,” he counters, “even water will kill you. But that six grams a day stuff is nonsense. It annoys me when the same old opinions are trotted out and aren’t backed up by any kind of scientific evidence whatsoever. For the book, I had to learn how to read statistics, which was a lot of fun, let me tell you. Now when I see some kind of nonsensical health story on the BBC website like ‘Tea causes cancer’, I am sceptical. You never get the figures, you never get the important, salient details, and you rarely get pointed to the source report. I blame journalists. I think in journalism you can either thoroughly research every story and check it out or you can write down what somebody tells you. The pay’s the same.” [Note from 2012: I am afraid he is bang on the money there. And the pay's awful].
None taken, Mr G. We can also just make it up, by the way.
“And there are whole government policies based on some ineptly conducted survey. And I mean, some of the more controversial stuff I didn’t dare put in, but I’m sure I’m going to get a backlash anyway.”
If all this is making Grant sound angry, he is not. He is as considered as ever, though he is incredulous as to how some of the rubbish he has uncovered as rubbish gets accepted as fact. He is, however, developing an intolerance for morons as he ages, of which he seems to encounter more than his share. Still, they provide fuel for his books, which seem to be leaning towards his Spitting Image days; more satire than SF.
“I don’t know,” he says. “Satire is a dirty word. In show business they say ‘Satire is what closes on Saturdays’, but I suppose there’s an element of satire in all my stuff. I am getting more real worldy, the thing is I don’t try and write to order, I write what occurs to me and hope that some bugger buys it.”
Is that his ‘You’re not pigeonholing me, I’m an artist’ statement?
“Ha, no! The whole nanny state thing drives me to distraction, We’re all grown up, let us decide if we want to have 13 year olds in carseats for ourselves. It doesn’t look like there’s any end in sight, the opposition’s embracing it too. That’s what I’m looking at in ‘Fat’.”
And now the cycle has begun again. Fat is long written, this is Grant’s first interview, and his agent hangs on the bell again, waiting for the next precious three-letter pitch. So, what sacred cows are in the firing line?
“I’ve got a queue.” He almost growls, which turns to a chuckle. “But I’ll say that climatologists better watch out…”