My name is Robert Rankine but I use my initials to go by the name of R.G Rankine. I was born, and still live in London, U.K (in 1979, which seems a more distant era every time I say it). I formed Thinking Plainly Limited in 2012 because I felt I needed a push to focus on my fiction writing and what better way to take something seriously than to tell your friends and family you have set a company up - so that the fear of crashing and burning keeps you constantly awake. Back then I knew that if I didn't do something drastic then my ambition to improve my writing and one day produce short stories and novels would simply remain a private dream. I wanted it to be more than that.
If you read the biography section or 'About Me' page of any novice or professional writers’ website then chances are they will say something along the lines of, 'I was always interested in reading from an early age,' or, 'I have had a passion for writing since a child,' and, yes, that's probably true of course, but don’t most children love storytelling in one way or another? Doesn’t it follow that should a person pursue their childhood passions into adulthood then it's likely they have always had that passion? You never hear the other side of the story do you? What about those people who have loved writing from an early age but have had no success? How many websites have you visited to read on their 'About Me' page: Hi, thanks for visiting my website. I loved reading and writing when I was a kid and even though I still love them I have never written anything so instead let me tell you about my career as a rubber mould manufacturer’s office administrator. I'm not being flippant. I don't have anything against office administrators, as I myself will spend the rest of my life being one, and I sorta-kinda enjoy it.
It's not just writers. If you read an autobiography or watch an interview it's often the same scenario. I recently watched a film about a group of scientists in their 80s having a fifty year reunion and one of the gentlemen describes how he knew he would be a scientist from the age of eight. Yes, it tends to be the creative arts you hear this from in the main, or perhaps sport stars too, because as adults they have the voice and fame for you to hear it. I suppose because not many children learn PRINCE 2 project management methodology as five year olds in the classroom you don’t hear many adults reminiscing about their early GANTT chart experiences, and last time I watched, not many marketing managers, company directors and CEOs make it onto the Saturday night chat shows. As I was saying, we all love creative stuff as kids so of course it's what we 'always wanted to do' but once we understand more of life (the need to survive financially) and the difficulty involved of sustaining a lifestyle from those passions, the more we drift away from them to ensure we can have some kind of security. Oddly enough, it is that stage of life - the conflict of dreams and reality - that interests me, and who the hell knows why, makes me want to write about it.
Let me bring this back to why I set up my company and my life as a novice writer. Back in 2011 I read an article concerning the success of a very young writer who had launched a career as a self publishing writer on a product called the Kindle. It wasn't the idea of self publishing that excited me as I had heard of that before (although I never investigated it) and it wasn't the idea of the Kindle alone (although that was pretty exciting) but it was the way in which the new technologies of the time, and the rising significance and popularity of social media, could all come together. This article, out of the hundreds of author interviews I had read, generated an energy that nagged at my insides for months. I simply couldn't forget the idea of it.
I can't remember how long it took for me to finally admit I wanted to give it a go but in January 2012 I went for it. Let me explain what my aims were. Back then all I wanted to do was force myself to finish a story. Returning to that theme of, 'I always loved writing from an early age,' since I was around the age of nine or ten, I had tried my hand at writing little stories. Not in any structured fashion of course, just for fun. Then a little later when I was around fifteen I started to write short drafts of stories but with one difference - I kept them together in a folder (maybe my ‘I always had a passion for it’ was indeed administration after all). How my mind worked back then I can't tell you but whatever the compulsion was (and it certainly wasn't because I thought I would be a writer one day, that's for sure) I felt the need to keep my ideas. From then onwards, whenever I wrote anything, be it on a bus journey (I had dozens of notes written on the back of tickets - now it's all contactless card payments I suppose no one does that anymore); at school; sitting on the top floor of Burger King in Bromley that overlooked the High Street (I remember doing that several times, maybe it was just an excuse to eat Bacon Double Cheeseburgers); in the park, or wherever, I would return home and file the notes away (they were always scraps of paper, I don't think I ever kept a proper notepad until years later).
So, when I turned thirty I had fifteen years worth of notes making quite the collection of ideas. Let's be honest, the majority: absolute rubbish! But the point is once I had made my mind up to form a company and start self publishing (sounds the wrong way round doesn't it?) I scoured this collection of notes and selected the pieces I thought had something (could have been a few pages of text or simply one line, it was the idea that mattered) and re-wrote them in a more structured and formal arrangement. I remember very clearly that process; it took me two intense weeks. From first thing in the morning until late at night I ruthlessly threw away scrap after scrap (a lot of this was done sitting in Costa coffee spending fortunes on mochas with whipped cream and oh, the calories... ) until my collection had reduced to a small pile and the notes that had survived would form the basis of my first stories. They would all need rewriting of course, but importantly, the ideas were there.
Let me be honest with my expectations for those stories and I hope you believe me... I never set myself any expectations at all. I just wanted to finish something. Genuinely, that was it. I had no ambition other than having one complete short story. Some people have asked me why I didn't finish a story first and then try self publishing, which seems the more logical process, or send it off to a publisher or literary agent. The thing is, I didn't have any aspirations to be published or to self publish. The self publishing idea was simply a mechanism by which I could force myself to write and actually complete a piece of work. I never dreamt I would be good enough to be published; it didn't enter my mind once. I knew I would have years of writing ahead of me in order to practice and improve. That is why I eventually started to self publish. To become a better writer, that's all.
The funny thing is, that hasn't changed! Half a decade later and I still know I have years ahead of me in which to improve. But there is a difference: I have learnt a lot about myself.
There are a couple of things I need to tell you that may go some way to helping you understand why and how self publishing has been such a fantastic experience. Firstly, I am a realist. Perhaps pessimistically so. Perhaps even a fatalist… but I don’t believe in fate. Let me explain. Despite being brought up Catholic and schooled by a convent run primary school (yes, you betcha there’s a story about nuns brewing in my mind) and Catholic secondary school (more mainstream; just one nun there) I am an atheist now, having lost all belief in religion of any kind in my early to mid twenties. I do not believe in the concept of religious free will or any omnipresent power that knows what we are destined for before we are born. I do not believe we are destined in that sense at all, we are not confined by fate, but that is not the same thing as saying where we are born and how we are raised does not dictate what lives we are likely to have. If we skip entirely the sorry state of most of the world and accept that by being born in London in the twentieth century I am one of the luckiest humans ever to have existed then I am able to talk more romantically about that sense of realism and fatalism I have. (I will get back to that sorry state of the world later.) Putting it simply I always thought I could achieve whatever I wanted through hard work. I don’t believe that any longer but it was a nice way of thinking as a child. But I also have to say that as a child I never thought I would grow up to be rich and famous. It was never in my consciousness. I rather thought I would be normal to an extreme. I would buy a house, get married, have children, retire; all on a perfectly normal salary in a perfectly normal job. Yet I still would be doing whatever I wanted to do. I miss contradictory childish thinking, I really do. I never thought of holidays, or buying cars, investing in the stock market or anything else that goes beyond what my imagining of an average working class life was. When, as I mentioned I became aware of enjoying writing, I considered it a private enjoyment much like watching sport or movies. Just something I did that although allowed me to run away with my imagination, would never take me anywhere outside of the reality of my life. That is the contradiction that gets to the crux of my view of life. That’s the sort of realism and fatalism I am talking about. I have discovered in myself an understanding that life is all about sacrifice and managing the things that are most important to you because if you stretch yourself too far or take on too much it can prove disastrous (and those that manage it have my eternal and upmost respect). By age twenty or so I knew that I would always write but at the same time I also knew that it would never go anywhere. I knew I was destined to have writing in my life but I also knew that it would not in the slightest effect my expected working class life. I knew I was not very good and I would never be very good but I also knew that I could learn to be average, and believe me, that was enough. That is where my realism and fatalism meet. I believe I do have a fate that is connected to writing but that fate is a permissible fate. I am allowed to have that fate because of my good fortune to be born in a time and place where I can choose to sacrifice everything else. Even if it means never achieving any material gains, just the fact it is in my life and I have chosen to focus on it, is reward enough. That I think is the good fortune of the artist (and again, those who make it happen despite hardship and toil, have my highest respect) as I am prepared to sacrifice most things in my life in order to one day look back and know I produced a few books that I am proud of. That means more to me that pretty much everything really. And it doesn’t conflict with any pre-conceived ideas or aspirations I had when I was young, I don’t feel I am denying myself a life that was possible to me, because deep down I didn’t really want it anyway. If I never own a house or go on holidays or invest in the stock market it doesn’t feel like a loss to me. On the surface, I could end up wasting my entire life working on things that aren’t very good and never get read but just the process of doing that, the very act itself, makes me feel very fulfilled.
The other thing I want to tell you is that I am a fairly solitary person yet that contradictory thinking is still active because I enjoy opening up to the kind of people (you?) who may be reading this right now. I enjoy being on my own and if I have learnt anything, it’s that being a writer means you are going to be on your own, a lot. But of course you write something with the thought in your mind someone is going to read it. By writing you are sharing and that can be a very rewarding but also very painful. It can be hard to be honest and truthful about how you see the world but that is the ultimate aim of writing and every time I struggle to find a way to express myself I learn more about how damn hard writing is and how the greats are not just greats, they have absolute superhuman genius. So if you can pick all that apart and understand that although I like modern life I don’t want to be part of it; I enjoy writing but I don’t think I am very good and won’t go anywhere yet I won’t stop; I like being isolated but will interact with total strangers on social media and blog post about my most private anxieties; I run my own company and enjoy the business side of it without ever expecting to make money from it… then you are starting to understand the topics I am interested in writing about.
Whatever it is that compels me to write about contemporary society I am not going to fight it. However, I do love all kinds of literature and art. I am not obsessed with the subjects I write about at all. I read all genres, I watch all kinds of movies, I like sports and science and technology and politics… but if you have got this far and want to know what it is that I am trying to write about then here it is: I want to examine how ordinary people cope with day to day life. I want to know why some people deal with society so differently to others. I want to know what stress and money and family and love do to people (having it and not having it) when they are walking to the train station in the morning. I want to know how people box away their dreams and ambitions when it becomes apparent they aren’t going to be realised. I want to know how millions of people can share the same square miles of land but have such vastly different experiences. And I want to know why underneath it all we are all the same. Those are things that I will be trying to look at when I write. I have no idea, and I make no promises, about being able to achieve those aims but over the course of the next ten years, twenty years, thirty years and as far as I am concerned the rest of my life, I am going to try. I probably won’t get anywhere and the realist in me is content with that as my life is still made up by the simple things as having a pint with my friends or a long walk through the woods; and the fatalist in me knows that despite not getting anywhere I will still be doing it until I’m no longer physically able. I don’t allow for the dreamer in me to think of anything beyond trying to write the next story, the dreamer is firmly contained within the page.