LEROY KETTLE:

THE FAN GUEST OF HONOUR INTERVIEW.


Simone Walsh

Leroy Kettle
This interview was taped on the afternoon of Saturday 25th March at SKYCON, the 1978 Eastercon, held that year at the Heathrow Hotel, Heathrow Airport. Leroy Kettle was interviewed by Simone Walsh. Transcript is by Eve Harvey and originally appeared in her fanzine WALLBANGER #1 (Aug '78). Audiotape to .mp3 conversion courtesy of John Harvey. Photos taken at SKYCON by Rob Hansen.

THE KETTLE INTERVIEW (.mp3 audio)

Running time: 37.41 File size 34.4MB

While the transcript is informative, the real entertainment is in the audio. The best way to enjoy it is to download the file (right click, then 'save target') and listen to it on the audio device of your choice.

Transcript (Part 1)

SW
To move on again, have you always had this fannish desire to write science fiction?

LK
Yeah, from about 11 I used to sit upstairs in my room writing these tedious science fiction stories that never had an ending. My parents were expecting me to be up there doing homework and would suddenly burst in so I'd cover up the writing, open a book and pretend to be reading it - I had the most crumpled science fiction stories you ever saw in your life - they were pretty bad as well - I'm still writing them, the same ones.

SW
Did you ever submit any stories when you were very young?

LK
Yes, when I was about 16 I sent some handwritten stories out once but I never got them back. I sent three stories out to Keith Roberts when he was editing Impulse that I'd typed on a typewriter that was worked by an elastic band attached to a chair leg. The return carriage mechanism had stopped. The problem was that it didn't work smoothly - you were typing on it and would get through a few letters OK but then suddenly it would jerk and you'd have big gaps in it. It was ludicrous. They were all stupid stories where it turned out that the heroes were Adam and Eve, or a giant sentient potato - all this great avant guarde stuff, and they got rejected pretty badly. I didn't submit anything for years after that.

SW
What made you change your style from these Adam and Eve type stories to something that could possibly be saleable.

LK
I grew up.

SW
So you grew up, and did you start writing more successfully?

LK
Oh, I sold half a dozen stories, pretty abysmal stories really but there's so much rubbishy science fiction written that anyone who can put pen to paper and spell can get published - well look at Ron Goulart for christ sake.

SW
Is there any truth in the rumour that any time you have submitted a story that's been accepted, something terrible has happened to the publishing house?

LK
Yes, actually now totally. I thought that the one instance where it hadn't happened was New Writings because they actually published one, but they've packed up now so it's a hundred percent record, Six stories sold and six publishing houses collapsed completely. Anyone wants me to destroy Analog I'll submit another!

MALCOLM EDWARDS
Have you sold a story to Pete Weston yet?

LK
No, he rejected it, too much like Ron Goulart.

SW
At what stage then did you decide that you ought to start writing full-time, give up nasty work and concentrate your skills?

LK
When I was incredibly bored with working in the bank and I thought, bloody hell I can do better than these fools who're writing regularly. I did give up work. The other reason I gave up work, actually, was that I'd been having a day off a week to study for exams but instead of doing my work I Just had the day off and stayed in bed and I was dreaming their retribution on me. Rather than have them come up and say "you have not been talking your exams, smacked botty for you" I resigned and the writing was just an excuse.

SW
And how long did you actually have off work trying to write?

LK
It was about ten months, it wasn't quite twelve because I was struggling to make a living as a temp working in R Whites ' lemonade factory. You get free lemonade there actually, all that free lemonade and it's totally nauseous.

SW
Do you think that's the way to try and write? If you're going to write you should devote yourself to it all the time.

LK
I think there's two schools of thought on this, mine and the correct one. Mine is that you pack up work and live off the state having a really good time but not doing anything at all in terms of writing. But that doesn't get you anywhere. The Jim Blish method, apparently, is that you write in the evenings until you can make enough money from actually selling stuff to give up your job. I couldn't cope with that at all. I like doing fun things in the evening like sitting around and doing nothing rather than write.

SW
Rumour has it, though, that Chris Priest started by just deciding to quit accountancy work and try starving to death or writing.

LK
Fair enough, he's proved that he's got the talent to do it. I'm talking about people who haven't really got the talent to be very successful but have possibly got the talent to make a living out of it like Brian Stableford.

SW
Did any of your friends try and discourage you from trying to write, or your parents?

LK
My parents didn't try to discourage me, they sort of said "you do what you want to do as long as you stay at the bank." No actually, they were very good about it, saying "you try it and if it doesn't work then go back to the bank."

SW
What about professionals? Did they give you advice?

LK
Yes, people like Chris Priest and Ken Bulmer were very helpful, they said "don't ask us". Actually, they were helpful. Chris himself did put me onto a number of useless things. He suggested quite a few things I could do that were totally useless.

SW
Which professional writer, if you could choose to be one, would you like to be?

LK
The one who makes the most money - unless it's Jerry Pournelle.

SW
Artistically though, would you really like to be the richest? Who writes what you would like to write?

LK
Philip Dick writes what... like what I like to read. He's the only author that Peter Roberts reads other than Melville. And that's only because he wrote Moby Dick.

SW
Of all the professionals you've met going to conventions as a fan... who... I can't say who excited you most because that sounds obscene.. who did you find... god, I can't phrase this without sounding rude, who were you most pleased to meet?

LK
I think the most friendly professional is Bob Shaw, I think everyone feels that. But I've never really got on with professionals - there's the same gap to bridge as there is at work between underling and manager. This is my problem, many people don't find that. I find the people I get on with best are the people of my generation who I've known since they were beginning writing. Like Rob Holdstock and Chris. I've never got on with any well-known writers except Bob Shaw, but everyone gets on with him.

SW
What about, say, people you have just seen at cons but not actually mixed with. Whom do you think has been the most exciting person?

LK
I don't think I've ever actually been excited in that sense. I saw Arthur C Clarke at the One Tun once and everyone was ignoring him. Actually, years before that I was at home and had decided not to go to the Globe when Greg phoned and said "Why aren't you here?" like he does, so I replied "'Cos I'm here" and he said "Arthur C Clarke's here!" and I said "Arthur C Clarke's there, So what" and put the phone down. I thought a bit and put my coat on and zoomed down there, but Greg said "Oh, he's gone". I still don't know whether he was actually there or not that night. But he was there another night and he was standing around but everyone was ignoring him - I think everyone was frightened of him because he's such a big name.

SW
Let's get back to conventions. Which one stands out as being the most enjoyable of all time?

LK
Oxford, my first one.

SW
Oh, you can't say that again.

LK
But I have... OK then, Mancon, that was the best.

SW
That's the next question, which was the worst convention?

LK
I think I disliked Chester more than Mancon because I was sleeping on Rob Holdstock's floor. It wasn't particularly because it was Rob's floor, but when he turned over sideways in bed he kept knocking me on the head. I was in there but the trouble was that we didn't keep the same hours - John Eggling was in the same room but he was very quiet. I'd go in to try and sleep but there was a weir outside which would keep me awake. Then suddenly there'd be this incredible noise - it was Rob. There was only one key and and he'd given it to me, so to get in he had to climb up on the garage roof, jump from the roof into the window, climb in, knock the wardrobe over - apparently that was part of it, it was very important that - and he'd come bursting in, talking and burbling on. I'd come bursting awake and think, bugger him I might as well wake completely up and talk to him. When I was properly awake and ready to talk, he'd be fast asleep.

At Chester there were little hotels all over the place and I found it pretty dire actually. It was a dire situation, dire convention and was worse than Mancon as far as I was concerned because I expected Mancon to be bad.

SW
What about embarrassing moments?

LK
No embarrassing moments.

SW
What about the time I introduced you to Janet Shorrock?

LK
I don't think we'll go into that.

JOHN PIGGOTT
What comments have you to make about the 1970 Novacon, when I was trying to kip down with Peter Roberts?

SW
You couldn't possibly relate that story could you, where everyone was going round the corridors and they found the room that...

LK
What were you doing in that room John?

JOHN PIGGOTT
I was simply trying to sleep on his floor.

GREG PICKERSGILL
That was the only time I've seen Peter Roberts annoyed.

LK
Yes, "Fuck off you bastards!" he said.

JOHN PIGGOTT
Yes, then he threw me out.

AUDIENCE MEMBER
Tell us about Worcester.

LK
That wasn't so much embarrassing, more the most nauseating experience at a hotel. I was thrown out with Tom Penman - that wasn't the particularly awful part of it, but he's never spoken to me since. We were both thrown out about 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning and because we couldn't get any water or anything we were both dehydrating from the drink and had splitting headaches etc. It was freezing cold and we were just wandering through the city - we tried to break into the Cathedral for somewhere warm to sleep and a bit of bread and a glass of wine. Eventually we ended up lighting a fire in the street, miles from anywhere in a derelict area. Suddenly a police car - probably the same one from Greg's - screeched up and a policeman got out. "Hello" he said,"what are you doing?" "Lighting a fire" Then he asked were we came from so we said from the Science Fiction convention and he said "Oh, all right" and drove off. That really sums the whole thing up.

SW
What's your opinion of fannish conventions like Silicon and Faancon?

LK
Well, I've never been to a Faancon and I don't particularly want to because really it's the sort of people that I either don't want to see at all or people I don't mind, as opposed to people I really want to see who go Silicon. I didn't go to the first Silicon because I was on holiday, but the second Silicon I found really enjoyable. You don't have to listen to boring creeps talking about Science Fiction and Organisations in SF.

SW
To a newcomer, going to an Eastercon, one perhaps feels very lost and thinks I'm. not going to .not3ier one because they're all so unfriendly and cliquey, do you think he'd benefit from going to a Silicon- type con?

LK
Yes, I think he would. There's fewer people who can avoid you. No, you stand more chance of being able to talk to people. It's a more informal atmosphere in a way. At a place this size, there's so many people you could talk to, you really don't know where to start.

SW
How's this poor little neo going to cope with a convention like the Worldcon in Brighton?

LK
OK I think because there'll be a lot of Americans there and they are the sort of people you don't want to meet in railway compartments because they'll just talk to you.

JOHN PIGGOTT
At one time Ritchie Smith used to share a house with you. Have you any anecdotes to relate about that?

LK
Funny you should mention that. I don't know why it is that people I go around with get arrested, but Ritchie was arrested. Was it once or twice? No, just once. I was lying around in bed in the middle of the night and the phone rings. It was the police station asking if I knew someone called Ritchie Smith. I said no but they persuaded me that I might know him. What had happened was that a couple of his friends had come down from Durham. and they'd been drinking wine all weekend. He's got one friend who lives on carrots and wine, it's incredible. He's very pleasant, but small and wiry and just goes about beating people up. Anyway, they all got very pissed and Ritchie apparently went into fhis pub and beat the shit out of a urinal. There he was, and he really showed it. So they arrested him and I had to give a testimonial for him. I went round to the police station with this friend who lives on wine and carrots and I was saying "Great guy Ritchie, great guy" and his friend he's known for years was going on "Oh christ, he's always doing this sort of thing". Despite that they actually let him loose.

RITCHIE SMITH
Yeah, I've got a serious sort of a question. What sort of a person do you think you'd be if you didn't drink?

LK
I'd be the sort of person who did an 'Organisations in SF' panel this morning and felt really awful doing it.

JOHN PIGGOTT
Roy, before you set up residence with Ritchie Smith there was a period when you lived in the same house as John Hall there was one story about baked beans I recall.

LK
Yes, John had this prediliction for baked beans. He used to live off baked beans, chocolate garibaldis and packet soup. One day he came back really pleased with himself from a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop with an enormous tin of beans. I've never seen as many beans. It was huge. He ripped off the lid and got through about six inches of it and goes "Tummy full" and decided to put it in his cupboard and keep it for a bit. Two weeks later he thought, "Mmm, feel like baked beans again", opens the cupboard and there's this big blue growth. He was thinking "If I scrape it off... " but eventually he threw it out of the window - we were on the fourth floor - and it burst all. over the garden. If the landlady had known Bob Rickard who edits Fortean Times she'd have written to him about this fall of baked beans.

At the same time, and I'm going to embarrass him now, he was very clothes conscious and one day he went out and bought this tremendous black outfit - black boots, black trousers, shirt, tie, black fingernails. The problem was he couldn't quite fit into it because he'd got this stomach through eating too many baked beans. So what he did was to get this huge bandage and ask me to wind it round him to hold his stomach in. I spent about an hour winding this bloody crepe bandage round him - I'd wind it round about twice and in between the strands the fat would suddenly squelch out, so I'd push it in and try to carry on winding... We finally got him all settled in, with these huge heels on his boots he looked quite impressive actually. I didn't have to unwind it, luckily.

DAVE LANGFORD
There's an excellent placard on the wall there entitled "The Wit of Roy Kettle", are they your favourites, and if so, what do you think is funny?

LK
I' m very impressed with my writing actually.

DAVE LANGFORD
You rat.

LK
No, seriously, I spend a lot of time on it and I read through it, The bits I like I like a lot and I can't deny it. But there's a lot of stuff I write that I'm very disappointed with even though I do spend a fair amount of time on it. I like other people's comments on it. Greg's someone I particularly like to comment on it to give me a bit of security.

JOHN PIGGOTT
I think sometimes you're more cruel than witty.

LK
Piss off.

JOHN PIGGOTT
An example there is the Ian Williams comment.

LK
Yes, I suppose it is.

JOHN PIGGOTT
Even given the fact that it's Ian Wiliiams you're talking about. My favourite there are the bits about Gladys Hack the Lady Barbarian, which is getting at Rob Holdstock and the Biggles Saga. You didn't mention the Tesco Big Book of Fairy Games.

LK
This is getting ludicrous actually. I can't really talk about my writing.

SW
Well, we'll thank our Fan Guest of Honour for being such a nice FGoH and we want you all to go away feeling happy and not bored thinking "God, why don't they finish", so thank you Leroy Kettle.


At this point the meeting fell into utter chaos, to be resumed in the bar to resuscitate Roy who, on finding out that his pearls of wisdom had been taped replied "Ohmigod, why didn't someone tell me?"

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