“That’s why everyone involved in the early part of the scene has gone on to do something they wanted to do. They went to the Shoom or Spectrum or they went to Future… Then they went back to each other’s houses and came up with mad-hair-brain-schemes like ‘let’s do this, let’s do that, let’s start a record label, let’s set up a t-shirt company.” – Andrew Weatherall
Author/DJ Robert Hellier‘s ‘mad-hair-brain-scheme’ came decades after his raving days: An acid house crime novel with an ending inspired by a West London apartment block he used to spot on his daily commute. Robert’s now about to self-publish a third instalment in a whole series of rave-tinged page-turners, and Rob Smith chatted to him for the debrief.
Your latest novel Tanit’s Revenge is the third instalment in your Tales from Woodbridge series, how did the experience of writing a second and third novel differ from your first one? Was it like trying to record a follow-up album after a successful debut?
The third novel is both a sequel and prequel to All Back To Mine and All Back to Yours. The sequel element follows directly on from the other books before zipping back in time covering a story arch that is teased previously but never fully explained. So in that sense, I had always planned how Tanit’s Revenge would pan out and even included a couple of chapters that never made the cut in the first two books.
What role have tunes played in writing your novels, have they shaped them at all?
Ah! A huge part, as mentioned above there is lots of music in the book mostly in the clubbing scenes – Manumission at Ku, Love Dove Club at Es Paradis, Sundays at Space. I would be writing listening to the tunes and I would be tingling all over at the memories, often tears flowing, hairs on my arms standing up, goosebumps – the full monty. Hopefully I have done a half-decent job in transporting the reader onto those sweaty dance floors and podiums.
Any favourite authors, writers, DJs or producers at the moment?
DJ – ANOTR (those boys have some tuneage in the locker!). Producer – Traumer (love his upbeat dub house and techno style). Label – Berg Audio (quality releases every time). Author – Lou Berney (just finished November Road).
Have you read any electronic music or club culture-related books that have changed your perspective on a sound or DJ/producer?
I am a ferocious reader and collector of club culture books and novels. One of my favourites recently that reaffirmed as opposed to changed my perspective was Dreaming in Yellow by Harry Harrison. I was a big fan of DiY in the mid-90s and was lucky enough to DJ alongside Digs and Woosh and my hero, DJ DK. DiY stuck to their deep groovy house sound and roots for years as the acid-house scene morphed and is something to be applauded. Very sad to hear of the passing of Pete Woosh and recently Simon DK, I heard he was back on the decks and was so looking forward to hearing him play again. Gutted for the DiY collective.
Why did you start writing the series when you did? Have you always wanted to write fiction?
Everyone has a book in them is what they say. I commuted from Reading into central London for over ten years reading hundreds of books in the process. As the train approached Paddington I would always look up at Trellick Tower, a big hulk of a building by famed brutalist architect Emo Goldfinger. I always thought it would be a good setting for a ‘big finish’ in an action film and as I chewed it over a story began to formulate in my head. It started with four teenage adolescents toking on their first spliff in the back of a Vauxhall Nova through to dangling out of a high rise in West London. I just sat down one day in 2010 and started writing.
Three novels in, do you still find any aspects of the writing process challenging?
I have a full-time 9-5 job, two kids, a weekly DJ residency on RadioActiveFM playing deep dub house and techno, I produce my own music, I love reading, I play golf (11 handicap), I have a German Shepherd called Layo (who makes an appearance in Tanit’s Revenge), I have a great group of friends who are always going out and, of course, my amazing wife Helen. So there is the challenge – finding enough time to sit down and crack on. I am taking a couple of months off before starting on the fourth novel called The Peacock Angel which is going to take quite a bit of time as it is going to be a very different novel.
Another challenge is that I am self-published so I do not have a marketing budget or a team to help. It’s all on me. So getting out there promoting the books takes a lot of effort and is really difficult and often de-motivating. I am always up for going along to festivals, pop-ups, clubs to do a talk or have a stall but many don’t seem that interested in having something a little different at their events. Social media is another big thing and takes a lot of time and effort. I have given books away to prominent people in the scene and don’t even get a thank you let alone a social media post (which I hope for but never ask for). Moaning over.
Has writing the book changed your relationship with 90s nostalgia in any way? Do you try to avoid idealising the era or embrace how culturally exciting the period was at the time?
I think my books are cautionary tales, even with a big slab of nostalgia. I love the scene but have seen a lot of casualties over the years and try to reflect that in the books.
Last great party/rave you went to?
I go to Clockstock in Chelmsford every year and help out my mates at the Vintage Ibiza Flyers stall and do a few book signings. They are always good fun but is pretty much the only time I actively go and listen to 90s tunes… How many times can you listen to Passion by Gat Decor? The Warehouse Project last year at Mayfield Depot in Manchester was fantastic.