I Never Told You I Love You
Rhik talks about the cathartic power of writing about his depression and family
Rhik Samadder was a featured speaker at the October 2019 Ubud Writers Festival. The podcast interview was recorded when he came off stage after speaking about his memoir about mental illness, bad acting, backpacking with his mother and the infinite ache of being alive.
‘I NEVER SAID I LOVE YOU is one of the most electric, enchanting, engrossing and energising memoirs of self-harm, self-loathing, grief, eating disorders, suicide – and sex – that you will read.’
The Sunday Times
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In episode 31 of the eBook Revolution Podcast, Rhik Samadder talks about his new book I Never Said I Love You, as well as…
- Becoming a writer without really trying
- Embarrassing mothers
- The ‘beautiful mystery’ of writing
- The power of the memoir
- Why you shouldn’t compete for attention with a reader’s bacon sandwich
- The importance of pushing yourself to try new things.
This episode is sponsored by Madhouse Media Publishing. They’ll make your book look great and give you time to concentrate on what you do best – writing. Schedule your free pre-publishing consultation today.
Rhik Samadder is a writer, actor and broadcaster
Rhik writes the weekly kitchen tech column Inspect A Gadget for The Guardian. He writes features and interviews across The Guardian and Observer, as well as other publications including Men’s Health and Prospect. His previous interviewees include Macaulay Culkin, Simon Pegg, Ice Cube, Lenny Kravitz, and Noel Fielding. As an actor he has worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company, BBC, HBO, and ITV among others. As a broadcaster, he has appeared as a guest on the Saturday Show (Channel 5), and on Radio 4’s Today Programme. He recently presented How To Retire at 40 alongside Anna Richardson and Sophie Morgan for Channel 4. (via Curtis Brown)
Congratulations on ‘I Never Said I Loved You’. You’ve written a very personal account about grappling with depression. One reviewer said that the book is “…a buoy on troubled water, indecently entertaining”. Are you surprised you seem to have reinvigorated the autobiography/ memoir format with your first book?
I always try and do things differently. So it’s why I wanted to do it, but it doesn’t come from a place of like real chutzpah or a kind of self belief, it comes about because I never feel like I belong in any of the fields I end up working in. So whether it’s acting, you know, doing a job where it is so unlike other jobs that are out there, if it’s kind of weird or if it’s in journalism, do a column about, you know, kitchen gadgets – something that shouldn’t be written about – and I’ll write in a way that is odd and sort of doesn’t quite fit.
It’s quite amusing.
Yes, exactly! And I love that idea of things not quite fitting and being out of place, because that’s how I feel all the time. So I guess it would kind of be the same with the book. I’m glad that this sort of landed with people. I really appreciated it because I didn’t know I could write things that are conventional.
Embarrassing mothers are a big part of the book and it’s something we can all relate to. Your mother is such a larger than life character in the book. Do you think if you didn’t write about her you would have needed to invent her as a character?
I honestly couldn’t. She’s so much more eccentric in real life than I’ve managed to say on the page. I think you can only draw from the aspects of a person that are the most relatable to other people – the most obvious in some ways – and so that’s what I’ve done with her, but she’s so much stranger in real life in ways that are just too inexplicable to other people. So I’m so proud of her and happy that she’s in my life and has shown me that it’s possible to live a life being an odd person, and actually it can be full of meaning and joy and you can be generous to other people and people love you for those qualities and I also know that I can never invent someone as cuckoo as her. She’s just got the oddest personality, which anyone I think, who will read the book will discover that – but yes, my powers of imagination cannot match the reality of her actual being.
How did she react to the book?
She’s actually wonderful. There’s really powerful, dark, difficult subject matter in the book. We had to have those types of conversations as part of it and she’s been so supportive and loving, generous. She talked about things that come at a cost and are difficult for her, and actually she’s such a good smart reviewer as well, she really picked up on the lyricism of the language as well as the humour of it, she really kind of appreciated those things. So it wasn’t just a kind of pat sentimental kind of response like ‘so proud of you I love you’. She gives really proper feedback and proper support and I know that she goes out and tells people all about the book and is proud of me, and it’s just been the most wonderful healing thing for me to strengthen that relationship with her.
You’re a columnist for The Guardian and an actor, do you think this book would have been different without those influences?
Yes, because I would have been different so it wouldn’t have existed. I was never goal oriented. I was happy to let life flow around whichever path you wanted to and actually, that’s been so enriching to me as a person. And now all those times that I thought I don’t have a path through life, I don’t do anything that I, you know, needed a mentor. I don’t know what I’m meant to be doing. Having that strange circuitous path rather than a straight line means I have so much more breadth of experience to draw on. Even if I just put myself in more relationships not just work, but it does mess that up too. So yeah, recommended. Don’t have goals. (laughs)
In your upstairs session just now, you talked about writing almost 30,000 words in one month when you were working on the book as a ‘kind of madness’. Do you think it’s the only way that a book like this could have been written to have that intense focus locking yourself away like that?
I think so. Yeah, I think it’s sort of a religious initiation or something. To go to a hut and have the smoke envelop you and just emerge a different person, but needing the intensity in that pressure cooker atmosphere, to really have the words come out with the intensity of the feeling that they deserve. But also, it was so hard for me as I’m quite lazy. I know writers who are doing 50,000 words in a month. It just depends on how productive I guess, but for me I was used to doing 1,000 in a month, genuinely very late. It was such an extraordinary experience. But it’s good to discover aspects of yourself, discover new abilities to push yourself. So actually, it wasn’t really a job. It was horrific, but I discovered I could do it. That’s just as valuable as having a nice time, if not more. Definitely.
Now that the memoir is out of the way, and you’ve revealed yourself as a somewhat entertaining and thoughtful writer, do you have plans to write fiction?
Yes, I do think it’d be lovely to write in a free and imaginative way and work with giving birth to people, I guess, because I don’t really have my own family but certainly I can do it on the page. And surround myself with – I sound quite mad when I say I’m gonna surround myself with imaginary people for the rest of my life! But that is what I’m going to do.
Well, most writers talk about people ‘talking in their ears’ and capturing the dialogue.
I guess that state of flow is what it is. But also that sense of not coming from you. It just felt so mystical. It’s disturbing, but in the best ways. Yeah. There’s a sort of mystery about it I don’t understand and if I try and grasp it or try and direct it too much, it will evaporate because it’s not tangible in that sense. It’s a kind of beautiful mystery though to me.
It is a beautiful mystery. I’d like to talk a little about the process of writing. What’s your routine? What do you need to work?
A deadline! A project given to me and a deadline. I’m so lazy and I’m so lacking of belief in my own ideas. So for me lacking confidence as I am, I really need the belief of others to start, and then it becomes a job, then it comes to sort of galvanise and you organise yourself in such a way to allow those things that you don’t necessarily allow all the time to come through. But I’m definitely not one of these people that gets up and just lets their mind flow and does morning pages and then thinks ‘oh what am I interested to say?’ I hope to get there. Just turning up is an amazing thing,
What advice would you give to anybody who feels compelled to write a memoir?
It’s an incredible thing to contextualize your own life. And it’s a real privilege. For me, the thing that helped was to remember that it’s not therapy that I was hoping to do for other people. I wanted people to read it and for it to be readable and relatable and entertaining, no matter how dark it got, I was wanting it to be a really entertaining read. So I think that sense of knowing who you’re writing for, either you’re writing for you – which is a perfectly valid and wonderful thing to have that grounded sense of yourself. That’s perfectly valid. If you’re doing it for other people, then have a sense of that. Why would anyone else care – to be brutal about it – but there has to be something there for them. So those are the two pieces of advice and understanding that there might be a cost if you’re dealing with difficult subject matter, you don’t know how people are going to react to it and it becomes unpredictable. But if you are generous and kind as you like, so be prepared for that, or just change a lot of names and places.
Flipping that around, what would you say the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?
Before I was a writer I was working as an admin at The Guardian newspaper in England and I was interested in not being an admin because it was very low paid and unheroic and I was surrounded by writers, and I thought that’s quite an interesting thing to try and become. There was an editor of the City Observer magazine and he was very kind to me. I wrote something for him. It was terrible, and it was just so overwritten and abundant and yeah, most people wouldn’t get past the first five words, but he was generous enough to read it through. Then he said to me, ‘You have to write as though your reader is hung over. It’s a Sunday morning and they’ve got one eye on it at most but the other eye is on a bacon sandwich or TV or that phone and you’re competing with those things and they don’t owe you their attention.’ And that terrifying piece of advice I think stood me in quite good stead.
That’s wonderful advice and a good place to wrap it up. What’s next for Rhik?
Definitely lunch! I’d like to write fiction. Try to create new people and worlds – please myself in that respect and make things to be performed because I want to reconnect to acting in some way – not as a performer necessarily – but to be in that world where stories are embodied, I think, is a wonderful thing if you can get there. So I’m interested in that.
Thanks for coming on the podcast, Rhik, and I look forward to what comes next.
Thank you so much for having me.