In 1999, sports journalist Jonathan Rendall wrote Twelve Grand. It was published by Yellow Jersey Press which I think was Harper Collins’ sports imprint. It was about gambling. Yellow Jersey gave him a twelve-grand advance on the condition he gambled it all. They envisaged a straightforward account of wins and losses and some funny stories, perhaps with a tally of progress at the end of each chapter.
Rendall didn’t want to play ball. Instead he reckoned the story needed to be one of disaster. He descended into alcoholism, quickly lost everything and had a breakdown. His prose collapses as the book goes on – by the end he’s unable to put full sentences together. It’s brave and brilliant on the one hand, bonkers nonsense on the other. I was twenty-seven and loved it.
After Twelve Grand I read everything Rendall wrote, partly because he looked frickin' terrific, partly because I was worried about him. He seemed so unhinged, utterly addicted to self-destruction. My memories are hazy but I recall loving a weekly piece about games and gambling for one paper – the Indie maybe – and a column about drinking for The Observer Food Magazine. He never seemed to hold down gigs for long. I guess editors couldn’t stand his disregard for deadlines.
His last book, Garden Hopping, was another examination of complete self-destruction. I’m pretty sure that this time he’s split with his wife, left his kids and is homeless by the end. It was as if every project required a slow-motion explosion of chaos and devastation.
No-one knows exactly when he died. His body was discovered late January of 2013 in his Ipswich flat. He’d been there for some time – apparently he rarely ate when consumed by a project and often passed out from hunger exhaustion or drink. He was writing an epic biography of Mike Tyson called Scream. This time it killed him.
Tom Rendall’s name in Payback is a hat-tip to Jonathan Rendall. Every now again I remember him and re-read his last interviews, reviews of his books and the couple of obituaries that still exist online.
Today is one of those times.