Ingenue Interview: Rosa Rankin-Gee

05/25/2011 11:35 am ET | Updated Jul 25, 2011


Photo courtesy of Amaury Choay.

The Ingénue Interview features select artists and scene-makers from around the world, revealing their inspirations, cultural tastes, and dance party playlists. This week, Paris-based writer and A Tale of Three Cities co-founder Rosa Rankin-Gee talks Solidism, the importance of keeping a diary, and her affection for very, very commercial hip-hop.

A Tale of Three Cities calls itself "the first arts journal to salute Europe's golden triangle" of London, Paris and Berlin. Where did the idea for the journal originate? Did you and the other co-founders ever live in one city at the same time?
Alex [Tieghi-Walker], Ralph [Williams] and I were at university together, so yes, we did live in the same city at one point. Unfortunately, that city was Durham in the U.K. - a cultural abyss. But we did launch our first magazine there, called The Fun & Beautiful Journal. Then, when we graduated, I moved to Paris, Ralph moved to Berlin and Alex stayed in London. We realized how much this reflected the trends of so many young, creative people. So we thought, we'll join up the dots; we'll make journal number two.

Was it clear from the start that it would be a printed journal?
We wrote a manifesto for The Fun & Beautiful Journal, which we still stand by for A Tale of Three Cities. The Solidist Manifesto (you can read it on our website if you click on the triangle), and it works on two aesthetic levels. Firstly, Solidism in terms of the actual content of the art. Good writing, for example, should be rooted in the specific and the tangible. Not just "Love is ... (insert generic, airy-fairy abstraction here)", you know?

Then, hand in hand with that, Solidism also represents a movement against Kindles and the Internet. The internet is great for information, but not art. We believe in paper, canvas, celluloid, clay - firm form. When you read a real book or printed journal, you touch its pages, you leave your mark on it, you have a totally different - and to our minds - preferable experience.

What is your collaboration process like - do you keep in touch by email?
Yes, email - not very Solidist I know, but carrier pigeons take too long - and then occasionally Skype. We email all day, basically. But we're friends, so they're the least business-y emails in the world. A lot of 'Love yous', a lot of kisses.

How did the idea for the Book Club at Le Carmen come about?
I was having a green tea date with Jethro [Turner] and the idea materialized. I was about to say that he's my partner in crime here, but the 'green tea date' slightly invalidates that.

It's turned out to be an international scene of sexy intellectuals swapping books over cocktails. How did you choose Le Carmen for the venue?
It was luck in many ways. I'd ended up at Le Carmen, late one night, 2 years ago. But I left Paris soon after, and because Le Carmen had been so beautiful I decided it had been a figment of my imagination. Then, late last year, we were invited back there for its re-launch by James and John Whelan (its current artistic directors, and good friends of ours), and everything fell into place.

It's the perfect space for The Book Club. It already had cultural prestige because Bizet used to live there, and really - you have to see it. The ceiling roses, the gold, the mirrors, the birdcage. It is a truly intoxicating space.

Capturing a sense of place seems to be a leading tenet of A Tale of Three Cities. How does your location affect your writing?
Oh, hugely. Actually, it depends what you mean - I'm not fussy about the table I write at - I like cafés and clattering and other peoples' conversations. Paris though, I am in love with Paris. Even when I'm not here I write about it.

Outside your home, in which places are you likely to be found?
Chez Francis [where we did the interview], either writing alone at the wobbly table by the door, or with my best friends, eating cheeseburgers on the terrasse. The Soloman-de-Rothschild park on Avenue de Friedland, reading with my lunch. Running up the steps and around the back streets of the Sacre-Coeur. A secret and lethal Caipirinha bar in South Pigalle which doesn't shut until the last person leaves. (It is probably illegal.)

Do you have a favorite bookshop?
Currently I have a particular soft spot for Shakespeare & Co, since my novella The Last Kings of Sark is currently on the shortlist for their inaugural Paris Literary Prize. I will also always love Queens Park Books, a mint-green independent bookshop where I worked on Saturdays as a schoolgirl.

Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what has been in rotation lately?
Not during the actual act of writing. But before I start sometimes, to put myself in the right "place". Music is the closest we have to time travel. I'd play Ma$e "Bad Boy" and would instantly be transported to the summer morning on Sark when I'd last heard it. I also listen to music when I'm reading over what I've written. Music augments any sensation, so you read your own work and think 'damn, I'm good'. Then you re-read in silence and you realize that the genius was not you at all, it was Ravel.

What books have you loved?
The book I've read the most times is probably The Counterfeiters by André Gide. I also love Hemingway, Salinger, Proust and Orwell. I realize these are authors, rather than books. And that accidentally they are all men. So let's add Margaret Atwood, Françoise Sagan, Zadie Smith, Arundhati Roy and Austen to the list. Also, children are supposed to be terribly embarrassed by their parents, but if I am completely honest, one of my favorite and most influential writers is my mother, Maggie Gee.

Is there any book you wish you had written?
Of course, so many. If I could write like one person though, I would write like Nabokov. He's brilliantly light-footed; he dances across the page, he kisses it - the bastard! I read Lolita while I was writing The Last Kings of Sark. It is desperately depressing to read the masters when you yourself are trying to write, but all you can hope is this: that a tiny bit of the gold, even if it's so faint it's just gilt, rubs off on you.

Is there anyone else putting out a journal you admire?
The White Review, edited by Jacques Testard and Benjamin Eastham. They have made something beautiful and I have great respect for them.

Do you collect anything?
Moments. Real but surreal things that I see. A blackbird swooping down to steal a walnut from an alimentation générale. A 90-year-old lady booting a football to her grandson. A boy reading Du côté de chez Swann on a deckchair in the middle of a sunny street (this was this morning, on the road behind my house). These often become the basis of short stories - because you have one sole, strange image and can then invent your own before and after.

Which artists would have to be included in your ideal dance party playlist?
I'm a Motown girl. I should have been young in the sixties. Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin, Darondo, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. But then, I will never deny my affection for very, very commercial hip-hop. And also UK Garage, circa 1998. That's what Jethro and I DJ sometimes. I get so excited I forget to breathe.

What has been your most treasured discovery while traveling?
The importance of keeping a diary.

Who is your favorite literary character?
This is the kind of question which winds you, and you suddenly forget everything you've ever read, and what your own name is. What's my name, again?

Rosa Rankin-Gee is 24 and lives behind the Sacre-Coeur in a flat with a bath in the kitchen. She was one of Esquire Magazine's Brilliant Brits 2010, and her novella The Last Kings of Sark is currently on the shortlist of Shakespeare and Company's international Paris Literary Prize.

The Book Club at Le Carmen is held every last Wednesday of the month. The Book Club hosted by Bang Bang Berlin launches May 25, the same night as Paris. The Book Swap at Manero's Bar launches June 2. All details of events and journal submissions can be found at

Le Carmen
34, rue Duperré
75009 Paris

Bang Bang Berlin
Neue Promenade 10
10178 Berlin

Manero's Bar
232 Kingsland Road
E2 8AX London