Twelve Grand
Jonathan Rendall

Having seen Mr R in action in his three part documentary "The Gambler", I picked up a copy of Twelve Grand which hit the bookshelves earlier the same year and prompted Channel Four into offering him the opportunity to do it all over again - although with a film crew present.

Before turning the first page I did envisage this book to be a strict auto-biographical piece of work, not only focussing on how he burned through the £12,000 advance he was provided with by the Yellow Jersey press but also about his life in general; his time working with an aspiring pro-boxer (Colin McMillan) in a management capacity and his ten year affair with the fight circuit, winning the Somerset Maugham prize for his first book This Bloody Mary is the Last Thing I Own, his work as a broadsheet columnist and his life at home - wife, children yada yada yada. But no. As the author's note states on the final page - "All amounts and subjects of bets are true . . . All the characters and all the rest are fiction". So it's not something that you should find on either the shelf dedicated to gambling reads or the one reserved for biogs

Despite this, although fiction it may be Mr R casts himself as the main character, and the storyline is generous with coincidences with his own past. His parents, who had relocated to Athens when he was 14 years old, were asked to remove him from a boarding school in the UK (he spent the remainder of his teenage years living with them and attending a school there), he did work as a junior reporter, he did live in a rented cottage on a farm in Suffolk and his relationship with alcohol was problematic - easily observed in some scenes from the third episode of his TV documentary, where in Las Vegas he's quite clearly off his face after having paired up with one of the local good-time girls he meets in a bar.

Once you get over the realisation that Twelve Grand isn't a bet-by-bet profit and loss account (mainly loss), the storyline is quite engaging; it skips alternatively between the present, and his mission to get a return on his £12K advance, and his fictional earlier years. Mr R writes in a dry, irreverent and gritty style and as you get further and further towards the back cover the text becomes peppered with shorthand diary script, ie "Stpd off and bght Grk yogs, hon. and extort. botts Ital. min. watr." (page 241). I'm not quite sure what all of this is about, although possibly it's Mr R's way of showing the deterioration of the principal character (ie him) and of him increasingly cutting corners in relaying the written word - well, that's how it stuck me. A tale of Booze, fags and gambling, it was never going to end well, and indeed it didn't - either in the story or in his own life, where professionally the direction of travel rarely made it above the horizontal. After the publication of his last book in 2006 it clearly went South. Probably one of the best witnesses to Mr R's fortunes and accomplishments before this point in time would be his ex-wife, Susie. They married in 1988, were together for over ten years and had three children. She will of course have moved on, and I suspect would rather not entertain approaches and questions about her alcoholic ex-husband whom she divorced over a decade ago - and who could blame her?

Jonathan Rendall died alone and broke in a small flat in Ipswich ("Ippo") in January 2013, aged just 48. He laid there undiscovered for a week, leaving behind only a half-finished piece of work telling the story of former heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson, which he'd started many years before. This was finally published eighteen months after his death as Scream: The Tyson Tapes. His last title that he saw published was Garden Hopping in 2006 which is of an autobiographical nature, and reflects on his search for his birth mother (he was adopted at six weeks old) and the bitter-sweet reunion that resulted. There's also plenty of Mr R's written work still available to be found on the web (just consult Mr Google) and it certainly warrants some reading time.

Despite his acknowledged talent as a writer, Mr R was widely regarded as somewhat of a renegade with a reputation for a casual attitude to delivering the goods. I've read that on more than one occasion an editor was left with a blank space to fill after his endeavours failed to materialise by the time they were needed. As such I thought the title of Guardian sports writer Kevin Mitchell's tribute piece would have been appreciated by Mr R: "Troubled writer Jonathan Rendall fails to elude his final deadline". How fab is that?

October 2015.