John Niven wants everything. Flashy sports cars, cigars, posh suits, fine wine, first-class travel, a manor house. So says the journalist Caitlin Moran – his friend, co-writer and Twitter sparring partner. "John is a man who looks at the world and goes: I'll take it. The whole lot. Don't bother wrapping it – I'll smoke it on the way out."
This explains a lot. It explains the enormous Porsche Cayenne that swings at speed into the High Wycombe station parking lot to collect me. It explains the well-appointed suburban red-brick villa we arrive at, the driveway, the neat lawn, the wood-panelled sitting room and the golf that is showing on the vast HD television. It certainly explains why, having collected a large pot of coffee from an orderly kitchen, we settle down outside on the patio so that he can chain-smoke some good old-fashioned wholemeal cigarettes.
I wasn't expecting Buckinghamshire for the wild man of literature, the author of Kill Your Friends – a shocking, foul-mouthed evisceration of the music business where he used to work – and Straight White Male, a bleak look into the contemporary male sexual psyche. I'd imagined we would meet in a groovy East End pub. I wasn't expecting a driveway and a lawn and wood panelling. I certainly wasn't expecting golf, or cufflinks.
As we sit down, Niven pours me a drink and then precisely arranges his phone, coffee and cigarettes just where he likes them. He is all impacted energy, fierce, talky intelligence and caustic wit. The 49-year-old, from a working-class background in Ayrshire and not untouched by tragedy, is somewhat battle-scarred in appearance. He has the air of someone holding it all together by great force of will; of a gritty determination to enjoy life come what may.
Arts + Ents News in Pictures
Arts + Ents News in Pictures
1/50 15 September 2015
Workmen install an artwork by British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman entitled 'Cyber Iconic Man' during a photocall in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Sheffield Cathedral in northern England. The artwork is a part of an exhibition entitled 'Going Public' which takes place across five venues in Sheffield city centre and features pieces from four private collections. The exhibition opens on 16 September and runs until 12 December 2015
2/50 14 September 2015
Lincoln Townley puts the finishing touches to Meryl Streep’s portrait. The self-taught portrait painter has been selected as Bafta’s official artist in LA
3/50 13 September 2015
A performance protest by a coalition of artists at the British Museum in central London, protesting against corporate oil sponsorship of the arts in Britain
4/50 12 September 2015
Artist, designer Blaine Halvorson conducts an art demonstration in front of his installation "Walk, Don't Run" during Spring 2016 New York Fashion Week
5/50 11 September 2015
A visitor walks past light effects at the exhibition "Discover the Power of Light" presented in the Atomium monument, to commemorate the International Year of Light and Light-based technologies 2015 (IYL2015), recognised by UNESCO, in Brussels, Belgium
6/50 10 September 2015
Stoker Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire poses by a sculpture by British artist Barbara Hepworth entitled 'Three Obliques (Walk In)' that features in the 'Beyond Limits' exhibition in the grounds of Chatsworth House near Bakewell, northern England
7/50 9 September 2015
A new mural is unveiled on wall of Century 21 department store across from the World Trade Center site in New York. The 65ft by 225ft mural called '#NYCISBEAUTIFUL', was created by street artist Mr. Brainwash and features iconic New York City sights and scenes
8/50 8 September 2015
To mark the year that the Queen came to the throne (1952), artist Quentin Devine has created a portrait of the Queen, using exactly 1,952 coins - each bearing her effigy. The portrait was produced on a grand scale (213cm x 183cm)
9/50 7 September 2015
Artist Barnaby Barford with his work 'Tower of Babel', a six metre tall ceramic sculpture composed of 3,000 individual pieces depicting genuine London shop fronts displayed in the V&A Museum's Medieval land Renaissance Galleries
10/50 6 September 2015
People visit 'The Beach' art installation at the National Building museum in Washington. The Beach is an interactive architectural installation that covers 10,000 square feet and includes an ocean of nearly one million recyclable translucent plastic balls
11/50 5 September 2015
People take part in The Color Run Night at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, east London
12/50 4 September 2015
Artist Kenny Hunter unveils a life-size Asian elephant sculpture, cast in part from scrap locomotive parts from the nearby Govan shipyards, at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow. A year in the making, the 11 tonne sculpture is part of the Legacy 2014 project commemorating the city's hosting of the Commonwealth Games last year
13/50 3 September 2015
The Wave which is part of Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper is installed at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield. The Sculpture which begins a UK tour will be open to the public on 5 September and will run until 10 January
14/50 2 September 2015
People walk past hand-painted vinyl balls floating in the MacArthur Park Lake as part of a large-scale public arts installation organized by the Portraits of Hope charity in Los Angeles, California. The work titled 'The Spheres at MacArthur Park' involves filling the park's 8.39-acre lake with about 3,000 balls, each 4 to 6 feet in diameter and covered in bright floral and fish patternses
15/50 1 September 2015
A policeman stands in front of the sculpture 'Bending Man' by Yue Min Jung, during the arrival of German President Joachim Gauck (unseen) at the NRW-Forum in Duesseldorf, Germany. Gauck visited the China 8 exhibition of contemporary Chinese art that runs until 13 September
16/50 31 August 2015
An Indian artist with his body painted with the likeness of a tiger dances before a tableau with a picture of tiger during the 'Pulikali' or Tiger Dance procession in Thrissur, Kerala state, India
17/50 30 August 2015
A group of people wearing full solid-coloured bodysuits walk along a promenade as they take part in a street art performance in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, Israel. Some 40 people participated on Saturday in the performance, initiated by a group of artists called Prizma Ensemble, as part of the city's annual international street art and street theatre festival. The group says the performance deals with concepts of identity and movement in public spaces.
18/50 29 August 2015
People look at exhibition hang above a river during the 27th 'Visa pour l'Image' Annual international festival of photojournalism in Perpignan
19/50 28 August 2015
The inflatable sculpture "Everybody Always Thinks They Are Right" by U.S. artist Stefan Sagmeister is displayed at La Villette as part of the exhibition "L'air des Geants", "The Air of the Giants", in Paris, France,
20/50 27 August 2015
Singer Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine performs onstage at What Stage during Day 4 of the 2015 Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee
21/50 26 August 2015
People walk through the 'Spark Your City Urban Jungle' giant interactive kaleidoscope that has been installed between Waterloo station and London's Southbank, England
22/50 25 August 2015
A woman peers out through a glass wall of the "JumpIn!" ball pit, an interactive art installation by creative agency Pearlfisher made up of 81,000 white balls, in New York City. The installation is hosted at the agency's new SoHo office and open to the public from August 21 till September 21, to promote how play can yield results for creative thinking
23/50 24 August 2015
South African artist Mbongeni Buthelezi works on a portrait in his Johannesburg Studio. Buthelezi is turning discarded bits of plastic into sought-after works of art. The plastic bubbles pop under Buthelezi's fingertips, calloused from manipulating the hot, molten material he uses to create large abstract pieces and portraits.
24/50 23 August 2015
Mexican artist Rivelino with his 25-ton, 14.5 meter long sculpture, You, consisting of two giant fingers as it is installed in Trafalgar Square, London. The two index fingers, equal in weight, colour and size point towards each other as a reflection on human equality.
25/50 23 August 2015
Hand-painted vinyl balls float in the MacArthur Park Lake as part of a large-scale public arts installation organized by the Portraits of Hope charity in Los Angeles, California on August 23, 2015. The work titled ``The Spheres at MacArthur Park,'' involves filling the park's 8.39-acre lake with about 3,000 balls, each 4 to 6 feet in diameter and covered in bright floral and fish patterns.
26/50 22 August 2015
Performers participate in the opening ceremony of the 15th IAAF World Championships at the National Stadium in Beijing, China
27/50 21 August 2015
People interact with "Pixel Wave 2015" a projection art installation by France's Miguel Chevalier and local designers Carolyn Kan and Depression that features geometric patterns that react to movements and interactions of people, during the Singapore Night Festival at the Singapore Design Center.
28/50 20 August 2015
A steward is seen outside Bansky's 'Dismaland' exhibition, which opens tomorrow, at a derelict seafront lido in Weston-Super-Mare, England. The show is Banskys first in the UK since the Banksy v Bristol Museum show in 2009 and will be open for 5 weeks at the Topicana site.
Getty Images Europe
29/50 19 August 2015
As part of The Big British Airways Take Off, which features great value fares on flights and holidays, the airline has created what's believed to be the world's biggest piece of coin art. Six hundred thousand coins were delivered from a London bank vault to British Airways' aircraft hangar where a team of seven took six hours to create the 10 metre by eight metre image of The Statue of Liberty. New York is British Airways' flagship destination.
Getty Images for British Airways
30/50 18 August 2015
David Bowdich FBI Assistant Director in Charge, left, and and FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Rivas speak at a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday, announcing the investigation into the theft of valuable art. The FBI is offering a reward of up to $20,000 for help in finding two N.C. Wyeth paintings stolen from a home in Portland, Maine. Four were recovered from a pawn shop in Beverly Hills, California, in December, and are estimated to be worth up to $2 million. But the remaining two were never found.
31/50 17 August 2015
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (2nd R) take a tour of the German Pavilion at the Expo 2015 on August 17, 2015 in Milan, Italy.
32/50 17 August 2015
An explosion goes off as Chinese actors playing Japanese soldiers are are filmed in a battle scene during filming of the series "The Last Noble," set during the second Sino-Japanese War on August 13, 2015 in Fangyan, China. Seventy years after the end of World War II, there is still widespread resentment across China toward Japan and its wartime misdeeds. Many of the films are shot in and around Hengdian Studios, Asia's largest production company.
33/50 16 August 2015
Brazilian twins and street artists 'Os Gemeos' put finishing touches to their new New York mural on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York
34/50 15 August 2015
In a photo released at the Disney Expo Lucasfilm shows actors Riz Ahmed, from left, Diego Luna, Felicity Jones, Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen, in the first image from upcoming film, "Star Wars: Rogue One."
35/50 14 August 2015
An artist performs in a labyrinth of 3,000 candles at Tempelhof park (Tempelhofer Feld) in Berlin, Germany. The maze, called "Die Grosse Reise" ("The Big Trip"), was opened to the public today by the theater group Theater Anu & Magica and will run through August 23.
36/50 13 August 2015
Indian kite maker, Jagmohan Kanojia displays kites colored with the Indian national flag and depicting Indian freedom fighters, at his home's workshop in Amritsar, India, 13 August 2015. The kites are Kanojia's latest creations made for the India's Independence Day celebrations on 15 August
37/50 12August 2015
Passengers take the 3D painted "Wonderful" tram in Guangzhou, China. The "Wonderful" tram decorated with 3D cartoon forests and animals paintings which were designed by WansBrother, holder of Guinness World Record for the longest 3D ground painting, would run 30 times a day for one month in Guangzhou.
38/50 11 August 2015
Mexican clowns Cazzo, Lazzo and Pozzo from Triciclo Rojo attend a photocall to promote their show 'VAGABOND, where will the wind take you?' during Edinburgh Festival Fringe Day 5 at Newhaven Quay Lighthouse, Edinburgh, Scotland
39/50 11 August 2015
A woman photographs a painting by DR Congolese artist JP Mika, entitled Kiese Na Kiese (Happyness and Joy) during the exhibition 'BeautÈ Congo 1926-2015 - Congo Kitoko' on August 11, 2015 at the Fondation Cartier in Paris
40/50 10 August 2015
a graffiti mural commemorating the 'August Agreements' and Solidarity Movement anniversaries by Polish artist Biko in Szczecin, Poland. A mural depicting the history of the Solidarity Movement with Pope John Paul II, the gate of the Szczecin Shipyard, Martial Law in Poland and a famous election campaign poster of Solidarity Movement with Gary Cooper will illustrate the commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the August Agreements' signing.
41/50 8 August 2015
Hall lit up to celebrate 50 years of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus as thousands of people attended the opening of the Edinburgh International Festival.
42/50 7 August 2015
An art installation formed with milk churns, made by land art artist Gerard Benoit a la Guillaume, is seen at the Chenau de Mayen in the resort of Leysin, Switzerland. More than 80 milk churns were placed between the Tour d'Ai and the Tour de Mayen summits at an altitude of 2,000 meters (6,561 feet) above sea level under the direction of the artist, to be photographed for his ongoing art project entitled "Milk churns without borders"
43/50 6 August 2015
Members of the Ukrainian group 'Dakh Daughters Band' striking poses during their performance at the 'Seebuehne' (lit: Lakeside stage) within the 'Zuercher Theater Spektakel' (Zurich Theatre Spectacle) at the 'Landiwiese' venue in Zurich, Switzerland. The international theater and performing arts festival runs from 6 to 23 August 2015
44/50 5 August 2015
Morph-suited performers David Labanca (orange suit) and Gianmarco Pozzoli (green suit) from Italian dance company Discoteque Machine perform in a giant kaleidoscope at Camera Obscura in Edinburgh to promote their show running from August 7 to 31 at Zoo Southside as part of the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival
45/50 4 August 2015
The voice of Thunderbirds Parker, David Graham, by a sculpture of Shaun the Sheep titled Thunderbirds Are Go, is one of 70 sheep sculptures placed around the city of Bristol, decorated by artists and celebrities to raise money for the Wallace & Gromit's Grand Appeal
46/50 3 August 2015
'Venus of the Rags' by Michaelangelo Pistoletto on display at Tate Liverpool in Liverpool, north west England. Tate Liverpool have unveiled a new display of more than 150 artworks featuring pieces by iconic artists including Sir Peter Blake, Louise Bourgeois, Marcel Duchamp and Eduardo Paolozzi
47/50 2 August 2015
A street art mural on the facade of a building is pictured in Fanzara near Castellon de la Plana, Spain. Every year new artists come to continue painting murals on the buildings of the town
48/50 1 August 2015
Hundreds of houses painted in bright colors in what organizers claim is Mexico's largest mural, is part of a government-sponsored project is called Pachuca Paints Itself, in the Palmitas neighborhood, in Pachuca, Mexico. German Crew is the artist collective responsible for painting the mural project. Director Enrique Gomez, who goes by MYBE, said the crew has painted 1,500 square meters with 20,000 liters of paint. The project aims to bring the community together and rehabilitate the area
49/50 31 July 2015
Black suited and top hat wearing teenagers from Newington College peer through telescopes as they form the human installation The Search for Happiness on Coogee Beach in Sydney, Australia. Surrealist artist, Andrew Baines collaborated with Newington College for his latest surreal event
50/50 30 July 2015
Kaiser Chiefs perform at One Mayfair in London
"I love being a writer," he says. "I have a great life. I get up in the morning and pad around in my dressing gown and listen to Radio 4." That's before he settles down to four or five hours of disciplined, lock-in work – no Twitter, no phone calls. "I've just written my seventh novel in 10 years. I was quite a late starter. I was 34 when I left the music business and I thought, 'I don't want to f**k around'.
"The only bad thing about writing is reading back first drafts. It's like watching footage of yourself masturbating. It's terrible. Writing is such a confidence trick. You're thinking, 'Who's going to give a s**t about this?' And also, you're aware of the footsteps you're treading in. You know – if you want to punch your weight. I once read Updike after writing a first draft and I wanted to put my own book on the fire. I've since learned to read utter crap while I'm writing: pulp is the thing.
"The first book I bought with my own money as a teenager was Martin Amis's Money." He sighs happily. "You know that thing when you read a book and you think: 'I'm going to have to read every word ever written by this man'."
Niven's bestselling breakthrough novel, Kill Your Friends, is clearly indebted to Amis in its unapologetic depiction of testosterone-fuelled venality. The novel is a fictionalised account of the years Niven spent working in the music business in the 1990s, when a hit record was a licence to print money and the record companies behaved as if it was the Wild West. A fast and furious satire of stomach-churning excess, it features a memorable and monstrous anti-hero – Steven Stelfox – who spends much of the book with his penis stuffed into the mouth of one hapless prostitute or another, before deciding that the best way to get the better of his business rivals is simply to kill them. Niven doesn't soft-soap the racism and sexism in the industry – and the book is bursting with energy and outrageous behaviour.
"I was a political indie kid in my teens," he says. "I'd never hang out with people who would scream sexist abuse at women out of a van – but I can see how Kill Your Friends might be misinterpreted as a celebration of sexist culture. But I don't think that's what the book does. I'd be scared of a world where you couldn't have sexist, racist and misogynist characters in novels. To put these people in novels doesn't mean that that's what the book is; I mean, Lolita isn't a paedophile's handbook."
I ask him whether he wanted to say something about men. "I think that comes dangerously close to asking, 'what is the novel about?' It's about itself for 330 pages is the answer to that. Beware the novelist with a political agenda or message. There are novels written from that wellspring, but not ones I enjoy. I didn't set out to write a corrective text: the worst of humanity are often very entertaining. And writing about it keeps us off the streets."
The book has just been made into a feature film, due for release in the autumn. Niven wrote the script.
Three more novels followed Kill Your Friends, before the arrival, in 2013, of the highly successful Straight White Male. The central character, Kennedy Marr, is, according to the blurb, a "borderline alcoholic and sex addict". (In my universe, he is in an advanced stage of both diseases – but that's a minor quibble which I will keep to this parenthesis.) At first, he rides high as a Hollywood "script doctor", but then tax problems mean he must return to Ireland to face up to a dying mother, an ex-wife, a neglected daughter and a suicidal junkie sibling.
Unlike Stelfox, Kennedy is eventually rehabilitated and he comes to feel a terrible emptiness and to see the destruction wrought in the name of pleasure. "It's somewhat autobiographical," Niven says. "Kennedy is conscious of his bad behaviour and," he adds a touch ruefully, "I always rather liked him.'"
Irvine Welsh, a friend of Niven's from the music business days, sees the novel as a cautionary tale: "This is what men are like at their worst. John is saying, "Fill your life with good things and women: don't sit in the pub and snort cocaine". A lot of working-class Scottish writers get into that self-flagellation thing. Not John. He takes the view that living well is the best revenge, and I can identify with that."
Niven came from a relatively humble background. His father was an electrician, his mother a cleaner, and he had a sister, and a younger brother – of whom more later. "I came from that kind of autodidactic west-coast tradition, I guess. My dad pushed me hard to do well in school. I was the first generation of my family to go to university; we probably wouldn't be able to afford it now. My parents didn't care what I went to study – as long as I went. I read English literature. My mum taught me to read at four; she was always in the library. But we never owned books."
After university, Niven played in a band and then quickly found a job as an A&R man, "out of laziness, really, and because I was sick of never having a bean. There was a lot of money in music before downloads spoiled the party. Those were the days when an album might sell three million copies at £13. There were just ridiculous amounts of money swilling around."
Welsh later tells me that Niven was famous for being a bigger party-head than the bands themselves: "It was a last-days-of-Rome kind of thing."
"I was in my late twenties," Niven says, "with a decent salary, a company car, guest lists, flying round the world... But I should have left five years before I did. Like a relationship, you persist until it can no longer be borne. There comes a point where drug use goes from being sociable to being a thing you do on your own – grams and grams in a flat on your own at five in the morning, grinding your gears. There are a lot of people from the Nineties who never really found a second act to their lives.
"I ended up burning all the bridges I had to burn in the music-biz world – maybe deliberately."
He'd considered trying to write in his spare time, but realised that it wasn't going to happen – and so he left his job with enough money to last a year, moved to the outskirts of London with his then wife, and faced up to the blank page. "Moving out here meant I was able to be up in good shape at eight or nine in the morning. I found I just couldn't write with the hangover self-loathing thing."
Niven's third book was called The Amateurs and was published in 2009. It features two brothers: one solid and dependable, the other troubled, unreliable, debt-ridden and involved with small-time gangsters. In the book, the troubled brother – also a keen amateur golfer – is hit on the head with a golf ball and sent into a coma. The family stands vigil by his bedside. The mother's need for him to live weighs "more than her own soul". She weeps and begs for him to pull through. He does – although his brain injury leads to comical side-effects.
In the late summer of 2010, a year after the book came out, Niven found himself ghoulishly re-enacting this exact scene with Gary, his real-life younger brother. Gary had been troubled since his teenage years in similar ways to his fictional Amateurs counterpart – and he was now in a coma for real, having hanged himself in a room just yards from the nurses' station in the Ayrshire A&E department.
Niven shrugs. "He obviously felt he could not get through another day," he points out somewhat curtly, going on to refer me to a newspaper article he wrote about the experience in 2013. "Everything I've got to say on the subject I put in that article."
In it he writes: "I watched my mother crying and begging for [my brother] to live. I listened to a doctor telling me about my brother's score on the Glasgow Coma Scale (three – bad) and watched the staff doing the things for Gary that I'd researched [for Amateurs]. The scene was so much like how I'd imagined it on the page – how I'd seen it in my mind's eye three years before – that I felt like laughing at the ludicrous neatness of life imitating art. My brother stayed like this for three days until he died, at 4pm on 3 September 2010."
Niven was left with grief, regret and guilt. Before his suicide, his brother would sometimes ring and ask him for money, saying that he was in danger of being shot by the low life crooks he hung out with. Sometimes Niven would lend him large amounts, sometimes – understandably – he wouldn't.
After his brother's death, he went to his house and found a pile of unpaid bills that amounted to a low five-figure sum; a sum that Niven could have cleared with one cheque. He wrote of this: "I remember leaning against the wall and sliding down it and bursting into tears and saying, 'Oh Gary, you stupid bastard. You stupid, stupid bastard.' I was remembering saying to him, 'What do you want it for this time?' And saying, 'For God's sake.' And saying, 'You still owe me £2,000.'"
I ask him what he thinks about the fact that the male suicide rate for middle-aged men is much higher than it is for women. "Well I suppose," he says, somewhat reluctantly, "most women have children at that age. Suicide is a luxury you can forget about if you've got kids. Women get on with that thing of having to cope and raise children – but there are a lot of guys for whom life hasn't turned out how they thought it might; who didn't become what they wanted to be. Men indulge themselves in those sorts of feelings in middle age – regrets and so forth."
He says that he is, himself, a hail-fellow-well-met kind of man, but admits that he thinks about death more frequently these days. "In your teens and twenties, death doesn't exist. In your thirties you glance down the road occasionally. But then in your forties it becomes a full-time job looking the other way. But there are definite upsides to middle age. You don't give a shit what people think of you. That's quite nice. You don't have to buy particular clothes, or stay out until three in the morning. You don't have to sit up until dawn trying to get laid."
If one good thing came out of his brother's death, it was that it led Niven to "attack the towers of blank pages" with even more energy. Moran is working with him on the screenplay of her novel How to Build a Girl and says his work ethic is ferocious. "He's like, 'Right, we get our heads down, we do this in a WEEK, tops!' He tears into things like a raptor. In a creative world that's often so milky and soft-hand-shakey, he's like one of those medieval battering rams, shouting out jokes as he smashes the castle walls down."
For his latest book, Niven has turned his coruscating gaze upon women; late middle-aged women. The Sunshine Cruise Company is a Thelma & Louise-style romp that puts three women in their sixties on the run from the police in Europe. Niven had been nursing the idea for a while. His mother, he says, is a youthful pensioner who is still teaching aerobics. "When you think about it, the 60-year-olds of today were the ones who were into punk rock back in the day. Growing old isn't what it used to be. I wanted to write something for older women to behave badly in."
The story begins with the lead character's husband being discovered dead in a suburban sex dungeon. He is impaled: "The dildo was a specialist custom-made job. He called it The Rectifier. It was matt black, close to two feet long with a girth of just over six inches: basically four coke cans stacked on top of each other."
When I ask Niven whether he thinks a lot of men living lives of quiet desperation are likely to meet their end in this way, he says: "Some people do very well out of novels crafted from the utterly commonplace, but I quite like a plot kicker myself – call me old-fashioned."
And so the book is fast and furious and, characteristically, brutal in places. It features 87-year-old Ethel Merriman in an electric wheelchair with a "grabbing stick". She is 20 stone, has lipstick on her teeth and a bumper sticker that reads: "I BRAKE FOR NO ONE". Her first line is: "Oh aye – shat the bed is it?" The three women rob a bank and make a run for it. "I didn't want it to be cutesy," Niven says. "I wanted it to be shocking – gritty. It's really no different to what the likes of Tom Sharpe was writing 30 years ago. Black farce."
He denies being a misanthrope and laughs at the suggestion. "As a novelist, you have to be an innocent: misanthropes and cynics don't really sit down to create, do they? Maybe they're the critics. A novel can be misanthropic, the characters can be. It doesn't mean the author is."
I have another go. Why does he enjoy writing misanthropic characters? He smiles and notices himself scratching his ear. "A tell!" he mutters gleefully. Then: "Happiness writes white." "What?" I say. "You know," he says. "Happiness doesn't show up on the page. There's nothing to say about it."
At this point, he suggests we clear the coffee cups and head back into the house to find the photographer. We step through the French windows and suddenly he's roaring "Go on you old whore!" into my ear. It takes me a moment to realise that the golf is still on the TV in the background – and he is only urging a small white ball across the green.
For all his denials that the life of his mind imitates the life of his art, one can't help wondering. The misogyny in his books is so lovingly drawn, so beautifully and convincingly observed. At one point, Kennedy gets a pleasing eyeful of cleavage: "Brown, freckled, the breasts firm, contained in a tightly cupping navy bra, as yet untroubled by gravity." It's that "as yet untroubled by gravity" that worries me. The character can't even admire a "decent rack", as he would call it, without pointing out that it will soon be devalued by this self-same male gaze.
There's something undeniably old fashioned about John Niven. He's Mad Men-esque, says Moran, which is a nice way of describing it. But if Niven was really bringing the sensibilities of Amis and Roth into our era of vulnerable men, that would surely look more like Peep Show or a Judd Apatow movie. Perhaps Niven is in denial. "Denial," he says, "is much maligned. Denial will get you through."
'The Sunshine Cruise Company' by John Niven is published by William Heineman on 13August. 'Kill Your Friends' will be in cinemas later this yearReuse content