HOW WE MET; RIAN MALAN AND ROSIE BOYCOTT

'If I became Rosie's lap dog, she would probably lose interest in me'; 'Girlfriends think they can make Rian settle down - but he's not like that'
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The Independent Culture
The author Rian Malan, 41, was born in South Africa. His acclaimed book, My Traitor's Heart, was a personal account of South Africa's turbulent history. He writes regularly for Esquire magazine; he lives alone in west London. The journalist Rosie Boycott, 45, was born in Jersey. In the early Seventies she founded the feminist magazine Spare Rib and co-founded Virago Books. Since 1991, she has edited Esquire. Separated with two step-children and one daughter, she lives alone in west London

RIAN MALAN: Rosie remembers meeting me for lunch about six years ago after she had read my book, My Traitor's Heart, but I have no clear memory of it, although I do remember the book's launch party that she subsequently arranged for me. I'd invited several friends from Johannesburg - people who were into smoking dope and whose politics were left-wing. But I'd also invited Koos van der Merwe, a huge fat man with a walrus moustache and a reputation for being a ferocious right-winger. I was anticipating the worst when he turned up, but he actually charmed the pants off everyone; he was the life and soul of the party.

At the time that I met Rosie, I was astonishingly surprised by the success of My Traitor's Heart. I had also set myself an incredibly hard act to follow. I thought after I'd written it I would just go and sit on a farm somewhere in Africa, mainly because I couldn't think of anything else to say. At that stage, I did have a sense that I should quit. I was beset by the notion that it was impossible for me to live up to a reputation which was largely undeserved.

But Rosie twisted my arm to start writing again, and eventually I did start again - if she hadn't pushed me I doubt I would have. Without her encouragement, I would have rested on my laurels until they rotted away beneath me. She motivated me through a combination of sticks and carrots. She can be strict; I'm terribly bad at delivering things on deadline.

The first thing I remember about Rosie's house was how many books there were. It was completely full of them. She's probably the best-read person I know, and must get through about four or five books a week. I wouldn't say she's an intellectual, but she's incredibly well-informed about the most arcane things.

The other great quality about Rosie is how game she can be, particularly as an editor. She has this indefatigable enthusiasm for taking extraordinary risks. I think her editorial philosophy is admirable: she's ideologically vigorous with an interest in weighty subjects. And she's prepared to spend money on them, which is astonishing. Lots of glossy magazine editors see their product as wrapping paper for advertising, whereas Rosie is interested in the deeper stuff. Another great thrust of hers is fun - she has wild enthusiasms for boy's own adventure stories.

I like the way she's a gambler, and she's so spontaneous. You can phone her up on a Friday evening and say, "Let's fly to Scotland and go salmon fishing," and she'll say, "Let's do it." Or I'll say, "I want to go to Kathmandu to do a story that I might not get, and it's going to cost a fortune." And she'll still say, "That sounds great. Do it."

Certain people have addictive personalities - possibly myself and Rosie do, although by the time I met her, she'd gone through her really wild times. The problem with people who give up drink or other substances is that life becomes greyer. Rosie fights the grey in an extremist way; she tries to make every day into some sort of adventure. I don't think she can get through the nine-to-five without something dangerous to deal with.

About two years ago, she came out to South Africa to visit me. We had a great time in Sun City casino one night and won a lot of money. Rosie, being quite compulsive, would probably have stayed there. But I thought we shouldn't push our luck by testing it, so we left before she lost it all. As an Afrikaner and a Calvinist, I think I'm more cautious than her, although in many respects Rosie is very sensible. She is capable of astonishing feats of responsibility - she does all that stuff like power-dressing rather well.

Rosie also has great dinner parties, often with a bizarre mix of people, which I think she may do deliberately. When she had the captain of the South African security police, myself and Ben Okri round to her house, I knew it could have been an absolute disaster, but it worked. Rosie's the sort of person who likes to collect people - and I'm probably just one more for her collection, but that's fine by me. It's very good company to be in.

To a considerable extent we share the same sense of humour and we're both quite cynical. We love malicious gossip - I'm the more bitchy one out of the two of us. We don't talk about personal stuff much; I prefer to argue about politics. My politics are more conservative than hers and I'm fond of attacking her liberal assumptions.

I don't have a family or a home; I'm a wanderer. My friendship with Rosie is unique; I see more of her than anybody else. I enjoy most going round to her place, drinking her whisky and playing cards with her and her daughter. Over the years Rosie has gone way and above the call of duty in her support for me. She's extremely tolerant of my shortcomings, probably more than is good for her professionally.

Rosie would never try to change me. Also, if I became her lap dog, I think she would probably lose interest in me entirely. I've never known her to associate with people who are conventional - I think she likes what magazines call "bad boys".

ROSIE BOYCOTT: When I read Rian's book My Traitor's Heart about six years ago, I thought I'd really like him to write for me - and I was working at Harpers & Queen at the time. So I phoned up the publisher to ask if we could meet, and arranged to have lunch with him and my friend Selina Hastings. We were walking along, wondering what Rian would look like - as you do when you've read a book that you've really liked - and I was saying, "He's probably got red hair and spots."

We got to L'Escargot, and he was very late. Then this person who looked like some sort of Greek god just collapsed into the seat next to us, and we were both completely dumbstruck.

At first, I found him hard to understand - he mumbles and has a softly- spoken voice. But I remember him talking about Africa very passionately. Rian sees things differently from others. He was the first person that I had encountered who said that there's more to South Africa than what the Guardian tells us. It wasn't a clean cut situation of blacks, good; whites, bad.

Despite how well his book was doing, the publisher hadn't given it a party, so I organised one the following Saturday at my house. Channel 4 had flown over a guy called Koos van der Merwe, a defence minister in South Africa, to argue with Rian on a political programme. He came to the party and was terrifying, a cliche of what you'd imagine an overweight, scary Boer to be like. Jani Allan also turned up, then a figure of considerable interest, whose penchant for members of the South African government was a running joke. She made a beeline for the minister and they ended up sitting on the sofa together. Rian got a camera and hid behind the curtains taking photographs of them. The pictures ap-peared all over the pages of the South African newspapers the next week, so it was a good start to our friendship - Rian has a great sense of mischief.

You meet weird, interesting people through Rian. Once, he brought a contract killer for a wing of the South African police to dinner. The man seemed benign, but he'd carry on this bizarre conversation about killing people, as though he was talking about gardening or cooking. By the time we got to pudding, I asked him how many people he had killed. I thought he was going to say "Several hundred", but he said "Seven." I thought, "Oh, seven; that's hardly anything." Then I thought, "What am I thinking of - I've got this person here who's a murderer."

As well as Ben, Rian and I have a lot of mutual friends that we hang out with - Nick Broomfield, Sabrina Guin-ness, James Fox and Bella Freud. I see Rian a lot - he lives just round the corner - and we've joined the same gym. He goes there to have baths because he's got such a scruffy flat.

When you work with Rian or have him to stay, there are always a million phone messages. You always get tons from girls that are in love with him and they're usually absolutely distraught. I think part of it is his slightly untidy appeal; his clothes always look like they need mending.

When Martha Gellhorn, now 86, read Rian's book, she said she would really like to meet him. We went round for tea; within two minutes, she said to me, "Darling, I'm going to America, and I've got these special candles I want to take. Will you go and buy them?" I thought, "I can take a hint as well as the next person," so I walked up and down the King's Road for the next two hours. She was completely smitten. Rian brings out the motherly instinct in women. Girlfriends think they can make him settle down, but he's not like that - he doesn't fit into stereotypes.

Rian writes to an incredibly high literary standard, but he's also a very good reporter - that combination is really hard to beat. He checks everything, worries it to the ground and works fantastically hard. Yet at the same time there's an absolutely holy attention to the use of language.

He also does things that are truly sweet. We used to have a doorman at work called Fred, and Rian used to smoke with him because we work in a non-smoking office. In the end, they became really good friends and Rian took Fred to a rugby international and paid about pounds 60 for his ticket. You only find out about things like that by accident - Rian would never tell you.

Sometimes Rian goes walkabout and can just vanish for weeks on end. But my life feels better when he's nearby. I phone him up for personal advice, but he's also wonderful to run ideas by. I'm totally devoted to him. !

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