I'M WRITING a novel at the moment - my second. My first, by the way, I can unreservedly recommend. It's called Bilton, and will be published shortly in paperback by Faber & Faber.

Now it's important for any man, when writing a novel, not to read anything by Martin Amis because the surface aspects of his style are so catching. I mean, what is it with that guy? The tone of weary incredulity, the lists, the repetition, the accumulation of synonyms. The italics, for Chrissakes. But copying the velvet-jacketed genius is a hiding into nothing because there's only one Martin Amis, and that's Martin Amis.

I would go so far as to say that a youngish man writing a novel today should not even look at a picture of Martin Amis because, before he knows it, he'll be slicking his hair back, playing tennis, smoking roll-ups and talking about Nabokov on Radio 3 - possibly all at the same time.

It would be stretching a point to say that I'm a friend of Martin Amis. I admire him from afar; but I did speak to him once in circumstances that were unfortunate...

Because I find the whole concept of Martin Amis so intimidating - I mean, even his very initials bespeak a Master Of Arts - I had always intended to put off speaking to him until after I win the Booker Prize which, surely, can only be a matter of time. But my resolution was scuppered four years ago when a features editor that I knew, having seen Martin Amis walking through Notting Hill wearing some kind of a hat, phoned me up to say: "I've just seen Martin Amis wearing some kind of a hat ... could you phone him up and ask him about it, then write a piece for me on men wearing hats?" "But I don't know his phone number," I quavered, in a futile bid to quash the commission. "I do," said the editor, and read it to me.

So I phoned Martin Amis. "Hello," said that streetwise but patrician voice. "Er ... is that Martin Amis?" I asked (playing for time, you see, before coming to the embarrassing crux of the matter). "Yes," he replied, with a flicker of impatience that made me start sweating. "You've been seen wearing a hat ..." I went on, and, in my nervousness, this came out sounding accusatory, as though I was about to add:

"... Do you have a licence for it?"

But he was good enough to laugh, enabling me to plough on ... and I now reproduce the rest of the interview in full.

Me: "Where did you buy your hat?" MA: "Italy." Me: "Why do you wear a hat?" MA: "Because I lose umbrellas."

Certain avenues, I now see, were left unexplored by me in that interview. I could have asked him to go into more detail about ... well, everything, but my priority was to get off the phone. Since then I've gone back to admiring MA from afar. It's the best place for it, I think.

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