My Secret Life: Brian Aldiss, 87, author

'I started to write aged three'

My parents were… My mother married my father at the end of the First World War. The legend is that, on returning from the war, he was moored on a troop ship a mile out of Southampton and couldn't wait, so he dived over and swam that mile to see her.

The household I grew up in… was over my father's shop. At five, I was sent away to my Granny Wilson in Peterborough. There was an eclipse, and she took me out to see it. If anything's going to make you a science-fiction writer, it's that. You see this mighty shadow rushing across the field at you.

When I was a child I wanted to be… I started to write when I was only three. I'd write little stories and my mother would bind them and put them on the shelf.

You wouldn't know it but I am very good at… art.

You may not know it but I'm no good at… sport. Not any more.

At night I dream of… I have had dreams where I've woken and thought: "My God what an idea!" Helliconia started that way. As I wake up, my conscious mind is functioning, but I'm still in touch with the subconscious, which has been flowing throughout the night. The two meet, and often there's fertile ground there. If you can hold that and put it on paper, it's likely to be more truthful than something constructed purely cerebrally. It goes down into a deeper region.

What I see when I look in the mirror… A tall, handsome chap who's forgotten to do his hair.

My favourite item of clothing… is this jacket [pictured].

I drive… a Volvo.

My house is… my darling home. The advantage of living in Oxford is that you can knock on any door, the door will open, the cobwebs will part and there will be an old chap who knows everything about how civilisation was constituted!

My favourite work of art… is a Kandinsky. I don't know the name but I have it in my front room.

My favourite building… Angkor Wat [Cambodia]. I haven't seen it, but I'm glad to hear from anyone who has. It is one of the world's miracles, I think.

Movie heaven… On Easter Sunday they showed Citizen Kane – what a wonderful film. It survives the ages.

The person who really makes me laugh… All the actors in Withnail and I.

My five-year plan… I think I'll still be in pretty good nick at 90. But then I'll have to plan how I deteriorate. What will I do if I stop writing books? Who knows?

What's the point? I suppose it's a co-mingling of deepest pleasure and darkest ambition. You're here today and gone tomorrow. But life is jolly hard au fond.

My life in six words… Love, creativity and a fertile garden.

A life in brief

Brian Aldiss was born in East Dereham, Norfolk, in 1925. He fought in Burma during the Second World War and worked as a bookseller before taking up writing. Best known for his works of science-fiction, he is the author of the acclaimed Helliconia trilogy and the short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long, the basis for Steven Spielberg's 2001 film AI Artificial Intelligence. His final science-fiction novel, Finches of Mars, about the Red Planet's first colonists, will be published in June. He lives in Oxford

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