"So what do you feel like when you've done a yoga session?" asks Martin Amis. How on earth did we get on to this? He has a large drink in front of him and there's a tobacco tin on the table. He looks down and begins deftly making roll-ups. This reminds me of something ... Oh yes. The character "Martin Amis" in Money. It feels very peculiar to be talking about grounding and groin opening in the circumstances. Especially when Amis looks as though he's mentally preparing some Zeitgeisty monologue: "That's the difference between us and chicks. Chicks do yoga. And eat salad." I'll never forget the look I got when I asked him for half a glass of wine. "Half a glass? Half a glass?" he sneered, and got me half a large tumbler.
Martin Amis lives in one of those north London stucco palazzos with all the interior walls removed so the rooms are enormous. It's a bold move, as it makes him look even smaller. So many people had said to me, "Martin Amis? He's tiny. Titchy. Minute. This big. Could dance in the palm of your hand," that I was expecting him to be knee height. He's not that small. There's a section in Experience where he talks about going with an equally diminutive mate to a debutantes' ball and feeling as though they were walking in between everyone's legs. You can afford to say things like that when you know that, intellectually, it's the other way round.
That's why I get an odd feeling when I look down (very slightly down) into his eyes: a sort of reverse intellectual vertigo, as though he's looking down into my own fathomless ignorance. Brrrrr!
Martin Famous amisly plays tennis. "I try to play three times a week." (Don't you love that "try to"? We can all relate to that.) "But it's not to feel healthy. I just go straight down the pub afterwards. That's the point, isn't it? The retox." He cackles and lights up.
The trouble is, I meet writers and then I start liking them and go all mushy. That Lancastrian Circe, Jeanette Winterson? Adorable. Ian McEwan? What a nice guy. Salman Rushdie? Had me in hysterics. Rushdie was the first person to tell me that Buddhist buying a hotdog joke - "Make me one with everything" - that's been doing the rounds recently.
But the one thing I always said to all my friends was "Look - if I ever - if I ever say to you, right, 'I met that Martin Amis and he's a great bloke,' you have my permission to shoot me."
You just can't afford to be friends with writers. It always ends in tears. I still treasure the fax I received from one of the grandest of literary dames (no, not Claire Tomalin. And not Beryl Bainbridge, either) which said, in inch-high scrawled letters: "ET TU BRUTE". (No, it wasn't Maggie Drabble.) That was merely for running a bad review; I would have been sent anthrax if I'd actually written it. (For crying out loud! It wasn't Madonna. Look, you'll never guess.)
I subsequently revised my opinion of Ian McEwan. He'd been telling me about the bet he'd had with Peter Carey when they were both up for the Booker Prize. "Whoever won had to take the other one out for dinner. Peter won [for True Story of the Kelly Gang] and I made him take me to a really expensive restaurant in New York." The assumption that no one else was even in the running only struck me as charmless later on.
At the time, I just mumbled something about the fabulous young novelist David Mitchell. McEwan had never heard of him. "What's his name? Mitchell? He's good, is he?" I was too stunned to point out that Number9Dream had also been on the shortlist with Atonement. If even Booker shortlistees can't be bothered to read the other novels on the list, it's no wonder sales of literary fiction are so parlous, is it?
In a recent interview, Clare Morrall, the surprise inclusion on this year's shortlist, announced with smug righteousness that she wasn't going to read the other five contenders, because she couldn't afford hardback novels. Really, Clare?
Despite being a virtuous, cheap, accessible paperback, Morrall's Astonishing Splashes of Colour has only sold 1,627 copies to date, according to the latest Bookseller. Damon Galgut's hardback The Good Doctor has shifted a mere 869.
I expect Mart's Yellow Dog has done a lot better than that. But something warns me not to bring up the question of the Booker prize with Mr Amis, even though he is my new best friend. I'll have the other half of that tumbler of wine now, please.Reuse content