Peter Ross is an old colleague of mine. He's also a writer I hugely admire, whether as a feature writer, interviewer or author. Needless to say, I was chuffed that he interviewed me for The Sunday Herald, my old newspaper in Scotland, about my book.
What I’m about to write might be obvious if you’ve ever published a book; if you haven’t, and have no intention of doing so, you can stop reading now. If you think you might write a book, or are in the process of writing your first, with a view to publication, it might be of passing interest. But even that’s not guaranteed. You can duck out here. I don’t mind. I really don’t.
I’ve lived a life, since being a teen, where I believed in the idea of meritocracy, as sold by Tony Blair’s New Labour in the 90s. That has seen me try all sorts of things that would have traditionally been considered above my station, but it’s also led to the inevitable conclusion that meritocracy is a trick. Cultural capital – which I’ve never had much of – is the thing: without that, one way or another, you’re screwed.
For some time now I’ve been living with the Dostoyevsky syndrome.
It’s been a few months at least, at just 20 minutes a day, but not every day. Not every day? Pah, devil take you. Because 20 minutes with a Russian master at 6.30 in the morning, even not every morning, is enough.
There's nothing worse than shaving, except maybe migraines, waterboarding, Nick Clegg’s blue-grey suits, hypothermia ... loads of things are worse than shaving, but it doesn’t always feel that way when you’re doing it. The average man spends (approximately) 13,350 hours of his life shaving. I never quiz others on their technique but suspect it’s all much of a muchness – starting at the same point every time, up the neck, down the jawline, looking at your face, blady bla ...
When it finished, the “watchers” were asked what they had written down. In my case, I’d drawn a doodle with lots of arrows in it, a vaguely phallic squiggle and a single sentence in amazingly scruffy shorthand: why do people role-play?
I’ve put my neck out. Or not my neck. It’s below my neck. Between my shoulder blades. I can’t work out exactly where because every time I raise an arm to reach over my shoulders to find the epicentre, or try to feed an arm up from underneath, I yelp. It’s sore. I’m stiff. I have to turn my whole body round when I want to look left or right, tie my shoelaces blind.
I relay my findings to one of my deviant associates (he is a model citizen otherwise) who informs me that there is a whole sub-genre in the porn world dedicated to pregnant women – or rather to men who like looking at pictures of pregnant women in a state of undress.
The Ryanwood bobs gently against the quayside wall of Peterhead harbour. At just 80-foot long, she is dwarfed on all sides by industrial fishing boats. The six-man crew, and that of her sister vessel, the Castlewood, are busy loading provisions. Food comes on board, as does water, as does ice.
I ring the bell. No-one answers. The leaflet in my hand tells me this grey, slate-covered building – a monastery since 1895 – is the Church of England’s “best-kept secret”. But I have come to Hampshire to unravel another secret: that of the cult of Jane Austen.
Legend has it that the very first life models were five beautiful virgins who posed as Helen of Troy for the Greek artist Zeuxis. Disturbingly, the fifth century BC artist is said to have laughed himself to death while painting an old woman, who was sitting for him as Aphrodite. All of this and more comes to mind as my boxer shorts hit the floor.
Suicide was never far from Hunter S Thompson’s mind. It was the night before Christmas Eve, 1977. At his typewriter, in a room 28 floors above Fifth Avenue in New York, he imagined going out onto the terrace, leaping "200 yards out into the air”, and landing broken and bloodied in the Plaza Fountain below. “Nobody,” he wrote, “could follow that act.”
"I didn't realise how much it was affecting my life. I thought I was just stressed in general but actually it was the fact that I had a flight coming up. Once you take that out of the equation, life gets much easier."
"I’ve always been fascinated by day-to-day life, probably because I can’t work out how to live mine. In my experience, you usually find the most interesting things at the bottom of your garden or at the end of your street."
You're just a journalist from the Sunday fucking Herald and I'm not interested in your opinions, OK? So just fucking listen or you will not talk to me, or have access to my people, as long as you fucking live."