In which i meet a great writer

cooking with poo

I HATE NAME droppers, as I once told Bill Gates.

Yet I must boast that last week I had dinner with “the greatest living writer in the English language”. Not a joke.

Novelist Alan Hollinghurst has been described in exactly those terms by critics.

No one has ever called me anything like that.

And my chances of stealing that title from him are probably pretty small, frankly.

My best bet is to aim to be one of the greatest living writers in Dontundistan, a central Asian country I invented a couple of years ago, where people speak in grunts and single-fingered hand gestures.



Alan was touring Asia as part of a world tour to promote his new book, “The Stranger’s Child”, a brilliant tome of English life which all readers MUST BUY, but only after I have negotiated a contract for a cut of the profits.


He is one of the few world class serious authors to get into the UK tabloid newspapers, because he often creates outrage by writing about non-heterosexual men, or, as my Uncle Perera used to say, “homo sapiens”.

The Daily Express once wrote a shock-horror report about him (Alan Hollinghurst, not my uncle) under the headline “Gay Sex Wins Booker”.

gay sex wins booker


hollinghurst announcement

Seeing him threw my mind back to our previous meeting. In 2005, he and I did an on-stage chat at a literary festival. We jokingly mentioned the gay sex headline.

The audience laughed, but one worried-looking woman leapt to her feet and galloped out of the room. Inquiries revealed she was a teacher who had ordered the children in her class to buy Alan’s book and read it, not realizing what it was about.

She was probably racing to the airport before the parents realized that their offspring had come home with a book from which they may learn more than might be desirable.


But our meeting was not the top news in the book business last week. That honor went to the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year.

One of the just-announced shortlisted candidates is from Asia, a book called “Cooking With Poo”. (See picture at the top.)

Poo means “crab” in Thai, and is also the nickname of the chef who wrote it.


It’s often hard to guess what a book is about by its title. One could guess that an earlier winner, “The Joy of Chickens”, was about breeding poultry.

But what about “American Bottom Archeology”?

I think it was about river beds.

The 2010 winner was “Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way”.

I knew Genghis Khan was an invader who killed thousands of people but had no idea he’d been a dentist too. I can picture him lifting his bloodied axe and approaching a patient. “This won’t hurt a bit.”


In fact, Alan Hollinghurst’s new book is so good, it’s even better than mine. Amazing but true.

Anyway, authors get less glory than other artists so we make the most of it.

Alan’s publisher told me that on one book tour, he took the author to a bar in Melbourne where a quiz night was being held.

The quizmaster asked: “Who won the Man Booker Prize this year?”

Alan put up his hand.

“I did,” he said.

Not many people can say that.




Read any good books lately?