Read on to find out his views on writing, fame and the government.
You are well-known as a journalist and an author, but also
as the team captain on Shooting Stars. Are you
comfortable with your fame? Is it something that you consider
WS: I do think about it a bit. Fame is a bit vulgar really.
It is just like having a flashy car. I am fairly used to it
now, but I dont intend to embellish it any more. For
some years now, I havent gone out and about in that
way. Its not a big issue.
The public perception of you is as intellectual jack of all
trades. Is this fair?
I do write books and a wide range of journalism serious,
social commentary to colourful criticism and more frothy stuff
so it is a fair analysis.
also do some satire work on TV and punditry of one kind of
another. It is a mixed portfolio.
the British think about themselves, there is the tradition
of a public intellectual in this country. It's not that bizarre.
has always been around. Not to compare myself in a direct
way, but look at Orwell. He occupied a not dissimilar role
in the 40s.
Can we talk about your writing? How do you start? What is
WS: I tend to start with an idea, which can be quite a simple
riff on the face of it. Some expand more than others, like
paper flowers in water, and they tend to turn into novels.
work is ideas-driven rather than plot or character-driven.
Often, it seems to me, you present a fantastical, life-as-it-could-be,
This is a basic satiric device. By holding up a distorted
mirror, people see an exaggerated picture of what is, and
what it is that is objectionable about our world.
With this in mind, how is Dr Mukti a satire on psychiatry
In parts, it is a satire on the way in which we view psychiatry,
and the psychiatric profession, and by extension the whole
we revere them? Well, the debate over MMR suggests this reverence
is in decline, but the minute there is something wrong, people
go running to mummy and daddy doctor.
Mutki links to my first book, A Quantum Theory of Insanity.
I have always been preoccupied by the idea of the therapeutic
some respects, this is similar to the ideas of the anti-psychiatrists
in the 1960s; that in our society, theres one idea of
sanity. This is an aspect of a hidden totalitarianism.
psychiatric profession is there to enforce the idea, often
unwittingly. We do live in a heavily medicated world.
In terms of politics, do you still believe in open government
and proportional representation?
I think the thing about constitutional change is that you
can mass a lot of arguments against open government and PR.
among young people there is a real decline in interest in
the political process.
there had been a willingness by the Blair regime to have an
open and frank debate to move this forward, it could have
invigorated the process. But this hasnt happened.
a wider level, there is a loss. Blair has lost sight of and
not addressed the destruction of communitarian politics that
started under Thatcher and has continued.
What do you think will happen with the Hutton report?
I dont know. Even if Blair gets a third term, he wont
last it out. It is a significant mine on the hull of his ship
of state. Whether it blows up or corrodes, sooner or later
the vessel will spring a leak.
What about weapons of mass destruction?
Luckily a disinterested electorate is a short-term memory
electorate. The political class will turn against Blair if
he is not perceived as being electable.
What about the furore over Killroy?
WS: I didnt read the original piece. But it is another
issue about BBC figures indulging in punditry outside the
payroll and coming a cropper.
not on the BBC payroll. Im not a BBC employee and never
have been and never would be. I dont have to do that;
so why would I? I havent worked for any kind of corporate
entity for a long time and I wouldnt again.
is important to have people who stand outside that, with the
freedom to express themselves denied to those dependent for
their living on certain institutions.
Whats your next literary project?
I'm going to start writing a new novel in next couple of weeks.
It is about an enraged, slightly insane London taxi driver
who writes a rant against contemporary society, which he then
is dug up 500 years in the future and becomes the basis of
a revealed religion, the holy book of a future society.
is a satire on revealed religion and fundamentalism, which
is very much affecting us at the moment.
What authors do you recommend reading?
I dont read fiction. I dont enjoy it. It uses
the same muscles that I use to write with, although I do read
a little bit. At the moment Im reading Samuel Pepys:
An Unequaled Self by Claire Tomalin. And I very much enjoyed
re-reading Roger Deacons Waterlog.
like quirky travel I walked here from the airport,
which is about 12 or 13 miles.
What do you think about these book signings?
Its what youve got to do. It is a double-edged
thing as it is nice to bring narratives in a bardic way to
people, so they can attach a voice to what they are reading.
In other ways, it is not for me what literature is about.
come expecting light entertainment and literature is extremely
serious. I often see dismayed faces I'm not sure what
they are expecting.
of the volume of my sales, I know that the numbers that are
here are a function of other media.
the whole, books generate the readership they should, even
though I know lots of struggling authors who dont think
perception is that the other notoriety I have doesnt
translate into sales, it doesnt increase readership.
dont read books on that basis. It is a big commitment
for a book a serious novel is a couple of days of your
take on books with intent to read on a personal recommendation
synergised with some other media, like a book review.