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How I write

Written for Time Out Magazine in 2007

Imagine you are the best prison guard in the world. Undisputed number one. Entertained by the Blairs, the Beckhams and Antonio Banderas alike; a chess grand master, a boxer – ex-pro (three belts); kind as the mistletoe fairy, mean as a yoga teacher on the make, dignified as a Mandella diary; plus you’ve got ninety first class degrees in psychology from Harvard where you slept with everyone in the entire faculty (and their partners) and they all loved it and begged you to tour the world fundraising thereafter. Imagine you’re that good at guarding prisoners.

OK, now imagine that one day you get the call from the UN: they want you to deal with the number one prisoner in the world.

Be in no doubt: this guy is the most difficult inmate of all time. Home Secretaries slice off their ears at the mention of his name. Prime Ministers wet their tartans. Terrorists turn right around and head back up the M1. This guy can take down the entire socio-historical architecture of penal reform and then reassemble it as a troupe of pink flashing dildos right in front of your eyes. There is no mind game that he cannot win. He escapes on whim. He’s been know to break out just to tell Natasha Bedingfield to stop – and then break back in before his guards have even finished their fruit smoothies. This guy is the best.

So, henceforth, it is going to be you versus him. Real lonely. Just the two of you. Toughing it out on the maximum security wing.

Preparatory months of forensic study reveal little you didn’t already know. This guy has a better imagination than you – more talent, more intelligence, more everything. Fine; you can concede all this. (Such concessions are your strength.) But then, suddenly you see it, right there in the file, the paragraph that everyone else must have missed: the madman’s big secret, his one weakness, the way to beat him. Big Mr Badass Escape-Boy wants to be a novelist.

Son-of-a-bitch! All you have to do is convince him that you can get his work out there! That you know an agent, a publisher, an editor! You’ll take the booze, the drugs, the fighting, the abuse, even the odd sex crime, just so long as he writes a few hours a day. He can dirty protest, he can hunger strike, he can break anything he wants. Because if the bastard can be made to start writing, then he can also be made to stay and finish – and not just one book. Only one rule will be needed: if ever he escapes, he must not tell anyone and he must be back within 48 hours. Otherwise, your deal is over. No publication. No publicity. And then you’ll hunt him down and kill him. And make it look like suicide.

That’s pretty much how I write.