William Boyd, 54, was born in Ghana, where his mother was a teacher and his father a doctor. He was a junior don at Oxford and working as a journalist when his first novel, A Good Man In Africa, was published in 1981. It won the Whitbread First Novel Award. He is the author of nine novels, three collections of short stories and 13 screenplays. His latest novel, Restless, recently won the 2006 Costa (formerly Whitbread) Award for Novel of the Year, and is now on the shortlist for the Costa Book of the Year, to be announced on Wednesday. He is married, and has homes in London and France.

When were you happiest?

Here and now.

What is your greatest fear?

A lingering death, dementia, senility, loss of motor function, chronic incontinence, etc, etc.

Which living person do you most admire?

I tend to admire dead people more than the living. All too often human reality diminishes the glowing reputation.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

I let people off the hook too easily.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Violence, hatred, lies, as Chekhov said.

Aside from a property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought?

A small, very rare, stapled pamphlet of Philip Larkin’s early poetry – XX Poems – for £1,000 when I couldn’t possibly afford it. I felt sick.

What is your most treasured possession?

There’s a small amateurish oil painting my father did of his family home in Cupar, Fife, shortly before he died that is unique and irreplaceable.

Where would you like to live?

I’m very happy where I live now, though I quite fancy Rio de Janeiro.

What would your super power be?

To provide an incredibly cheap, super-abundant, non-polluting answer to fossil-fuel.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?


What do you most dislike about your appearance?

Where does one start? What cannot be avoided must be accepted.

Who would play you in the film of your life?

William Hurt.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

Paris in the first decade of the 20th century.

What is your favourite smell?

Rain on sun-warmed earth.

What is your favourite book?

The collected stories of Anton Chekhov.

What is your fancy-dress costume of choice?

I loathe fancy dress. It’s up there with ‘charity auction’ and ‘black tie’.

What is your favourite word?

It changes all the time. At the moment ‘luminosity’. Last week ‘riverine’.

What is the worst thing anyone’s ever said to you?

It’s unrepeatable.

What do you owe your parents?

A certain stoical attitude to life.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?

Je ne regrette rien.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My wife, Susan.

Which living person do you most despise?

Charlatans, egomaniacs, poseurs and assorted enemies. George Bush is riding very high in the charts.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

William Shakespeare, Percy Shelley, Anton Chekhov, Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Brooks, Barbara Skelton.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Refulgent, dun, dogged, intriguing – the list is ever-growing.

What is the worst job you’ve done?

Kitchen porter, the Tontine Hotel, Peebles, 1972.

What is your most unappealing habit?

A tendency to glaze over. It can be very obvious, alas – I’m too easily bored.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

That the show is still on the road.

What keeps you awake at night?

The human condition.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

We’ll Meet Again. I’d like the congregation to join in. As a devout atheist, I should make it clear there are no religious connotations.

How would you like to be remembered?

Posterity is not our business.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Seize the day.

Tell us a secret

The last thing you know about yourself is your effect.

Rosanna Greenstreet
The Guardian, Saturday 3 February 2007