Interviewer: Why have you been less interested in writing about drugs than you have about drink? Does it have to do with how you grew up? Your father hasn’t exactly avoided booze as a subject.
Martin Amis: Yes, he’s a serious drinker. Drink, like sex, tells us an extra thing about someone. It strikes me more and more that we don’t really know much about each other, even people we know well. We keep so much hidden. You put the 10% on display: the rest is all secret. And when people are drunk, you find out another 10%; and when you discover what someone is like intimately, you discover another 10%, or maybe more.
Interviewer: I don’t know if drugs give you another 10%. Sometimes I think drugs remove something.
Martin Amis: Or obscure the original 10%, yes. In my early novels, people smoke dope and stuff, but alcohol is something everyone has an attitude towards, especially in New York where it seems everyone has stopped drinking.
Interviewer: Smoking, too.
Martin Amis: You’re more efficient when you don’t drink. But also you keep that other 10%. Someone from New York said to me not long ago, ‘You produce an awful lot, are you a workaholic?’ I said, ‘No I’m an alcoholic.’
In fact I’m not an alcoholic, but drink is present every day of my life in those few glasses of wine at the end of the day. When people say that I often think it means a few bottles. Funnily enough, a mild hangover is often a good start in order to write. I think the reason writers do drink a lot, almost without exception — American novelists, if they’re not Jewish or alcoholics — is that writers have time to recover. You haven’t got to get up the next morning. And perhaps, more than most people, you do want an escape from yourself.
Excerpted from a 1976 interview with Martin Amis.
While its original text is not available on the web, this exchange was recently reenacted at the PEN World Voices Festival by Amis, John Freeman, and Anatol Yusef.