Boating For Beginners

December 6, 1990

“Do you understand the meaning of life?” asked Gloria. She knew that everyone sought this mysterious meaning because it was in all the magazines. Every month there was an article on how to be fulfilled and what to invest in when you were…

This is a comic book with pictures. I published it 3 months after Oranges came out, and if that isn’t proof enough that it was never intended as a second novel, then what else can I say? Writers don’t publish their serious work three months apart in the same year and even if they wanted to, their publishers wouldn’t let them.

The reason I’ve been quiet about this book is not because I don’t like it – I do – but because I was fed-up with people (newspapers) getting the facts wrong, or rather never bothering to check them. One thing I have learned over the years is that British journalists don’t do much fact checking. It’s a pity when something fun gets used as a rod to beat you with, but there are always people who will use whatever is to hand to prove their thesis . I don’t know what that might be but I do know that this book was written for money in 6 weeks. Nothing wrong with that. I never write my real books for money, but I have no problem writing anything else with the bung in mind.

So now you’ve got the facts, enjoy the book. It’s the story of Noah and the Flood and a romantic novelist called Bunny Mix – the rabbit of romance. It’s full of silly things and great fun.

Why did you write it?

Like I said, I needed money. I was 24, waiting for Oranges to come out, didn’t know what to expect or what I would do later, and I got an offer to do something funny. You have to remember that the status Oranges has now was not how it was then. On the strength of Oranges the publishers thought I could do some comedy for their humour list. So I knocked up B for B and of course just after it appeared Oranges won the Whitbread and then I just didn’t make sense to people. Fortunately in those days, writers were left alone, so I didn’t worry about not making sense, I mooched off and wrote a fitness book and the got down to The Passion. Can you imagine a hot new writer – say Zadie Smith or Nial Griffiths, being allowed to carry on like that now?! Nowadays you get managed from birth. I’m glad it wasn’t like that then, because, above all, a young new writer needs time and space and just the right balance of interest and left-aloneness.

Did you say a fitness book?

Yes, in 1986 I published Fit for the Future – the guide for women who want to live well. Again, money, and because I was a fitness freak. Well, I still am. That book is out of print now.

Why don’t you write any more comic books?

I got serious. That is, with The Passion I realised that books were my life and that I wanted to explore all kinds of problems – structural, linguistic, emotional, within the frame of what I did. I wrote my books and earned money in other ways. It’s often forgotten that I didn’t make much money from my work until I published Written on the Body.

I heard you tried to get Boating for Beginners out of print?

Absolute bloody bollocks. Anyway, a writer can’t get a book out of print. Publishers decide what is and isn’t in print and nobody will ditch a book that sells. I haven’t tried to get it published abroad because it isn’t that important to me. It’s fun but it doesn’t matter, I suppose that’s what I’ve been trying to say, and here I am saying it again. Oh just read the bloody thing and you’ll see what I mean.

‘We’ve got to get the story straight’ said Noah. ‘How can we say, “And God spake unto Noah and told him to build an ocean-going ark from fibre-glass with a reinforced steel hull’? It reads like an enthusiast’s magazine, not the inspired word of God. Gopher wood is much more poetic’