In 1994, Matthew De Abaitua, an aspiring writer and student on East Anglia’s Creative Writing MA, applies for a job as Will Self’s amanuensis. The first interview is preceded by Self passing De Abaitua a tobacco pouch and a large bag of weed, with the instruction: ‘Make something out of that.’ In the second, they meet at Self’s remote cottage and fire an air rifle at whiskey bottles. Matthew is 22, and spent his previous summer working as a security guard in Liverpool; Self is 33, has just published My Idea of Fun and appeared on the famous ’93 Granta list, and is a well-respected author embracing a mad, bad and dangerous to know persona.
De Abaitua is not merely an assistant. The word amanuensis, he reminds us, originates from the Latin for ‘slave at hand’.