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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 October, 2003, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
Booker winner joins 'roguish writers'
By Chris Heard
BBC News Online

Booker Prize winner DBC Pierre's recent revelations he was a former drug addict and gambler, selling his best friend's house to pocket the proceeds, has enlivened the largely conservative world of literature.

Shattering the more conventional image of authors as strait-laced types working away in rose-covered cottages, Pierre joins that roguish band of writers whose colourful personal lives are probably as famous as their prose.

DBC Pierre
Pierre is using his prize money to pay off creditors
The 42-year-old Australian-born, Mexican-raised author, who now lives in Ireland, is using his 50,000 cheque to pay off some of his creditors.

Pierre admitted at the weekend he had spent nine years "in a drug haze, on a rampage of cocaine, heroin, anything I could get".

He also lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in an ill-fated Mexican film project on Montezuma's gold.

But after winning the literary prize, he told journalists that despite being a reformed character, he was not yet ready to become part of the establishment.

"My problem is that the establishment keeps changing," he said.

DBC Pierre
Pierre has been urged to write his memoirs
Pierre is not alone among writers who shunned the middle road.

Among the more notorious are US authors such as Ernest Hemingway, beat writers William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, and contemporary rebel Hunter S Thompson.

Hemingway cultivated an image of himself as a hard-drinking macho man, getting into brawls in bars, shooting big game and fighting in European battlefields. He took his own life with a shotgun in 1961.

And William Burroughs, regarded as the father of the 1940s and 50s beat generation of US writers, was a morphine addict who accidentally killed his wife before moving to Tangier to write his masterpiece The Naked Lunch. He died in 1997.

A lifestyle of drug-taking and excess was also the inspiration for Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in 1971, which was later made into a film starring Johnny Depp.

Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway killed himself with a shotgun
Thompson is the founder of the so-called "gonzo" school of political journalism, in which he described his drug-soaked escapades during his work as a journalist, as well as being a leading light of the US counter-culture.

Heavy drinking also contributed to the demise of Jack Kerouac, a brilliant writer suddenly became a celebrity in the 1950s with On The Road, his tale of free-spirited roaming across the US. He ended up living with his elderly mother and died in 1969, aged 47.

But one of the obvious benefits of writing about your chequered past is of course the paycheque, and one of this year's Booker judges, DJ Taylor, said he thought Pierre could cash in by writing his memoirs.

Mr Taylor added, however, that although the UK has its share of "roguish writers", they were generally less likely to be British.

"Americans like Kerouac, Fred Exley and Charles Bukowski specialise in that end-of-tether writing," he said.

Jack Kerouac
Kerouac's later life was blighted by drink
"We have a much more decorous tradition. We don't have that many roguish writers.

"There is Will Self who was caught smoking heroin on [former UK Prime Minister] John Major's plane. Archer is an establishment figure who got caught out."

Self has admitted he took heroin on Mr Major's election campaign jet in 1997, when he was covering the event for The Observer, although the incident has done nothing to stem Self's rise as novelist and latterly media pundit.

Jeffrey Archer, forever linked to the epithet "disgraced peer", recently spent two years in prison for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

Lord Archer with his wife, Mary
Jeffrey Archer spent two years in prison
He was found by the Old Bailey to have lied under oath during his 1987 libel case against the Daily Star over allegations he had had sex with a prostitute.

Since leaving prison in September, the former peer has repaid the 500,000 he was awarded in 1987 following his libel action against the newspaper, as well as the majority of the substantial legal recovery costs - believed to be 1.8m.

Another writer, Howard Marks, is Britain's best-known drugs smuggler as a result of his autobiography Mr Nice, which tells how he evaded customs officers for years before being caught and imprisoned in the US.

He continues to be outspoken, and is a vocal campaigner for the relaxation of Britain's cannabis laws.

DBC Pierre, Booker Prize winner
"My family planted the idea that I could do anything, and I want to apologise for taking them so literally"

Ask 2003 Booker Prize Winner DBC Pierre
14 Oct 03  |  Have Your Say

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