I wondered if it was some kind of house rule that Mme Chantal imposed; that every declaration of affection, sincere or insincere, had to be counterbalanced by a gentle reminder of the true - fiscal - nature of the relationship. William Boyd, Any Human Heart LIFE: Aside from one infamous stunt, comic novelist and scriptwriter William Boyd has led a rather boring life. No poverty. No demons. No personal catastrophes delineated in a thinly veiled autobiography. He seems a man of tweed, quintessentially English in the old-fashioned sense. Yet he was born in Ghana in 1952, then educated at Gordonstoun, the remote Scottish public school which Prince Charles attended. Discouraged by his practical father from risking the uncertainty of a writing career, Boyd duly wound up teaching at Oxford. Going mildly hippie, he lectured on the Romantics and was doing a PhD on P B Shelley. But Boyd discovered that he lacked the appetite for the pedantry his PhD tutor required. Before abandoning his studies, he made an aptly ridiculous and singularly anomalous contribution to Shelley scholarship. He discovered a huge erect phallus the author had doodled. Years later, after a welter of literary accolades including the Whitbread and Somerset Maugham Awards (both for A Good Man In Africa) and a Booker nomination (An Ice Cream War), Boyd became involved in one of the most bizarre hoaxes in the history of literature. He wrote a 'biography' about a modernist artist named Nat Tate who had led a tragic Bohemian life quite the opposite of his own. The launch of the book which was published by David Bowie's press, took place at pop artist Jeff Koons' New York studio on April Fool's Day, 1998. Bowie himself, a co-conspirator, read an extract from the page which movingly described Tate's suicide. The reading transformed the fixed smiles of the unwitting assembled intellectuals, among them Paul Auster, into wistful frowns. Once exposed in the press, the prank cemented Boyd's credentials as a bright light of English comic fiction. Any Human Heart has made the longlist for this year's Booker prize. The shortlist will be announced on September 24. WORK: A Good Man In Africa (Penguin, 1981); On The Yankee Station And Other Stories (Penguin, 1981); An Ice Cream War (Penguin, 1982); Stars And Bars (Penguin, 1984); School Ties (Penguin, 1985); The New Confessions (Penguin, 1987); Brazzaville Beach (Penguin, 1990); The Blue Afternoon (Penguin, 1993); Bullets Don't Cry (Tor Books, 1994); The Destiny Of Nathalie X (Penguin, 1995); The Dream Lover (Penguin, 1995); Killing Lizards And Other Stories (Penguin, 1995); Transfigured Night (One Horse Press, 1995); Visions Fugitives (Cuckoo Press, 1997); Armadillo (Penguin, 1998); Nat Tate: An American Artist (21 Publishing, 1998); Protobiography (Bridgewater Press, 1998); A Haunting (Bridgewater Press, 2000); Any Human Heart (Hamish Hamilton, 2002) SUB PLOTS: 'Unless you do 5,000 words a day you're an idle bastard,' William Boyd once said. To ensure nobody mistakes him for a slacker, he researches fanatically, spending months scrutinising biographies, memoirs, maps and photographs so that his characters feel grounded in the real world. Boyd never throws himself into telling a story until he has defined each ingredient of its elaborate plot in his mind - felicitous flashes of inspiration which other less draconian technicians allow are barred. Behind the humour lies architecture. Quality matters to Boyd so much because he sees the novel as superior to films, plays and television. In his view nothing renders the human condition as fully as the novel which allows more detail and intimacy. However, his latest aspiring addition to the canon, Any Human Heart, feels a touch laboured, from the name of the diarist protagonist, Logan Gonzago Mountstuart, to the footnotes and index. Try Armadillo, his subtler, funnier number one best-seller about the uncertain world of insurance.