PAUL ARNOTT, THE 45-year-old British author of the memoir Let Me Eat Cake: A Life Lived Sweetly, had a bowl of porridge with a spoonful of golden syrup for breakfast. 'Oh, the pleasure,' he murmurs, glad to have survived yesterday's chairing of a public meeting with police, shippers, insurers, and MPs on an ecological shipping disaster, when the MSC Napoli - loaded with battery acid, diesel oil and perfume - foundered during a storm near Arnott's home. ('The listing ship is as incongruous as the Thames whale, but an odder sight is men wheeling motorbikes away with a docket from the Receiver of Wrecks,' he writes in The Independent. 'My wife picks up some dice but, despite my sweet tooth, I resist the wet tins of Quality Street.') In terms of tenor, the event couldn't have been more anomalous: Arnott's life has been characterised by an amiable abundance of serenity, content and good intention. That and the reckless amplitude of sweets that led to Arnott's reckless amplitude. He sighs. 'I'm now self-outed locally and it's impossible to indulge an act of simple afternoon greed without the man from the Spar shop passing comment,' he says. 'So maybe the intake of Battenberg cake is well down on this time last year.' Arnott has an Edwardian air about him (writer William Leith referred to it as 'Larkinesque'), the flavour of warm lazy afternoons of cricket and fresh sherry trifle served with cream - unhurried, safe. In itself, this is unusual; authors and their works these days are strained and, mostly, imperiled. Nuclear arms, Islam, greenhouse emissions, martial law: there's the sense that global creativity is struggling under the weight of CBS bulletins. Yet Arnott writes not only as if he has all the time in the world, but as if all will always be well with the world. He and his wife, Lydia Conway, a theatre critic and journalist, have four children, and moved from London 'three or four years ago' to the Jurassic Coast, a UN World Heritage Site 'on the edge of Hardy country'. He is, he says, trying to do what he's always wanted to do: be a writer. Writing has always been in his life, if not the focal point. Adopted by adoring parents he describes in witty, tender detail, Arnott worked as a theatre critic for Time Out and The Independent, a series editor ('or boss', he helpfully explains) of a number of Channel 4 arts programmes, and as an executive producer for Guardian TV. There followed a spell as a producer with Edenwood, his own film company - 'We produced a noble but unprofitable A Midsummer Night's Dream with the RSC [Royal Shakespeare Company]' - and, most recently, as the director of an Irish TV company, Moondance. His publisher recently commissioned Arnott for a book 'on the fatwa-worthy subject of every faith, belief, creed, superstition I have ever encountered'. His pause is sudden and mildly rueful. 'All the above sounds jammily successful. It's actually been spread over a long time - as our bank manager would confirm. And getting the second book from Sceptre - where Jocasta Brownlee is simply the best editor I have ever met, seriously - is probably my biggest break in a decade.' The success of Let Me Eat Cake is deserved. Ostensibly the story of Arnott's passion for dessert, it's actually a shimmering memoir about mothers, sons and the tenderness released into the world as a result of their harmony. Something like James Herriot at his best (if without the arms plunged into bovine genitalia), Let Me Eat Cake trades in the comic magic of the everyday. In it, a shopkeeper appears 'from a darkened room at the back like a guinea pig emerging from a hole'; Love Hearts act as instruments of courtship on the top deck of buses; and every time Arnott hears the slogan 'Mr Kipling Bakes Exceedingly Good Cakes', he's as enfeebled as 'a mast-bound sailor hearing the sound of Sirens'. His experience of Diana, Princess of Wales, during a working stint at Buckingham Palace, causes him to rise in her defence against the memory of Lord Mountbatten, 'known in the Royal Navy as Mountbottom'. His demeanour is otherwise sunny. 'I suspect how easy it feels to write a book may be connected to how much you enjoy writing it and I really did enjoy this one. Though it was about sweet food and overweight and so on it also turned into a partial autobiography. As I went on I found myself with the excuse to tell some of my most cherished anecdotes. The chance to fine tune the comedy in some of them felt like a privilege. Everyone who has ever written a word or even a speech knows the feeling of loathing what they have just produced. I know that feeling too well, but never had it with this one. To be horribly honest, rereading some bits makes me laugh out loud and, in an odd way, that seems to suggest the book might have legs.' Published in January, Sceptre held a pre-Christmas launch party in Devon; 150 books were sold to Arnott's friends alone. 'Their reaction was really lovely,' he says. 'Ultimately, however, it's about sales these days, and it's too early to tell. There has been a thoughtful response to the book's underlying libertarian message regarding what we eat, and my suspicion that I was not the only one exhausted by the anti-food obsessives has been validated.' Although both sexes identify with his confessions of sugar lust, Arnott has noticed a peculiar facility for bonding with women. 'I don't think they're very used to it from the average fellow, and I've found a complicity with women discussing the world of chocolate or cake which I rarely share with a man,' he says. 'I'm like the fag hag of the sweet world, and though I've never traded on it, I wonder how far it might get me. On the other hand, I have been boorish in the past in moaning about how truffles are overrated or mozzarella is like a pool of sick, so this complicity really only works in sugar products.' The topic of fat and its relationship with love, gender and gluttony deeply interests him. 'There is a Conservative politician in Britain called Nicholas Soames - Churchill's grandson - and a woman once said of a night of passion with him that 'it was like having a wardrobe fall on top of you with the key sticking out of the front'. Let's face it, once the washboard stomach or the six-pack has loosened over your trousers we're all fat men together, yet as a race, we seem to procreate with unabated efficiency.' Arnott doesn't understand why shame should sully his love of sweets. 'The leader in the self-loathing field in the UK has been William Leith, who writes beautifully, but spent a few hundred pages in his book The Hungry Years blaming Starbucks, KFC, his mum, analyst etc, when his only problem as far as I could see was straight-up greed. Far more worrying was his confession to a substantial coke habit and epic difficulties with onanism. 'He seemed to think his biggest life problem was his liking for toast and the 18 stone [114kg] this got him to on the scales. I believe that if he wore a T-shirt saying, 'I like Toast' or 'Big and Why Not?', and lost the covert element of scoffing on the quiet, his eating life would be all happiness. Then he could sort the drugs and self-abuse, and I'd love to read his book on either of those subjects.' Arnott regards the trend of 'big men' feeling ashamed of their food intake as new. 'It used to be a familiar spectacle, the man mountain dabbing his forehead with his handkerchief as he sweated his way through a mound of curry and rice, Pavarotti-style,' he says. 'If they feel shame now, I suspect it's almost entirely induced by the critical comments from others who ... should keep their big traps closed. And if you meet any rugby players in a restaurant swigging beer, even the plumpest of them feel no shame whatsoever. Nearer your part of the globe - India, the Philippines, Samoa - a big man is a big man and all the prouder for getting there.' Arnott rejects the idea of fat as the enemy. 'Obviously fat in hardened arteries is nobody's friend, but fat stored around women's bodies can be very beautiful, so long as they feel good about it,' he says. 'The body mass index is the witchfinder general of our times, inaccurate and alarmist in equal measure. You'd have to be mad not to have a sense of balance about fat. Of course, if you can't get up the stairs then maybe it's time to skip the treacle tart - but I'm a great mistruster of anti-fat statistics. Whatever happened to genial Friar Tuck, fat and happy? For men like me, and I suspect a lot of women and children too, Homer Simpson is the hero de nos jours. Mmm, doughnuts ...' His parting message to the large of trouser? 'If there's one book you buy this year, please go for Let Me Eat Cake. Print a T-shirt, show it to your friends, take them to the T-shirt shop, and start the big revolution. I'll be your leader, and you may worship me by gifts of cake - within their sell-by date please.' Able to resist wet tins of Quality Street in a single bound, he's only half-joking. WRITER'S NOTES Genre Memoir Age 45 Born Hackney, London Lives East Devon/West Dorset border, near Lyme Regis Family Wife and four children - two boys, aged 16 and 14, and twin girls, aged 11 Other works A Good Likeness: A Personal Story of Adoption (2000) Next project A book with the working title Is There Anybody Out There? covering 'every faith, creed, sect and half-baked notion I have come into contact with over the last four decades, while giving the reader a warm insight into what lies behind them'. Other jobs Executive producer on TV documentaries, currently on the Irish sculptor Rowan Gillespie. Occasional journalist. Girls' soccer coach. Formerly a playwright, then theatre reviewer, for The Independent and Time Out, then arts TV producer and film producer. What the papers say 'This is a lovely book - Arnott has written a story that is by turns thoughtful and comforting, and nostalgic as hell.' - William Leith in The Guardian Author's bookshelf Jennings and Darbishire by Anthony Buckeridge 'My favourite comic author from childhood, up there with Wodehouse, who used unity of school setting decades before Harry Potter.' Mephisto by Klaus Mann 'Great book on the decadent bourgeoisie who fell for the Nazis, brilliantly adapted as a movie and a great [Royal Shakespeare Company] show.' The Bible 'Eight chapters into Genesis and we've had Creation, Adam and Eve, the first fratricide, and Noah's Ark.' Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare ''Let me have men about me that are fat ... Yon'd Cassius has a lean and hungry look/ He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.' My manifesto.' The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien 'Masterclass in plot, narrative voice, and creating a fictional world. Greatest work on good and evil of the 20th century, and in Frodo's pity for Gollum, the most empathetic.' Waterland by Graham Swift 'Swift wrote about my own home turf in South London sans pareil. In Waterland he included the wet Fens to masterly narrative effect. Like a very well-structured dream.'