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Martin Amis: 'You have to be slightly innocent to be a novelist'
On babysitting duty, and itching to play pinball, Martin Amis tells Tom Lamont why he's leaving Britain for friends and family

Trust to a year's worth of press attention, most of it unflattering, and you too would enter Martin Amis's house expecting the worst: the 61-year-old novelist slagging off lollipop ladies, or torturing puppies, or putting recyclables in the wrong bin – on purpose!

Because whether it be his remarks about euthanasia (last year) or an injudicious quip about children's authors (this), Amis has developed a knack for outraging people. Never intentionally, he says, sitting in the front room of his London home. "I say what I happen to think about things, often only rehashing a paragraph I've written. And it gets taken up…"

In person he's an agreeable man, generous with his time, speaking softly because there's a granddaughter, his second, napping upstairs. Sweetly, he stockpiles discontinued 10p pieces for an old pinball machine he owns. "You have to be slightly innocent to be a novelist. You can't have too much nous. It gets in the way, somehow."

There's no scandal-mongering. What you do get in conversation with Amis is a heavy peppering of scholarly reference. Lines recalled from Mailer, Vonnegut, Nabokov; Ian McEwan's joke and John Banville's advice; Kafka's bad novels and David Simon's "great ear". Full stanzas, too, from Auden and Larkin… Not familiar with everything cited, I find it safest to arrange my face into a look of broad understanding, trusting there won't be a quiz at the end.

Perhaps he can tell. Amis says he fears "the long read is a dying art" – which isn't a fogeyish complaint, he adds, no doubt fearing another embroidered headline ("Amis: You're all dumbos"). "But there are so many claims on our attention. Very literate people admit they can't read books any more. And just as the literate brain is physically different to the illiterate brain, the digitally savvy brain is different again. It's a physiological change, not just a moral one."

He's still getting plenty of reading done, "more canonical stuff now". The suggestion is of opportunity dwindling. "Even correcting proofs of your novel becomes slightly irksome because, you know, time is finite."

His friend Christopher Hitchens is being treated for cancer in America. Amis and his family will soon move there, in part to be closer to Hitchens, also to the elderly mother of Amis's wife, Isabel Fonseca. "The future is much smaller than the past, now."

Seeking a cheerful end, I ask if he's been watching David Simon's latest TV drama, Treme. Amis was one of the American writer's earliest champions. "We're friends," he says, "but no." He pulls a face, a little amused, a little rueful. "His stuff's just on too late for me."

Martin Amis's latest novel, The Pregnant Widow (Vintage £7.99), is out now in paperback

The Guardian