THE rain in Scotland falls mostly on the airport tarmac when I fly out to Spain to meet the exiled writer Alan Warner, so naturally I want to hate him. Big, broad-shouldered and sporting a heavy plaid shirt and rugged footwear, he at least looks like he once belonged to Oban.
For his only Scottish interview to promote his new book, Warner has lots of interesting things to say about the land of his birth, the one that first inspired him. Interesting and squirm-inducing things, such as: "It's like a love affair between Scotland and me and that's as it should be, but sometimes things are really awful and you hate it." More of that later, but first he takes me on a tour...
The author of four previous books, most famously Morvern Callar, and now a fifth, The Worms Can Carry Me To Heaven, Warner is actually exiled in Ireland, but he and his wife Hollie own an apartment in Javea on the Costa Blanca, smaller than Benidorm and Alicante down the coast and far less fish'n'chips-oriented. He comes to this childhood holiday haunt to recharge after the writerly slog. "There's nothing glamorous about being a writer," he says, and to be fair, at this point, we can't actually see the sea.
Climbing the narrow alleyways of the old town, he makes an excellent guide, with the emphasis on sex and violence: "There's where they poured the boiling oil... check out the name of that bar next to the cathedral - Tempacions." He also throws in a literary tour, quoting from Morvern Callar the line about how, because houses are hunkered up, it's possible for two young girls to shake hands, almost kiss, across the balconies. Self-referencing is allowed, though, because it was to Javea that Morvern fled, even though the meeja didn't listen and changed it to drugged-up Ibiza. Typical.
"They were determined that we were unique and not part of a tradition," he says of the press reaction to the emergence of the ScotLit gang of Warner, Irvine Welsh, James Kelman etc, a decade ago. "We wanted to bring it all back to Robert Louis Stevenson and Confessions Of A Justified Sinner, but they were having none of it. For them it was: 'Nightclubs, nightclubs!'
"I was always portrayed as being face down in a pub. Mind you, back then we didn't do ourselves any favours. Once, the New Yorker sent Richard Avedon to photograph Welshy and me and John Burnside. I think we did the shoot in the Scotia in Glasgow. I definitely remember the bar bill: 6,000 quid. We were on triple Remy Martins. By the end Burnside was drinking Guinness out of an ashtray."
Warner, the former British Rail shunter, stops for more pictures. Now, 41, he's slimmed down since putting his own Guinness Years behind him. The Ecstasy Years are over too, and, while (male, always male) journos used to indulge in binge-envy, desperately trying to outdo the length of each other's liquid interviews with him, this one has to report that today Warner sticks to Heineken, only clocking up half a dozen bottles by the time the afternoon sun drops beneath the awning of our beachfront bar.
Mind you, the author of The Man Who Walks is still The Man Who Talks. He's relentless. He loves to quote other writers: Melville, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, all to make a single point. A lot of things to him are "strange". And don't get him started on rock music, and especially not his favourite band, krautrockers Can. I thought I knew a lot about Can. But Warner - who dedicates books to them, detects birdsong on their remasters, appears on stage with Can bassist Holger Czukay reading a short story about Britney Spears soundtracking Baghdad bombing raids, is in fact a bass-guitarist manque - puts me to shame.
WARNER IS WELL-READ, well-listened, and only too well aware of how it might be interpreted back home when he says that these days he prefers fine Spanish wine to wash down his gambas - prawns imported from Scotland. If they came from Oban he would definitely know the fishermen.
"Don't make me sound like Sean Connery," he says. "I used to slag him off too. 'What the f**k does he know, living in Spain?'" Warner knows this, though: he's changed. As a writer. As a man. As a Scot.
Writing first. Fours years ago, Warner remarked that books about crazy wanderers, or supermarket checkout girls, were not Booker Prize material. So is The Worms Can Carry Me To Heaven - big in size and theme, about a man told he's dying of Aids reflecting on his life and loves - his bid for the Booker?
"I f****n' hope so," he says. No, he didn't mean that to sound quite so shameless. "I wish I was a popular writer. I wish the things I'm obsessed with were accessible. Some guys are Dickens, others are Celine. I'm more of a grinding, night-time existentialist Celine kind of writer."
The most striking thing about Worms, however, is that it's Warner's first non-Scottish book. "That's something I said I couldn't imagine myself doing, but it's kind of inevitable," he says. "Life moves on and suddenly you realise you haven't been in the corner pub for three years and you used to be there every three hours. You lose touch."
Did the palette get too limited? "No, it's more that I became excited by other things. Maybe, since we've had Kelman's American book and Janice Galloway's Clara, there's this post-Parliament freeing-up of Scottish concerns and new vistas open up." He laughs. "Aye, we used to sit in the pub, smoking, drinking during happy hour, dreaming our self-determined dream. Then what do we do when we get it? Ban happy hours, ban smoking." He sparks another Marlboro Light in jokey defiance of the hameland.
Warner talks like he writes. Reminiscing about his childhood, there's the same lyrical imagery: a river, a favourite spot for swimming, and a "great oil slick of eels" sending the girls screaming to the banks. And his father in a rage after Warner's big sister Hazel dropped his war medals between cracks in the stairs - "but being a Yorkshireman he was too tight to rip up the boards, so they're still there."
While he claims to have new inspirations, though, Worms echoes earlier books. "Water, drowning, death. You find your two or three myths and explore those for the rest of your life."
Warner's hero, Lolo Follano, is similar to him in age, and if his creator didn't look so contented, gazing upon the world through Ray-Bans, I'd think this was his midlife crisis novel. He admits, though, to some degree of emotional audit of the decade since Morvern Callar.
"Everything changed so quickly. Dad died in 1996, then Mum in 2000. The last 10 years have been a terrible time and a great time. When you suffer losses like that, it's like a beloved jigsaw with a couple of pieces missing. You think you'll recover but you don't, ever." But 1996 was also the year he met Hollie, 14 years his junior. He asked her out after falling through a plate-glass door and they were married four weeks later.
Worms is more autobiographical than Warner first realised. Lolo's parents owned a hotel and he lived on the premises, just like Warner (though, tragically, he was not taught to swim in its reserve water-tank by pretty Vietnamese girls). On his deathbed, Lolo's father reprimands his designer son for his frivolous life. Warner's former sergeant dad did this, too.
"He didn't disapprove of the writing, he just didn't understand it. My parents were working-class, not well educated, and had no concept of culture. When I went to university Dad asked me: 'Will it be warm?'" But he fascinated Warner and later wormed his way into the books. On Mull he ran a shop that sold everything, "from coffee to coffins". Once he carried a wooden-box on his back all the way to Sanna; that ended up in These Demented Lands.
So what, then, of demented Scotland - when does he hate it? "When it's small-minded and flat, which it can sometimes be in a thousand ways. When you grew up in the 1980s with the left-wing idealism that my crew all had, it's disappointing the way things have turned out."
He mentions a Scottish newspaper which relegated Morvern Callar to a few paragraphs beneath a 2,000-word review of a book by an English writer on "bloody trench warfare". Another which drooled about his "bloody luscious lips". I am under strict orders never to pass round his phone numbers, lest he gets any more requests to nominate his "favourite f****n' olive oil".
"I never get asked to do anything ... interesting. Maybe everyone's a bit scared of me," he adds (though maybe he's too expensive now). "There's an anti-intellectualism in the air. That's probably true everywhere, but you wonder about the romanticism of sitting in Polwarth in Edinburgh, typing away, fighting for 'the culture' when you get more reviewed in London than Scotland."
He checks himself. He admits "writer ego" is talking here. But Warner wants to be taken more seriously than he is. He has outgrown the chemical-generation chroniclers like Alex Garland and William Sutcliffe and proved himself a finer writer. But the "perfect book, the one with everything in it" still eludes him.
Worms is not it. Maybe it will be the "long Scottish book" which is eternally a work-in-progress. He says he will never publish it and this seems a pity. Just the other day, he added to it the story of his father's lost medals. Is it parochial to want Alan Warner to continue to be a Scottish voice?
As someone inspired by punk rock, he worries he's turning into the writerly equivalent of dinosaur bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, ripe for a kicking from a new generation of scribbling insurgents. Fair enough, he says. But as the bikini-ed babes retrieve their towels after a hard day's bronzing, he starts to sound pretty punky again.
"I want to write the great civil service novel, about all these Scottish Office worker-ants who had to administer the poll tax. I'd set it entirely in their local. I want to write a book about Tesco's because Oban's got one and it's wiped out the town. My hero would get banned from the store and end up starving to death.
"And do you know what I'd rather do than win the Booker? Jack Bruce is the greatest bassist there has ever been and he's Scottish of course - I'd love to write the words for his next album."
You can take Alan Warner out of Scotland, but you can't take Scotland out of him. When I arrive home, it's still raining. More fool those of us who stay.
The Worms Can Carry Me To Heaven (Jonathan Cape) is published on May 4, 11.99