Monthly Archives: June 2013

Fay Presto Magician: the Drug I’m Hooked on is Applause

Susan de Muth in bed with Fay Presto: From glitzy parties back to my little flat, just like magic

Wednesday, 10 August 1994
Fay Presto is a magician. She lives in London.

NIGHT is the best time for magic. We all leave our problems behind and I can transport people to another place where that playing card I just tore up really has stuck itself back together again. It’s much harder to make that illusion hold in the cold light of day when the hideousness of life returns.

Apart from the innate human propensity to expect magic things to happen at night, the right kind of artificial light also helps a trick along. Proper lighting is essential – as it is in real life. How often have you been to the ladies’ on a big night out feeling just fine until you caught sight of yourself in the mirror, horribly illuminated in neon, and lost all your confidence?

Since I had a gender-swap operation several years ago I have fought for the right to be a real person, but nobody will let me forget my past. I’m a good magician, for God’s sake, but there’s always this curiosity, this prejudice that deprives me of opportunities – especially of gaining the social acceptability that comes with television appearances. The pain this has caused me has kept me awake in the past . . . but I’ve dealt with it now. And I no longer dream.

I work about three nights a week, mostly at private functions. I have a residency at Langan’s restaurant and do a lot of film premieres – they don’t know what to do with themselves at those glitzy parties. I peak around midnight and am on a high afterwards – I don’t drink so I go for beans on toast in a cafe to wind down. Now that I’ve got a mobile phone I can call up showbusiness friends who are also working late and arrange to meet.

Even if I’m staying in, my bedtime is still 4am. I’m very active at night: I recently completed a novel, which I started as therapy, bashing away at the word processor until I was so exhausted I’d just crash out. I never have trouble sleeping now unless the dawn chorus starts. I hate birds. I recently bought a New Age CD of waves breaking, thinking how nice it would be to drop off soothed by that sound – but it’s full of bloody seagulls]

It can be quite a culture shock coming home to my council flat after the glitzy events I go to. I used to have a portable ivory tower in the form of my old limo but it’s broken now. I also had a chauffeur, Vic, who was a motorcycle messenger with me back in the old days. Vic always rescued me when people were unkind. He works for someone else now. These days I drive myself home in my lovely Triumph Herald, which I can usually fix if it breaks down.

I’m not afraid to be out on my own at night. I walk tall and square. By the time I’m on my way home all the muggers are usually fast asleep anyway.

I was unlucky once, though – I was in the lift going up to my flat when a bloke stuck a knife in my ribs and asked for my purse. Using sleight of hand I hid my purse behind my back and emptied the contents of my handbag on the floor saying he could look for himself, I had no money. When he bent over I hit him on the head. I’ve always been courageous.

I’ve tried to make my bedroom as nice as possible – after all it is 50 per cent of my living space. I have a huge mirror, a proper silvered one that is kind, and a four-poster bed where William Stanley, my teddy bear, is waiting to cuddle me – though he usually ends up on the floor. I work abroad a lot and always take William Stanley with me to make a strange hotel room more friendly.

I never go to bed with a face on and I cleanse and moisturise every night. I don’t think it’s a bad face for 46, do you? Once in bed I run a few people through my mind. It’s a kind of prayer.

There are costumes all over the place in my bedroom and I keep my magic paraphernalia there. It does make me think about tricks when I’m going off to sleep and I suppose that would bother me if I saw it as work, but I don’t – it’s my life. The drug I’m hooked on is applause and you can’t buy a fix – you can only earn it. A spontaneous standing ovation is even better than great sex.

I’m quite used to sleeping alone. There is no love of my life – who could cope with it? I’m not interested in settling down. Mr Right would have to be a pretty special person.

(Photograph omitted)

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Terry Pratchett: ‘I Once Got Someone Else’s Dream’

In bed with Susan de Muth: At night I separate fax from fantasy: Terry Pratchett

SUSAN DE MUTH

Wednesday, 10 November 1993
I NEVER dream about my own work, nor does the fantasy world of my books overlap with my dreaming. I have to be very careful to be in control of my imagination rather than live in it – otherwise I’d be a candidate for the white canvas jacket with the optional long sleeves.

I once got somebody else’s dream. I was in some kind of weird machine that was producing a revolutionary new form of energy and a little man was patiently explaining everything to me in meticulous detail. I didn’t understand a word and I thought, ‘This is the big revelation after months of research and I’ve got it by mistake instead of some poor bugger at Cambridge’.

I work until the day seems to reach a natural conclusion – sometimes not before 2am. After dark, time becomes my own again. Nobody’s going to phone me or send me faxes and that gives me a second lease of life. At night I refine what I’ve written during the day with some background noise from the radio – usually classical music. I always stop at a very exciting moment so that I’ve got a treat to look forward to when I start again in the morning.

Night is also an extremely good time for making energetic plans for tomorrow – because you don’t actually have to do it. If you start thinking ‘I’m going to cut the lawn’ at three o’clock in the afternoon a little voice will always say to you ‘well why don’t you do it now?’

Before I go to bed I have to double check that everything I’ve written is saved on the word processor. That’s the modern neurotic for you. I once lost a whole novel late at night when I kept pressing ‘yes’ to questions like ‘do you really want to do something as bloody stupid as format your entire hard disk?’

I fall asleep the minute my head touches the pillow. I’ve got the sandman in a forthcoming book – only this one doesn’t sprinkle sand around, he hits people with the whole bag] That’s how sleep is for me. In winter I tend to be bear-like and hibernate: I don’t go out and I sleep much more. Those Tupperware skies weigh heavily on me. Lyn and I ease ourselves kindly into each new day and the slow process from horizontal to vertical can take up to half an hour, with many cups of tea and lying down for another five minutes. I used to bustle down to fetch the post but there’s so much of it these days that Lyn insists on filleting it first.

Since my books have become best sellers I’ve been away on tour a lot. Conjugal rites at such times consist of handing over a suitcase of dirty washing and picking up a new one on my very occasional free days. At other times though, Lyn sees more of me than most wives see their husbands – I’m always popping down for a cup of coffee and a chat.

I start work the minute I manage to get up – I like to make a dent on the day by getting an hour or so in before breakfast. Morning is a clear time; I often wake up with problems I’d had squiggling around in my head the night before somehow sorted out. The brain does a lot of work while you sleep, filing and tidying things up. I don’t believe that dreams are generally anything more than random images thrown out as it goes about this business, but once every six weeks or so I get a real humdinger. These unnervingly convincing experiences often involve popping up in other people’s relationships and affect me way into the next day.

The other night I had a dream that took place in Victorian dress. A young lady was miffed with the character I was playing because he’d promised to marry her and hadn’t. I felt vaguely ashamed all the next morning . . . then by about 10 o’clock I had to say to myself, ‘What are you doing? Why are you thinking like this. This is 1993]’ I fight like hell against supernatural explanations but it’s undeniably quite strange.

The most meaningful nocturnal experience I’ve ever had was when I was a boy. I was sitting on a fence, looking up at the stars and I suddenly thought ‘actually, technically, in terms of the universe, I’m just as much looking down at the stars as up’. I nearly fell off the fence and I suppose that’s when I realised that there is always more than one way of looking at ‘reality’.

Terry Pratchett is a best-selling fantasy writer. He lives in a cottage in Somerset with his wife, Lyn, and daughter, Rhianna.

Terry Pratchett’s latest book, ‘Men At Arms’, is published by Victor Gollancz, ( pounds 14.99).

(Photograph omitted)

Bin Laden Bodyguard ‘Can My Story Stop Others Joining Al-Qaeda?’

Nasser al-Bahri was Osama bin Laden’s personal bodyguard from 1997 to 2001. In his memoir, Guarding bin Laden: My Life in al-Qaeda, published today for the first time in English, he describes how he became radicalized, defied his father and ran away to the Bosnian ‘jihad’ in search of ‘martyrdom’. Soon, he moved to Afghanistan where he fulfilled his dream of joining al-Qaeda; Osama bin Laden was quick to single him out to train for his own security detail.

Al-Bahri’s first doubts arose when he was instructed to cold-bloodedly murder a colleague as ‘practise’ for killing an American soldier.

 London, UK, 22 June 2013                                       

Later, he met the men who would carry out the 9/11 attacks…playing a video game which simulated flying a plane into towers. As the organization geared up for 9/11, tensions mounted and al-Bahri began to look for a way out. Married, and with a baby on the way, he had started to lose faith in violent extremism and longed for a ‘normal’ life.

After a row with bin Laden, al-Bahri abruptly left, with his family, for his native Yemen. On the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ list, he was arrested on arrival and interrogated by the bureau’s Ali Soufan who described him as ‘a gold mine of information’. After four years in jail, under threat of extradition to Guantanamo, he convinced Yemeni President Saleh, in a private interview, of his repentance.

Still wanted in 70 countries, al-Bahri is now a taxi driver in Sana’a, the only verified senior al-Qaeda leader at liberty to tell his story. ‘I was persuaded to write this book because I realize I am a witness to history,’ he says, ‘And because I hope that it will stop other young men from making the same mistakes as me and trying to join alQaeda’

For Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Bahri’s account of al-Qaeda is ‘more important than that of any high-ranking prisoner we transferred to Guantanamo’; he has given international intelligence services a clear picture of what they were dealing with in Afghanistan and what we may face again if – as many experts predict – al-Qaeda re-establishes itself in Syria and Iraq.

In vivid detail, Bahri describes every day life in al-Qaeda’s secret headquarters with its elaborate defences, strict hierarchy and organizational methods. He tells of battles and suicide bombings, spies in the camp and numerous assassination attempts on bin Laden.

On a more personal level, he discusses bin Laden’s personality and habits, his relationships with his four wives and his children, and his attitude to his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri – now al-Qaeda’s leader. Bahri also reveals how the Taliban and al-Qaeda became  inextricably linked and were helped by Pakistan’s Army and Intelligence.

Guarding bin Laden: My Life in al-Qaeda was written with celebrated Figaro journalist, Georges Malbrunot. It was originally published in French in 2010 as Dans l’Ombre de ben Laden.

This is the first English translation, by Susan de Muth and is published by Thin Man Press, London.

Guarding bin Laden: My Life in al-Qaeda is available in paperback from Amazon priced £9.99/$14.95/ €12.99 and on Kindle and all e-book formats.

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