Publishing News Sunny McCreary interview The first thing that strikes you about Sunny McCreary is his face. It is a face that turns heads. The waiters in the Dorchester tea-room, unfazed by film stars, glamour queens, world leaders, stare frankly, mouths ajar. Throughout our conversation they will spill things, walk into walls, in one case obliviously pour tea over the lap of a shrieking dowager in their distraction, unable to look away from McCreary's unique physiognomy until the maitre d' comes and drags them out.

As we shake hands I stare too. I forget my opening question and blurt, 'Good God, your face!'

McCreary impishly picks up a napkin. 'Have I got something on it?'

'It - It - '

'It is a baboon's arse,' he acknowledges sadly.

This is no mere metaphor. McCreary holds the ambiguous distinction of being the first recipient - and indeed the last - of a baboon's arse face transplant.

'It was a pioneering operation in its day,' he says with a hint of pride, 'but no-one ever followed up the path that had been blazed. Science is full of these dead ends.'

The surgery was not elective. His original face had been tragically burned off in a freak accident resulting from substance abuse. Despite the surgeon's subsequent arrest, he says he remains grateful to him and that no-one could have done any better at the time. The operation was intensely painful; the result has made him almost completely shunned by the rest of mankind, and indeed the animal kingdom, 'apart from baboons, who are aroused.'

I think I see already why McCreary's publishers (Boxtree, making an unexpected foray into the human interest field after hitherto being known for humour books) are confident that his memoir, My Godawful Life, will be the next big thing in the Misery Lit genre and, in the words of one ecstatic reader, 'the gloom-ride of the summer.'

But when I say this, he laughs hollowly.

'The face,' he says, 'the face is almost nothing. Compared to some of the other things that have happened to me in my life, having a baboon's arse for a face is a picnic.'

He can't be serious. He is. As I listen in disbelief he proceeds to reel off a list of tragedies and afflictions that would make Job realise he had it lucky.

His mother being a whore ('although she preferred the term Dick Technician'). His stepfather hammering nails into his head ('He couldn't afford wood'). The tragic death of his first love ('I can still hear her gurgling goodbye. I couldn't hold her hand because it had already dropped off'). Horrific abuse by nuns in a convent school ('The first five minutes of The Sound of Music still make me puke with fear'). Being sold into slavery and ending up as a child soldier ('Not as much fun as it's cracked up to be. The bigger children hogged all the flamethrowers'). The years as a teenage prostitute for lorry drivers ('the worst part was having to eat service station food'). Addiction to Helium ('I felt like a man, though I sounded like a mouse.')

An hour later we have barely reached his adulthood but the litany of woe goes on. His time trapped in the London sewers, membership of a psychotic cult, eating disorders, alcoholism, mental problems - he has had a neurosis named after him, Sunny's Foreboding, defined as 'an entirely justifiable paranoia'.

It is almost inconceivable it could all have happened to one man. It is as if all the themes of the Misery Lit canon have been heaped on one misshapen head. No wonder his editor is sanguine that McCreary's autobiography will defy predictions that the trend for 'Painful Life' books has run its course due to having nowhere more heartbreaking left to go.

'Sunny,' he told me, 'will have them sobbing like never before.'

McCreary appears confident of this too. 'No-one has suffered as I have suffered,' he says airily. To my slight unease he proceeds to loftily dismiss his predecessors in the field. Dave Pelzer? 'A pampered mother's boy. Fauntleroy, I call him.' Constance Briscoe? 'Not that ugly. I'd do her. If I could.' (McCreary sadly lost his genitals in another freak accident some years ago.) Frank McCourt? 'Might not even be Irish. I've been told he was born Maurice Spencer-Fotheringay in a manor house outside Henley.' James Frey? 'I knew he was a fraud from the start. That story about the root canal! When I was in rehab, the dental facilities were a long piece of string tied to a doornob.'

If one deplores McCreary's combativeness in asserting that no-one else has come close to knowing the sorrows he's seen, it has to be admitted that he may have reason for the claim.

'The man has a genius for accumulating grief,' his editor enthuses. 'You name it, he's lived through it. He's been attacked by penguins, midgets, bands of Cossacks, diseases and creatures people thought were extinct in the Middle Ages. That's why we feel able to promise, "A tragedy on every page or your money back."'

By this time Sunny seems almost inured to suffering. We discuss the traumatic episode where he was trapped down a mineshaft with his best friend and forced to eat him.

That must, I suggest, have been very tough to get through?

'Yes, I had to chew him very thoroughly, although his thighs were quite tender, especially after he started to putrefy ... oh, wait, I see. Yes, I suffered a terrible heartburn. I mean, heartache.'

He toys with one day writing a cannibal cookbook, pointing out the choicest cuts for anyone ever caught in a similar situation.

Inevitably there has already been talk of a film, with one Hollywood leading man having reportedly acquired a baboon in order to study its hindquarters in preparation for the role. For McCreary the future at least looks bright. As we step out into the sunlight and take a turn about the park, I ask if he is ready for literary success and if it will change his life.

'I take things one day at a time. Even if this book does well, there's the problem of following it up. I have learned to prepare for the best and expect the worst.'

Thirty seconds later he is horribly gored in the first wild boar attack recorded in Hyde Park in 500 years. He needn't worry about the sequel.

Interview by Michael Kelly

Author portrait by Premee Mohamed

My Godawful Life