THE first story in William Boyd’s fifth collection – The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth – is The Man Who Liked Kissing Women. Ludo Abernathy is an art dealer who is not “on the pull” any more. After three decades of adulterous affairs, three marriages, three sets of children, he restricts himself to serial snogging, refusing to sleep with the women with whom he indulges in passionate “oral fornication.”

Fear not, the preening philanderer, who has kissed 42 women in five years, thus “saving” his marriage, gets his comeuppance. The story was, of course, written before the current scandal surrounding allegations about sexual harassment and abuse by Harvey Weinstein et al, but then, as Scottish-born Boyd acknowledges, there is nothing new under the sun.

I interview the courtly-mannered, charming Boyd (65) at his enviable, art-and-book-filled house in Chelsea, which he shares with his screenwriter wife, Susan. They met when students at Glasgow University and she is the dedicatee of his many books. They have no children, dividing their time between London and a home, with vineyard, in south-west France, as well as frequently visiting family in Scotland.

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We talk first about the timeous nature of the sardonic saga of Ludo the Lothario, “not the nicest human being on the planet – but then the devil has all the best tunes!

“Goodness me, yes, it is very apt – but Ludo is not quite as malevolent as Weinstein,” notes the author of 14 hugely popular, international best-selling, literary novels. All of his work is still in print, from his debut, A Good Man in Africa, to his masterpiece, Any Human Heart, which he adapted into a Bafta-winning series for Channel 4. “A lot of luck has been involved,” he insists.

As a successful screenwriter, he has insider knowledge of the movie world – some 17 of his screenplays have been filmed, including The Trench (1981), starring the youthful Daniel (007) Craig, which Boyd also directed. (More recently, Boyd took on the mantle of Ian Fleming with his Bond novel, Solo.)

“All these shocking revelations are deeply shaming for the film industry. It is a power thing. When you have power over people, your worst instincts bubble to the surface. Everyone in the film business knew. They all had their Weinstein story. I never met him but there were many stories about his predatory nature. There are lots of other stories to do with his horrible nature as a producer: he would buy films, make the director spend six months cutting and editing it to his whim, then not release it. I know of many who were bruised by such experiences.

“I’m glad to say I have been protected from such excesses. I only work with people I like since filmmaking is not my day job. Although I was once in a meeting with a producer when his assistant – a young man – came in and this man threw a chair at him, screaming and shouting. That’s another thing about power, humiliating people.

“You come across it in every walk of life – politics, the military, the police... I have certainly seen behaviour that was less than civilised in the film industry, which is full of bullies and inadequate men anyway, horrible little geeks. Hollywood has always been a boys’ town,” sighs the novelist, playwright and essayist. “Maybe we are at a societal tipping point, with people finally being called to account.”

Currently working on a proposed long-form TV series based on the great Austrian writer Joseph Roth’s novel, The Emperor’s Tomb, Boyd is also adapting Graham Greene’s last published novel, The Captain and Enemy, for the cinema. “It’s classic Greeneland,” he enthuses. “It’s grimy, post-war, basement flats in London, then it moves to Panama and dirty CIA-funded wars.”

The son of Fifers, a doctor and a teacher, born in Ghana and educated at Gordonstoun (Prince Charles was a contemporary), Glasgow and Oxford Universities, Boyd uses his intimate knowledge of cinema to terrific effect in a long, filmic story, The Vanishing Game: An Adventure... in which a resting actor, who specialises in dying early and whose films have mostly gone “straight to radio,” is chased across Scotland by armed assassins in a Buchanesque adventure. Thanks to all those dead-end roles, he knows how to fashion a timebomb. While Bethany, in one of the chapters that make up the novella about her, becomes a film extra.

Why are so many of his characters writers, artists, photographers, actors?

“I’m writing a lot about actors lately – maybe because I spend a lot of time with them since I’ve been writing plays, too. But it’s that reinvention thing. They are always shape-shifting, like spies, which fascinates me. A lot of my friends are actors – Rufus Sewell, Joan Collins, Daniel [Craig]... I’ve never been an actor, of course, but I have just read these short stories for an audiobook, which I rather enjoyed so I may do all my books. I can’t do accents, however!”

Another spikily observed story, Unsent Letters, has an aspiring, embittered film director writing to potential collaborators – “Meryl” and “Marty” – and roundly abusing those he believes have let him down.

Is there a ring of truth in the so-called “letters of death”?

“Yes, I do write such letters. They are usually to do with professional disappointments, unanswered calls, people behaving badly. I would never reply to a shockingly bad review, say, but I’m regularly let down by people in the film and television industry; certain actors as well. It’s the waste of what Bob Dylan calls “my precious time” that makes me angry. I am smart enough to always run them by Susan, who says, ‘You must not send that.’

“I put it aside, read it again in the morning, then don’t send it. What you write in anger can be devastating in the cold light of day. There are certainly a few unsent letters in my archive. People do not behave with basic good manners in the film and television industries, or indeed decorum, which brings us back to Weinstein. It’s all about how you deal with other human beings – but what goes around comes around.”

Why are there several recurring characters in the new collection?

“Only in short stories do I write sequels,” he replies. “There is a failed writer, Yves Hill, in my last short story collection, Fascination, whom Bethany meets; he also features in another story, Humiliation. I’ve recently adapted the first story I wrote about him, The View From Yves Hill, into a new play. He seems to have taken on a life of his own.

“There’s another character, Edward Scully, an adolescent in my first collection, On the Yankee Station. I’ve followed him through ‘chasing skirt’ as a student, marriage, fatherhood. He is my evil twin – he’s been in the same places I have been in, but he’s a much nastier person than I am. I’m much nicer.

“I can’t stand people who say, ‘I didn’t like your character in this book’ or ‘I didn’t fall in love with this or that character.’ Who are these lovely people they know? Put up your hand if you’re perfect. We’re all flawed. We have many facets. If you are a serious writer, you want to examine such characters – not saints! Complex characters are the raw material of literature. Write it slant, as Elizabeth Bishop said. I don’t write romances or fairy tales. All my characters have their dark side. That’s why I’ve written some seven stories about Scully, who is sort of following in my footsteps. He will keep popping up everywhere.”

We know that Scully is not nice – his name tells us so. Names are a Boyd trademark, from the extravagantly named Logan Mountstuart in Any Human Heart to Lysander Rief in Waiting for Sunrise and Amory Clay in Sweet Caress. In The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth virtually everyone is unhappy with their given name – Inigo Reid in The Diarists tells his mother he’s to be addressed as Joe, while Bethany mulls over the surname of every man she meets, pairing it with her first name, lest he be a prospective husband.

“If I call a character a good name, they always live and breathe,” Boyd explains. ‘I collect names. If I hear an interesting one, I write it down. I’ve a lot of Russian characters and French characters in my new novel, which will come out next autumn, so I am still choosing first names that go with surnames.

“I like even minor characters to have interesting names, even if they appear for only two pages. They become more memorable. I always give the bore an interesting name. We all reinvent ourselves, subtly adjusting our persona with the names we give ourselves. My name is William, but I am called every variation of the name except Billy, although I have received letters meant for the Scottish actor Billy Boyd on occasions.

“At school, I was Bill Boyd, which gave me a sense of disquiet because I didn’t feel I was a Bill. To my old art teacher, who lives nearby, I’m forever Bill – he’s known me since I was 13. My family all called me Willie, though everyone now calls me Will. Only to my French friends am I Will-i-am. I don’t understand why some critics have taken me to task for characters’ ‘strange’ names. It’s an interesting way of establishing identity.

“I mean, Ludo Abernathy! You just know he’s going to be a pretentious git, don’t you?”

The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth, by William Boyd (Viking, £14.99).