Novelist JOHN IRVING still shudders when he recalls his most embarrassing moment - straddling a choking KURT VONNEGUT.

The Cider House Rules writer was dining with his mentor, Vonnegut, when the literary great appeared to start choking.

Irving picks up the story, "I attempted to Heimlich (manoeuvre) him when he got up from the table.

"It's difficult when you're 5 (foot) 7 (inches) to Heimlich a man who is 6 (foot) 5 (inches). I wasn't putting the pressure where it should have been put, so I had to make an adjustment accordingly.

"I took his feet out and put him on all fours and sort of hammered on him from a rodeo position. Because he was my old teacher and my mentor and I love him, I was not going to let him die while he was having dinner with me.

"He finally was able to say... that he was not choking; that he has emphysema - so I almost killed my old teacher."