William Boyd (writer)

William Boyd (writer)

William Boyd, CBE (born 7 March, 1952 in Accra, Ghana) is a contemporary Scottish novelist and screenwriter.


Of Scottish descent, Boyd was born in Accra, Ghana on 7 March 1952 and spent much of his early life there and in Nigeria where his mother was a teacher and his father, a doctor, and he was in Nigeria during the Biafran War, which had a profound effect on him. "It was crazy, idiotic, and not at all like I imagined war to be. All my received opinions from books and television turned out to be misguided." ["Toronto Globe and Mail", Ben King interview, Profile of William Boyd, 2002 [http://www.benking.co.uk/art/Profile_William_Boyd.php] ]

At the age of nine years he attended Gordonstoun school, in Moray, Scotland and then Nice University (Diploma of French Studies) and Glasgow University (MA Hons in English and Philosophy), where he edited the "Glasgow University Guardian". He then moved to Jesus College, Oxford in 1975 and completed a PhD thesis on Shelley (as did Logan in "Any Human Heart"). For a brief period he worked at the "New Statesman" magazine as a TV critic, then he returned to Oxford as an English lecturer teaching the contemporary novel at St Hilda's College (1980-83). It was while he was here that his first novel, "A Good Man in Africa" (1981), was published.

Boyd spent eight years in academia, during which time his first film, "Good and Bad at Games", was made. When he was offered a college lecturership, which would mean spending more time teaching, he was forced to choose between teaching and writing.

Boyd was selected in 1983 as one of the 20 'Best of Young British Novelists' in a promotion run by Granta magazine and the Book Marketing Council. He also became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in the same year, and is also an "Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres". He has been presented with honorary doctorates in literature from the universities of St. Andrews, Stirling and Glasgow. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2005.

Boyd has been with his wife Susan since they met as students at Glasgow University and all his books are dedicated to her. His wife is editor-at-large of "Harper's Bazaar" magazine, and they currently spend about thirty to forty days a year in the US. He and his wife have a house in Chelsea, West London but spend most of the year at their chateau in Bergerac in south west France, where Boyd produces award-winning wines. ["The Observer", September 3rd, 2006, 'My week: William Boyd', [http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/generalfiction/story/0,,1863747,00.html] ] .



His novels include: "A Good Man in Africa" (1981), "An Ice-Cream War" (1982), "Brazzaville Beach" (1991), "The Blue Afternoon" (1993), and "Armadillo" (1998). His eighth novel, "Any Human Heart" (2002), is a history of the twentieth century told through the fictional journals of novelist Logan Mountstuart. In 2004, "Fascination", a new collection of short stories was published, and in 2005, "Bamboo", a collection of non-fiction. His most recent novel "Restless", set in World War II, was published on October 3, 2006.


Boyd makes a complete separation between screen and novel-writing: for him, 'they are as dissimilar as opera and theatre'. ["Financial Times", February 14, 2005, Arts & Style: 'A soft spot for cinema' [http://search.ft.com/ftArticle?queryText=William+Boyd&y=8&aje=true&x=17&id=050214001081&page=3] ]

A former television critic for the "New Statesman" magazine (1981-3), William Boyd is also a scriptwriter who has written twelve scripts for feature film and television productions. His feature films include: "Stars and Bars" (1988), adapted from his own novel; "Mister Johnson" (1990); "A Good Man in Africa" (1994), also adapted from his own novel; "Scoop (novel)" (1987), adapted from the Evelyn Waugh novel, and Vargas Llosa's "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter". He was one of a number of writers who worked on "Chaplin", Richard Attenborough's 1993 biopic based partly on the actor's own autobiography. He also wrote and made his debut as a director with the low-budget drama "The Trench", set in the first world war just before the Battle of the Somme and first screened in 1999. ["Guardian Unlimited", September 12, 1999, 'Boyd's own story', The Trench [http://film.guardian.co.uk/Feature_Story/interview/0,,81449,00.html>] ] Man to Man - for which he wrote the script - had its world premiere at the Berlinale in 2005 (the epic tale of an attempt by three Victorian men to prove to the world that they have found evolution's 'missing link').

His television screenwriting credits include: "Armadillo" (2001), set in London, and following the adventures of insomniac loss-adjustor Lorimer Black, the book was adapted for television as a four-part series screened by the BBC with the screenplay written by the author; "Dutch Girls" (1985); and "Good and Bad at Games" (1983), about English public school life. A radio play, the ghost story "A Haunting", was first broadcast by BBC Radio 4 in December 2001.


In 1998, Boyd published "", which presents the paintings and tragic biography of a supposed New York-based 1950s Abstract Expressionist painter named Nat Tate, who actually never existed and was, along with his paintings, a creation of Boyd's. When the book was initially published, it was not revealed that it was a work of fiction, and a number of prominent art critics were duped by the hoax; it was launched at a lavish party, with excerpts read by David Bowie (who was in on the joke), and a number of prominent members of the art world claimed to remember the artist. It caused quite a stir once the truth was revealed. [cite news |title=Bowie and Boyd "hoax" art world |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/75207.stm |work=BBC |date=1998-04-07 |accessdate=2007-03-11]

The name "Nat Tate" is derived from the names of the two leading British art galleries: The National Gallery and The Tate Gallery. Nat Tate also appears in "Any Human Heart", also by Boyd, with a wry footnote to the 1998 book.

Literary Analysis

Boyd, who is of the same generation as Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan, has been, some people believe, "overlooked" as a novelist, largely because he has kept a low public profile. Although his novels have been short-listed for major prizes, he has never had quite the same publicity as his contemporaries, even though many consider his novels superior in technique and content.

While his geographical settings vary from the conflict-stricken west African coast of "Brazzaville Beach" (1990) to the romantic vistas of the Philippine islands in "The Blue Afternoon" (1993), his recurrent character focus is the English personality and how it adapts – or fails to adapt – to the demands of a foreign landscape. Boyd often displays his affiliation to an English tradition of the comic novel of expatriate life, together with his allegiance to one of his many literary mentors, Evelyn Waugh. Like Henderson Dores, the introverted Englishman turned extrovert Manhattanite in "Stars and Bars" (1984), Englishness under pressure is seen to undergo the most radical metamorphoses, and yet remain, at the same time, irrepressibly resilient. [Dr Eve Patten, British Council, Arts, Contemporary Writers, 1985] It is also his sense of being apart - of having the distance to analyse dispassionately - that provides much of the energy and elegance behind Boyd's nine novels, two collections of short stories and thirteen screenplays. Boyd also echoes the post-war formula of the Angry young men in the figure of Morgan Leafy, a hapless British diplomat struggling to master the complexities of his posting to a corrupt west African country (the fictional Kinjanja) in his novel "A Good Man in Africa". His bumbling, gauche, but ultimately sympathetic protagonist has even led some critics to hail the author as a natural successor to Kingsley Amis [D. J. Taylor, "After the War" (1993), xxi)] . Like Amis’s Jim Dixon in "Lucky Jim" (1954), the accident-prone Leafy pursues his love interest through a series of career crises and ham-fisted sexual encounters, 'an aristocrat of pain and frustration, a prince of anguish and embarrassment', until he eventually regains his girl, and his self-respect, against all the odds of his situation.

In her critical analysis of Boyd's style, Eve Patten has suggested that:"It could be said that both his stories and his novels are governed by the ideal of a 'discerning intellectual pleasure', one sustained by his ability to marry individual interest with historical scope, and to fuse conceptual purpose with the power of compelling narrative" [Patten, E. (2005). [http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth17 William Boyd biography] , British Council, Contemporary Writers.] .



* "A Good Man in Africa" Hamish Hamilton, 1981
* "On the Yankee Station and Other Stories" Hamish Hamilton, 1981
* "An Ice-Cream War" Hamish Hamilton, 1982
* "Stars and Bars" Hamish Hamilton, 1984
* "School Ties" Hamish Hamilton, 1985
* "The New Confessions" Hamish Hamilton, 1987
* "Brazzaville Beach" Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990
* "The Blue Afternoon" Sinclair-Stevenson, 1993
* "The Destiny of Natalie 'X' and Other Stories" Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995
* "Armadillo (novel)" Hamish Hamilton, 1998
* "" 21 Publishing, 1998
* "Any Human Heart" Hamish Hamilton, 2002
* "Fascination" (collection of short stories) Hamish Hamilton, 2004
* "Bamboo" Hamish Hamilton, 2005
* "Restless" Bloomsbury, 2006
* "The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth (Short Story) Notes from the underground, 2007

Literary Prizes and Awards

*1981 Whitbread First Novel Award "A Good Man in Africa"
*1982 Booker Prize for Fiction (shortlist) "An Ice-Cream War"
*1982 Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize " An Ice-Cream War"
*1982 Somerset Maugham Award "A Good Man in Africa"
*1983 Selected as one of the 20 'Best of Young British Novelists' by Granta magazine and the Book Marketing Council
*1990 James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction) "Brazzaville Beach"
*1991 McVitie's Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year "Brazzaville Beach"
*1993 Sunday Express Book of the Year "The Blue Afternoon"
*1995 Los Angeles Times Book Prize (Fiction) "The Blue Afternoon"
*2004 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (shortlist) "Any Human Heart"
*2006 Costa Book Award "Restless"
*2007 British Book Awards Richard and Judy Best Read of the Year (shortlist) "Restless"

External links

* [http://tls.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25339-2334863,00.html "Edge of Armaggedon"] :a review in the [http://www.the-tls.co.uk TLS] by Siddhartha Deb August 2006
* British Council, Arts, Contemporary Writers [http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth17]
* William Boyd, Penguin UK authors [http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,1000004697,00.html]
* [http://wiredforbooks.org/williamboyd/ 1985 interview with William Boyd] by Don Swaim at Wired for Books
* "Stars and Bars", "New York Times", May 21st, 1983, 'New Territory for Explorer in Fiction', Eleanor Blau [http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/11/22/specials/boyd-explorer.html]
* "The Guardian", October 2nd, 2004 'Brief Encounters' (William Boyd on the art of short story writing) [http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,12084,1317930,00.html]
* "The Telegraph", 17th October, 2004 'Writer's Lives: William Boyd' [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2004/10/17/boboyd.xml]
* "The Observer", October 3rd, 2004 "Fascination", 'Too many tricks spoil the book' [http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/generalfiction/0,,1318264,00.html]
* Prospect magazine, 'A Short history of the short story' [http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=7447]
* British Arts Council's emcompassculture [http://www.encompassculture.com/results/?qs=William+Boyd]
* Profile of William Boyd [http://www.benking.co.uk/art/Profile_William_Boyd.php]
* William Boyd website [http://www.williamboyd.co.uk/default.asp?sec=1]
* [http://www.cbc.ca/wordsatlarge/features/feature.php?storyId=312 William Boyd reads from "Restless", online at CBC Words at Large (audio)]
* IMD [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0101956/]

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