This memoir describes how I became a writer, principally of prose fiction and literary criticism, beginning with the early experiences and influences that fed into my work later, and it covers what is, at the time of writing, the first half of my life, up to the age of forty. I hope to write another book about the second half, in added extra time.
I drew my first breath on the 28th of January 1935
...which was quite a good time for a future writer to be born in England, especially one belonging to a lower-middle-class family like mine. It meant that I would have plenty to write about and an education that, though patchy up to secondary level, gave me the skills and motivation to do so. Four and a half years old when the Second World War began, and ten and half when it ended, I retained some personal memories of that epic struggle, the hinge on which twentieth-century history turned.
My generation was the first in Britain to benefit from the 1944 Education Act, which established free secondary education for all, and free tuition with means-tested maintenance grants for those who competed successfully for admission to a university. Like many others I was promoted by education into the professional middle class, and lived through an extremely interesting period in English social history, when the stratified classes of pre-war Britain gradually melded to create a more open and fluid society.
I was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, which had not significantly altered in its beliefs and devotional practice since the Counter-Reformation and had successfully resisted the intellectual and moral challenges of modernity, but which from the 1960s onwards underwent a series of momentous changes and internal conflicts. Catholicism has stimulated my imagination as a novelist both before and since that upheaval. Over the same period there were several technological developments which have transformed social and cultural life, such as ubiquitous access to television, affordable global air travel, the contraceptive pill and the microchip.
I was fortunate, I think, in having the major part of my career as a writer in that more stable milieu.
This last invention, which enabled the production of the personal computer, the laptop, the internet, email, mobile phones and ebooks, has had a powerful but ambivalent effect on the production of literature. These tools have undoubtedly made the work of writers easier. Information that could only be retrieved in the past by hours or days of research in libraries can now be obtained in seconds with a few keystrokes, and word-processing software has made revision, which is at the very heart of literary composition, physically effortless. On the other hand the same developments now threaten to dissolve the connection between writing as a profession and the book as a mechanically reproducible commodity which has existed since the invention of the printing press, and to render obsolete the interlinked system of publishers, agents, printers, booksellers and copyright law that for more than a century has provided a relatively firm framework within which writers have pursued their vocation and earned income from it. I was fortunate, I think, in having the major part of my career as a writer in that more stable milieu.
Quite A Good Time To Be Born describes how I became a writer, principally of prose fiction and literary criticism, beginning with the early experiences and influences that fed into my work later, and it covers what is, at the time of writing, the first half of my life, up to the age of forty. I hope to write another book about the second half, in added extra time.