Portrait of the author William Boyd
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike William Boyd - Credit: Michael Fennell

William Boyd has written fiction, non-fiction and rather a lot in between. From novels and radio drama to screenplays and short stories, he has covered many bases and will no doubt cover more.

Boyd first worked as an English lecturer at St Hilda's College in Oxford. During this time, he wrote his debut novel, A Good Man in Africa (1981), which enjoyed critical acclaim and secured him both the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Somerset Maugham Award. Just two years later, he was named by Granta as one of the 20 "Best of Young British Novelists".

Readers are drawn at once into the chaos, the confusion, the sheer unusualness or ordinaryness of his characters, and most find themselves compelled to keep reading. The journey is destined to enthrall and absorb, such is the almost overwhelming detail in his writing. Indeed, Boyd's highly realistic style of fiction (book notes and an index appear in Any Human Heart) had professional art critics believing his book Nate Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960 (1998) was the biography of a real-life overlooked genius.

Born in Accra, Ghana, on March 7, 1952, Boyd was educated at Gordonstoun School, Glasgow University, and later at Jesus College, Oxford. He has lived in London and France, and travelled extensively, his experiences abroad adding great colour to his novels.

As might be expected of the author of such detailed novels, Boyd immerses himself in research. Such dedication undoubtedly pays off, as Boyd himself has said in past interviews. The writing flows more freely once the research process is complete: everything is there to hand, embedded in his memory or in the pages of his notes.

 

             

 

Boyd told one interviewer: "I have two stages in the process – a Period of Invention and a Period of Composition." For Any Human Heart, the Period of Invention was understandably lengthy, given the timescale covered and the real individuals portrayed. The entire process took approximately four years, 18 months of which was spent writing.

The awards and accolades William Boyd has accumulated to date are testament to his talent, with almost every novel garnering at least one award. But Boyd has also worked as a television critic [for the New Statesman magazine (1981-83)], and is a successful scriptwriter. From television screenplays such as Good and Bad at Games (1983), Dutch Girls (1985) and Scoop (1987), to movie scripts for the film productions of his own novels, A Good Man in Africa and Stars and Bars, Boyd has shown the adaptability of his talent. Any Human Heart was adapted for the small screen in 2010, with a Channel 4 script co-written by Boyd.