John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris was born in Knowle, Warwickshire, England in July 1903. He variously wrote as John Beynon, John Beynon Harris and Wyndham Parkes before the Second World War, but it is as John Wyndham he is most famous.
He was the son of barrister George Beynon Harris and Gertrude Parks. Wyndham spent his early childhood in Edgbaston in Birmingham, but he and his brother Vivian Beynon Harris, who also became a writer, were sent to boarding school after their parents separated in 1911.
When he left school in 1921, Wyndham tried various jobs including law, commercial art, farming and advertising, before turning to writing in 1925. By 1931 he was writing and selling short stories and serialized fiction to various American science fiction magazines using the pen names John Beynon and John Beynon Harris. He was a fan of H.G. Wells and is thought to have derived much inspiration from his work.
By the mid 1930s Wyndham was also selling stories to the first British science fiction magazine, Tales of Wonder, which was published from 1937 to 1942.
During the Second World War Wyndham worked first as a censor in the Ministry of Information and later joined the army, serving as a corporal cipher operator in the Royal Corps of Signals.
After the war, Wyndham returned to writing, perhaps inspired by his brother who had published four novels by this point. He used the name ‘John Wyndham’ for the first time in 1951 when writing his novel The Day of the Triffids.
No information about his previous writing career was published with the book, leaving readers to assume it was a first novel. It proved a huge success.
Prior to the publication of The Day of the Triffids, science fiction was set primarily in space. Choosing instead to write about plausible extensions of the present day, Wyndham redefined the genre by writing what he described as 'logical fantasy', also known as speculative fiction.
Wyndham has been described by critics, including the author Christopher Priest, as 'the master of the middle-class catastrophe'. Similarly, author Brian Aldiss labelled some of his books, including The Day of the Triffids, 'cosy catastrophes'.
However, the 'cosy' atmosphere of Wyndham’s work actually increases the power and plausibility of his novels, suggesting that apocalyptic disaster could be just around the corner. This frightening characteristic of his novels led The Times’ review of The Day of the Triffids to describe it as having 'all the reality of a vividly realised nightmare'.
He was also ahead of his time in writing about subjects such as the changing role of women, genetic engineering and melting polar ice-caps, making his work all the more contemporary.
John Wyndham published six further novels under that name in his lifetime. The Chrysalids (Re-Birth in the USA), was first published in 1955. His other books include The Kraken Wakes, The Midwich Cuckoos, Trouble with Lichen, and Chocky.
Wyndham married Grace Wilson, whom he had known for 20 years, in 1963. The couple moved out of London, where Wyndham had been living in the Penn Club in Bedford Place, and settled in Petersfield, Hampshire. They remained together until his death in 1969 at the age of 65.