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Will Self
13323-Will Self Reading -1660-Edit.jpg
Self in 2013
Born William Woodard Self
(1961-09-26) 26 September 1961 (age 52)[1]
Westminster, London, England
Occupation Novelist, journalist
Nationality English
Citizenship British
Education Bachelor of Arts
Alma mater Exeter College, Oxford
Period 1991 – present
Genre Satire
Notable works The Book of Dave
Notable awards Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize
Aga Khan Prize for Fiction
Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize
Spouse Kate Chancellor (1989–1997)
Deborah Orr (1997–present)
Relatives Peter Self (father)
Jonathan Self (brother)
Will Self's voice
Recorded January 2008 from the BBC Radio 4 programme Open Book


William Woodard "Will" Self (born 26 September 1961) is an English author, journalist and television personality.[2][3]

Self is the author of nine novels, five collections of shorter fiction, three novellas and five collections of non-fiction writing. His work has been translated into 22 languages, and his novel Umbrella was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.[4] His fiction is known for being satirical, grotesque, and fantastical, and is predominantly set within London. His subject matter often includes mental illness, illegal drugs and psychiatry.

Self is a regular contributor to publications including Playboy, The Guardian, Harpers, The New York Times and the London Review of Books. He currently writes a column for New Statesman, and over the years he has been a columnist for The Observer, The Times and the Evening Standard. His columns for Building Design on the built environment, and for the Independent Magazine on the psychology of place brought him to prominence as a thinker concerned with the politics of urbanity.

Self is a regular contributor on British television, initially as a guest on comic panel shows such as Have I Got News For You and Shooting Stars, but latterly appearing on current affairs programmes such as Newsnight and Question Time. He is also a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 4.

Early life[edit]

William "Will" Woodard Self was born in Westminster[5] and raised in North London, between the suburbs of East Finchley and Hampstead Garden Suburb.[6] His parents were Peter Self, Professor of Public Administration at the London School of Economics, and Elaine Self (née Rosenbloom), an American from Queens, New York, who worked as a publisher's assistant.[7][8][9] His father was from an Anglican family and his mother was Jewish.[10] His paternal grandfather, with working class origins in Fulham, was a high-ranking civil servant and Chairman of the Lay Association of the Church of England, who ended his career as Chairman of the Electricity Board.[10][11] Self is a paternal descendant of minister Nathaniel Woodard, hence his middle name.[12] As a child, Self spent a year living in Ithaca, Upstate New York.[6]

Self's parents separated when he was nine, and divorced when he was eighteen.[13] Despite the intellectual encouragement given by his parents, he was an emotionally confused and self-destructive child, harming himself with cigarette ends and knives before getting into drugs.[14]

Self was a voracious reader from a young age. At ten he developed an interest in works of science fiction such as Frank Herbert's Dune, J. G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick. Into his teenage years, Self claimed to have been "overawed by the canon", stifling his ability to express himself. Nevertheless, Self's dabbling with drugs grew in step with his prolific reading. Self started smoking marijuana at the age of twelve, graduating through amphetamines, cocaine, and LSD to heroin, which he started injecting at eighteen.[15]

Self attended University College School, an independent school for boys in Hampstead in North London.[16] He later attended Christ's College, Finchley, from where he went to Exeter College at the University of Oxford, reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics, graduating with a third class degree.[15][17] At Oxford he became editor of and frequent contributor to an underground left-wing student newspaper called Red Herring/Oxford Strumpet, copies of which are archived in the Bodleian Library. His reasons for reading PPE rather than English literature were discussed by Self in an interview with The Guardian newspaper:

I [had] a pretty thorough grounding in the canon, but I certainly didn't want to be involved with criticism. Even then it seemed inimical to what it was to be a writer, which is what I really wanted to be.[18]

Of Self's background Nick Rennison has written that he:

is sometimes presented as a bad-boy outsider, writing, like the Americans William S Burroughs and Hubert Selby Jr, about sex, drugs and violence in a very direct way. Yet he is not some class warrior storming the citadels of the literary establishment from the outside, but an Oxford educated, middle-class metropolitan who, despite his protestations to the contrary in interviews, is about as much at the heart of the establishment as you can get, a place he has occupied almost from the start of his career.[19]


Self at a 2002 book signing

After graduating from Oxford, Self worked for the Greater London Council, including a period as a road sweeper, whilst living in Brixton.[17] He then pursued a career as a cartoonist for the New Statesman and other publications and as a stand-up comedian.[17] He moved to the Gloucester Road, London area around 1985. In 1986 he entered a treatment centre in Weston-super-Mare, where he claimed that his heroin addiction was cured.[15] In 1989, "through a series of accidents", he "blagged" his way into running a small publishing company.[20][21]

The publication of his short story collection The Quantity Theory of Insanity brought him to public attention in 1991. Self was hailed as an original new talent by Salman Rushdie, Doris Lessing, Beryl Bainbridge, A. S. Byatt, and Bill Buford.[15] In 1993 he was nominated by Granta magazine as one of the 20 "Best Young British Novelists".[22] Conversely, Self's second book, My Idea of Fun, was "mauled" by the critics.[23]

Self joined The Observer as a columnist in 1995.[1] He gained negative publicity in 1997 when he was sent to cover the election campaign of John Major and was caught by a rival journalist using heroin on the Prime Minister's jet, and was fired as a result.[18] At the time, he argued "I'm a hack who gets hired because I do drugs".[24] He joined The Times as a columnist in 1997.[1] In 1999 he left The Times to join the Independent on Sunday until 2001.[1] He joined the Evening Standard in 2002.[1]

He has made many appearances on British television, especially as a panellist on Have I Got News for You and as a regular on Shooting Stars. Since 2008 Self has appeared five times on Question Time. Since 2007, Self has stopped appearing in Have I Got News for You, stating the show has become a pseudo-panel show.

Since 2009 Self has written two alternating fortnightly columns for the New Statesman. The Madness of Crowds explores social phenomena and group behaviour, and in Real Meals he reviews high street food outlets.

In 2012, Self was appointed Professor of Contemporary Thought at Brunel University.[25] In July 2012, Self received his first Man Booker Prize longlist nomination for Umbrella, which The Daily Telegraph described as "possibly Self's most ambitious novel to date".[26] The book was later placed on the prize shortlist.

For a May 2014 Guardian article, Self wrote: "the literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes", explaining in a July 2014 article that his royalty income had decreased "dramatically" over the previous decade. The July article followed the release of a study of the earnings of British authors that was commissioned by the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society.[27]

Literary style[edit]

Self in 2007

According to M. Hunter Hayes, Self has given his reason for writing as follows: "I don't write fiction for people to identify with and I don't write a picture of the world they can recognise. I write to astonish people."[28] "What excites me is to disturb the reader's fundamental assumptions. I want to make them feel that certain categories within which they are used to perceiving the world are unstable."[29]

The influences on his fiction mentioned most frequently include J. G. Ballard whom he considers "a great mentor", William Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson. He has cited[citation needed] influences such as Jonathan Swift, Alasdair Gray, Franz Kafka, Lewis Carroll, Joseph Heller and Louis-Ferdinand Céline[30] as formative influences on his writing style.

Zack Busner is a recurring character in the fiction of Will Self, appearing in the short story collections The Quantity Theory of Insanity, Grey Area, Dr. Mukti and Other Tales of Woe, as well as in the novels Great Apes, The Book of Dave and Umbrella. Busner is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst practising in London, and is prone to self-promotion at the expense of his patients. He is often the antagonist of the stories he appears in, although not always with villainous intent.

Among Self's admirers is the American critic Harold Bloom.[31] Journalist Stuart Maconie has described him as "that rarity in modern cultural life, a genuine intellectual with a bracing command of words and ideas who is also droll, likeable and culturally savvy."[32]

Personal life[edit]

Self's mother died in 1988.[20] He was married from 1989 to 1997 to Kate Chancellor. They have two children, a son Alexis and a daughter Madeleine. They lived together in a terraced house just off the Portobello Road.[33] In 1997, Self married journalist Deborah Orr, with whom he has sons Ivan and Luther. Self has stated that he has abstained from drugs, except for caffeine and nicotine, since 1998.[34]

He has described himself as a psychogeographer and modern flâneur and has written about walks he has taken.[35] In December 2006, he walked 26 miles from his home in South London to Heathrow Airport. Upon arriving at Kennedy Airport he walked 20 miles from there to Manhattan.[34] In August 2013, Self wrote of his anger following an incident in which he was stopped and questioned by police in Yorkshire while out walking with one of his sons, on suspicion of being a paedophile. The police were alerted by a security guard at Bishop Burton College. He had asked the security guard for permission to cross the school grounds.[36][37]

Self is 6' 5" tall,[38] collects and repairs vintage typewriters and smokes a pipe;[39] he claims that a psychologist once described him as schizoid personality and borderline personality.[40] His brother is the author and journalist Jonathan Self. He lives in Stockwell, South London.[41]




Short story collections[edit]


Self has also compiled several books of work from his newspaper and magazine columns which mix interviews with counter-culture figures, restaurant reviews and literary criticism.


  • The Minor Character — Self's short story was turned into a short film on Sky Arts which starred David Tennant as “Will”.


  1. ^ a b c d e Will Self, Esq Authorised Biography – Debrett’s People of Today, Will Self, Esq Profile
  2. ^ Thorne, Matt (11 August 2012). "Umbrella, By Will Self". The Independent (London). 
  3. ^ Dowell, Ben (18 January 2013). "Will Self in talks to become Radio 4 writer-in-residence". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 18 January 2013. 
  4. ^ Will Self
  5. ^ "findmypast.co.uk". Search.findmypast.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-08-09. 
  6. ^ a b Charney, Noah (9 January 2013). "Will Self: How I Write". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  7. ^ M. Hunter Hayes Understanding Will Self, p.7
  8. ^ Kinson, Sarah (2007-05-09). "Books,Culture,Will Self (Author)". The Guardian (London). 
  9. ^ Understanding Will Self - M. Hunter Hayes - Google Books
  10. ^ a b Laurie Taylor - The luxury of doubt: Laurie Taylor interviews Will Self | New Humanist
  11. ^ Will Self Book Extract: An Essay On Electricity
  12. ^ M. Hunter Hayes Understanding Will Self, p.10
  13. ^ Self, Will (2008-06-15). "Biography (Books genre),Books,Culture". The Guardian (London). 
  14. ^ "Living Will"
  15. ^ a b c d Will Self's Transgressive Fictions Brian. Finney From: Postmodern Culture Volume 11, Number 3, May 2001 http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/postmodern_culture/summary/v011/11.3finney.html
  16. ^ Have I Got News For You?, Series 13 episode 1
  17. ^ a b c "You ask the questions: Will Self". The Independent (London). 2001-06-06. 
  18. ^ a b Wroe, Nicholas (2001-06-02). "Addicted to transmogrification". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-02-09. 
  19. ^ M. Hunter Hayes Understanding Will Self, p12
  20. ^ a b Paris Review – Larger Than Life: An Interview with Will Self, Jacques Testard
  21. ^ The Book of Jobs
  22. ^ Will Self Speaker Profile
  23. ^ No 242: Will Self The Guardian (1959-2003) [London (UK)] 16 Sep 1993: A3.
  24. ^ "Will Self (Author),Books,Culture". The Guardian (London). 2008-07-22. 
  25. ^ Will Self joins Brunel University as Professor of Contemporary Thought
  26. ^ "Man Booker Prize longlist: who are they?". The Daily Telegraph (London). 2012-07-25. 
  27. ^ Alison Flood (8 July 2014). "Authors' incomes collapse to 'abject' levels". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  28. ^ M. Hunter Hayes Understanding Will Self, p.1
  29. ^ Project MUSE - Will Self's Transgressive Fictions
  30. ^ Will Self (September 10, 2006). "Céline’s Dark Journey". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2010. 
  31. ^ Bloom, Harold (2002). Genius : a mosaic of one hundred exemplary creative minds. New York: Warner Books. p. 648. ISBN 0446691291. "There are a few affinities, except perhaps with the admirable Antonia Byatt, in the generation after: novelists I also now admire, like Will Self, Peter Ackroyd, and John Banville." 
  32. ^ Stuart Maconie. "My People". Radio Times 2–8 February 2013, p.125
  33. ^ Martin, Sandrea (7 June 1994). "A certain sense of Self". The Globe and Mail (Canada). 
  34. ^ a b "Will Self's slow walk into downtown New York" International Herald Tribune, 7 December 2006
  35. ^ Azad, Bharat (12 November 2007). "Books". The Guardian (London). 
  36. ^ Tom Foot (18 August 2013). "Questioned for taking a country walk with his son?: Even Will Self couldn’t make it up Dismayed author blames fear of paedophiles for warping attitudes". The Independent (London). Retrieved 19 August 2013. 
  37. ^ Will Self (17 August 2013). "Stopped by police and branded a paedophile... for hiking with my son: WILL SELF reveals moment an innocent ramble became a nightmarish tale of modern Britain". The Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 19 August 2013. 
  38. ^ The Calgary Herald (Alberta) July 23, 2006 Sunday Final Edition Meaning of Masculinity: It's the subject of almost everything Will Self writes
  39. ^ Will Self - Tatler
  40. ^ 455.
  41. ^ The Guardian (London) http://download.guardian.co.uk/sys-audio/Books/Books/2007/06/15/WillSelf.mp3 |url= missing title (help). 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_Self — Please support Wikipedia.
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1530 news items

The Guardian

The Guardian
Wed, 13 Aug 2014 14:46:34 -0700

What to say about Will Self that wasn't answered by himself on the webchat we hosted this week on the Guardian site? It turns out that the Booker-longlisted author's wit and capacity to surprise never end. One of the snippets from his event, where he ...

Portsmouth News

Portsmouth News
Tue, 19 Aug 2014 04:34:27 -0700

With 70 events over 10 days, the line-up for Havant Literary Festival is as good as ever. Writer Will Self is perhaps the most well-known of the authors to be taking part in the festival, which is now in its seventh year. Self will be appearing at The ...

New Statesman

New Statesman
Fri, 25 Jul 2014 03:18:45 -0700

Arriving at London City Airport a month ago, I was the first off the plane – and there's always some satisfaction to be gained from that. For a start, you avoid the awkward game of Twister that ensues as cramped people lever themselves from their seats ...

New Statesman

New Statesman
Thu, 07 Aug 2014 02:03:58 -0700

Usually my mother didn't mind me filling my metaphorical trouser bottoms with earthy words, but in Florence she'd seen vermilion and struck out, ensuring that for me, for ever, the city would be associated with violence. by Will Self Published 6 August ...

The Bookseller

The Bookseller
Tue, 05 Aug 2014 05:00:00 -0700

Penguin Books is offering users of file-transfer service WeTransfer the chance to read an excerpt of Will Self's new novel, Shark (Viking, 4th September). It has also unveiled the global artwork for the novel on the service. The collaboration between ...
Thu, 14 Aug 2014 11:33:45 -0700

The introduction of the family car in the 20th century led to unexpected consequences, including a rise in teenage pregnancies. The emergence of the driverless car in the 21st century also portends major changes in adolescent culture, ranging from the ...

BBC News

BBC News
Fri, 08 Aug 2014 09:05:37 -0700

It is not the content of our beliefs that really matters, so much as the practice of believing itself, argues Will Self. In Dostoevsky's great metaphysical whodunit, The Brothers Karamazov, the main philosophical point of the novel - inasmuch as it has ...

BBC News

BBC News
Fri, 01 Aug 2014 09:07:30 -0700

Visions of utopia tend to address current realities rather than future visions, says author Will Self. A couple of weeks ago, over several nights on British television, a drama series was aired entitled Utopia. The premise of the drama was that a ...

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