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Iain Sinclair FRSL (born 11 June 1943) is a Welsh writer and filmmaker. Much of his work is rooted in London, most recently within the influences of psychogeography.
Sinclair was born in Cardiff in 1943. From 1956–1961, he was educated at Cheltenham College, a boarding independent school for boys (now co-educational), in the spa town of Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, in the West of England, followed by Trinity College, Dublin (where he edited Icarus). He attended the Courtauld Institute of Art (University of London), and the London School of Film Technique (now the London Film School). In 2013 he became a Visiting Professor at the University for the Creative Arts.
Life and work
His early work was mostly poetry, much of it published by his own small press, Albion Village Press. He was (and remains) closely connected with the British avant garde poetry scene of the 1960s and 1970s – authors such as Edward Dorn, J. H. Prynne, Douglas Oliver, Peter Ackroyd and Brian Catling are often quoted in his work and even turn up in fictionalized form as characters; later on, taking over from John Muckle, Sinclair edited the Paladin Poetry Series and, in 1996, the Picador anthology Conductors of Chaos.
His early books Lud Heat (1975) and Suicide Bridge (1979) were a mixture of essay, fiction and poetry; they were followed by White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings (1987), a novel juxtaposing the tale of a disreputable band of bookdealers on the hunt for a priceless copy of Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet and the Jack the Ripper murders (here attributed to the physician William Gull).
Sinclair was for some time perhaps best known for the novel Downriver (1991), which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the 1992 Encore Award. It envisages the UK under the rule of the Widow, a grotesque version of Margaret Thatcher as viewed by her harshest critics, who supposedly establishes a one party state in a fifth term. Radon Daughters formed the third part of a trilogy with White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings and Downriver.
The volume of essays Lights Out for the Territory gained Sinclair a wider readership by treating the material of his novels in non-fiction form. His essay Sorry Meniscus (1999) ridicules the Millennium Dome. In 1997, he collaborated with Chris Petit, sculptor Steve Dilworth, and others to make The Falconer, a 56-minute semi-fictional "documentary" film set in London and the Outer Hebrides about the British underground filmmaker Peter Whitehead. It also features Stewart Home, Kathy Acker and Howard Marks.
Much of Sinclair's recent work consists of an ambitious and elaborate literary recuperation of the so-called occultist psychogeography of London. Other psychogeographers who have worked on similar material include Will Self, Stewart Home, Michael Moorcock and the London Psychogeographical Association.
One of a series of works focused around London is the non-fiction London Orbital; the hard cover edition was published in 2002, along with a documentary film of the same name and subject. It describes a series of trips he took tracing the M25, London's outer-ring motorway, on foot. Sinclair followed this with Edge of the Orison in 2005, a psychogeographical reconstruction of the poet John Clare's walk from Dr Matthew Allen's private lunatic asylum, at Fairmead House, High Beach, in the centre of Epping Forest in Essex, to his home in Helpston, near Peterborough. Sinclair also writes about Claybury Asylum, another psychiatric hospital in Essex, in Rodinsky's Room, a collaboration with the artist Rachel Lichtenstein.
In 2008 he wrote the introduction to Wide Boys Never Work, the London Books reissue of Robert Westerby's classic London low-life novel. Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report followed in 2009.
Sinclair's book Ghost Milk criticizes the British government for using the 2012 Summer Olympics as an excuse to militarize London while forcing the poorest citizens out of their homes.
In an interview with This Week in Science, William Gibson said that Sinclair was his favourite author. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2009. Sinclair commented: "I have always admired the RSPCA. They do a lot of good work."
A consistent theme in Sinclair's non-fiction and semi-fictional works has been the rediscovery of writers who enjoyed success in the early 20th century, but have been largely forgotten. These writers predominantly focus on London, and particularly the East London districts in which Sinclair has lived and worked. He has written about, championed and contributed introductory notes to novels by authors such as Robert Westerby, Roland Camberton, Alexander Baron and John Healy. His 2016 work My Favourite London Devils focused on his rediscovery and appreciation of these writers, often while working as a used book dealer.
Iain Sinclair lives in Haggerston, in the London Borough of Hackney, and has a flat in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex.
As well as writing and directing a number of documentary and semi-documentary films, Sinclair has appeared as himself in a number of films by other directors: