Self was raised, in his words, in "an effortlessly dull" North London suburb (East Finchley, although he sometimes lays claim to Hampstead Garden Suburb) by "intellectually snobbish parents". His father was Peter Self, Professor of Public Administration at the London School of Economics and Professor of Urban Research at the Australian National University, and his mother a Jewish-American immigrant who worked as a publisher's assistant. Through his father, Self is a descendant of Nathaniel Woodard. Despite the intellectual encouragement given by his parents, Self was an emotionally confused and self-destructive child, harming himself with cigarette ends and knives before getting into drugs in his teenage years. His parents separated when he was 9, and divorced when he was 18.
Self was a voracious reader from a young age. At ten an interest in science fiction grew, with notable works such as Frank Herbert's Dune, J. G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick reflecting the precociousness of Self's reading. Into his teenage years, Self claimed to have been "overawed by the canon", stifling his ability to express himself. Nevertheless, Self's dabbling with illegal drugs grew in step with his prolific reading.
Self was addicted to heroin, as well as many other drugs, in the past, but has abstained, except for caffeine and nicotine since 1998.
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.
Self attended University College School, an independent school for boys in Hampstead in North London, with Hugh Dennis where they played rugby together. He later attended Christ's College, Finchley of which his memories are "fairly hazy", followed by Exeter College at Oxford, where he read philosophy, politics and economics.
His reasons for not studying 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.
After graduating from Oxford, Self worked for the Greater London Council in a role that included road sweeping. He then pursued a career as a cartoonist for the New Statesman and other publications and as a stand-up comedian. He has made many appearances on British television, notably as a panelist on Have I Got News for You, as a regular on Shooting Stars and Grumpy Old Men, a guest appearance on Satisfied Fool and an episode of Room 101. In December 2008, November 2009, March 2010, January 2011, and most recently March 2012 Self appeared on the BBC's Question Time. He gained a degree of infamy in 1997 when he was sent by the British broadsheet The Observer to cover the electoral campaign of John Major, and was subsequently fired from the newspaper after taking heroin on the Prime Minister's jet. At the time, he claimed "I'm a hack who gets hired because I do drugs".
Since 2009 Self has written two alternating fortnightly columns for the New Statesman. Madness of Crowds is a wry look at strange social phenomena and group behaviour, and in Real Meals he visits "ordinary" high street food outlets. He has described himself as a modern flâneur.
In February 2012 it was revealed that Self has been appointed Professor of Contemporary Thought at Brunel University. He will take up the post in March.
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."
Self writes much of his fiction with references and allusions to modern culture (both high and low). 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 such diverse writers as Jonathan Swift, Alasdair Gray, Franz Kafka, Lewis Carroll, Joseph Heller and Louis-Ferdinand Celine as formative influences on his writing style. Martin Amis is often mentioned alongside Self; Self went to interview him, but the writers, who are known to respect each other's work, ended up having more of a discussion about their work and lives.
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 and The Book of Dave. 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.
Self has been married twice. He was married to Katherine (Kate) Sylvia Chancellor, from 1989 to 1997. Kate is a daughter of John Chancellor and his first wife Hon. (Mary) Alice Joliffe (herself daughter of William Jolliffe, 4th Baron Hylton and a great-granddaughter of H. H. Asquith, British Prime Minister in the early 20th century). Kate is also the elder sister of actress Anna Chancellor, and the niece of journalist Alexander Chancellor. Together they had two children, a son Alexis and a daughter Madeleine.
In 1997, Self married Deborah Jane Orr, a journalist, with whom he has two sons called Ivan and Luther. His brother is the author and journalist Jonathan Self.
He currently lives in Stockwell, South London, and has written about hikes he has taken around the city, of distances up to 100 miles. In December 2006, he walked 26 miles from his home in South London to Heathrow Airport. Upon arriving in the United States, he walked a further 20 miles from Kennedy Airport to the Crowne Plaza in Manhattan.
Dorian by Will Self
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Grove Press (January 20, 2004)
Amazon Kindle: Dorian
Henry Wotton, gay, drug addicted, and husband of Batface, the irrefutably aristocratic daughter of the Duke of This or That, is at the center of a clique dedicated to dissolution. His friend Baz Hallward, an artist, has discovered a young man who is the very epitome of male beauty — Dorian Gray. His installation Cathode Narcissus captures all of Dorian's allure, and, perhaps, something else. Certainly, after a night of debauchery that climaxes in a veritable conga line of buggery, Wotton and Hallward are caught in the hideous web of a retrovirus that becomes synonymous with the decade. Sixteen years later the Royal Broodmare, as Wotton has dubbed her, lies dying in a Parisian underpass. But what of Wotton and Hallward? How have they fared as stocks soar and T-cell counts plummet? And what of Dorian? How is it that he remains so youthful while all around him shrivel and die? Set against the AIDS epidemic of the eighties and nineties, Will Self's Dorian is a shameless reworking of our most significant myth of shamelessness, brilliantly evoking the decade in which it was fine to stare into the abyss, so long as you were wearing two pairs of Ray-Bans.
More Spotlights at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Lists/Gay Novels
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