I was born in Hampshire in 1945 and spent my childhood in Gosport, and then in Alsager in Cheshire. I read English at Magdalene College, Cambridge and during my third year married Jo. We have two children, William and Helen.
I did a PhD on the social thinking of the New England Transcendentalists at Exeter University, and spent two years as an American Council of Learned Societies Fellow at Harvard (much later that research became the basis for my book Transcendental Utopias).
When we came back to the UK I took up a post as lecturer in American literature at Manchester University, and we lived in Stockport for many years, the setting for a number of my novels (though I sometimes call it Costford). My first novel, Blackpool Vanishes, was published in 1979. So far I have published ten novels and four works of non-fiction. Two books (a novel set in a pub and the history of an American utopian community called Fruitlands) came out in 2010.
We lived in Shropshire for three years (I commuted to Manchester), spent a year in Libya (I taught at the University of Tripoli while on unpaid leave from Manchester) and another in the States (where I was an exchange professor at the University of Missouri).
During my time at Missouri I had the chance to do some creative writing teaching and when I returned to the American Studies department at Manchester University in the late eighties, I began giving undergraduate workshops in tandem with the poet and publisher Michael Schmidt, who lectured in the English department. In 1993 we set up an MA in Novel Writing. From 1999 to 2009 I was Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, where I taught on the MA and supervised PhDs in creative writing.
Nowadays I alternate between writing novels and non-fiction (biographies and works about the history of American culture). I have also written for TV and radio and been a regular contributor to, and presenter of, arts programmes on Radio 3 and 4.
Jo works with me on the research for my non-fiction books, and also writes poetry. We live in Bath and spend as much time as we can in our house in south west France. Our son William is a literary agent with Janklow and Nesbit in London. He is married to Sam and they have two sons, Zac and Eli. Helen, our daughter, worked in London publishing for some years but has just moved to Barcelona to join her partner, Alfons. She is about to start work with a literary scout over there. One of my brothers is the poet, novelist and critic, Matthew Francis.
I have received awards to assist me in my writing from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Arts Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Board, and the British Academy.
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