Kneale was born in London in 1960, the son of
two writers and the grandson of two others. His
father, Nigel Kneale, was a screenwriter for film
and television, best known for the ‘Quatermass’
series. Matthew’s mother, Judith Kerr, is
the author and illustrator of children’s
books including ‘The tiger who came
to tea’ and ‘Mog the forgetful
cat’ while she has also written three
autobiographical novels, beginning with ‘When
Hitler stole pink rabbit’.
his earliest years Matthew was fascinated by different
worlds, both contemporary and from the past. After studying
at Latymer Upper School, London, he read Modern History
at Magdalen College, Oxford. During his university years
he began travelling, seeing diverse cultures at first
hand, in Asia, Europe and Latin America.
completing his degree he hoped to write but was unsure
how to begin, He took a plane to Tokyo where he found
work teaching English and started writing short stories.
His time in Japan formed the basis of his first novel,
which looks at the dangerous consequences that can follow
cultural miscomprehensions. It tells the story of an
Englishman whose affair with a Tokyo woman brings him
into the realm of Japanese organized crime. It was published
by Victor Gollancz in 1987, Dent in paperback in 1989,
won a Somerset Maugham Award in 1988, and was translated
into five languages. In 2001 it was republished with
the title ‘Mr Foreigner’.
second novel, ‘Inside Rose’s
Kingdom’ followed a young innocent
from the countryside to London, where he becomes caught
up with a group of unstable, emotionally grasping people.
It was published by Victor Gollancz in 1989.
1990 Kneale moved to Oxford where he wrote two historical
novels. ‘Sweet Thames’
was set in London in 1849, and took a look at the strangeness
and brutality of the Victorian mind. The novel follows
the trials of an enlightened drainage engineer whose
wife vanishes during a cholera epidemic. It was published
by Sinclair-Stevenson in 1992, Black Swan in paperback,
won the 1993 John Llewellyn Rhys award and was translated
into three languages.
next novel, ‘English Passengers’
which took seven years to complete, was also set in
the nineteenth century and took a critical look at the
British Empire. The novel follows a religious-scientific
expedition that seeks to find the Garden of Eden in
Tasmania, a land whose aboriginal culture had been experiencing
brutal destruction at the hands of British settlers
and convicts. English Passengers was published in 2000
the UK by Hamish Hamilton and in the US by Nan Talese
Doubleday. It was finalist for the Booker Prize, won
the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, was short-listed
for Australia’s Miles Franklin Award, and - in
translation - won France’s Relay Prix d’Evasion
in 2002. It has been translated into fourteen languages.
2000 Kneale married Shannon Russell, and they left England
to live in Italy and also Canada, Shannon’s homeland.
Kneale’s writing gradually took a more international
next book, ‘Small Crimes in an Age
of Abundance’ was a volume of short
stories, set across the world, from Colombia to London
to Africa, and which looked at the lives of diverse
people as they struggled to survive, and to do the right
thing, sometimes managing neither. Small Crimes in an
age of Abundance was published by Picador UK and Nan
Talese Doubleday in March 2005 and was translated into
next novel, ‘When we were Romans’
was told from the point of view of a boy, Laurence,
whose mother suddenly and unexpectedly decides that
she and her children, and even Laurence’s hamster,
must flee England to Rome, where she lived many years
before. Published in by Picador UK in 2007, and Doubleday
US in 2008, ‘When we were Romans’ has been
translated into three languages.
Atheist’s History of Belief’
is Matthew’s first non-fiction book. It looks
at the often bizarre beliefs that people have devised
to explain their world, from earliest prehistoric times
right up to the present day, as understood by a fascinated
non-believer. It was published in the UK in October
2013 by the Bodley Head Press, is currently being translated
into four languages, and is to be published in the US
by Counterpoint in February 2014.
not writing Kneale continued to travel, visiting some
eighty countries and seven continents. He also developed
a fascination with languages, trying his hand at learning
a number, from Italian, Spanish, German and French to
Romanian and Amharic Ethiopian.
currently lives in Rome with his wife, Shannon, and
their two children, Alexander and Tatiana.