matthew kneale


Matthew Kneale Biography

matthew kneale
Matthew 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’.

From 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.

After 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, ‘Whore Banquets’, 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’.

Kneale’s 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.

In 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.

His 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.

In 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 turn.

His 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 three languages.

His 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.

An 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.

When 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.

Matthew currently lives in Rome with his wife, Shannon, and their two children, Alexander and Tatiana.



  atheist's history of belief.



A fascinating history of the city of Rome, seen through the eyes of its most significant sackings, from the Gauls to the Nazis and everything in between.

No city on earth has preserved its past as has Rome. Visitors stand on bridges that were crossed by Julius Caesar and Cicero, walk around temples visited by Roman emperors, and step into churches that have hardly changed since popes celebrated mass in them sixteen centuries ago. These architectural survivals are all the more remarkable considering the violent disasters that have struck the city. Afflicted by earthquakes, floods, fires and plagues, it has most of all been repeatedly ravaged by roving armies. Rome: A History in Seven Sackings examines the most important of these attacks and reveals, with fascinating insight, how they transformed the city - and not always for the worse.

From the Gauls to the Nazis, Kneale vividly recounts those threatening the city, while drawing an intense and vibrant portrait of the city and its inhabitants, both before and after being attacked. In these troubled times when our cities can seem fragile, Rome's history offers a picture that is both shocking and also reassuring. Like the Neapolitans from Norman Lewis's Naples 44, Romans have repeatedly shrugged off catastrophes and made their city anew.

A meticulously researched, magical and novel blend of travelogue, social and cultural history, Rome: A History in Seven Sackings is part celebration of the fierce courage, panache and vitality of the Roman people, and part passionate love letter to Rome. This is a popular history of the famous, incomparable city like no other.


Copyright Matthew Kneale 2013
Matthew Kneale - An Atheist's History of Belief, Understanding our most extraordinary invention - the new non-fiction book from the author of 'English Passengers', winner of the Whitbread Book of the year Award