Peter Ackroyd is unusual in being equally feted as a novelist and biographer. His facility in both was not, he says, a cause for celebration: in the literary world, ‘I was treated with derision and contempt.’
Ackroyd’s novels and biographies are closely entwined, the non-fiction providing the background for novels such as Hawksmoor and Chatterton. London has been a leitmotif in his work – his lives of William Blake, Dickens and Shakespeare, for example, and was made explicit in London: a Biography and The Thames. He once dismissed his reputation as a heavy drinker by asking: ‘if I was hardly ever sober, how could I have written 30 f**king books?’ Or, he might have added, signed 1,000 books in an hour, as he once did. A heart attack in 1999 left him in a coma for a week.