Iain Sinclair

Iain Sinclair
Sinclair and Alan Moore at the Cheltenham Science Festival in 2011
Sinclair and Alan Moore at the Cheltenham Science Festival in 2011
Born (1943-06-11) 11 June 1943
Cardiff, Wales
EducationCheltenham College, Gloucestershire
Alma materTrinity College, Dublin
Notable worksDownriver

Iain Sinclair FRSL (born 11 June 1943) is a Welsh writer and filmmaker. Much of his work is rooted in London, most recently within the influences of psychogeography.



Sinclair was born in Cardiff in 1943. From 1956–1961, he was educated at Cheltenham College,[1] a boarding independent school for boys (now co-educational), in the spa town of Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, in the West of England, followed by Trinity College, Dublin (where he edited Icarus).[2] He attended the Courtauld Institute of Art (University of London), and the London School of Film Technique (now the London Film School). In 2013 he became a Visiting Professor at the University for the Creative Arts.[3]

Development as author

Sinclair at a bookshop reading in 2013

Sinclair's early work was mostly poetry, much of it published by his own small press, Albion Village Press. He was (and remains) closely connected with the British avant garde poetry scene of the 1960s and 1970s – authors such as Edward Dorn, J. H. Prynne, Douglas Oliver, Peter Ackroyd and Brian Catling are often quoted in his work and even turn up in fictionalized form as characters; later on, taking over from John Muckle, Sinclair edited the Paladin Poetry Series and, in 1996, the Picador anthology Conductors of Chaos.

His early books Lud Heat (1975) and Suicide Bridge (1979) were a mixture of essay, fiction and poetry; they were followed by White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings (1987), a novel juxtaposing the tale of a disreputable band of bookdealers on the hunt for a priceless copy of Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet and the Jack the Ripper murders (here attributed to the physician William Gull).

Sinclair was for some time perhaps best known for the novel Downriver (1991), which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the 1992 Encore Award. It envisages the UK under the rule of the Widow, a grotesque version of Margaret Thatcher as viewed by her harshest critics, who supposedly establishes a one party state in a fifth term. Radon Daughters, a novel greatly influenced by the work of William Hope Hodgson formed the third part of a trilogy with White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings and Downriver.

The volume of essays Lights Out for the Territory gained Sinclair a wider readership by treating the material of his novels in non-fiction form. His essay Sorry Meniscus (1999) ridicules the Millennium Dome. In 1997, he collaborated with Chris Petit, sculptor Steve Dilworth, and others to make The Falconer, a 56-minute semi-fictional "documentary" film set in London and the Outer Hebrides about the British underground filmmaker Peter Whitehead. It also features Stewart Home, Kathy Acker and Howard Marks.

In an interview with This Week in Science, William Gibson said that Sinclair was his favourite author.[4] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2009.[5] In October 2018 the University of Surrey reported that Sinclair had been appointed Distinguished Writer in Residence with their School of Literature and Languages.[6]


A significant proportion of Sinclair's work has consisted of an ambitious and elaborate literary recuperation of the so-called occultist psychogeography of London. Other psychogeographers who have worked on similar material include Will Self, Stewart Home, Michael Moorcock and the London Psychogeographical Association.

One of a series of works focused around London is the non-fiction London Orbital, the hardcover edition of which was published in 2002, along with a documentary film of the same name and subject. It describes a series of trips he took tracing the M25, London's outer-ring motorway, on foot. Sinclair followed this with Edge of the Orison in 2005, a psychogeographical reconstruction of the poet John Clare's walk from Dr Matthew Allen's private lunatic asylum, at Fairmead House, High Beach, in the centre of Epping Forest in Essex, to his home in Helpston, near Peterborough. Sinclair also writes about Claybury Asylum, another psychiatric hospital in Essex, in Rodinsky's Room, a collaboration with the artist Rachel Lichtenstein.

Sinclair's book Ghost Milk criticized the British government for using the 2012 Summer Olympics as an excuse to militarize London while forcing the poorest citizens out of their homes.[7] The 2012 games mark a distinctive shift in Sinclair's psychogeographical writing, moving to a more documentary mode with fewer semi-fictional elements included in his work. In 2017 Sinclair published The Last London, a conscious move away from writing about "A city so much estranged from its earlier identities (always shifting and revising) that it is unrecognisable.".[8] This marked the culmination of a series of works which detailed Sinclair's attempts to grasp the changing nature of London and (ultimately unsuccessfully) to re-map his own experiences of the city.

Sinclair's own view of psychogeography later echoed many of the earlier criticisms of his work which focused on the commodification of 'heritage zones' in less affluent areas of the city.[9] In a 2016 interview he stated: "I don’t think there is any more than can be said. The topic has outlived its usefulness and become a brand."[8]

The Reforgotten

A consistent theme in Sinclair's non-fiction and semi-fictional works has been the rediscovery of writers who enjoyed success in the early 20th century, but have been largely forgotten.[10] These writers predominantly focus on London, and particularly the East London districts in which Sinclair has lived and worked. He has written about, championed and contributed introductory notes to novels by authors such as Robert Westerby, Roland Camberton, Alexander Baron and John Healy. His 2016 work My Favourite London Devils focused on his rediscovery and appreciation of these writers, often while working as a used book dealer.


In June 2019, Sinclair travelled to Lima to begin retracing the journey of his great-grandfather, Arthur Sinclair, to "the source of the Amazon". Travelling with his daughter, Farne, filmmaker Grant Gee, and poet and translator Adolfo Barberá del Rosal, the journey is expected to result in a range of artistic responses including podcasts, film and various books.[11] The journey was partly funded by the British Film Institute's documentary fund and part by crowdfunding. The expedition provided materials for a forthcoming essay-feature film entitled The Gold Machine which was expected to be released late in 2020.[12] A book by Sinclair with the same title was also published in 2021.[13] A small selection of prose-poetry inspired by the trip was published by Earthbound Press.

Personal life

Iain Sinclair lives in Haggerston, in the London Borough of Hackney and has a flat in Marine Court, the art-deco building modelled after an ocean liner in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex.[14]


  • Back Garden Poems, poetry, 1970
  • The Kodak Mantra Diaries: Allen Ginsberg in London, documentary, 1971
  • Muscat's Wurm, poetry, 1972
  • The Birth Rug, poetry, 1973
  • Lud Heat, prose and poetry, 1975
  • Suicide Bridge, prose and poetry, 1979
  • Flesh Eggs and Scalp Metal, poetry, 1983
  • Autistic poses, poetry, 1985
  • Flesh Eggs and Scalp Metal: Selected Poems 1970–1987, poetry, Paladin, 1987
  • Significant wreckage, poetry, 1988
  • White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings, fiction, 1987 (originally a limited edition from Goldmark but reprinted by Paladin)
  • Downriver, novel, 1991
  • Jack Elam's Other Eye, poetry, 1991
  • The Shamanism of Intent, Goldmark, 1991
  • Radon Daughters, novel, 1994
  • Conductors of Chaos: a Poetry Anthology, editor 1996
  • Penguin Modern Poets Volume Ten: Douglas Oliver, Denise Riley, Iain Sinclair, poetry, 1996
  • The Ebbing of the Kraft, poetry, 1997
  • Lights out for the territory: 9 Excursions in the secret history of London. Granta Books. 1997. ISBN 1-86207-009-1., non-fiction
  • Slow Chocolate Autopsy, fiction, 1997
  • Crash, essay, 1999
  • Liquid City, non-fiction, 1999 (with Marc Atkins)
  • Rodinsky's Room, non-fiction, 1999 (with Rachel Lichtenstein)
  • Sorry Meniscus, essay, Profile Books, 1999
  • Landor's Tower, novel, 2001
  • London Orbital, non-fiction, 2002
  • White Goods, poems, essays, fictions, 2002
  • Saddling The Rabbit, poetry, 2002 Etruscan Books
  • The Verbals - in conversation with Kevin Jackson, Worple Press, 2003
  • Dining on Stones, novel, 2004
  • Edge of the Orison: In the Traces of John Clare's 'Journey Out Of Essex', non-fiction, 2005
  • The Firewall (selected poems 1979 – 2006), poetry, Etruscan Books, paperback, 2006
  • Buried At Sea, Worple Press, paperback, 2006
  • London: City of Disappearances, editor, various essays about London psychogeography etc., 2006[15]
  • Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report, non-fiction, 2009
  • “Sickening”, in Restless Cities, Edited by M. Beaumont and G. Dart, London: Verso, 2010. 257–276.
  • Ghost Milk, non-fiction (memoir), 2011
  • Blake's London: The Topographical Sublime, The Swedenborg Society, 2012
  • Kitkitdizze... Seeing Gary Snyder, Beat Scene, January 2013
  • Swimming To Heaven: The Lost Rivers of London, The Swedenborg Society, 2013
  • Austerlitz and After: Tracking Sebald, chapter deleted from 'American Smoke', Test Centre, 2013
  • Red Eye, poetry, Test Centre, 2013
  • Objects of Obscure Desire, Goldmark, 2013 (illustrated by Sarah Simblet)
  • American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light, 2014
  • Cowboy / Deleted File, chapter deleted from 'American Smoke', Test Centre, 2014
  • London Overground: A Day's Walk around the Ginger Line, 2015
  • Black Apples of Gower, Little Toller Books, 2015
  • Westering, Test Centre, 2015
  • Liquid City, Expanded edition, non-fiction, Reaktion Books, 2016 (with Marc Atkins)
  • Seeschlange, Equipage, 2016
  • My Favourite London Devils: A Gazetteer of Encounters with Local Scribes, Elective Shamen & Unsponsored Keepers of the Sacred Flame, Tangerine Press, 2016
  • The Last London: True Fictions from an Unreal City, Oneworld Publications, 2017
  • Living with Buildings: Walking with Ghosts – On Health and Architecture, Wellcome, 2018
  • Dark Before Dark, Tangerine Press, 2019 (photography by Anonymous Bosch)
  • Fever Hammer Yellow – Earthbound Poetry Series Vol.1 No.7, Earthbound Press, 2020
  • Our Late Familiars – Goldmark, 2020 (photography by Ian Wilkinson)
  • The Gold Machine - In the Tracks of the Mule Dancers - Oneworld Publications, 2021
  • The Gold Machine Beats: A Jungle Death Photo Album - Beat Scene, 2021
  • Fever Hammers - Face Press, 2022
  • Fifty Catacomb Saints - Tangerine Press, 2022 (with artwork by Dave McKean, postscript by Chris McCabe)


As well as writing and directing a number of documentary and semi-documentary films, Sinclair has appeared as himself in a number of films by other directors:

Film performances
1967Ah! SunflowerFeaturing Allen Ginsberg, Co-Directed by Robert Klinkert
1992The Cardinal and the CorpseFeaturing Martin Stone, John Latham, Alan Moore, Driff Field, Brian Catling, Directed by Chris Petit
1997The FalconerFeaturing Françoise Lacroix, Peter Whitehead, Stewart Home, Howard Marks, Francis Stuart, Directed by Chris Petit
2000AsylumFeaturing Marina Warner, Michael Moorcock, Françoise Lacroix, Directed by Chris Petit
2002London OrbitalDirected by Chris Petit
2009The London PerambulatorFeaturing Nick Papadimitriou, Russell Brand, Will Self, Directed by John Rogers
2012SwandownFeaturing Alan Moore, Stewart Lee, Directed by Andrew Kötting
2013Journeys to the End of the Light: a filmed interviewFeaturing Kevin Ring, Directed by Sam Johnson
2015By Our SelvesFeaturing Toby Jones, Directed by Andrew Kötting
2016London OvergroundFeaturing Andrew Kötting, Chris Petit, Cathi Unsworth, Bill Parry-Davies, Directed by John Rogers
2017Edith WalksFeaturing Alan Moore, Claudia Barton, Jem Finer, Directed by Andrew Kötting
2019The Whalebone BoxFeaturing Steve Dilworth, Anonymous Bosch, Eden Kötting, Kirsten Norrie, Philip Hoare, Directed by Andrew Kötting
2021The Gold MachineFeaturing Farne Sinclair, Directed by Grant Gee


  • 1998 - Downriver, (UK, King Mob Records, CD)
  • 2004 - Dead Lead Office - Poems 1970-2004, (UK, Optic Nerve, CD)
  • 2012 - Stone Tape Shuffle, (UK, Test Centre, LP)
  • 2016 - Edith Field Recordings with David Aylward, Anonymous Bosch, Andrew Kötting, Jem Finer, Claudia Barton, (UK, BadBloodandSibyl, CD)
  • 2016 - London Overground with Standard Planets, (UK, Fin-A-Dee Six Records, 12" Single)
  • 2021 - Dark Before Dark with The London Experimental Ensemble, (USA, 577 Records, CD)


  1. ^ "Iain Sinclair - poet, novelist, editor, filmmaker, publisher, playwright, book-dealer". Anachron.org. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  2. ^ "Goldmark Iain Sinclair Scholarship". Goldmark. Archived from the original on 21 January 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  3. ^ Swandown. With Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair. Gallery exhibition, 9–19 December 2013. University for the Creative Arts (uca.ac.uk).
  4. ^ Gibson, William. Interview. This Week in Science. 2004-02-03. (MP3 recording)
  5. ^ "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 5 March 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
  6. ^ "Internationally renowned writer and film-maker Iain Sinclair joins Surrey as Distinguished Writer-in-Residence". University of Surrey. Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  7. ^ For U.K. Author, Games A 'Smoke And Circuses' Affair
  8. ^ a b "Interview with Iain Sinclair". Chris Kelso. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  9. ^ "Londonostalgia". James Heartfield. Retrieved 20 July 2019.
  10. ^ Coverley, Merlin (2012). London Writing.
  11. ^ "Notes for a proposed journey of research: Lima to Chicla to the River Perene – June–July 2019". iainsinclair.org.uk. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  12. ^ "The Gold Machine". grantgee.com. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  13. ^ "The Gold Machine". oneworld.com. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
  14. ^ "Interview: Iain Sinclair and Oona Grimes". Hackney Citizen. 12 November 2010. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  15. ^ Disappearances can be deceptive, The Times, 7 October 2006

External links

Media files used on this page

Iain Sinclair cheltenham.jpg
Author/Creator: Andy Miah from Liverpool, UK, Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0
Iain Sinclair at Cheltenham Science Festival, 2011. Presumably Alan Moore in the background.
Iain Sinclair speaking at Housmans book shop in London 2013 (cropped).jpg
Author/Creator: Ramic Ferd1, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
Iain Sinclair during his talk in Housmans book shop in London at the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Welsh writer Arthur Machen. The lecture was later transcribed and published by Three Impostors in a booklet entitled "Our Unknown Everywhere - Arthur Machen as Presence".