William Sansom

Agent: Carol Heaton

William Sansom (1912 – 1976) was a novelist, short story and travel writer. Before starting his writing career, he worked in a bank, as an advertising copy-writer – employment which taught him not to waste words – and played piano in a night club. World War II was a watershed in his life: he joined the National Fire Service and saw the bombing of London at very close quarters. He was soon recognised as a highly original writer with a keen and unflinching eye for the human condition, able to encompass with equal ease the whimsical, the macabre and the exotic. His experiences during the blitz in London undoubtedly influenced his work.

His first volume of short stories was Fireman Flower, written in 1944. Further tales, some with Kafkaesque undertones (Kafka had a marked influence on his early works) were published in 1946 under the title of Three, Stories. In 1947 Sansom brought out Westminster in War for which he was allowed access to official records. By this time he was a full-time writer enhancing his reputation with Something Terrible, Something Lovely and South. Both were published in 1948. One showed his mastery of the bizarre and the other, a series of brilliant Mediterranean sketches, his gift for travel writing.

The year 1949 saw the publication of arguably his best novel, The Body, a study in jealousy which showed his ability to transcend the bounds of the short story. He did not abandon books on travel; if Grand Tour Today, published in 1968, and Away to it All, published four years earlier, did not perhaps equal South or The Passionate North (1950) this may have been because he now travelled with rather less zest than formerly.