Less a biography than the formative experiences that made me into a writer.
Born 1957 after the generation that knew the horrors of war and before the one that only knew prosperity.
My father was an Air Force officer. We moved around from base to base. I adapted but never belonged. My mother wanted me to read. I was only interested in sport.
When I was six my father was posted to France, which gave me the bug for foreign travel. I went to a French school and learned to love mussels.
I was then sent away to school in England because my education was all over the place. I entered a brutal world, which gave me a lifelong interest in fascist regimes. By the age of eight I knew all about terror, consequences, punishment and mental torture as well as defiance, resistance and the bond of friendship. But I did have a wonderful English teacher who taught me how to write haikus.
My next school was a holiday camp by comparison. No standing to attention for a start. While others spent their time resisting authority I flourished in a place where you didn't get randomly hit. I was Head of School, Captain of the Rugby XV. I had two brilliant English teachers who got me into Oxford University.
It was at this school, too, that I had the first inkling that I would like to be a writer. In a double English lesson the teacher gave us the task of writing and reading out a poem. After an hour we returned with our work. Mine was a love poem. Not that I knew anything about love, but like most fourteen year olds I was anxious about it. Nobody wanted to be the first to read. I was a confident jock in those days so I volunteered and stood up amongst much jeering. With the first two lines I silenced them and they remained silent for the whole poem and a couple of minutes afterwards until the English teacher finally broke the spell. It was the quality of their silence that made me want to be a writer.
In between school and university I was the front seat passenger in a car that hit a concrete lamppost in London. I dislocated my hip and shattered my pelvis. I crawled out of the car and lay in the road bleeding from the head. A policeman pronounced me 'a gonner'. I had 100 stitches put in my face and spent a night under observation with no pain killers and reached the outer limit of my endurance by the time they came to operate on my hip.
So my gap year consisted of three months in an orthopedic ward talking to the other inmates and learning to live with the madness of the older ones.
I spent three years reading English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. In the first long vacation I went around America on a Greyhound bus. The following year I drove with three friends from London to Katmandu via Afghanistan and Iran in an old Dutch post office van. I left Oxford with a degree and a love of American literature and went to Greece to run archaeological tours on the island of Crete for a year. I split with my girlfriend. My father died before I could get back to see him. I questioned everything from existence to God. I wrote poetry. What else was I going to do?
Back in London I took the first job that was offered to me, in a shipbroking company specialising in gas transportation. I learnt about international business. After three years they wanted me to run their Houston office. I left and rode a bicycle down to Spain and Portugal. I spent the whole six months thinking about a woman I'd just split up with, who was simultaneously travelling around Africa in a 2CV with a girlfriend.
I came back from cycling and took a job in an ad agency. At a lunch the following year I persuaded the woman who'd just come back from Africa that we weren't just friends and we got madly drunk. Jane and I got married a year later.
To test the strength of the marriage we bought a VW Kombi van and travelled across the Sahara to West Africa and then across the heart of darkness to Kenya and Tanzania. It took us a year. We met strange people. We got sick. We saw elephants. We broke down. We got crapped on by baboons. We dug ourselves out of sand. We pushed ourselves through mud holes. We were held at gunpoint. We found ourselves in the middle of a civil war. We saw a pride of lions, fat and lazy after a kill. We fell in love with Africa and I realised that there were other ways of thinking and doing things that were just as valid as my own. And we were still together at the end of it.
My flat in London now felt too small, the city hemmed us in but the countryside was overrun with traffic, too. We left again, for Portugal this time and lived in Sintra, just outside Lisbon. I worked out how to export bathrooms to Nigeria. I took a job setting up a company trading sheanut in Ghana. I wrote travel stories about my experiences in Africa.
When Sintra got too crowded we moved to the Alentejo, close to the Spanish border, and found our ideal house in the middle of nowhere. I started writing novels. It took me a year to get it right and another to finish my first book. What happened next is below:
1995 Instruments of Darkness
1996 The Big Killing
1997 Blood is Dirt
1998 A Darkening Stain
1999 A Small Death in Lisbon (1999 CWA Gold Dagger and
2003 International Deutsche Krimi Prize)
2001 The Company of Strangers
2003 The Blind Man of Seville
2004 The Silent and the Damned (aka The Vanished Hands) Winner of the Gumshoe Award for Best European Crime Novel 2006
2006 The Hidden Assassins
2009 The Ignorance of Blood
Robert Wilson translations appear in the following countries:
Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Holland, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Russia, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Brazil.