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McEwan, Ian

Childhood and education
Ian Russell McEwan was born on 21st June 1948 in Hampshire to parents Rose and David. McEwan had a somewhat turbulent childhood due to his father’s posting as an officer in the British Army, which often required the family to frequently move from country to country. In 1959, McEwan was sent to Woolverstone Hall, a boarding school located in Sussex, and he remained in Sussex for his undergraduate education. His time there influenced his later novel writing, with his 2012 spy romance novel, Sweet Tooth, being partly set at the University of Sussex. In 1970, following his undergraduate studies, McEwan attended the University of East Anglia, and while studying for his MA there met Penny Allen, whom he would later marry and have two sons with. The two later divorced, and McEwan married Annalena McAfee, with whom he remains today.

Becoming a novelist
During his MA, McEwan began experimenting with short-story writing. In 1972, short stories including ‘Conversation with a Cupboard Man’ and ‘Homemade’ were published in monthly literary magazines such as the Transatlantic Review and the New American Review. These stories, among others, would later be published in McEwan’s first collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites (1975). Despite its success, which saw McEwan receive the Somerset Maugham Award for literature, McEwan’s collection was criticised for what many deemed its disturbing and often sexually perverse content, which included sibling incest and animal torture. Off the back of First Love, Last Rites, McEwan was asked to teach at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, after which he published his second collection of short stories, Between the Sheets, in 1978. This would prove to be McEwan’s final engagement with the genre, abandoned in favour of novel-writing with the publication of his first novel, The Cement Garden, later that year.

Literary career and fame
Since 1978, McEwan has gone on to publish over 20 novels and achieved literary fame, remaining a favourite among readers and critics. McEwan’s second novel, The Comfort of Strangers (1981), earned him his first of five nominations for the prestigious Booker Prize for literature, with his 1998 novel, Amsterdam, securing him the prize. Although it did not win him the prize, Atonement (2001) remains his most critically acclaimed novel to date. Not only did Atonement receive a wide array of prizes, but in 2007 the novel was also adapted for film. Directed by Joe Wright, and starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, Atonement secured seven Oscar nominations, winning in the category of Best Original Music Score.

McEwan on screen
Atonement is just one of McEwan’s many works to reach the big screen. In 2017, both McEwan’s 2007 novel, On Chesil Beach , and his 2014 novel, The Children Act , were adapted into critically acclaimed films. The author has also been involved in many smaller projects for television and theatre. In 1976, McEwan’s first script for television, ‘Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration’ aired. Shortly afterwards, in 1980, his first television play, The Imitation Game, was broadcast by the BBC, directed by Richard Eyre. Eyre would later go on to direct McEwan’s first full-length feature film, The Ploughman’s Lunch (1983) and, most recently, the 2017 film adaptation of McEwan’s The Children Act (2014). Like the stories from which they derive, film adaptations of McEwan’s stories are not without controversy, as can be seen in the 2002 BBC film adaptation of McEwan’s short story of the same name, Solid Geometry, with BBC management raising concerns about the film’s subject matter.

McEwan in recent years
McEwan’s literary success has continued to flourish in recent years. In 2000, he was awarded a CBE for his services to literature, and in 2014 he was presented with the Bodley Medal, the highest mark of honour from the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, some of the oldest and most prestigious libraries in the world. In recent years, McEwan has been a prominent public speaker on environmental, scientific, and literary matters. In his latest novel, Machines Like Me (2019), he engages with ideas of human nature, identity, power, and technology in his depiction of artificial intelligence in the form of synthetic humans.
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Ian Russell McEwan born

He was born in Hampshire, England.

McEwan sent to boarding school in Sussex

His time in Sussex would later inspire his 2012 novel of spies and romance, Sweet Tooth.

Watch an interview in which McEwan discusses the writing of Sweet Tooth


McEwan started his undergraduate studies

He studied English at the University of Sussex. In 2012, the university awarded McEwan a gold medal in acknowledgement of his global literary achievements and contributions.

McEwan started his postgraduate studies

This period marks McEwan’s first experience of true adulthood, independence and freedom. Such themes reoccur throughout the short stories he wrote during this period, particularly ‘Conversation with a Cupboard Man’ and ‘Homemade’.

Publication of his first short-story collection, First Love, Last Rites

This lesser-known collection continues to divide and unsettle readers. Some of the stories, such as ‘Last Day of Summer’ and ‘Butterflies’, are defined by the protagonists’ lack of remorse concerning matters of murder and rape.

Publication of McEwan’s first novel, The Cement Garden


McEwan married Penny Allen

The couple’s first son, William, was born the following year, joined by the couple’s second son, Gregory, in 1986.

McEwan divorced Penny Allen in an acrimonious public divorce

McEwan’s divorce and custody battle with Allen have been speculated to be the inspiration for his 2014 novel, The Children Act.

Publication of Enduring Love

This is one of McEwan’s more popular novels, and a favourite on A Level syllabuses.

Publication of Amsterdam

After previous nominations, McEwan finally won the Booker Prize for literature for this novel.

McEwan awarded a CBE

The author was awarded the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to literature.

Publication of Atonement

McEwan’s most popular novel introduced the writer’s work to Hollywood, serving as the source material of the Oscar-winning 2007 film adaptation.

Watch the official trailer for Atonement


Publication of Nutshell

This is arguably McEwan’s most obscure and experimental novel due to the novel’s narration from the point of view of a foetus who listens from within the womb to his mother’s plans to murder his father.

Publication of Machines Like Me