John Biggins was born in October 1949 in the town of Bromley; then in Kent but now an outer suburb of London and notable only as the birthplace of H.G.Wells and the deathplace of the Emperor Napoleon III. The son of an electrician and part-time Communist Party activist, his childhood was sickly and his schooling intermittent; though he made up for this with a great deal of precocious reading while lying ill in bed. In 1961 he moved with his family to South Wales, his father having in the meantime abandoned the Dictatorship of the Proletariat to become a steelworks engineer, and decided from then on that he would no longer waste time being ill. After attending Chepstow Secondary and Lydney Grammar Schools, then reading history at the University of Wales in Swansea from 1968 to 1971, he went to then-Soviet Bloc Poland and remained there for the next four years studying for a Ph.D. This experience gave him an enduring fascination with institutional dysfunction and the pathology of decaying empires; as did his subsequent four years of unemployment in the now-abolished Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food where one of his tasks was to write a history of the 1974 Cheese Subsidy in such a way as to show his then-boss in the best possible light: a job which he undertook with such creative relish that he was soon moved to another department.
After being advised politely but firmly to leave the Civil Service in 1980 he turned to journalism to support his wife and two children, then to technical authorship in the burgeoning IT industry of the mid-1980s, then to writing fiction in 1987 largely in order to amuse himself without much expectation that what he wrote would ever published. So it was with some surprise two years later that he found his first novel, A Sailor of Austria, being taken up by the first publisher who had a sight of it. In later years his day-job, by now largely in medical engineering, took him to France, Scandinavia and the Netherlands where he occupied his evenings by reading in the local languages in an effort to try and understand what was going on around him. Later on, two years spent writing and teaching an English course for Polish doctors also allowed him to develop a long-standing interest in medical history and led to his latest series of novels.
Despite advancing years he remains as neurotically active as ever, tirelessly roaming the landscape of whichever country fate has deposited him in with a map in his hand as though other people’s word wasn’t good enough for him and he really expects to discover lost temples or hitherto unknown tribes amid the flat waterlogged fields and motorway junctions of the Rhine-Meuse delta. An inveterate cyclist, he is currently much engaged in reviving the bicycle as a mass means of transport in Great Britain.
As he looks back on a bright future his greatest satisfactions in life – apart from the novels, obviously – are to have known the love of a good woman (the same one all the time) and never to have taken part in any organised sport, for which he retains the profoundest of blind spots. Quite good at a lot of things but not outstandingly good at anything, his epitaph will probably be “he was clever but not wise”.
He has double-jointed thumbs.