William Boyd: Biography & Books

Instructor: Douglass Gunselman

Doug is currently a head middle school principal and has taught middle school/high school English/speech/computers. He has a master's degree in Educational Administration.

Once known as one of the top young British writers in the 1980's, William Boyd's career has spanned over three decades. It has resulted in several works -- including a James Bond book. Read on to learn what has made William Boyd a successful author and perhaps gain an interest in reading one of his works.


William Boyd was born in Accra, Ghana in 1952. He grew up in Ghana and Nigeria before moving to France and England to attend three universities. He was educated at the University of Nice, University of Glasgow, and Jesus College, Oxford.

Boyd is known for writing novels, short stories, and screenplays. Some of his books are printed in both a U.K. version and U.S. version. In many of his books, Boyd is able to connect his homelands of Africa and England.

Let's take a closer look at a few of Boyd's more well-known books.

Award Winning Books

A Good Man in Africa (1981)

Morgan Leafy is working in west Africa, where his luck seems to run out. He faces tremendous pressure from various powerful individuals, which adds a great stress to his life. Not only that, but he is faced with physical complications from an STD he contracted from his mistress. Morgan must be able to manage his physical and mental stresses to keep his job and not be kicked out of the country. Boyd was awarded the Whitbred First Novel Award and the Somerset Maugham Award for this book.

An Ice Cream War (1982)

This novel depicts individuals caught in the World War I battles between Britain and Germany in East Africa. The book follows two characters: Walter Smith and Felix Cobb. Walter Smith is a successful farmer whose property borders that of his neighbor, Erich von Bishop. When World War I begins, Smith is faced with his property and business being destroyed by Bishop. He must figure out how to keep his family safe, support his family, and get revenge on his neighbor. Smith enlists in the British army and battles Bishop and the Germans in East Africa.

Felix Cobb is an intelligent young man who is against war. He is close to his brother, Gabriel, a captain in the British military and who is getting married. World War I breaks out, and Gabriel is injured. Not knowing what happened to his brother, Felix joins the army in hopes of finding him. Through the course of the book, Walter Smith and Felix Cobb meet with each other and learn of each's aspirations.

Boyd received the John Llewellyn Rhys prize for this book. It also should be noted that this book has an American version and a U.K. version.

Brazzaville Beach (1990)

Hope Clearwater is living in a beach house as she reflects on her current state and her past. She thinks back to her marriage to a mathematician in her earlier days (which ended tragically), her life as a Chimpanzee scientist in the Congo, and her current status. The relatable book shows a person reflecting on finding meaning in their life and experiences. It won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the McVitie's Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year Award.

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