Michael Holroyd: ‘Escaping from myself has been my aim as a writer’

The biographer on writing in bed, the enviable freedom of novelists and the bravery of Bloomsbury’s gay artists

For some 50 years or more I believed that a quick beginning of the next day’s work was essential. To make sure of this advantage I would write a paragraph the previous night and place it carefully next to my bed. When I got up next morning, there it was, still on the floor loyally waiting for me. Some special nights, when waking from a dream, I would see it as chance to make some subtle and necessary improvements to my original bedside text, turning drama into mysterious comedy. The reason was that I often woke from my dreams laughing – which was rather alarming for anyone near me.

Everything is slower now and my excuse is that I am less young – which is to say in my early 80s, so ...

A life less ordinary: the radical biographies of Alexander Masters

From the story of a homeless ex-addict to the life of an anonymous diarist: meet the writer intent on refreshing a genre The trouble with most 20th-century biographers was that they focused on well‑known people “pounding through facts from grandma to the grave”, wrote Alexander Masters. They were, he added, “missing the point”. What then was the point? There were in fact two points: first that “any subject that is good for fiction is good for biography”, and second that modern biographers should not follow other people’s lives without revealing their own. In Stuart: A Life Backwards, published in 2005, Masters set out to explore the life of a wholly unknown man he had met begging on a street in Cambridge. He was sitting on a square of cardboard, a wretched figure. “I had to get down on my knees to hear him speak.” According to his mother, Stuart Shorter had been ...