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Ian McEwan was born on 21 June 1948 in Aldershot, England. He studied at the University of Sussex, where he received a BA degree in English Literature in 1970. He received his MA degree in English Literature at the University of East Anglia.

McEwan's works have earned him worldwide critical acclaim. He won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976 for his first collection of short stories First Love, Last Rites; the Whitbread Novel Award (1987) and the Prix Fémina Etranger (1993) for The Child in Time; and Germany's Shakespeare Prize in 1999.

He has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction numerous times, winning the award for Amsterdam in 1998. His novel Atonement received the WH Smith Literary Award (2002), National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award (2003), Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction (2003), and the Santiago Prize for the European Novel (2004). He was awarded a CBE in 2000. In 2006, he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Saturday, and his novel

On Chesil Beach was named Galaxy Book of the Year at the 2008 British Book Awards. McEwan has been named the Reader's Digest Author of the Year for 2008, the 2010 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, and in 2011 was awarded the Jerusalem Prize.

McEwan lives in London. His most recent novel is The Children Act.

Photo Credit: Annalena McAfee

Ian McEwan on Free Speech

A world city like Paris, London or New York contains ten million or more people within an area no larger than the average American cattle ranch. If the citizenry were all of one religion, one race, one world view, the issue of free speech might never arise. In the conditions of modernity however, a city may contain within a couple of acres every race on earth, every imaginable religious, political and existential world view. Those who believe their sacred texts are the literal word of God may live a stone’s throw from those who are not even atheists: the question of supernatural authority does not even come up, any more than the existence of extinct religions, of Thoth, Frigg or Apollo does for everyone else. From their various temples religions daily blaspheme in each other’s faces. Is Jesus the son of God? Not if you’re a Muslim. Is Mohammed God’s last messenger on earth? Not if you’re a Christian. Is the universe best explained or explored in the terms of physics-based godless cosmology? Not if you’re a Muslim or a Christian.

Who will guarantee the peace? Not religion. European history reminds us that when Christianity was in its pre-enlightenment totalitarian pomp, and then its major schism, the intolerance of small differences made, as in the case of the Thirty Years War, for barbarity and slaughter on a horrifying scale. And persecution, torture and terror, from the burning of William Tyndale for translating the bible into English, to the outrages of the Spanish Inquisition and, in return, appalling savagery against Catholics.

Islam, from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, from Indonesia and Turkey to Egypt, is experiencing its own version of a totalitarian moment. Daily, we read of torture, imprisonment and execution of those Muslims who either wish to leave Islam or open it up to discussion. They suffer for violations of Islamic codes of apostasy and blasphemy, which are available to wide interpretation. In Pakistan, local politicians use blasphemy laws as a lethal weapon. In Egypt a teacher has been jailed for three years for talking to her pupils about other faiths. Across the Middle East, Christianity and Zoroastrianism are being driven from their homelands. In Turkey press freedom is under sustained attack by religious conservatives. Authoritarian Arab regimes cynically use Sharia law as a means of containing political opposition. Boko Haram and ISIS, with their nightmarish intolerance represent a heightening to terrifying absurdity of what is practised in certain states. In Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s most revered shrines, apostasy carries the death penalty. Its latest brutal repression of free speech, a thousand lashes and ten years’ imprisonment, shows the government to be the denigrator of Islam as a religion of peace and has aroused worldwide disgust, some of it eloquently expressed by Muslims.

In the cities of the West, richly layered in race and religion, the only guarantor of freedom of religious worship and tolerance for all is the secular state. It respects all religions within the rule of law, and believes all -- or none. The difference is negligible, since not all religions can be true. The principle of free speech is crucial. The cost is occasional offence. The lawful demand is that offence must not lead to violence or threats of violence. The reward is freedom for all to go about their business in lawful pursuit of their beliefs.

The freedom that allows the editors and journalists of Charlie Hebdo their satire is exactly the same freedom that allows Muslims in France to worship and express their views openly. Free speech is hard, it’s noisy and bruising sometimes, but the only alternative when so many worldviews must cohabit is intimidation, violence and bitter conflict between communities.

The importance of free speech can’t be overstated. It is emphatically not just the luxury of journalists and novelists. Nor is it an absolute. Where it is constrained (for example, to limit the on-line reach of paedophiles) it must be so through laws within democratic institutions. But without free speech, democracy is a sham. Every freedom we possess or wish to possess, (including of sexual equality, of sexual preference, of habeas corpus and due process, of universal franchise and of assembly -- the list goes on) has had to be freely thought and talked and written into existence.

Freedom of speech -- the giving and receiving of information, asking of awkward questions, scholarly research, criticism, fantasy, satire - the exchange within the entire range of our intellectual capacities, is the freedom that brings the others into being.

Free speech is not religion’s enemy, it is its protector. Because it is, there are mosques by the score in Paris, London and New York. In Riyadh, where it is absent, no churches are permitted. Importing a bible now carries the death penalty.

-- Ian McEwan
(January 2015)



Charlie Hebdo

Murderous and self-sanctifying, radical Islam has become a global attractor for psychopaths. It has never been embarrassed to proclaim its list of hatreds: education, tolerance, plurality, pleasure and, above all, freedom of expression -- the freedom that underpins all others. Even more important than the abstractions are the people that jihadists hate and have killed: children, schoolgirls, gays, women, atheists, non-Muslims, and many, many Muslims. To that list we must now add the brave and lively staff of Charlie Hebdo, who hoped to face down hatred with laughter. The slaughter in Paris is a tragedy for the open society. On a dark night for mental freedom, a few fragile points of light: the calm, determined crowds gathered in cities across France; the hope that the general revulsion at these murders might have a unifying effect; the fact that a cult rooted in hate is a frail thing and cannot last; the fact that the psychopaths are vastly outnumbered. -- Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan on Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo -- BBC Newsnight


The Children Act


About the Novel:

Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge, presiding over cases in the family court. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now, her marriage of thirty years is in crisis. At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: for religious reasons, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, Adam, is refusing the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents share his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely held faith? In the course of reaching a decision Fiona visits Adam in hospital - an encounter which stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.

The Children Act is available from Jonathan Cape, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, and Knopf Canada. The audiobook is available from iTunes (UK / US) and Audible (UK / US).

Vintage Podcast: Ian McEwan and Martin Amis

Ian McEwan and Martin Amis are two old friends - who also happen to be literary superstars. Listen to them discuss their thought-provoking new books, The Children Act and The Zone of Interest, look back over their distinguished careers and consider the current state and the future prospects of the novel. The podcast is presented by journalist Alex Clark. (Contains strong language.)

Novels:    The Cement Garden    The Comfort of Strangers    The Child in Time    The Innocent    Black Dogs       
Enduring Love    Amsterdam    Atonement    Saturday    On Chesil Beach   Solar   Sweet Tooth
The Children Act
Stories:    First Love, Last Rites    In Between the Sheets   
  Children's Fiction:    Rose Blanche    The Daydreamer   
Screenplays:    The Imitation Game & Other Plays    The Ploughman's Lunch    Soursweet  
Oratorio / Libretto:    Or Shall We Die?      For You

Last update: 19 January 2015
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