William Woodard Self (born 26 September 1961) is an English author, journalist, political commentator and television personality.
He is the author of eleven novels, five collections of shorter fiction, three novellas and five collections of non-fiction writing. His work has been translated into 22 languages; his 2002 novel Dorian, an Imitation was longlisted for the Booker Prize and his novel Umbrella was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. His fiction is known for being satirical, grotesque and fantastical and is predominantly set within his home city of London. His writing often explores mental illness, drug abuse and psychiatry.
Self is a regular contributor to publications including The Guardian, Harper's, The New York Times and the London Review of Books. He currently writes a column for the New
Statesman, and over the years he has been a columnist for the Observer, The Times and the Evening Standard. His columns for Building Design on the built environment and for the Independent Magazine on the psychology of place brought him to prominence as a thinker concerned with the politics of urbanism.
Self is a regular contributor on British television, initially as a guest on comic panel shows such as Have I Got News for You. In 2002, Self replaced Mark Lamarr on the anarchic BBC comedy panel show Shooting Stars for two series but was himself replaced by comedian Jack Dee when the program returned in 2008. He has since appeared on current affairs programs such as Newsnight and Question Time. Self is also a frequent contributor to the BBC Radio 4 program A Point of View, to which he contributes radio essays delivered in his familiar "lugubrious tones." In 2013, Self was in talks to become the inaugural BBC Radio 4 Writer-in-Residence, but later backed out of the talks.
Self attended University College School, an independent school for boys in Hampstead. He later attended Christ's College, Finchley, from where he went to Exeter College at the University of Oxford, reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics, graduating with a third class degree. He claims to have only attended two lectures. At Oxford he became editor of and frequent contributor to an underground left-wing student newspaper called Red Herring/Oxford Strumpet, copies of which are archived in the Bodleian Library. His reasons for reading PPE rather than English literature were discussed by Self in an interview with The Guardian newspaper: "I [had] a pretty thorough grounding in the canon, but I certainly didn't want to be involved with criticism. Even then it seemed inimical to what it was to be a writer, which is what I really wanted to be."
After graduating from Oxford, Self worked for the Greater London Council, including a period as a road sweeper, while living in Brixton. He then pursued a career as a cartoonist for the New Statesman and other publications and as a stand-up comedian. He moved to Gloucester Road around 1985. In 1986 he entered a treatment centre in Weston-super-Mare, where he claimed that his heroin addiction was cured. In 1989, "through a series of accidents", he "blagged" his way into running a small publishing company.
The publication of his short story collection The Quantity Theory of Insanity brought him to public attention in 1991. Self was hailed as an original new talent by Salman Rushdie, Doris Lessing, Beryl Bainbridge, A. S. Byatt, and Bill Buford. In 1993 he was nominated by Granta magazine as one of the 20 "Best Young British Novelists."
Self joined the Observer as a columnist in 1995. He gained negative publicity in 1997 when he was sent to cover the election campaign of John Major and was caught by a rival journalist using heroin on the Prime Minister's jet, and was fired as a result. At the time, he argued "I'm a hack who gets hired because I do drugs". He joined the Times as a columnist in 1997. In 1999 he left Times to join the Independent on Sunday, which he left in 2002 for the Evening Standard.
He has made many appearances on British television, especially as a panellist on Have I Got News for You and as a regular on Shooting Stars. Since 2008 Self has appeared five times on Question Time. He stopped appearing in Have I Got News for You, stating the show had become a pseudo-panel show. 2003-2006 he was a regular contributor to the BBC2 television series Grumpy Old Men. In 2007 he appeared in the Comedy Lab episode 'Satisfied Fool', engaging in philosophical discussion with Karl Pilkington.
Since 2009, Self has written two alternating fortnightly columns for the New Statesman. The Madness of Crowds explores social phenomena and group behaviour, and in Real Meals he reviews high street food outlets.
In 2012, Self was appointed Professor of Contemporary Thought at Brunel University. In July 2012, Self received his first Man Booker Prize longlist nomination for Umbrella, which The Daily Telegraph described as "possibly Self's most ambitious novel to date". The book was later placed on the prize shortlist. He lives in south London.