Colin Wilson was born in Leicester in 1931 to a working class family. As a teenager he developed an interest in science, but after reading works by George Bernard Shaw, he switched his focus to literature and decided to pursue a career in writing.
As a young adult he travelled around Europe before moving to London, where Wilson became good friends with aspiring writers, including Laura Del Rivo, Bill Hopkins and Stuart Holroyd, and famously sleeping on Hempstead Heath to save money.
He met Pamela Joy Stewart (known as Joy) in 1953 whilst working temporarily in a Leicester department store where she was a trainee manager. The couple moved to London where he continued to write, although Wilson was still legally married to his first wife at this time. He had married Dorothy Betty Troop (known as Betty) in 1951, but their relationship quickly broke down and within 18 months he had separated from his wife and son.
'The Outsider' was published on 26 May 1956, and was an instant success, selling out of its initial print run of 5,000 copies in one day. Wilson was grouped in with Holroyd, Hopkins, Kingsley Amis, and John Osborne as one of the 'Angry Young Men'. This was a group of working and middle class playwrights and novelists, disillusioned with traditional British society who became prominent in the 1950s, and was a label Wilson rejected.
In 1957, poor reviews of his second book and news reports of Wilson's personal life were overshadowing his success. On the advice of his publisher Gollancz, he and Joy left London for Cornwall. In 1959 they moved to Gorran Haven, where Wilson lived for the rest of his life, except for a period in the 1960s when he travelled to America as a visiting professor.
His literary output was prodigious but his later works never achieved the same critical acclaim as his debut. He wrote widely on true crime, mysticism and the paranormal, as well as his philosophy of 'new existentialism' and several novels and plays. He contributed numerous articles to magazines, worked on documentaries and film scripts, and contributed forewords and chapters to other authors' works.
Wilson's health began to decline in 2011 and he suffered a major stroke in 2012, losing his ability to speak. He died of pneumonia in December 2013.