Martin Booth

Scope and Content

Consists of letters and proofs relating to the published poetry works of Martin Booth.

Administrative / Biographical History

Booth was born in Lancashire, but was brought up mainly in Hong Kong, where he first attended Kowloon Junior School, the Peak School then King George V School, and left in 1964.

He made his name as a poet and as a publisher, producing elegant volumes by British and American poets, including slim volumes of work by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. His own books of verse include The Knotting Sequence (1977), named for the village in which Booth was living at the time. The book features a series of lyrics in which he seeks links between the present and the Saxon past, and the man called Knot who gave his name to the village. Booth also accumulated a library of contemporary verse, which allowed him to produce anthologies and lectures.

In the late 1970s Booth turned mainly to writing fiction. His first successful novel, Hiroshima Joe, was published in 1985. The book is based on what he heard from a man he met as a boy in Hong Kong and contains passages set in that city during the Second World War.

Booth was a veteran traveller who retained an enthusiasm for flying, also expressed in his poems, such as "Kent Says" and In Killing the Moscs. His interest in observing and studying wildlife resulted in a book about Jim Corbett, a big-game hunter and expert on man-eating tigers.

Many of Booth's works were linked to the British imperial past in China, Hong Kong and Central Asia. Booth was also fond of the United States, where he had many poet friends, and of Italy, which features in many of his later poems and in his novel A Very Private Gentleman (1990). These interests form a thread through his later novels, travel books and biographies.

Booth's novel Industry Of Souls was shortlisted for the 1998 Booker Prize.

Booth died of cancer in Devon in 2004, shortly after completing Gweilo, a memoir of his Hong Kong childhood written for his own children.

The 2010 film The American, starring George Clooney, was based on his novel A Very Private Gentleman.

Related Material

Other archival material can be found at University of Birmingham: Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections, reference NRA 20138.