Faulks is the son of Pamela (Lawless) and Peter Ronald Faulks, a Berkshire solicitor who later became a judge. He grew up in Newbury. His mother was both cultured and highly strung. She introduced him to reading and music at a young age. Her own mother, from whom she was estranged, had been an actress in repertory. His father was a company commander in the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, in which he served from 1939 to 1946. He saw action in Holland, France, Tunisia, Italy (at the Anzio landings), Syria and Palestine. He was wounded three times and awarded an immediate MC after an action against the Hermann Goering Parachute Troops in North Africa in 1942.
His maternal grandfather, Philip Henry Lawless, enlisted in the 1st Battalion, 28th county of London Regiment, otherwise known as The Artists' Rifles in 1914, and served in trench warfare on the Western Front until 1917, when he moved to the 26th Battalion Middlesex Regiment and finished the war in Salonika. He was decorated several times and received the Military Cross in 1918, the standard Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the 1914 Star. He eventually left the Army and returned to work as a wine merchant — his father's original occupation.
His paternal grandfather, Major James Faulks (Major was his name, not a military rank) was an accountant who had previously worked as a schoolmaster at a private boarding school in Tunbridge Wells, while Major's provisions merchant father, William Robert Faulks, supplied dairy products in late Victorian Paddington.
Faulks' father wanted him to become a diplomat. He claims his first ambition was to be a taxi driver until at the age of fifteen, while reading George Orwell, he decided to become a novelist instead. In fact, he is the only member of his paternal family not to be a lawyer; his father and uncle were judges and his brother Edward is a QC specialising in medical negligence.
Faulks was educated at Wellington College and studied English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he won an open exhibition and to which he was elected an honorary fellow in 2007. He took a teaching job at the Dwight-Franklin International School after university while also moving into journalism, becoming a features writer for the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, and was recruited by the Independent as Literary Editor in 1986. He became the Deputy Editor of the Independent on Sunday before leaving in 1991 to concentrate on writing. He has been a columnist for The Guardian (1992—8) and The Evening Standard (1997—9).
He continues to contribute articles and reviews to a number of newspapers and magazines and to broadcast regularly. He wrote and presented the Channel 4 series Churchill's Secret Army, about the wartime Special Operations Executive (SOE), screened in 1999. Faulks is a team captain on BBC Radio 4's literary quiz The Write Stuff.
Faulks lives with his wife, Veronica (formerly his assistant at The Independent), and their three children William, Holly and Arthur . He works from his study in a top floor flat of a house near Holland Park Avenue, ten minutes from his home, starting work at 10am and finishing at 6pm, regardless of whether he is writing a book or not.
He was appointed a CBE in the Birthday Honours List 2002 for "services to Literature" and he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1994.
Faulks supports West Ham United. He writes about this in "Upton and Other Parks," a contribution to the 1990 football book Saturday's Boys.
His first published novel, A Trick of the Light, was published in 1984; Faulks was 31 at the time and was finding writing hard-going, as he said:
In 1989 he published the first of his ‘French trilogy’, The Girl at the Lion d'Or. This was followed by the second book, Birdsong (1993), which has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide and came 13th in the BBC's Big Read initiative which aimed to identify Britain's best loved novels. Faulks said in an interview,
The trilogy was completed with Charlotte Gray (1998) which was made into a movie in 2002 directed by Gillian Armstrong and starring Cate Blanchett. On Green Dolphin Street was published in 2001, and in 2005 Faulks published his most ambitious novel, Human Traces, described by Sir Trevor Nunn in The Independent as "a masterpiece, one of the great novels of this or any other century".
Faulks' latest novel is called A Week in December which follows the lives of four characters in London, including a city banker, a driver on the Circle Line of the London underground and a pickle maker. The book was originally called The Week Before Christmas, but his publisher worried that this might negatively affect sales during summer months.
In 2009, he donated the short story A Family Evening to Oxfam's 'Ox-Tales' project, four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. Faulks' story was published in the 'Fire' collection.
One of Sebastian Faulks’ non-fiction works is The Fatal Englishman: Three Short Lives, a multiple biography of artist Christopher Wood, airman Richard Hillary, and spy Jeremy Wolfenden. Pistache, a collection of parodies of famous writers, was published in 2006.
James Bond and Devil May Care
In July 2007, it was said that Faulks had become the latest author to write an official James Bond novel, Devil May Care, at the request of the trustees of the estate of original 007 author Ian Fleming. The novel was released on 28 May 2008, to mark the 100th anniversary of Fleming's birth.
Devil May Care is set during the Cold War. Bond is widowed and vulnerable but remains heroically gallant and libidinous.
Faulks finished the book in six weeks and has followed the Bond style with exotic locations, glamorous women and larger-than-life villains. He says Devil May Care is about 80 per cent Fleming and is set in 1967, the year after Fleming's final Bond book — a collection of short stories called Octopussy and The Living Daylights — was published posthumously. Corinne Turner, the managing director of Ian Fleming Publications which commissioned the book, said the Fleming family "was delighted with it". According to the author, Bond "... has been through a lot of bad things. He is slightly more vulnerable than any previous Bond but at the same time he is both gallant and highly sexed if you like".
One of Britain's most popular novelists, Faulks often blends the modern history of England, France, and America with elements of romance. He has a widespread following, particularly among women readers. His strong background in national newspaper journalism shows through in his narrative fluency and his ability to convincingly fictionalise aspects of recent history within his works.
Faulks's novels are mostly about conflict: conflict of the heart and conflict of the battlefield. With its evocation of the hellishness of the great war — soldiers trapped in tunnels and trenches, maimed, maddened and ultimately destroyed by a war with no purpose — Birdsong is often regarded as his best book. But the books are about more than war; for many readers they are primarily love stories.
The human costs of love and war are his essential subjects. An underlying theme in all his novels is the pressure that public events exert on the individuals caught up in them. Faulks was asked in a 2001 interview why he is so fixated on war and he noted,
Faulks novels often feature thematic contrasts, such as the masculine world of war and technology, alongside a more a feminine aspect of love, landscape, and romance.
Faulks is also a Francophile with a European slant on the question of 'Englishness'. He writes in a descriptive vein about the pleasures of sexual passion, food and drink, landscape, as well as the anguish of separation and the wounding effects of the past. Although he does not consider himself a romantic novelist per se, he does state,
As Dr Jules Smith suggests in a critical profile of Faulks:'... He is a conscious, and very skilled, manipulator of his readers' emotions. But such is the enjoyment factor, luscious romantic detailing, and sheer narrative drive of his books that they completely carry one along with them. Taken as a whole, his 'French' trilogy is a considerable achievement, and all his books are highly enjoyable; read them as romances, as historical witness or simply as an Englishman's highly attractive view of the seductions of French and American culture.'