Patricia Duncker is the author of Hallucinating Foucault (winner of the Dillons First Fiction Award and the McKitterick Prize in 1996), The Deadly Space Between, James Miranda Barry and Miss Webster and Chérif (shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 2007). She has written two books of short fiction, Monsieur Shoushana's Lemon Trees (shortlisted for the Macmillan Silver Pen Award in 1997) and Seven Tales of Sex and Death, and a collection of essays on writing and contemporary literature, Writing on the Wall. In 2010 she published The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge (shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Award 2010 and the Green Carnation Prize 2011). Her most recent novel, the critically acclaimed Sophie and the Sibyl: A Victorian Romance (2015), was also shortlisted for the Green Carnation Award 2015.

Adventures in Bestsellerland

Well, if vast sales were a guarantee of quality, John Grisham would be The Big One. I picked up The Judge’s List (2021) on a cross-channel ferry and noted the sales puff for all his works on the back: 350 million copies sold, translated into 45 languages, 10 blockbuster Hollywood film adaptations. I had never read a book by Grisham in my life, but I like to live dangerously. Here is the story of how I came to read a serial killer thriller, and what happened when I did. 

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Imagining Gender in Biographical Fiction 

(Palgrave Studies in Life Writing) 1st ed. 2022 Edition Julia Novak (Editor), Caitríona Ní Dhúill (Editor)

Featuring “A Way Out of the Prison of Gender”: Interview with Novelist Patricia Duncker 

Patricia Duncker’s second novel, James Miranda Barry (1999), has become a classic among biofictions of gender. The novel imagines the life and career of a distinguished British military surgeon of the nineteenth century, whose sex was reportedly revealed after his death to be female. Resurrected as an icon of gender resistance in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Barry has been claimed as both a transgressive feminist heroine – a woman who dared enter the masculine public sphere in disguise and thereby demonstrated the instability and arbitrariness of conventional gendered divisions – and as a transgender man who succeeded in living his true identity.  

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Marlon James

“Louise Simpson the poet won the Pulitzer. Michelle Cliff, Olive Senior, Mervyn Morris, Patricia Powell, Patricia Duncker; all of these writers have written fantastic and brilliant novels. Patricia Duncker’s Hallucinating Foucault is taught in nearly every gender studies class. We’ve always had writers who’ve had a big influence on American writers, even if they’re not well-known. They are all brilliant and they all have books that deserve more readers.” 

Read the Marlon James interview in The Chimes newspaper

Three Good Books 

Elizabeth Lowry: The Chosen (riverrun, 2022)

James Cahill: Tiepolo Blue (Sceptre, 2022)

Percival Everett: The Trees (Influx Press, 2022)

In the spring and early summer of 2022 I read three good books. These books, all new writing, adult fiction, published within a few months of each other, and written with intelligence and ambition, raised my spirits. In recent years, it has been hard to find good new books that meet my somewhat exacting criteria. 

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‍ JUNE 2023      

Narrative ethics and character in the representation of the past in Contemporary fiction

Friday 16th and Saturday 17th June 2023, University of Portsmouth UK

Guest speaker: Novelist Patricia Duncker

Following on from the success of Event 1 in Caen in October 2022, this conference further explores how the past is a key component of contemporary literature. Current years have seen an increased return of history and of the historical novel in mainstream fiction, from the historiographic metafictions of the 1990s to the “fresh commitment to what we might call the reality of history” (Boxall 2013) in 21st-century novels. Considering that character remains central to the novel, this two-day conference jointly organised by the Universities of Portsmouth and Caen wishes to address the issue of the past in contemporary fiction through the question of the choice of protagonists and their representation. Indeed, if we believe with Paul Ricoeur that narrative is the foundation of textual memory, if “narrative imagination is an essential preparation for moral interaction” since it develops compassion and understanding in the reader (Nussbaum 1998), then the question that begs to be asked is: can one write anything about the past in the name of the freedom of fiction and art or is there an ethical limit to representations of the past in contemporary fiction?

Call For Papers

Abstracts (with a short biographical note) are to be sent to Dr Armelle Parey (ERIBIA,

Université de Caen, France) at and Dr Christine Berberich, University of Portsmouth, UK) at by March 10th 2023. Notifications of acceptance or rejection will be sent within the following fortnight.

All Rights Reserved. Patricia Duncker 2023