Outside, with time's whips and scorns: Peter Guttridge meets the unusual, prolific and provocative author

THE POLYMATH Colin Wilson, 61, has 100 books to his credit - but then the year is young. His short biographies of black magician Aleister Crowley and Gurdjieff's colleague, Ouspensky, appeared in the spring. A potboiling collection of Unsolved Mysteries, co-written with his son Damon, comes out this month (Headline Press). And, as he explains while striding along the clifftops near his home in Gorren Haven, Cornwall, he is at work on four other titles.

He will deride the French poststructuralist in Derrida Deconstructed and provide a sequel to his Seventies sci-fi success, The Space Vampires, with Metamorphosis Of A Vampire. He is part-way through the next part of his fresh and inventive Spiderworld science fantasy series and he is rushing out a book about the mind of the serial killer.

The range of these books is typical of his output since his first book, The Outsider, brought him instant celebrity in 1957, and it perhaps prevents him being taken as seriously by the critics as he takes himself. Because Wilson regards himself as a philosopher, yet writes popular works about the paranormal and serial killers, he has been scoffed at.

In particular, his interest in 'serial sex murders' has been seen as prurient - and worse, 'The police called on me during their investigations into the Yorkshire Ripper murders,' he says. 'I assumed they wanted my advice. In fact, I was a suspect.' Wilson's smile spreads from ear to ear - clearly the reviewer who noted 'Wilson has all the tabloid instincts save that of humour' had never met him. He has been putting up with snide remarks for almost 40 years, ever since the critics who had so fulsomely praised his first book, The Outsider, turned on his second, Religion and The Rebel.

'The Outsider was an instant success,' he says. 'On Saturday I was unknown, on Sunday I was famous.' Cyril Connolly called The Outsider 'one of the most remarkable books I have read for a long time', Philip Toynbee was equally effusive, noting 'what makes it truly astounding is that its alarmingly well-read-author is only 24.' As well as his youth (which allowed the press to bracket him with other Angry Young Men), Wilson had a colourful past for a serious thinker. Born in Leicester in 1931, son of a shoemaker, he had left school at 16 to bicycle from Leicester to London. His first ambition was to be a nuclear scientist - in his teenage years he had already begun to write a multi-volume history of science - but while working in various manual jobs he decided he should be a writer. For a period, he wrote in the British Museum library by day and slept rough in a sleeping bag on Hampstead Heath by night.

In the months following the publication of The Outsider, Wilson was on the celebrity circuit. He hobnobbed with the likes of Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Oswald Mosley, Robert Graves, Henry Miller, Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood and Charles Laughton. In a cafe on the Champs Elysees, he and Albert Camus discussed their fundamental differences about existentialism over cafe au lait.

It began to go wrong when the tabloids seized on a scandal in Wilson's private life. Wilson was living apart from his wife and child. During a private dinner in his bed-sit, the father of his girlfriend, Joy, (who became his second wife), burst in. Brandishing a horse-whip, he declared 'You're a homosexual with six mistresses'. He had stumbled on Wilson's journals, which contained his notes for a novel, Ritual In The Dark. While Wilson evaded the whip, his dinner guest telephoned the newspapers.

And after the tabloids had done their bit, the critics moved in to massacre Wilson's Religion and The Rebel. Wilson and Joy took refuge in Cornwall, where they have remained. Their house groans under the weight of books - there are two sheds about the size of a branch library out in the garden for the overspill - and 10,000 classical and jazz records.

His daughter's parrot has colonised the dining room, so the Wilsons have their customary tea of smoked salmon and wine from trays on their laps, whilst he explains the central concerns he has tried to elaborate in all his books. 'The basic obsession of all my work is the glimpse of a bigger reality we get sometimes which makes life worth living. How are we to prolong that?'

In The Outsider, Wilson took E M Forster's contention that 'the artist will tend to be an outsider', passed it through Nietzsche (by way of Wilson's hero, Shaw) and developed a thesis that the artist should not merely stand apart from society to concentrate upon his own function within it, but should raise himself above it and become a superior being.

In the Sixties he extended and refined his central ideas. A fruitful interchange with American phenomenological psychologist Abraham Maslow (best known to engineers and MBAs for identifying the 'hierarchy of needs') led to Wilson's adoption of Maslow's term 'peak experiences' to describe those moments, like Joyce's 'epiphanies', when everything falls into place and is given meaning. He also used the phenomenological philosopher Husserl's notion that 'perception is intentional' to suggest a way we can create such experiences by the way we focus our attention.

In publishing terms, the Sixties were his lost decade, when his books were either maligned or ignored. 'There was a Colin Wilson Society then but I think they thought I was dead,' he says. 'I gave a talk to them once. They disbanded soon after.'

The tide began to turn in the late Sixties when first his science fiction novel The Mind Parasites was well received, then British director Nicolas Roeg wanted to film his crime novel, The Killer. In 1971, Wilson's definitive work on the paranormal, The Occult, was both a popular and critical success. (Even Toynbee said kind things about it.) In subsequent years, in addition to encyclopaedias of crime and criminological books, he has written a great deal about the paranormal, including a book about Uri Geller.

You wonder if he continued to write about the paranormal because, as a writer who lives by his pen, it was profitable. He denies this. 'Although I write to earn a living, I have never written anything I didn't want to write.' Intellectual challenge is central to Wilson's life, but he is also an emotional man. 'To a large extent my life has been driven by what Shaw calls 'the intellectual passion',' he agrees. 'But I suspect the key to my nature is the need to give affection. I cracked one of Joy's ribs by hugging her too enthusiastically some weeks ago.' His belief in living life at a peak of experience has been central to his thinking and his writing for 40 years. But has he put his theories into practice for himself? 'My basic goal has been some kind of control of consciousness. In 1973 I experienced very frightening panic attacks because I took on too much. Coping with them made me realise human beings are far stronger then they realise. We can be hopelessly passive because we don't realise how far we can control negative states, how far a kind of mental effort can restore a sense of freedom. As I see it, the central task is to throw off all narrowness. The whole world is infinitely fascinating and we merely require a higher level of energy to see this.'

Readers in Japan and America respond to his ideas, but he is resigned to the fact that in Britain people pay him little attention, 'I prefer my relative anonymity,' he says. 'The attacks that followed The Outsider enabled me to do what an 'outsider' should do: get on with working and thinking without too many interruptions. I would like my life to be a lesson in how to stand alone and to thrive on it. If I could achieve that I would feel that I had done the job that I have always felt I was born to do.'

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit