John Haylock

Late-flowering novelist


John Haylock, novelist: born Bournemouth, Hampshire 22 September 1918; died Brighton, East Sussex 1 July 2006.

'Not until the end of my army service at the age of 28, did I realise I was a homosexual," the novelist John Haylock wrote in his 1997 autobiography Eastern Exchanges:

"I felt it was wiser to live in a tolerant land. I feared that my inclination might lead me into trouble. I did not want my widowed mother to know about it, though before she died I believe she had guessed. It was better to be in self-exile than a potential criminal."

Both the nature of his sexuality and that decision that he made because of it (homosexuality remained entirely illegal in England until 1967) were significantly to shape Haylock's life and his career as a writer.

Haylock was born into a comfortably-off family (his father was a GP) in Bournemouth in 1918. He was educated at Aldenham School, in France and at Pembroke College, Cambridge. His university career was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, though resumed, not entirely happily, after the cessation of hostilities. During the war he served as a liaison officer with the Greek army and the Belgium Colonial Forces in the Middle East - serving in Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and Greece. Thereafter he remained contentedly out of Britain for much of his life.

After leaving Cambridge, John Haylock took a teaching post in Iraq, working in Baghdad between 1948 and 1956. Whilst there he co-wrote with a fellow expatriate, Desmond Stewart, New Babylon: a portrait of Iraq (1956), a fascinating account which shows his interest in and love for a country about to undergo immense political and social change.

From Baghdad, Haylock moved to Japan, teaching at Wasada University, Tokyo (1958-60 and 1962-63), and, later, as Visiting Professor of English Literature, at Rikkyo University, Tokyo (1975-85). His years in the Middle East and Orient inspired a series of novels which began with See You Again (1963) and It's All Your Fault (1964). Although he didn't publish another novel for 16 years, he did translate two books by the French writer Philippe Jullian: Robert de Montesquiou: a fin-de-siècle prince (with Francis King, 1967) and Flight into Egypt: a fantasy (1970).

Haylock's third novel, One Hot Summer in Kyoto, eventually appeared in 1980, but it wasn't until he had settled into happy retirement, spreading his year between Brighton, Tokyo and the Thai resort Chiang Mai, that he began to write and publish more consistently.

A Touch of the Orient (1990), Uneasy Relations (1993), Doubtful Partners (1998), Body of Contention (1999), Loose Connections (2004, though the book's printing history erroneously gives 2003 as the date of first publication) and his final novel, Sex Gets in the Way (2006), form, with the three earlier novels and the numerous short stories, a small but highly diverting and singularly unified body of work: they focus on the attractions and incompatibilities of most usually middle-class men and women when they coincide with appealing but frequently uncomprehending Orientals.

For one of his generation and background, John Haylock was remarkably candid about homosexuality and especially good on the sheer comedy of the sexual gavotte. His novels may have had something serious to say, but whatever point he had to make Haylock made it with such a lightness of touch that his readers often found themselves laughing out loud.

His autobiography Eastern Exchanges proved to be an entertainment woven from diverse traveller's tales and, ironically, told less about Haylock's life than his fiction, most notably the final revealing novel Sex Gets in the Way.

Besides his English publications, Haylock published five books in Japan, short stories in a wide variety of journals and anthologies and journalism in a range of publications including Blackwood's Magazine, London Magazine, Japan Times and Gay Times.

A convivial host with a great gift for friendship (Duncan Grant, Francis King, Robin Maugham, Yukio Mishima), John Haylock was a survivor from a generation of well-off gay men who made their lives abroad because when they were young Britain was inhospitable and when they were old it was incomprehensible.

Peter Burton

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