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Clive Sinclair (1948-2018): The Forgotten Revolutionary

Clive Sinclair spent most of his life in search of his “inner cowboy”. He grew up in North London, in the 1950s as a self-styled “Hendonite”. The dullness of suburban life was relieved by classical Westerns which shaped his imagination. In the Sinclair household it was universally acknowledged that John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), starring John Wayne, was the greatest movie ever made. A visit to the Hendon Odeon to see a Hollywood Western (after donning a cowboy outfit with his younger brother Stewart) was the highlight of the week. Centre-stage in their home was a photograph of the brothers Sinclair dressed as cowboys aged 8 and 4 (the year when The Searchers first appeared). In most school photographs before the age of 11, Sinclair wore an over-large cowboy hat.

One of Sinclair’s earliest stories, “The Texas State Steak-Eating Contest” (1979), moves between New Mexico, Texas and Los Angeles. It is the first of Sinclair’s stories to include the down-at-heel Los Angeles detective Joshua Smolinsky. Smolinsky is Sinclair’s  Eastern European “disguise”--who he “might have been” if the names of his Russian and Polish paternal and maternal grandparents had not been anglicized. The East European luftmensch and the earthy, big-hatted Texan are the two poles of his imaginative world.

In 1970, when he was a postgraduate student, Sinclair drove to Mexico in his Ford Falcon from the University of Santa Cruz, California. He was an habitual traveller mainly in the United States, South America and the Middle East which, along with North London, were the locations for his novels and stories. As he stated in an early interview, he travelled widely so as to collect stories like a “big game hunter”.

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