John King (author)

John King is an English writer best known for his novels which, for the most part, deal in the more rebellious elements driving the country's culture. His stories carry strong social and political undercurrents, and his work has been widely translated abroad. He has written articles and reviews for alternative and mainstream publications, edits the fiction journal Verbal, and is the co-owner of the London Books publishing house.

John King
Born1960 (age 6061)
OccupationWriter, novelist, editor
Notable worksThe Football Factory, Headhunters, England Away, Human Punk, White Trash, The Prison House, Skinheads, The Liberal Politics Of Adolf Hitler, Slaughterhouse Prayer


His 1996 debut novel, The Football Factory, was an instant word-of-mouth success, selling around 300,000 copies in the UK. The book was subsequently turned into a play by Brighton Theatre Events, with German and Dutch adaptations following. A high-profile film adaptation appeared in 2004. Directed by Nick Love and starring Danny Dyer, Dudley Sutton and Frank Harper, its UK DVD sales passed the two million mark. Both novel and film attracted widespread media comment for their realism.

Prior to the novel’s release an early version of the chapter Millwall Away appeared in Rebel Inc. This magazine also published early writing by Irvine Welsh and Alan Warner, and all three would subsequently join Jonathan Cape. King was producing the fanzine Two Sevens with Peter Mason at this time (Mason would go on to author a book on the Brown Dog affair, among other books), and Rebel Inc editor Kevin Williamson’s fiction was featured, along with interviews with Welsh and the novelist Stewart Home. Following its publication, extracts from The Football Factory featured in issue 59 of the New York literary journal Grand Street.

Two more novels – Headhunters and England Away – develop the themes of alienation and belonging to be found in The Football Factory. These three books form a loose trilogy with storylines found in The Football Factory and Headhunters converging in England Away. The Big Issue described Headhunters as: “Sexy, dirty, violent, sad and funny; in fact, it has just about everything you could want from a book on contemporary working-class life in London”. Reviewing England Away, Chris Searle of The Morning Star wrote: “The words of Wilfred Owen come pounding through King’s prose: ‘I was the enemy you killed, my friend’.”

King's fourth novel – Human Punk – is believed to be his most autobiographical. Set in and around Slough, The Independent’s Gareth Evans wrote: “The long sentences and paragraphs build up cumulatively, with the sequences describing an end-of-term punch-up and the final canal visit just two virtuoso examples. These passages come close to matching the coiled energy of Hubert Selby’s prose, one of King’s keynote influences... In the resolution of the novel’s central, devastating act, there is an almost Shakespearean sense of a brief restoration of balance after the necessary bloodletting.”

White Trash (2002), which the author has described as “a defence of the NHS”, drew the following praise from Alan Sillitoe, author of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning: “Complete and unique, all stitched up and marvellous, the two sides of the equation brought together, realistic yet philosophical.” In The Independent, Mat Coward wrote: “The cumulative effect of King’s style, with streams of monologue, alternating between Ruby and Jeffreys, is astonishingly powerful in its detail and depth... This is an immensely timely and necessary book: stylish, witty and passionate. It’s about time someone slapped the smugness from the face of broadsheet Britain.”

Skinheads (2008) is set in the same landscapes as Human Punk and White Trash, and while the three books feature different characters, they effectively combine to provide an overview of forty years of British culture and politics as The Satellite Cycle. In his review of the novel, Charles Shaar Murray stated: “John King’s achievement since his debut has been enormous: creating a modern, proletarian English literature at once genuinely modern, genuinely proletarian, genuinely literature.” The US edition of Human Punk carries the following quote by Lars Frederiksen of the American punk band Rancid: “John King: the face in our subculture who lives what he writes.”

The one novel of King's to be set entirely outside England – The Prison House – is considered his most mature work to date. Brian Keenan wrote: “With a brutal imagination The Prison House takes you to a place where angels fear to tread. Go there and be redeemed.” Boyd Tonkin, writing in The Independent, said: “In this literary jail, the ghost of Kafka shares a cell with the shade of Burroughs.” An album based on the novel, written by King and Ruts DC guitarist Leigh Heggarty, has been reported.

In 2007, King set up the independent publishing company London Books with Martin Knight, and their London Classics series has established itself as a focal point for London's ignored tradition of working-class fiction. King edits a London Classics list that includes authors Gerald Kersh, James Curtis and Robert Westerby, along with introductions by the likes of Iain Sinclair, Paul Willetts and Cathi Unsworth. He also puts on Human Punk nights at the 100 Club in Central London with the DJ Doctor Vinyl. Among others, Human Punk has featured the Cockney Rejects, Ruts DC, Old Firm Casuals, Sham 69 and The Last Resort.

King has written for a range of newspapers, magazines and fanzines over the years, and has contributed to The New Statesman in the UK, La Repubblica in Italy and Le Monde in France. His small-press publication Verbal [1] publishes new fiction and includes an author interview in each issue. A supporter of British withdrawal from the EU, his New Statesman articles – A Very Corporate Coup and Flying The Flag – were widely commented upon. This was followed by The People Versus The Elite (Penguin) and the release of his eighth novel, The Liberal Politics Of Adolf Hitler (2016).

Set fifty years in the future, The Morning Star wrote: “King steadily constructs, layer by layer, an increasingly believable world where a combination of intrusive technology, ruthlessness and effectively bland public relations has ensured the domination of the majority’s thoughts and actions.” Author David Peace called it: “One of the best, if not the best, bravest and most exciting books I’ve read in years – needed saying, needed writing and needs to be read.”

King’s ninth novel – Slaughterhouse Prayer (2018) – is an animal-rights story set around three stages in the life of the main character, and how he responds to the meat and dairy industries as a boy, youth and man. TV producer/author Ben Richards has described the novel as: “A masterpiece in the tradition of Upton Sinclair and Victor Hugo.” The poet/author Benjamin Zephaniah said: “Slaughterhouse Prayer is a fiction that reveals many truths. Written from a compassionate place, it is sensitive, thoughtful, and there is nothing like it out there.”

In 2020, a first novella – The Beasts Of Brussels – was published as part of The Seal Club, a three-novella collection that also includes The Providers by Irvine Welsh and Those Darker Sayings by Alan Warner. Reviewing the book, The Scotsman described it as: “A page-turning triptych of fast-flowing tales soaked in booze, dark humour, violence and the paradoxes of masculinity.” A new novel – London Country – is due to be published in 2021.[2]





  • Drawing Breath (The Middle Of A Sentence, 2020)
  • Hard But Fair (Denizen Of The Dead, 2020)
  • Granny’s Letters (Cheribibi, 2018)
  • Friday Night (w/Jaimie MacDonald, Hull International Photography Festival, 2017)
  • Blue-Eyed Girl (Twenty Shades Of Psycho, 2016)
  • The Terror Fantastic (PUSH 2, 2015)
  • See No Evil (More Raw Material, 2015)
  • The Penalty (High Life, 2010)
  • Last Train Home (La Republicca, 2008)
  • Bulldog Bobby (Verbal, 2000)
  • Space Junk (Intoxication, 1998)
  • Last Rites (Rovers Return, 1998)
  • Millwall Away (Rebel Inc., 1995)


  • PUSH 2 (Interview/anthology, ed. Joe England, 2015)
  • London Fictions (Essay/collected essays, ed. Andrew Whitehead & Jerry White, 2013)
  • The Special Ones (Editor with Martin Knight, 2007)
  • Repetitive Beat Generation (Interview/collected authors, ed. Steve Redhead, 1998)


  • The Gentleman Footballer (The Working Man’s Ballet by Alan Hudson, 2017)
  • From Cradle To Grave (White Trash, US edition, 2016)
  • In England’s Fair City (Headhunters, US edition, 2016)
  • Two Sevens Clash (Human Punk, US edition, 2015)
  • Come Running After You (The Football Factory, US edition, 2015)
  • PUSH (Anthology, East London Press, 2014)
  • May Day by John Sommerfield (London Classics, 2010)
  • Night and the City by Gerald Kersh (London Classics, 2007 & British Fiction, 2020)
  • The Road To Los Angeles by John Fante (Rebel Inc/Canongate, 2000)
  • Hoolifan by Martin King and Martin Knight (Mainstream, 1999)

Critical studies

  • Mark Schmitt: British White Trash: Figurations of Tainted Whiteness in the Novels of Irvine Welsh, Niall Griffiths and John King. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2018.

See also

Martin Knight, Alan Sillitoe, Irvine Welsh, Hubert Selby Jr, John Fante, Charles Bukowski, Alan Warner, David Peace