James Riordan grew up during the war. After he left school he worked as a postman, a barman, a crate stacker, a railway clerk and a double bass player before doing his national service. After demobilization he did a joint honours degree in Social Science and Russian and then spent five years in Moscow working as a translator. Back in England he lectured at Birmingham and Bradford Universities before becoming Professor of Russian at Surrey University. In 1999, he won the NASEN book award for 'Sweet Clarinet' (OUP) His book, 'The Prisoner' has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal.