Mark Haddon was born on September 26, 1962, in Northampton, a populous area of England’s East Midlands region. Although the author has been reserved about offering information about his early years, he has noted in interviews that in writing fiction for children—the literary genre in which he had his first success—he sensed that he was always writing for the child he once was. He has also said that he read little fiction as a child; instead, he read books about science, particularly chemistry and archeology. His favorite book was Origins of the Universe (1972) by Albert Hinkelbein. He imagined that he would become a paleontologist. In his adolescence, he discovered poetry, another of his adult writing interests.
Haddon attended Uppingham School and received a B.A. in English from Merton College, Oxford, in 1981. In 1984, he received an M.A. from Edinburgh University. He married Sos Eltis, a fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford. The couple had two children and settled in Oxford.
In his earlier life, Haddon worked at a variety of jobs, which may have influenced his view of the world as it appears in his fiction, as well as in his works for children. His early part-time job as a caregiver to patients with multiple sclerosis and autism surely helped his understanding of learning-disabled people, such as Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003), and his work as an illustrator and cartoonist must have readied him to produce his illustrated books for children.
Haddon began publishing books for children in the late 1980’s; he has noted ironically that he once imagined such writing would be easier than writing for adults. From the start, his children’s books incorporated humor and mystery and often demonstrated a powerful empathy with his characters, qualities which also have been praised in his adult fiction. In 1994, Haddon published four books in the Baby Dinosaurs series. In the mid-1990’s, he wrote and illustrated the first of the popular Agent Z series books, which chronicled the adventures of three friends who form a club and find themselves involved in a variety of humorous escapades.
Two of Haddon’s books for young people have been praised for exemplifying his gift for empathy. In The Real Porky Philips (1994), the central character is an overweight boy who finds a way to validate his identity with his school world; the novel was short-listed for the Smarties Prize. In Titch Johnson, Almost World Champion (1993), the central character is able to overcome his self-image as a loser. Another of Haddon’s works for children, The Sea of Tranquility (1996), has roots in his youthful interest in space travel and the first moon landing. Haddon has also written for children’s television.
Despite his success as a children’s author, Haddon has had an ongoing interest in writing adult fiction, an interest which ultimately led to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. He has told interviewers that his earlier work included not only the seventeen published children’s books but also five unpublished novels, some of which he has called “breathtakingly bad.” One of them, he has jokingly suggested, should be published as a “dreadful warning to young writers who want to be the next James Joyce.”
Publication of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time became a surprising route into adult fiction because in England, at his agent’s arrangement, it was published simultaneously by two publishing houses, one for adult literature and another for children’s literature. The two versions were identical except for their covers; even the “adult” language was maintained in the young people’s version. (Haddon has pointed out that all children know that adults swear, and in the novel, only the adults use swear words.) The novel’s double success was a surprise to Haddon, although he has expressed interest in continuing to write for adults, as well as in pursuing his interest in poetry.