This is the first volume of Anthony Burgess's two-volume autobiography. It tells the story of a disaffected Manchester Catholic from his birth in 1917 up to the commencement, in 1959, of his career as a professional writer. Born Jack Wilson, Burgess grew up in one of the toughest areas of Manchester between the wars. His childhood in his stepmother's rowdy slummy pub, and later in a tobacconist's shop and an off-licence in Moss Side, offered little in the way of love, though later, in the attic bedroom he shares with a succession of putative maids, he was precociously initiated into the physical side of it.
This autobiography also deals with his awareness of a burgeoning artistic talent which for a long time could not find a proper outlet: should he be a cartoonist, a composer, a pianist, a poet? It deals with his unending struggle to reconcile a Catholic conscience with the prematurely discovered pleasures of sex. It also details the long tempestuous relationship with his first wife Lynne, an army career more comic than heroic, and his years as an education officer in Malaya and Borneo. As drinking, infidelity and despair take their toll, Burgess begins to write the first of the novels that would gain him fame if not money.