Mervyn Peake was born in 1911 in revolutionary China, where his parents were missionaries. He later drew on his exotic childhood and its often savage images in his adult creations. Throughout his life, he was a bohemian: as a student and then, later, in an artists' colony on the island of Sark, a place to which he often returned when city life became too stressful or expensive. Teaching in London, he fell in love with one of his students, Maeve Gilmore, and the two married despite her family's opposition. It turned out to be a close and lasting relationship, lived among a circle of friends that included Graham Greene, Augustus John, Dylan Thomas, and Walter de la Mare. Peake proved to be a miserable and incompetent soldier during World War II, and it was during this unhappy period that he began to write Titus Groan, the first book of the Gormenghast trilogy. In 1945 he was sent by a magazine to Germany, where he visited the Bergen Belsen concentration camp immediately after its liberation-an experience that would profoundly affect his subsequent work.